Wednesday, January 30, 2008

"Promoting Families"

There were some comments on my post a few days ago questioning the system of maternity leave in Germany. I thought this might be a good time to clarify the system in Germany and show an interesting contrast to the way things are done in the U.S.

First, there is an important piece of background information that is important to understanding the German system. The German population is shrinking. Every year more people die and not enough babies are born to replace them. As a result, the population is getting older. When the population is full of pensioners, then the state pays out more in retirement (i.e. social security). However, if there are no younger people to work and pay taxes into the system, then the state experiences a cash flow problem. Thus, promoting a stable population is not only a question of demographics but also one that impacts fiscal responsibility.

As a result of this dilemma, German public policy has long sought to “promote families.” This not only fits the moral imperative of parties such as the CDU (Christian Democratic Union), but also seems to be good public policy given the demographic problems I described above. There are several different initiatives created to encourage birth rates. The details that I list below are as of January 1, 2007.

First, there is the length of maternity leave, which is called Mutterschaftsurlaub in German. In Germany, a woman can take up to 14 weeks of maternity leave while receiving 100% of her monthly income. Contrast that with the U.S., where 6 weeks unpaid leave is the norm. If a woman in the U.S. is lucky, she works for a company that has some private guarantees.

Long-term maternity leave (Elternzeit, previously Erziehungsurlaub) is also available. A woman (or a man) can take up to three years of maternity leave and their employer must secure their job so that they can return. Unlike short-term maternity leave, this time out is not completely paid. In fact, only the first year is paid, as described below. The important thing to note here is that there is significantly more job protection for a woman (or a man) in Germany than in the U.S.

Second, there are several financial incentives in Germany. The simplest incentive is Kindergeld, which is a flat subsidy paid to a family to support raising a child. The current amount is 154 Euro pro child for up to three children. This is most definitely foreign for American ears, but Kindergeld actually has a long history in Germany, going all the way back to 1938. Many other countries in Europe also provide parents a similar subsidy.

A second, more complicated incentive is Elterngeld. Elterngeld is available for up to 12 to 14 months after a child is born. The formula for this payment is approximately 67% of a parent’s average net monthly income before the birth of the child, or a maximum of 1800 Euro. For those who are unemployed, a minimum payment of 300 Euro is available. Both mother and father can apply for Elterngeld. Last year, the number of people applying for Elterngeld was higher than expected. The number of men applying for Elterngeld was especially surprising, indicating that perhaps German men do not mind staying at home with the kids for a few months. A woman receiving her normal monthly income during the first two months would, of course, receive less. There are also bonuses available for those families with more than one child. Overall it is a pretty complicated system that includes lots of paperwork.

All of these legal guarantees may seem foreign to an American. However, Germans are guaranteed in their constitution (Article 6, Paragraph 2) the right to take care of and raise their children. In the U.S. the choice to have children, as my mom would say, “is a personal decision, which is neither supported nor condoned by the government.” This is a major difference between politics in the U.S. and Germany.

When you consider the political rhetoric of some American politicians, who claim to promote families and family values . . . well, frankly they do not even come close to the German system. I think that some Republicans who “promote families” would have a stroke over implementing such generous incentives. Clearly the Germans have the policy advantage.

However, there is one problem with the system, which is similar to the U.S. Affordable day care continues to be an issue here in Germany and in the U.S. Although the German parliament passed the Tagesbetreuungsausbaugesetz (a fancy word for day care law), which is supposed to promote the building of affordable day care, there are still very few options for women who want to go back to work before a child turns three. For example, when I go back to work, I will have to hire someone to come to my house and look after my child. This is not cheap, and the majority of my income will go towards paying the nanny. This begs the question, “Why work?”

In the end, there are a few more choices that a woman has in Germany than in the U.S. However, what a woman decides to do depends on her individual circumstances. My case is pretty complicated. First, I am self-employed and own my own business. Everyday that I do not work, I put pressure on my business. My tough business partner, the New Yorker, is putting in 12 hour days while I am out. Just yesterday I had to turn down a new customer. Yes, my son must come first, but I don’t want to see my business go down the drain either. It is an extremely conflicting situation.

Because of this, I have decided to start teaching again part-time the first week in April. However, I have arranged a schedule that involves evening classes that are not far from my home (and some of which I will teach in my home), which hopefully enables me to maximize my time with my son and minimize my child care costs.

I have gotten some criticism from Germans for my choice to go back to work part-time after just 8 weeks. Ironically the same people, who encourage me to stay home with my son, are the same people who demand to know when their English lessons will start. They don’t seem to recognize the hypocrisy of their statements. It puts me under tremendous pressure and makes me very angry.

Unfortunately, the German will not be able to take advantage of the Elterngeld. He makes a lot more than 1800 Euro a month and his income pays all of our fixed monthly expenses. We simply could not afford for him to take two months off, even though I am sure he would love to stay home.

In sum, I do not think that there is a best way to “promote families.” I am not sure that the German system would work in the U.S. The U.S. is so large and has such a large population that the incentives might not actually work there. Also, German and U.S. political cultural is fundamentally different in regards to the role of government. As with the choice of epidurals, it turns out that what you do is a question of circumstance.

(For more detailed information about family policy in Germany, check out the Federal Agency BMFSFJ website.)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Of Epidurals and Super-moms

I am a voracious reader. I can devour a book in a few hours. The German says that it is like crack or something for me. He is not completely wrong. When I need to make a decision about something, I always try to be as informed as possible. This leads to even more reading.

When I found out that I was pregnant, I immediately started reading pregnancy books. But about a month ago, I realized that, “I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout birthin’ no babies.”
Oh sure, I have a general idea about the birth process. But I need details, stages of labor, what is going to happen at every minute. Also, I believe that knowledge is a powerful weapon against fear, which often makes birth more painful.

What I have been reading is a bit . . . scary. My fear of child birth has been quelled a little bit, but I have to say that I am not opposed to drugs (i.e. pain relievers) during the birthing process. The German objected to this when we discussed it a few months ago.

German: Honey, I think that it may interfere in your bonding process with baby.

Claire: Sweetie, are you going to be pushing something the size of a watermelon out of a hole the size of a lemon?

German: Well, no.

Claire: Then you don’t get a vote.

After relaying this anecdote to a German woman, she looked at me with disappointment and shame. “You cannot be serious! Why would you use pain relievers?” She shamed me. She made me feel like a crack whore. It was my first interaction with a Super-mom.

Super-moms do not need epidurals. They make organic baby food. They take their kids to “Mommy and Me” and know about all the latest research in childhood development. They are also very opinionated and not afraid to share their opinions. I have noticed this on some “mommy blogs.”

It never ceases to amaze me how vicious some people can be in their comments. Some of these moms will take another woman apart over things like breastfeeding or sleeping patterns. I thought women should support each other and offer helpful advice. Being pushy and condescending is not helpful.

I am probably not going to be a Super-mom. I have decided to take the epidural if needed. I probably will not make my own baby food. And you know what? As some of my books say, that is okay. In the end parenting and motherhood are very personal experiences. Each mother must find her own way through this labyrinth. Unfortunately babies do not come with a manual. Trust me, I have been looking. Thoughtful advice is welcome . . . just don’t get pushy.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Bringing in Reinforcements

I am so excited about Sunday. No, I am not having the baby . . . My mom is flying to Deutschland! My mom was present for the birth of her first two grandkids (i.e. my sister's kids), and when she found out that I am pregnant, I knew that wild horses would not keep her away. She was, after all, the second person that I told (um, yes, the German was the first). Now in less than 48 hours she will be here! And she is staying for a month.

A month is a long time. When she first told me about her plans, I was a little bit nervous. My mom speaks no German. Yikes. Will I be able to handle the baby at home and a mom who speaks no English? She cannot even go to the store and buy bread on her own. My mom can say two sentences in German.

"Ein Bier, bitte." One beer, please.

"Gib sie drogen." Give her drugs. (She is learning that one for the birth, just in case I cannot speak for myself.)

I am terrified that she will use one of these two sentences at passport control on Sunday. I don't think they would let her into the country.

As I considered these things, angst descended upon me that I would have to look over her as well as the new baby. However, as is tradition amongst the women in my family, I was totally over reacting. Now, I am so happy that we will have that much time together. First, Little Dude is probably not going to be on time, so we know she won't miss the not so blessed event. Second, it will be good to have someone to talk to in English during labor. I am sure that my German will not be at its best as I am pushing out a bowling ball. Finally, I am glad I will not be alone with Little Dude for the first few weeks. Although I used to babysit newborns, I live in constant fear that I will "break" my kid. The German only gets one day off from work when Little Dude gets here. Thank goodness that mom will be here to help. Moms are good. I hope I can be as good a mom as she was.

In other news, I had my last day of work today. I am now on "maternity leave," or something resembling it. It was very strange to say to my students today, "So that's it for me. See you in April." I cannot imagine not going to work for two months. In fact, I have already made a small list of things I want to do in my office on Monday. When I mentioned to my mom last night that I had to run to the office on Monday, she yelled. Loudly. "No!" I guess I will have to find some way to distract her.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Smart USA

The Today Show took Smarty out for a spin. They actually complained about the gas mileage (36 in mixed driving). Trust me, it can be even better on the highway! I love my Smart but will have to cut back on using it. Sadly, the stroller does not fit in the back seat. If you are looking for something not too expensive, easy to drive and cute to boot, a Smart may be for you.

The Point

I am there. I have reached The Point. "The Point" is the time in your pregnancy when you just want it to be over; when you go to the doctor and you just want to yell at him, "Take it out!" I am so there.

Over the past two weeks Little Dude has started to sink a little bit, which has made breathing a bit easier. Unfortunately, it makes sleeping more uncomfortable. My back, tailbone, pelvis and hips are KILLING me. I can only sleep on one side for about two hours. Then I wake up and have to roll over to the other side. Rolling over in my sleep is no longer possible. Rolling over entails waking up, propping myself up on my elbows, swinging my weight to the other side and usually grunting in order to actually complete the roll. Is it no wonder that I don't sleep much these days?

Pain and discomfort are just part of The Point. There is also the fact that if I bend over that I might just loose my lunch because of the pressure on my stomach. There is also the increasing fear of actually giving birth. 8 months away has turned into 2 weeks. Holy crap! I do think that "nesting" has set in, and I cannot sit down for more than a few hours. Although, admittedly, moving about and standing is more comfortable than sitting and lying down. This is why women nest.

This is also my last week at work. I have to drive to lessons on Thursday and Friday and then I am done. Well, I won't be teaching and going into the office, but I will still answer emails and take phone calls. I just cannot sit around all day waiting. For example, I have today "off." I went down to the living room at about 6:30am after "sleeping." By 8:00am I was in front of my computer. I cannot help myself I am a work-a-holoic.

Some of my customers keep telling me to "enjoy" the last few weeks. Seriously, I don't know what there is to "enjoy" by the time you get to The Point. And the saying that you forget it all after the birth must be true. Otherwise, I cannot imagine any sane woman doing this more than once.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Here We Go Again (The Non-politics Version)

That's it. The German and I cursed.

Germans are pretty superstitious about buying any baby stuff before the baby is actually born. There are no baby showers here and when the New Yorker offered to have one for me, so many Germans were appalled at the idea that we decided to scrap it. Their argument, "What if you get all that stuff and then something happens. Think of how upset you would be to come home and see it all." While I believe this may be a good point, I do think that having a few items of clothing and blankets are needed when the baby comes home from the hospital.

Anyway, because of this the German and I put off ordering our baby furniture as long as possible. (Insert creepy music indicating foreshadowing) In November we decided to go have a look and we picked something out. We ordered a crib, changing table and wardrobe for a very good price from a respectable furniture store that is NO WHERE NEAR the furniture store of which we don't speak (i.e. the saga of the sofa). They told us on Nov. 24 that delivery would take place the middle of January.

The middle of January was last week. No signs of life from the furniture store. I called yesterday to see what was up. The woman said that she would investigate and call me back. 30 minutes later I had the following conversation.

Saleswoman: Yes, your order was due in this week.

Claire: Yes, I know. That is why I called.

Saleswoman: Well, I called the manufacturer and they said that delivery will be delayed by two weeks. But, that is okay for you isn't it?

Claire: Well, my due date is in two weeks.

Saleswoman: Oh!

[dead silence on both sides of the phone; we are both woman and thus know that technically I could actually give birth tomorrow]

Claire: So, where is my child going to sleep?

Saleswoman: If you have the baby in the next two weeks, call us from the hospital and we will deliver a bed and changing table that you can use for free until your order comes in.

Claire: Uh-huh.

Saleswoman: I will call the manufacturer back and try to put some pressure on them.

Claire: Yes, you do that.

When I hung up the phone, I actually laughed. Of course this is going to happen. What I did not expect was the German's reaction. He was livid.

German: GET OUT!!!

He could not believe it. He wants to call this week and see if we can maybe get a free bassinet out of them. I wouldn't hold my breath though.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Watch Your Tongue

Things heard in the past few days . . .


When the German and I go shopping here in Germany, we often speak English with each other. It is usually a sure fire way to keep the sales people away. However, you have to be careful of the other people around you. More people speak English than you think.

Yesterday the German and I were on a small shopping excursion in Bremen. The winter sales have started and the German had an important meeting today. Thus, we had two good reasons to get him some new clothes. We picked out a jacket, pants and shirt. I also really wanted him to get a new tie. We were looking at blue ones and nothing jumped out at us. Next to us was a younger couple also attempting to pick out a tie for the husband.

Claire: Well, you could wear your red shirt. That would look nice. (Claire moves over to the red ties.)

German: Yes and I already have a red tie.

Claire: Yeah, but that one is ugly.

The young couple next to us looked up and started laughing.


Yesterday I saw John McCain trying to whip up support in South Carolina. He presented what he calls his "economic stimulus package." Although he acknowledged some of the financial troubles facing the U.S. these days, he tried to remain optimistic. "The U.S. is still the best economy in the world. The best exporter. The best importer."

Actually, Mr. McCain, Germany is the world's largest exporter.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Here We Go Again

It is time to get political once more. Although I could write some thoughts about yesterday's Michigan primaries (especially the fact that Ms. Clinton only got 55% of the vote in a place where she was uncontested), I won't. No, today I am turning my critical commentary to the elections here in Germany.

Germany, like the U.S., is a federal system. In the next few weeks three laender (i.e. states for those from the U.S.) are going to elect their ministers (i.e. governor): Hessen, Hamburg, and my fair state, Lower Saxony. As I have watched the campaign progress here in Lower Saxony, I am struck by the thought that politicians are the same every where.

The CDU (something like the Republican Party) holds the most seats in Lower Saxony at the moment. I must say that the campaign here has been kind of bland. There almost seems to be the feeling that the minister, Christian Wulff, is going to be re-elected and so why bother. This really irritates the hell out of me, because I am not sure he should be re-elected.

Flashback to 5 years ago. Wulff was flying high as the bright new "Wunderkind" of the Lower Saxony CDU party. Young and charismatic (and not bad looking to boot), he and his family were all over campaign posters. Back then, he promised more jobs and economic growth, and more importantly for the German and our circle of friends, 5000 new teaching positions. Now that was an idea that even someone who leans SPD (something like the Democrats) could get behind. The German, as well as a lot of our friends, were university students studying education. Job prospects were not good at that time, so the idea that the new CDU government would focus on education was welcome.

Flash forward to today. Mr. Wulff, where did those teaching jobs go? The German, as well as three other people I know, could not get a job in Lower Saxony. Even more people from the university cannot find a position to do their required two years of student teaching. One good friend of mine had to wait 2 years before being offered a position that was no where near where she wanted to be and NOT WHAT SHE HAD STUDIED. Furthermore, there continues to be a teacher shortage in the state, especially of English teachers. When I applied for a job, I was turned down because I had "never studied English." No, being an American with a PhD from one of the best universities in the U.S. was not good enough. Do not even get me started on how bad the state run universities are doing at hiring new personnel.

A week ago I was driving home from an English lesson and I saw a huge CDU campaign poster. There in the middle of a group of children was Mr. Wulff. Above the picture was the headline: Better Education. I almost blew a gasket. However, I must not be the only person aware of the problems with the CDU stand on education. This week the poster has been replaced with a different headline: More Jobs.

So as you can see, it does not matter where you live, politicians regardless of nationality and party will say anything. Am I surprised by this? No, in fact it was a premise of my dissertation. Am I that upset about it? Also, surprisingly, no. We are self-interested beings and do what we have to get by. I cannot blame a politician for doing what I would do myself in order to get a job. However, I am a bit upset that no one around here seems to be talking about Wulff's perhaps less than stellar record. I also don't think that the opposition, the SPD, is taking advantage of a possible CDU weakness. They too just seem to be along for the ride.

Friday, January 11, 2008

I love you . . . but in a completely formal and distanced manner

My students tell me all the time about how difficult English is. Now I admit that learning a foreign language is not the easiest thing to do. However, when it comes to idiosyncrasies in a language, which make it difficult to learn, I definitely think German is tougher.

Let's first take a look at the "der, die, das" problem. All nouns in German have a gender and a corresponding definite article (i.e. "the"): masculine (der), feminine (die) or neutral (das). When learning new nouns in German it is important to learn the gender that goes with it, because the definite article is almost always used. This is where the difficulty begins. The form of the "der, die, das" changes with the case of the noun. For example, a "der" noun is only "der" in the nominative case but "den" in the accusative case and "dem" in the dative case. Ugh!!!

I was too lazy to learn this is in high school and college, which has made my language skills a bit shaky at times and "der, die, das" is my biggest problem. Most Germans will over look the misuse of the definite article, except of course for my niece who just loves to correct my German.

The second example of German language craziness is the two forms of the word "you." In German the form "du" is informal and used with friends and family. The "Sie" form is formal and used with colleagues, doctors, strangers and basically anyone who is of a higher social rank than you. It is also used with your neighbors when your first meet them. The problem with these two forms is not necessarily the grammar, but rather the social implications and awkwardness that goes with them.

The problem with the formal and informal "you" is that you can never be 100% sure who you should use what with. For example, I have some really friendly neighbors. However, one was quick to say, "Let's use the 'du' form." The other neighbor seems to insist on the "Sie" form. Because this neighbor is older, I must wait for that person to offer the "du" form. This could take years as has been the case in some other blogger posts.

So to summarize, you have to be formal with people especially those who are "above" you. Only when the "higher" person offers the informal can you switch. To use the informal form with someone who has not offered it is a social sin equivalent to burning a church. I accidentally used the informal form with my German thesis advisor. He was shocked speechless and I quickly tried to cover my mistake.

The other day I was watching one of my favorite shows, Grey's Anatomy, in German. At the end of the 3rd season one of the doctor's has fallen in love with one of his patients. Finally, after several episodes of agony. The woman confesses her love to her doctor. Which form of "you" did she use? The "Sie" form?! I know that relationships in Germany tend to be more formal, but give me a break. If ever there was a time to be a bit informal, then I think it is when your are telling someone you are in love with them. I asked the German if I was right. He just smirked.

"Hey, he is the doctor and she is the patient. He did not offer the "du" form. What are you going to do?"

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Why Republicans Want Hillary to Win

I had a very strange dream last night. At around 10:45pm I went to bed (hey, pregnancy makes you tired), bemoaning the fact that the New Hampshire primary results would be available in Germany at 1am. I am a bit of a political junkie, but not enough to stay up until 2am. When I went to bed there were some mighty confident commentators predicting an Obama win. Me, I was not so sure and decided to hit the sack. Over the past few weeks I have been having more dreams about my coming baby. Last night was no different. This time I dreamt that Hillary Clinton was holding my baby and we were talking about the difficulties of labor. I woke up around 6:30am and thought, "What the . . . Hmm, I wonder what that means . . . Could it be?" I went down to the kitchen and turned on the radio. Sure enough, Hillary had pulled out a win in New Hampshire. This was not surprising to me as it was to some of those confident commentators on the TV.

For several months I have been anticipating the party primaries. Although I was too lazy to get in my absentee ballot, I will participate in November. For several months I have also been trying to explain the crazy U.S. election system to many Germans who are baffled by this primary . . . stuff.

Baffled German: What are these primaries about?

Claire: This is when people vote for who they want to be the party candidate for president in November. Each state is different. In some states you have to be in a party to vote for their candidate and in other states, you can just walk up and say, "I want to choose the Democratic candidate," even if you are a Republican.

Baffled German: So, what your saying is that a Republican could choose the Democratic candidate?

Claire: That is what I am saying.

Baffled German: Well, that's dumb. Why don't the parties just do it themselves?

Claire: In the 60's they thought it would be more "democratic" to open up the primaries.

Baffled German: They sort of shot themselves in the foot with that one.

Claire: Yeah, you could say that.

Baffled German: But why do they have to pick the candidates by February if the election is in November?

Claire: That is a very good question.

I love these discussions because Germans have an excellent way of pointing out the oddness of the U.S. electoral system. One of their favorite questions though is, "Who is going to win?" I do not have the answer to this. However, even when the press was tooting Hillary's horn in November and December, I knew that the Democratic race was going to be closer than expected. All you had to do was look at the donation numbers. Obama was able to raise as much money as Hillary, but in smaller amounts from more people. This was, for me, a clear indication that Obama had a strong grassroots support that should not be underestimated. And yet the press continued to shout about his demise and about Hillary's rising star. Why?

Contrary to what many Republicans say, the press is motivated by money and not by a liberal bias. Hillary sells newspapers. And boy if she is the candidate, think of all the things that they could say about her. Also, those in the more conservative press really want Hillary to be the candidate. Why?

That is simple. Hillary will be easier to beat in November than Obama. Yesterday I downloaded a video clip on and listened to a Republican strategist talk about how all Republicans had to do was increase Hillary's negatives and then the national election would only be decided by a few percentage points. My view was reinforced this morning when I saw Bill Bennett on CNN say that, "We should never count Hillary out of the race." That's right, Bill. I am sure the Republicans will not. So, why did the press shout about Hillary's impending doom after the Iowa caucus last week? That is simple, too. It sold newspapers. I think those who follow politics closely, knew that NH would be closer than what the press predicted.

So, after two elections the score stands at: Hillary 1, Obama 1. My father-in-law (aka FIL) and I had a lively discussion about the candidates last weekend. As is the case with many Germans, he is enamoured with Hillary. Me . . . not so much.

"Well," he argued "it is because she is a woman. Germany can elect a woman (i.e. Angela Merkel) and the Brits can do it (i.e. Margret Thatcher), but the U.S. is not ready for a woman."

I grunted. "FIL, I think the U.S. can elect a woman, but I am not sure they are ready for this woman."

He was perplexed by this. "Why?"

"Well, in the U.S. you either love Hillary or you hate her. There is not much middle ground and I just don't know if she could win the election in November. Also, don't underestimate what it would it would mean and how significant it would be for the U.S. to elect a black man."

I am definitely an Obama supporter and have been since he was elected to Congress. I find him inspiring, which is something I cannot say about a lot of politicians. I will definitely keep my eye on the races to see who the candidate is and you will probably here more about it. If you don't like my political stuff, well . . . skip it and come back the next day. I am sure there will be more about something else then.

You are probably wondering why I am not writing about the Republican side. Well, I am probably not going to vote Republican in November and thus my interest is in deciding the Democratic candidate. Also, the Republican candidates are a bit . . . boring. Unless we are talking about Giuliani, who is just a tad crazy. But you know, crazy is fun.


This article at Newsweek is an example of what I mean: How Two Campaigns Rose from the Dead. Did anyone actually think that Hillary was dead, or was it just a ploy to sell more papers? Also is Obama's fight really "uphill" is he the "underdog" again? Let's get real people. It is an even playing field that will not be clear until after Super Tuesday. However, nothing beats a good headline. Now, McCain rising from the dead . . . that is something I might get behind.

Oh, wouldn't it be cool if Little Dude was born on Super Tuesday? Do you think I could name him Politico?

Friday, January 04, 2008

Out with the old . . . and stuff

Dear Little Dude,

I cannot believe it. In less than 30 days you will be here. Everyone is convinced that you will come early. US Grandma dreamt twice that you will be born on Jan. 30, dad-squared’s birthday (I guess that is Grandpa Squared to you). However, I do not think that I will be that lucky. Nope, you seem to really enjoy kicking me in the kidneys too much to come out early.

You have gotten so much bigger over the past month. So much so, that I cannot put on shoes and socks without your father’s help. Sometimes though, he will sit there and laugh for a minute before helping. If you ever do this to me, I will ground you. Because I can. I am the mom. I would ground your father sometimes if I could.

Unfortunately I have been extremely tired and hungry lately. The only thing on the program is eating and sleeping, which is causing you to get even bigger. Do you see the vicious cycle that is developing? I wish that nesting instinct would kick-in. The house could use a good cleaning.

You got two really good Christmas gifts this year, but I do not think you will be able to appreciate them for awhile. First, US Grandma sent me my childhood Christmas angel. The angel is about 23 years old and was on the top of almost all my childhood Christmas trees. Although your father wants to keep the tree in the German tradition of red and gold, I put some color on it this year and the angel. It made me really happy, which made your father happy It looks like the colorful tree will be allowed to stay.

We still have not decided when you will be opening Christmas gifts in the future. Where daddy is from the Christ Child brings them on Christmas Eve, which is when they are opened. Where mommy is from Santa Claus (aka Saint Nicholas) brings them when you are asleep on Christmas Eve and then they are opened in the morning on December 25. We have a few years before this becomes a problem. Maybe I will write to the Embassy and see if there are any official rules for duel citizens such as your self.

Your second present is from your Germany Grandpa. Over the past two weeks, he has renovated your room. First he removed a window and put a big hole in the roof. This did not make me too happy. However, he managed to pull things together in just one week. You have a new radiator and windows that actually keep the wind and cold out. See, we are thoughtful parents already.

We still have to paint and finish up the flooring and the furniture store has not delivered the baby furniture yet. We have our fingers crossed that your bed will not be a repeat of the dreaded sofa “incident.” I cannot promise you anything though. Because of all the work that is left, could you do me a favor and not come early? Enjoy the rest of your stay in the womb. Trust me, it is cold out here. However, lay off the soccer practice with my bladder if you can. Thanks.

Much love,