At the end of Erik’s first birthday, we – the exhausted parents and grandparents – landed on the sofa to watch Richard Linklater’s ‚Boyhood‘. We couldn’t have picked a better time to watch this wonderful film.
A life of adventures on bicycles, sibling fights, adults and their constant advice and comments, emotional mothers, upheavals, disappointments, success and failure and a world getting bigger and bigger.
The film reminds you just how fleeting, painful and precious the passage of time is.
As our little one embarks on his boyhood, I pledge to celebrate the joy of all those everyday moments with him, and to take pleasure in his increasing independence as he takes his place in the world.
We could have been lying on white sand under palm trees on a Thai beach resort soaking up the sun…
Instead we have chosen to spend a few days at the Baltic coast or ‚Ostsee‘.
We were prepared for a choppy sea and a moody atmosphere. We were prepared for rain. We were prepared for snow.
What we weren’t prepared for was sun and a beautiful light. And the freezing cold. The world is an icebox and our hotel room is our refuge. Literally. At -10 degrees and with an added wind-chill factor, it’s hard to be out for more than 15 minutes at a time. All the warm clothing and layering doesn’t really seem to help. Which explains why I choose to look like a strange eskimo.
But when we make it out, it’s beautiful. Bright, wintry days. Just as it should be. Short promenade walks with the sound of waves crashing to shore. The call of seagulls. The sight of ships in the harbour. Old lighthouses. Ice-cream shops closed up for the season. Warming up over steaming cups of tea.
What can I say? It was the year of love.
Love that came so suddenly and enveloped our lives.
Love that softened me from all sides.
A ringside view of my husband falling just as instantly in love with our child.
A love that seems to grow with every strengthened muscle, each new expression and each turn of the head.
A love that looks on with wonder at the little feet clambering around, and which swells as a tired head seeks its rest against my chest.
Whatever challenges and sorrows in store ahead, it feels like there was enough love this year to last us a lifetime.
And just like that, the advent time has come to an end. The neighborhood christmas market which has decorated my doorstep for the last 4 weeks closed its shutters for the last time last night and is packing up to leave this morning.
The very last envelope of my advent calendar will be opened.
And the last few Plätzchen will be eaten.
My German friends will decorating Christmas trees and celebrating later today and my family and friends in the UK will be eagerly awaiting Christmas morning. Whatever the differences in customs, a lot will be the same across the Channel. A time to sit back, a time to eat, a time for wintry walks, a time for party hats and silly jokes (in the UK anyway), a time for stories by candlelight, a time for old-fashioned games and above all, a time spent with loved ones.
However you are celebrating, Merry Christmas one and all.
3 years ago my husband got me to start using a social network called ‚Path‘. Path a is friends network like Facebook, but its appeal is the closed circle it provides for close friends and family. It has a pretty layout and its own photo filters which makes it nicer than a what’s app chat group to look back on. Self-congratulatory posts, constant baby updates and compromising pictures belong on Path.
This week I noticed that I had shared 1000 ‚moments‘ on Path. Round numbers always give me a sense of achievement. And flicking back through some of the many photos and comments did put a smile on my face.
Whilst we celebrated a wonderful wedding in the heart of the historic town of one of Europe’s beautiful capitals, another capital was in shock from a deadly terrorist attack in its fine streets.
And as we make our way home through what feels like a Europe without borders, those very borders are being closed, tightened and rethought.
It’s a sad day for Europe. Yes, horrendous terrorist attacks take place all over the world and much too often – but we somehow expect peace here in Europe. And hope very much that peace can still exist.
People often ask me if I miss life in the UK. Well, it’s been such a long time since I had an everyday life there that I can barely answer that question.
But the last couple of trips to the UK have been just about that. No darting about from place to place, no string of parties and bbqs – just quiet time spent mostly with family and the semblance of an everyday life. At least an everday life of someone on maternity leave. Far from being dull, there were quite a few highlights:
- Catching an early screening of the new James Bond (UK release date 1 week earlier than in Germany) and the pleasure of watching it in English (surprisingly, few cinema theatres in Germany show original language showings) and in the company of my dad and brother. It’s worth a watch!
- Strolling through Birmingham’s busy city centre and becoming familiar with the new commercial face of its main station. And a rainy morning walk over to the hip jewellery quarter area. The city has changed a lot since I lived here 10 years ago. The cafe culture has boomed in the past few years with many independent cafes with lots of charm.
- Meeting British mums at a playgroup and getting an insight into the world of maternity leave in the UK.
- A visit to a pub or two…and a portion of fish and chips or two.
- Several visits to several parks later, my little niece and nephew – who I sadly don’t get to see as often as I would like – finally got used to me. Is there a nicer feeling than when a 2-year-old suddenly asks to hold your hand?
- The wonderful christening celebration of our little man on a moody, wet, muddy and somewhat typically English autumnal weekend. The perfect family celebration to round up a lovely 2 week stay.
For years I’ve been a staunch defender of the NHS in Great Britain. When Germans speak questioningly (or sometimes downright badly) of it, I’ve always said it provides fair, efficient, good quality care for the patients and is brilliant for the doctors.
Brilliant for the doctors because of the excellent, well-planned teaching it delivers to its medical students.
Brilliant because of the on-the-job training it offers its junior doctors, well integrated alongside the service they provide for patients.
Brilliant because of its centrally organized junior doctor training program that requires doctors to work in a mixture of super-sized university hospitals and smaller district generals, allowing them to learn to deal with varying levels of resources and to get used to working with bosses with different methods and ideas.
Brilliant because of the research and audit which is incorporated into each clinical role, however big or small the hospital.
Brilliant because of the chance to very often work in a team of international doctors and allied health-care professionals.
But for years, the NHS has been in trouble. Largely it seems because of poor management. Possibly because such a system is not sustainable.
There have been signs of it floundering, but the NHS machine has trundled along – mainly due to the commitment, diligence and good will of all its workers.
This is about to change big time.
A government seeking to cut costs has had the idea to change the pay scale of doctors. Out of office hours work was previously financially rewarded on a different scale to care of patients during normal office hours. Henceforth however, doctors should be paid the same regardless of whether they are in work on a Monday morning or missing a day spent with the family on Saturday to be in work. This means up to a 30-40% pay cut for some for exactly the same work at anti-social hours. This is being shamefully sold to the public as a move towards better round the clock care.
But with this move, the good will is quite understandably coming to an end. Doctors are on the march. They have taken to the streets and to social media platforms. Yesterday 20,000 doctors (and seemingly every single one of my doctor friends on Facebook) turned up in protest to a rally in London against the proposed new contract.
And it’s not just about the money. Doctors (along with nurses, teachers) have had a pay freeze for the past 5 years already and haven’t really been heard to grumble about it. At the core is the lack of value that the state-based system places on its workers, the fear that the quality of doctors will suffer with the proposed changes (with many bound to consider better options abroad or in another branch altogether) and the suspicion that the NHS is being surreptitiously pushed towards privatisation.
From the viewpoint of a partly privatised healthcare system here in Germany, I don’t see this as being all evil. The question is if this is the end of the NHS as we know it.
A time to look back on and celebrate but also a time to make plans for the period ahead. As my baby lies on my lap asleep, it’s hard to imagine a time when I will be happy to go back to work and not be with him all day. Presumably all mothers feel the same.
And as my little one learns the taste of things other than mother’s milk, as he squirms with frustration on the floor and as we sign the contract for his nursery place next year, I can’t help but feel that my little kite is preparing itself for flight. Whether I am ready or not.
Mother, any distance greater than a single span
Mother, any distance greater than a single span
requires a second pair of hands.
You come to help me measure windows, pelmets, doors,
the acres of the walls, the prairies of the floors.
You at the zero-end, me with the spool of tape, recording
length, reporting metres, centimetres back to base, then leaving
up the stairs, the line still feeding out, unreeling
years between us. Anchor. Kite.
I space-walk through the empty bedrooms, climb
the ladder to the loft, to breaking point, where something
has to give;
two floors below your fingertips still pinch
the last one-hundredth of an inch…I reach
towards a hatch that opens on an endless sky
to fall or fly.