Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A Letter

Dear Little Dude,

I have noticed that some bloggers use their websites to write letters to their children. These posts often contain words of wisdom and touching moments of illumination. I have to admit that although I can provide fleeting moments of illumination, they may be few and far between. And right now, well, it is not one of those moments.

I am writing because we have a little problem. A few weeks ago I felt you move for the first time. Those butterflies in my stomach took flight and I was so excited to know that you are doing okay. Unfortunately, you have not really stopped moving around since. This is becoming something of a issue.

Do not get me wrong. I do not want you to stop kicking. It is a relief to know that you are growing. Also, Werder Bremen is in desperate need of a forward and your birthday just might save their season. However, I am hoping that we can come to some understanding about the time of the kicks. It seems that you like to get your groove on (with my bladder no less) when I want to go to sleep. This is bad.

Mommy can be very grumpy when she does not get the sleep she requires. Just ask daddy about his snoring. It is not pretty. So do you think that you could tone it down just for a bit in the evening when I want to go to sleep? I would really appreciate. I am willing to trade you all the kicking time that you want during my hour commute to work. Now that’s a good deal isn’t it?

With much love,
Your Mom

PS I really am very sorry about over doing it with the onions on Saturday. I know that they upset you like they upset me. But I blame daddy. He is such a good cook, I could not resist.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Ode to Being a Fan

According to the freedictionary, a fan is an: “an ardent follower and admirer” or an “an enthusiastic devotee of sports.”

Wikipedia uses the following definition: “someone who has an intense, occasionally overwhelming liking of a sporting club, person, group of persons, company, product, work of art, idea, or trend.”

Wikipedia even gives us the following characteristics of “fans,” including internal involvement, the desire for external involvement, the wish to acquire (i.e. sports memorabilia, and the desire for social interaction with other fans. Although these definitions are adequate and sociological, what does it really mean to be a “fan?”

The German is a “fan” of the soccer club, Werder Bremen. Friday night we sat down together to watch Bremen play Dortmond. Honestly, I would have preferred to watch something else, but denying the German his Bremen game could be considered cruel and unusual punishment.

It was not good; for Bremen that is. They lost 3 to 0. By half-time I had lost interest and was a bit bored. “Can we please watch something else?” I whined. “No!” he responded in a sharp tone. “Being a fan is like marriage. Good times and bad times.” He was very firm and stared straight ahead at the television. He continued to mumble “good times and bad times” intermittently but eventually even he noticed the lost cause and I was allowed to change the channel.

His comments provoked a thought. Being a true sports fan of a specific team is a bit like being married. You support and love your team. You say wonderful things about them to your friends. You have faith in them and hope that they will not let you down. When they do let you down (which frankly happens in all relationships), you feel betrayed and angry. For example, the German cannot look at a picture of Miroslav Klose (who was a great Bremen forward before transferring to archrival Bavaria Munich this past summer) without getting cross and mumbling, “Traitor.”

I was never really a sports team fan. Sure I enjoyed watching sports, and I followed a few teams, but I was never a “fan;” this despite the fact that I come from a long line of “fans.” My Motown Uncle went to the University of Michigan and has not missed a home game in something like 30 years. But the genes were always inside me, and then, one day, I enrolled at the University of Notre Dame.

My first home football game in South Bend was an Experience. There is an entire ritual surrounding the bratwurst, the band and the start of the game. When I sat down (actually stood up, which is what you do when you “sit” in the student section) with friends from my department, I had no idea what awaited me. There were specific cheers and chants that went with specific parts of the game. At one point, the band began to play the theme from “Star Wars,” and all of the students raised their arms and made a chopping motion. As someone interested in politics and sociology, I could not help but notice the “group think” that abounds at these games. I was a bit disturbed. By my third home game I was hooked.

Four years into my “Notre Dame Experience,” I was one of the converted. I taught the first year students the cheers and I ardently defended my school to the “haters,” who were just jealous of our traditions and victories.

Leaving the U.S. was difficult and now I can see that part of it is the rituals that I miss from my time in South Bend. I miss being a fan. I miss getting up on a Saturday and sitting in a parking lot and eating brats and drinking beer. I miss yelling at the opposing team, who always sucked even when we lost. I miss the sun on my face and the planes with really bad advertising overhead. I miss the feeling that I belong somewhere and that I am part of something.

Today the German and I watched college football on the North American Sports Network, NASN. Certainly the action was all a day late, but at least I got a glimpse of some of my favorite things. It was at half-time that I got the bad news. Notre Dame lost to Michigan 38 to 0, and are 0-3 for only the second time in their history. I feel like my spouse just let me down.

It is like mourning a loved one. There is denial, and anger, and finally acceptance. Well, I am not at acceptance just yet, but writing this post helps. These feelings have also made me happy. For the first time, I realized that I can still be a fan, even when I am so far away. The best part is that there is no one to throw my misery into my face. Perhaps one day I will even when the alumni ticket lottery and can go back to a home game.

Until that time, the German and I can comfort each other. With both of our teams playing poorly, it is only a question of whose pain is the worst. I patted my stomach this afternoon and told my son, “You have to be healthy, sweetie, because I think our teams our going to need you.” From the very start, he is going to be a fan.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

September 11

As an American living in Germany, I often get questions about my political beliefs. Discussions of American politics seem to circle back to two topics: Iraq and Sept. 11.
One question I often get is, “Where were you on Sept. 11?” It is a memory that will always be with me.

In September 2001 I was graduate student at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. I was 24 years old and living alone in an off-campus apartment for the first time in my life, and I loved every minute of it. My morning ritual involved making coffee in my very own coffee pot and watching “The Today Show.” Because I was a poor graduate student, all I had was an antenna, five channels and a small television. However, I always splurged on the good coffee and creamer. A girl has her priorities you know. On mornings when I felt especially ambitious, I would get up and go to the gym on campus and then head to my little “office” (actually a broom closet with a window) and work. Life was good.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was not feeling very ambitious. I got up a little later than I expected and groaned. As a teaching assistant, I was expected to fulfill my office hours that morning and I had an oral presentation in my religion and politics class. I secretly hoped that no one would show up to my office hours so that I could finish preparing for my presentation. The gym would have to wait until the afternoon. I showered and grabbed my biggest mug of coffee and sat down in my bathrobe to catch the morning news.

I don’t remember if the “Today Show” was the first to cover the story. I do remember that it took about 5 to 10 minutes before all of the morning shows were covering it. The first tower had just been hit and they were broadcasting pictures of cascading smoke coming out of the World Trade Center. I will never forget how blue and perfect the New York sky looked on that morning.

There was some confusion about what had happened. Most stations were reporting that it was a small plane that had crashed; the kind that carry only 2 or 3 people. Someone called into the TV station to report that they had heard it. The plane was definitely bigger; a commercial plane perhaps. The moderators did not believe them. Neither did I for that matter. “What kind of idiot does not see a 100 story building in front of him on a clear day?” I thought as I slurped my coffee.

Suddenly another plane came into the picture. It hit the second tower. Live on my morning news show. I was shocked. This was no accident. Over the next hour I did not move from my chair, paralyzed with fear about what would happen next. I remember looking at the towers as they burned. They looked a little tilted. I turned to the empty sofa next to me and said to no one, “Those buildings are going to fall down.” When they did I covered my mouth, but I did not cry. It was all too unbelievable.

After the second tower fell, I looked at my clock and felt panic. I needed to get to campus. I needed to tell people what I had seen. Because I lived alone and my street was so quiet, I felt like I was the only person in the world who had just witnessed what had happened. I got dressed and drove to the library.

I sat in the library like a complete idiot for all of ten minutes. It was instantly clear that I was not the only person who had spent the entire morning in front of their TV and no one really cared about my office hours. So I decided to walk over to the student union, which has four large TVs. It was packed with students. I quickly found some students from my department and walked over. By this time there were rumors circling the room. There were three more planes hijacked. One plane was headed for the White House. Scared students sat on cell phones desperately trying to get through to family in New York and DC.

After an hour, an announcement was made that classes were cancelled for the day and that mass would be held on the main quad. I would not have to make my presentation after all. I was supposed to make the presentation with another grad student. We went to mass instead. The entire campus was there including staff, professors, students and every retired priest in the area. It was even bigger than a football pep rally.

During mass I looked to the sky. It was blue and perfect; just like New York. It was also very quiet. Notre Dame is not far from the airport, and there were always planes overhead or clouds of smoke crisscrossing the sky. But on that day there was nothing.

I went home to my empty apartment and turned on the TV. I called with my mother and chatted with some friends. Fortunately I did not have any friends or family anywhere near where the four planes came down. However I did go to bed early that night. I never knew that I could get so tired from just watching television.

Sept. 11 changed my life in a way. I began to think about those things that are really important in life. Over the next few months, I began to patch up my rocky relationship with my father. And in 2004 I would trade in my academic life for a family life. That day taught me that life is too short to walk around with regrets. I tell my German friends that ask about my political views, that Sept. 11 did not teach me anything about politics, but it did teach me about being human.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Show the World What You Got

Two pregnancy posts in a week? One right after the other? Well, it is a very special post today.

I went in for my check-up today at the doctor. I drag the German with me each and every time because I think it is important for him to be a part of everything. He protests, but I think he secretly likes it.

At 18 weeks and 3 days, every thing seems to be fine. My blood pressure remains normal, but I am still having some problems with my iron. The doctor says to keep taking the pills. I mentioned that my headaches have not disappeared. After some discussion, it appears that my migraines are aggravated by the low iron, tiredness and hunger. Which means I have to eat and sleep more - two things that I love to do.

The doctor took us into another room today and did a Doppler ultrasound. We got a very good look at the baby, who is currently "standing up" in the womb (i.e. feet down, head up). In the very first picture we got an excellent shot of the bottom of the baby and the feet and legs. The doctor smiled, and so did we.

Doctor: Do you want to know what you are having?

He did not really have to ask, and neither did we. The picture was pretty evident. We said yes anyway.

Doctor: Well, it looks like a boy to me.

It looked like a boy to everyone in the room, actually. I can never tell anything on these pictures, but there was definitely something between the legs. The doctor did remind us that nothing is 100% certain, and that we should have another look next month.

The doctor wanted to get some better shots and measure various things, however the kid was not cooperating. A few times, he whispered, "Settle down." This made me start giggling and seemed to agitate the kid even more.

The doctor did get his pictures and everything looks fine and the kid appears to be healthy. However, the doctor needed to get some measurements of the blood going into my placenta. At least that is what I think he said. For some reason, women's anatomy and birthing were not covered in my German class. The German did his best at translating.

The doctor printed out a 3D picture of the baby's face. He is very cute. So there you have it. I am going to have a son. There is a little penis growing inside of me right now. How science fiction like is that? On the way home, the German would not talk to me. I was worried that he was disappointed, as he thought it was a girl. It turns out that he was just annoyed that I was right. If anything, I think he is plotting our son's soccer career as I am typing.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Into the Fog

Since I discovered I was pregnant, I have done a lot of reading about different pregnancy symptoms. Although I was nauseous and tired my first three months, there is not much to indicate that I am pregnant expect my ever expanding waistline. When I read that pregnant woman become "forgetful," I thought, "Well they just don't have a good system." How wrong I was.

For the past few weeks I have begun to notice that I am slowly losing my mind. I leave my keys everywhere. I often wander around the house from room to room trying desperately to remember what it was that I wanted to do in the first place. And of course it was my absent mindedness that sent the German and I on a 4 hour journey through Dublin last week. It is as if the baby is sucking the intelligence right out of me.

Today my "absentmindedness" reached another level. This afternoon I walked into a gas station to fill up Smarty. After pumping I walked into the station and put down my ATM card. (In case you are wondering, I have never seen pay-at-the-pump here in Germany.) The very nice man behind the counter swapped my card and indicated that I should type in my code.

I just looked at him. My mind was absolutely blank. He smiled. I got worried. And still nothing came to me. Now, in my defense I have 3 ATM cards: my personal account, my joint account, and my business account.

Claire: Um. I cannot remember the code. Can we try a different card?

The man laughed. I took out my personal account card only because I have that code written on a piece of paper in my wallet. The card went through no problem. I tittered a bit.

Claire: That is what happens when you have too many cards.

I then rubbed my now evident baby bump hoping that the man would excuse a pregnant woman's craziness. Thankfully, he was very nice about the whole thing.

The German has been supportive, but at a bit of a loss about my descent into the pregnancy fog. Because he cannot remember much either, it is a bit like the blind leading the blind. In our marriage there is a definite division of labor. I am the magical finder of all things, the list maker, the appointment reminder. You can see how the kid is going to create problems over the next few months.

German: Honey, where are the keys?

Claire: I don't know. Where did you put them?

German: I don't know.

[Pause]

Claire: Well, I guess we won't be going anywhere for awhile.

I just hope that when the time is right, we will remember where the hospital is.