Friday, November 30, 2007


Her timing is impeccable. Every night at 10:30 or 11, V. wakes up crying. And every Friday night for the last month (our first month with her), she's woken up off and on again all night, and no one in the house has gotten much sleep.
Tonight was different. Tonight she couldn't fall asleep to begin with. After listening to her wail for awhile in her crib, I went in, picked her up and laid down in our bed, with V. on my chest.
I finally knew what I needed to say to her,and I knew what I needed to hear myself saying. I whispered,
"V., you got to stop fighting it. You're home now. You're safe. You've got a sister now, and a mommy and a papa. We're your family now and we're gonna be your family for a long time. You're home. You're safe, sweetheart."

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Getting to know You

Over here in Vienna, many kids' first word is "ball," or "auto." Not our V.
Our second daughter, and first foster kid, was with her bio-mom for about nine months. The two of them tried living with V.'s grandmother, but that only lasted a week or so. Then the State arranged for V. to live with a 'crisis' foster mother, Mrs. B. Mrs. B really loved V., and wanted to keep her, but could not. After all of this, she came to live with us, just after her first birthday.
In the last few weeks, she has started babbling up a storm. But her first real word was "Bye-bye."

We're still getting to know her, and she us. Here's what I can say about her: like Adinah and I, she likes to sit in our bay window and watch the streetcars rumble by, close enough for us to see the bleary, early morning faces inside them. She likes apples, bread and butter, figs, mashed potatoes, sausages, grapes, soy beans--hell, she likes food. She also drinks like a fish--sometimes four bottles of tea a day.
If we let her, she would drink the water in the bathtub, which she really likes a lot. She likes clapping her hands and screaming REALLY loud.
V. does not like sleeping in her crib. I suspect she doesn't like sleeping at all. Which could be a problem, eventually. Usually she doesn't mind being changed, but sometimes she really DOESN'T like that either.
You get the idea. We've got a good idea of her loves and hates, but both Anette and I are still wondering who V. really is. Is she an astronaut or an entomologist? Will she be stoic or gabby? With me as her papa, she will no doubt be at least a little goofy, though just how goofy is key.
Is she the thoughtful, sensitive one, or a latent Austrailian? Is she John, Paul, George or Ringo? Handyman or Earth Mother?
We only have the slightest of clues. The one thing I can be reasonably sure of is that V. will not be a delicate creature, a limpid beauty or a pushover. She's already living larger than that.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


So Friday was a terrible day at work. Then I saw the ghost. And then Friday night, Adinah had another asthma relapse, and kept waking up, hacking and crying miserably, while V. got another tooth and stayed up much of the night, babbling or howling.
At first, I fell asleep on the brown sofa with V. in my arms, and Anette took Adinah into our bed. Somewhere around one a.m., I deposited V. in her crib and crawled into our bed, as Anette and Adinah went back to her room. Then V. started crying again, so I brought her into our bed, just as Anette and Adinah returned. Now with the whole gang of four in our bed, I lay awake, troubled my day. Eventually I fled to the green sofa, where I sorta slept until six a.m., when Anette brought V. out to me. The kid fell asleep again on my chest, and I stared up at the ceiling until sunrise.
In short, a night like JFK International Airport.
When we were all finally awake, I looked across the kitchen table and discovered (again) that I am married to the sweetest woman in the world.
She offered to take the girls for the morning, even though it was my day. She put V. back down again for a nap and told me to take one too. She smiled that big lovely smile.
And she insisted we go to H & M so she could buy me a new pair of pants. It was only at the cash register that I realized she's trying to turn me into a woman. She knew I'd had a bad day the day before and she actually thought she could cheer me up by getting me a new outfit. And it worked.
I don't know where she gets all this sunshine. I think she must have a gene I'm missing. I'm nice because I want people to like me. She's nice because I don't know why. Sometimes it seems like she's sweet because she likes our life together. Then I think, no, it's got to be something else.
She must have a hidden agenda underneath all that sugar. Right?

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Ghost

This afternoon, near the end of a bad day which was about to get worse, I saw a ghost waiting for the bus.
He was standing with a crowd of my patients, and he comes from the same part of the world, so at first I couldn't figure out why he looked familiar but somehow torn out of some past chapter of my life.
Then I remembered him. He was in a German class with me last year. Turkish guy, quiet, a keen student. He had been an Islamic teacher in Istanbul, and he'd moved here to Vienna with his family hoping to somehow make a better life for himself. He made Baklava for the class.
I shook his hand and for a few moments he looked like he was also trying to remember who the hell I was. Then he remembered me, too. Sort of.
Within about forty-five seconds, he told me that he was unemployed, seeing a doctor for depression, and had recently split up with his wife. Then, since we seemed to be going the same way, the ghost and I stood together for a tortured fifteen minutes, on the bus and then on the U-bahn, speaking mangled German and trying to make conversation, any conversation.
What do you say when someone you don't know very well tells you his life is falling apart?
I felt so bad for him. Vienna blows for lots of natural born Austrians, but it's got to be a very strange sort of hell for a immigrant who teaches the Koran. I'm sorry, I said. But I couldn't think of anything else to say that didn't sound false or patronizing or stupid or trivial.
So when we got to my subway stop, I just shook his hand and said,"Good Luck."
I should have taken it for an omen. A few minutes later, my day went all to hell.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Proper English

Parents the world over tend to get all warm and fuzzy when they think about raising their children bilingually. Especially in America, where knowing a second language is both rare and romanticized. I was like that too: I thought, 'Yeah, if we live in Austria, the kid will speak German and English, and she'll be soooo sophisticated!'
This fantasy died hard. First came the disappointment when, due to Kindergarten, the child-sponge-brain phenomenon, and various other factors, Adinah began to sling German much faster than I did. Disappointment turned to confusion when she began explaining the cultural stuff, like Austria's evil Santa, Krampus.
Adinah's English has lagged behind, partly because I'm the only one that speaks it with her on a regular basis. But lately, I've been disappointed once again, as I've begun to realize that Adinah doesn't speak proper English at all. She speaks Just now, she called me over and pointed out a wall hanging which is no longer hanging straight. She said, "This is bugging me."
She's also started turning my own words against me. When we play Uno, I tend to get competitive. I talk trash. With my four year old daughter, yes. But the other day, she held up her hand and announced, "These two cards will beat you."
Yesterday, we were discussing the significant others of various Walt Disney characters, and she challenged me to name Donald Duck's girlfriend. I told her that's Daisy Duck, of course.
She was still thinking about this when I put her to bed a few hours later. "Papa, who told you the name of that duck who is with Donald?"
"A little bird," I said.
A little pause.
"In really?"
I started laughing, then repeated the lie, and Adinah still didn't believe me. So I told her the truth, which is that I've seen all of Donald Duck's videos, and that's how I know who he's going out with.
Adinah got quiet again, then she said, "Daisy Duck Caca."

See, no matter how much of a language gap there is between us, I know that Adinah and I will always be able share a good poopy joke. Or even a bad one.
When she gets a little older--like say, sometime next week--I'll share all of the ones about Uranus, too.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Give me that Old time Religion

A week or so ago, I wrote that I "need to see neon occasionally." That was understatement. (As opposed to my statement that I am "vice-less," which was just a lie).

Last night, Andreas and I tore ourselves away from our respective domestic Hells, and went to the Szene club to see the Romanian brass band Fanfare Ciocarlia. Andy is one of the other double-papas I know; he's also a former employee of a multi-national music conglomerate. He practically had to propose to me to get me out of the house.
The band was great. Ten or eleven non-slim, non-young men playing horns 80 MPH. No stringed instruments in sight, and only two small drums. No room to breathe between the notes, barely any swing, all one crazy Roma hurtle. (Until you listened a little closer.) I've never shaken a tail feather to anything like it.
Andy and I couldn't/didn't speak much as they played, we just exchanged occasional grins, and I got lost trying to puzzle out why I liked these sounds. I thought about how dense and strange they seemed, and I remembered how dense and strange Roxy Music sounded to me the first time I heard them, back in the Cenozoic Age. I thought about Klezmer music, and wondered how this Romanian stuff is related to that Jewish stuff. And I remembered again, for the first time, that listening to music and going to see it played in a club is like church for me.
I wasn't raised with a religion. And though I know some fine Christian people, I am as suspicious of organized religion as I am of most governments. I think churches lie like snakes.
But music doesn't lie. Okay, wait, some music lies: Celine Dion has never sung a honest note in her life. What I really mean is that music is capable of telling truths words cannot express. It gives voice to the unspeakable, the un-sayable, the fearsome, awful, unapologetic and mega-wonderful stuff that is life.
Music, and what it does to us, is ultimately mysterious. Who knows why it works or why it doesn't? Why some songs are soulful, some bland, and some kill you every time you hear them. And why do we come back to the songs that slay us?
These qualities--honesty and inexplicability--are the same things people attribute to the Divine. Last night I realized, again, that listening and feeling good music is the closest I have ever come to God.

I just wanted to let you know.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

First Snow

Mostly, we're brainless at the end of the day, these days. My back feels wrenched, my eyes cried out and my thoughts, what there are of them, tend to be something like ""
But I briefly came alive again after nine p.m. the other night, when we were sitting on the couch and Anette said she doesn't want to call V. our foster daughter. She said people, both strangers and friends, had a totally different reaction when they met Adinah for the first time. When they met our adopted daughter, they said, "How great, how beautiful!" But when people meet our foster daughter, they say, "Oh poor thing."
I've never had any intention of introducing V. as "our foster daughter." She's our daughter, no matter how the state defines our relationship. But I was struck by my wife's observation, and I think I understand it.
Adinah's biological father made the choice--as soul-erasing as it must have been--to leave her at the orphanage. V.'s biological mother didn't make a choice--at least not a conscious one--but V. was taken away from her by city authorities. The pain of that--of losing your child, against your will--will always in that young woman. And I think it's probably inscribed in V. as well. I think it's something we're all going to have to deal with, over and over.
That said, there's no way I'm going to write a script for V. before I've even gotten to know her. She's gonna be who she is.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Agony and the Agony

Mmmn. She's teething. Little face contorted and wailing, cheeks flushed bright pink, a little snot and some swelling. Unconsolable.
It's gonna be another long night. If she won't sleep at all, I've got the first shift. If she sleeps until 2, or 4, then Anette takes her first, and hands her off at the break of dawn.
I've been spending a lot of time sleeping on the couch. See you in the morning, my wife. But somehow it's kind of glorious. It's just so hard-ass, stay up senseless, do what it takes. After a day of managing adults who sometimes act like babies, this feels real.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Freight and Handling

Uggh. Sunday is our family day, and I'm exhausted.
Anette handed the Package over to me at 6:30 a.m, and I took her into the kitchen for our regular breakfast of grapes, apple slices and baby talk about the black birds who fly over our courtyard. Then it was breakfast, some housecleaning, some furniture moving and card games, then a nap for the Package.
Then: we dropped off the 15 kilo Item at a birthday party for Rita Jane, took a long walk through the park with the Package, who was sleeping again, returned to the birthday party, picked up the Item as well as a companion Parcel (tow-headed, approximately five), then proceeded to the meet at Lichenstein Palais Park. All Packages and Parcels pleased. Until hysteria and defiance set in, climaxing in the need for a hand truck (me) to cart said Item out of the park.
Back home again, I made mashed potatoes, and ran a bath for both the Package and Item, then we all played one more round of Uno. Anette plugged a bottle into the Package at about 7:30 p.m., then she delivered the Item to bed.
Now, ummm....a romantic comedy with Will Smith, dubbed into German television?