Thursday, April 30, 2009

Mrs. Martin Comes to Town

My mom got to Vienna last week, and she's been wearing me out. She's been dining with crown princes, brokering Austria's economic recovery, going to all nite raves and gambling in some of the most dangerous casinos in town. I've tried reasoning with her but she just won't listen. I ask her, 'Ma, what are you rebelling against?' And she says,'Whaddya got?'

But seriously folks, I'm tore up. It's not easy keeping four women happy 24-7!

The best thing, the most important thing, is that Ma is getting to know V. And she gets the full-day view. Unlike the little old ladies on the strassenbahn who cry out,'Oh, susse Maus!' when they see V., Ma knows V. isn't pure sunshine. At the end of some of the past days, Ma has had this dazed look, and said, "She's quite a handful!" Or "It's hard work, isn't it?" Last night, Ma said, "You've got two very sweet kids. And you're very sweet parents."

As for V., she finally knows she has another Oma. At first, my youngest daughter just looked at my mother and hollered, "Wer bist du? (Who are you?)" Now V. runs around the house squeaking 'Mimi!' in the same way she would squeak 'Poppy!' or 'Adinah!' That is to say, for V. my mother has become another resource for satisfying her various needs, which include play, attention and the occasional stick of chewing gum. 'Kaugummi!'

They don't understand each other so well. My mom doesn't speak any German, and V. doesn't speak particularly recognizable English, though she understands it when I speak it to her. So this unfamiliar Texan lady speaks to her and V. burbles German back, and then the Texan lady says, 'Wha-?'

maybe this is okay. It is what it is.

My mom is 76 years old. It was so brave of her to come to this strange and foreign land by herself. She flew all the way from Pantego, Texas, to see V. with her own eyes for the first time. (I mean, she wanted to see the rest of us too.) Ma's not getting any younger. I know I don't have too much time left with her.

The other night, near bed time, we were all scurrying around in our usual chaos of goofing off, brushing teeth, diaper-changing and end-of-the-day exhaustion. Suddenly, Ma was in a corner with Adinah, teaching the girl how to sew. Deanie was fascinated. And both of them were giggling and talking quick like co-conspirators. My mom was so happy to be contributing something, to be playing a role in our little nut village.

It was something to remember.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Top Ten Important facts about the Turkish Cafeteria Across the Street from my Office

1) The breaded, fried fish is good, in a high school cafeteria sort of way.

2) Muslim women do not enter the place, but my female friends, colleagues and bosses (mostly not Muslim) who have eaten there with me have encountered no problems.

3) Cola Turka, like RC, is, meh, okay.

4) Turkish CNN looks, sounds and smells much like Yank CNN.

5) The price of the same lunch seems to fluctuate from day to day, and from customer to customer.

6) I've heard that it's part of a union, and I know there is a mosque upstairs, but I can't be bothered to find out any more about the place--I'm just so happy to have a good place to eat lunch near my job.

7) The men order tea at the counter, but buy their coffee from the coffee vending machine.

8) Many of the Turkish men on the TV have odd haircuts--they look like a cross between a monk and a Beatle.

9) The men kiss each other hello. And that's sort of nice.

Friday, April 17, 2009

In the Night

The Cough is back to fuck with Adinah, and last night she asked me to sleep on the couch next to her room. After I gave her Sultanol, Flixotid and Singulair, rubbed her back and suggested she make up a story about Pegasus the Flying Horse in her head, she fell asleep.

At about 3:30 a.m., she called out to me. She was coughing a lot, but she woke me up because she wanted to go to the toilet. So we did that, and Adinah started down the hallway to go back to her room. I switched off the light above the toilet and turned to join her. I thought she might want me to hold her hand as we walked back to her bed in the dark. I couldn't see her, so I had to reach out a little tentatively to find her hand. She was standing about where I expected her to be, waiting for me. But then she took my hand and started walking again quite confidently.

For a moment, it was unclear who was leading who, the daughter or the father.

It struck me as a perfect, diamond-bullet sort of metaphor for parenthood.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Three things are coalescing in my crummy, sideways mind:

1) An important news item about Jennifer Love Hewitt!! I've always had a keen interest in Ms. Hewitt's theatrical career. She has a nice rack. Anyway, apparently, she looks forward to one day showing pin-up photos of herself to her grandchildren. As she puts it, then she can say "'See, I was cute.'"

2) Puberty is very difficult for some parents. I'm told it's also painful for teenagers themselves, but, really, who cares? A couple we know are having a bad time of it. But their child isn't taking drugs or having sex or bullying people online. No. The thing that's really troubling them is that no matter what they do, their kid keeps telling them, "You're embarrassing."

3) After six years of my own painful research, I'm certain that parenthood does in fact reduce one to a crummy, slovenly, untucked and uncool shadow of one's former self. The other night, Anette and I were standing outside of our cabin on the night train home from an Easter weekend with the grandparents. We were exhausted, poorly dressed and bitchy. We were waiting for our two darling daughters to fall asleep, so that we could enter the cabin, rummage around in the dark for our pajamas and toothbrushes, and then do the same. We must have looked profoundly square, and more than a little miserable.
In the cabin next to ours, twenty-one year old tough girls were hoisting beers and talking trash about tough boys. Fifteen feet down the hallway, a couple of thirty-year-old paragliders were slowly circling a 27-year-old junior executive babe--all 3 were slim, trim and dressed in black. Even the train steward was young and moussed up.
Most of these people didn't pay us any attention. But if they had, they might have thought I was a pretty sad excuse for an amateur adult. As I lay in my bunk a bit later, I felt a bit like a laughingstock. And then of course I fell asleep, because I was tired and I'm old.

Why is it so important to us to somehow convey to the youth, and especially our own spawn, that we once had a clue? That we somehow 'get' them because we were once under forty, too?

Some of this is completely understandable and no big deal to me. Even if Jennifer Love Hewitt was my grandmother, seeing pin-up fotos of her would be revolting. What kid would wanna see 'Nanna's naked popo?

And I'm certain that Adinah and V. will think I'm embarrassing when they're teenagers. They probably think that now. This is a kid's job. Why would anyone expect anything different from their kid? Parents and their children aren't pals or co-conspirators--they're apples and oranges. Two completely different kinds of ships in the night. I think it's much creepier when a kid listens to the same kind of music that their parents do, instead of listening to Katy Perry like all the other young idiots.

But there on the train, I got caught up in thinking, 'These kids don't really know me. I'm not always tired and crabby and middle-aged. Look, I used to hang out with actual rock stars, man!'

It was really stupid.

Oh well.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Friday, April 10, 2009

Another Question They Ask

The other thing the hopeful immigrants to the US whom I work with ask me frequently is,

'Will I have to get a gun when we move to America?'

Now after the shooting at this community and immigration center in Binghamton, NY, I expect more questions. 'Will we be safe in our English classes?' 'Can't the US police do anything about these shootings?' Why does this happen so much in America?'

As usual I'll try to be reassuring, but of course, I can't answer these questions.

This morning, a woman told me her children are 9 and 12, and she's worried they won't be safe in American public schools.
Should I tell her that I would be worried about the same thing if we were moving back to the US?

Usually, I point out that the danger in US public schools has been sensationalized and exaggerated. I tell them that they probably won't be in 'bad' neighborhoods too often in the US, and when they are, nothing will happen to them. I tell them, no, do not buy a gun, because you're statistically more likely to shoot someone in your own family with it. All of these things are true.

But when I hear myself saying them, it don't sound so reassuring.

There are too many guns in the US, and they're too easy to get. Everyone knows this. Assault weapons are only good for one thing: killing lots of humans. So why are they still obtainable by madmen with grudges? It's the gun lobby, stoopid. It's about money. Everybody knows.

Friday, April 3, 2009


This time I mean it: my head is going to explode.

I started this blog as a writing project about how I am 'becoming' European, becoming a parent, and becoming a real live adult person, too. Somewhere along the line, I became a manager who supervises seven or eight people in an office. So I guess I'm also becoming a boss.

Sometimes I feel like I want to crawl under a table and stay there. Sometimes it is too much.

I don't understand how one human can be kind and be a boss at the same time. i don't understand how one can be both a parent and a friend to one's children. I'm not always sure I can be all at the same time a husband, lover, foil, partner and tea-maker for my wife, my Anette.

Sociologists may refer to this as multiplicity, but it feels like spontaneous combustion.

On some days, at least.

maybe that's the answer: let's all be casually schizophrenic. One day we're authority figures, the next, peace-makers and care-givers. On Monday, I'm a mean old daddy, on Tuesday I'm Adinah's overgrown playmate again.

Wouldn't it be easier to just be one person? Is anyone just a Great Dad, or a Good and Wise Boss? Are Hollywood movies the only place where one can find heroes and Perfect Husbands and Hunks with Hearts of Gold? Probably. But, somewhat more seriously, wouldn't it just be easier to always be strict with your staff and with your children? To show no mercy and never let up?

Yes. That would be easier. This is what I will do, from now on. I will be One Man, attending to my interests, missions and needs. I will be Mr. Unilateral. I will know what I want, and exactly when others need to give it to me, I will tell them, and if they don't like it, they can get fucked, man! Everyone will say 'Yes,' and address me as 'Sir.' Fine.


You know what my problem is? I want people to like me, and this is what guides my actions, but I know what I think is right, and this is what guides my thoughts. This is not always such a cozy way to be. People piss me off, but I keep trying to be nice to them. Until suddenly I'm really really not nice to them. I'm patient, gentle and respectful, until they start treating me like a doormat. Suddenly I'm fantasizing about serving someone a milkshake laced with powdered glass.


I've said too much again, haven't I?