Entries by sandhya matthes

6 months of Motherhood

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6 months. Of new life. Of a change in my life. Of life turned upside down, paused, fast-forwarded and full of meaning and wonder.

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.

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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.

Simon Armitage

 

 

The summer of my life

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It was a new feeling: being proud of my adoptive home country. Germany’s response to the refugee crisis has been far more applaudable than that of the UK so far. Reading the positive opinion of the British press towards Germany made me feel strangely good.

All that may be about to change as news of Germany’s closed border to Austria came last night. And an increasingly uneasy feeling descends on Europe.


As it is, I sometimes feel as if I am living in a parallel world – in the so-called ‚maternity bubble‘. A world shrunk down to accommodate just me and my little family.

As Munich bathes in the last of the summer sun, I reflect on more than 3 months of continuous good weather, countless beer garden visits, walks by the lakes, bbq parties, mountain hikes, breakfasting on our tiny balcony, a spectacular wedding in France, a long stretch at home in England, some relaxing days amid the Tuscan hills and lots of time with the little boy in my life and his ever changing ways. Put another way – surely the best summer of my life.

Summer in the UK

Foto (29)I wrote about all the things I missed about the UK after a year long absence. And like a whirlwind, 4 wonderful weeks of summer days in England flew by.

In that time I relished all sorts of great British culinary highlights: fish and chips, several rounds of cream tea in quaint tearooms, picnics made up of pork pies and scotch eggs, a fresh corned beef sandwich at a coastal cafe, an afternoon sipping Pimms with friends and bacon sandwiches on a rainy afternoon.

Most of these cravings were I suspect more to do with the comforting feeling of being at home than a genuine love of, for example, pork pies.

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Equally, I found some time to travel, with wonderful day trips exploring the Cotswolds, countryside walks in the midlands and even a brief stop-over in the only so slightly rainy Somerset. This gave me a chance to take in the English countryside with a sense of appreciation which only comes upon moving away. Or perhaps upon growing up. Or a mixture of both.

Above all though, I had the chance to meet with friends and the newest, cutest members of their young families. And I got to spend a proper amount of time with my own family. And those are the memories I will cherish the most from one of the most special summers of my life.

10 things I like about you, Britain

For several reasons put together, the last time I set foot on British soil was over a year ago. Puh, as the Germans would so nicely put it. That is a long stretch. But absence only makes the heart grow fonder. And it makes me all the more ecstatic to know that in a few days I will be flying out to one long, glorious summer on the British isles (even if it turns out to be cold and wet). And when I think about it in anticipation, here’s what I miss the most:

1. British warmth and friendliness

The people of Munich are known for their coolness towards newcomers. They need time for you to earn their trust and their friendship, but apparently once you have, it is there forever. The people from Duesseldorf (my old town) and the nearby area on the other hand, are known for their warmth.

Whenever I hear this discussion amongst Germans, I have to internally snigger. Because this so-called warmth is still quite a few degrees under that which is emitted by the average British person. Sometimes you really do just need to hear ‚alright Luv?‘ and the ‚what can I do for you sweetheart?‘ from strangers and it brightens up your day.

2. British humour

The above warmth and friendliness is most often combined with a self-deprecating, ever so slightly sarcastic and always on the ball wit which almost every British person seems to be born with. And if you weren’t born there, you develop it as part of the cultural integration program.

3. Fish and chips (and mushy peas)

Sure, the Germans have their baked fish in bread rolls and their funny soused herring, especially the more north you go, but I can sense that they look down on a bag of fish and chips and just don’t quite get how good it can be. Find the right chippy to collect your fish and chips from and your cosy Friday night-in or a seaside trip is complete in my opinion. Ok, I admit I needed time to acquire a taste for the mushy peas, but now I find them more than tolerable.

4. The British coast

Yes I know it rains, yes I know you are most likely to be eating your homemade Devon ice cream under cloudy skies and the coastal walk is not to be undertaken without wind- and water-proof gear at the ready – but oh that rugged British coast line. And did a cornish pasty, or said bag of slightly soggy chips ever taste better than on a blustery day at a remote seaside village?

5. Diversity

Yes you can be British and black. Yes you can be British and brown. Yes you can be British and look however you look. And feel accepted. I’m not saying that integration is perfect in the UK, but it has made huge strides in the last couple of decades and is miles ahead from Germany.

6. London

Foreigners sometimes use the words ‚England‘ and ‚London‘ interchangeably as if it were one and the same. In reality, visiting London is like visiting another land within England. It is unique in its character, architecture, infrastructure and zeitgeist – a cosmos in itself, far flung from any other city in the UK.

Arriving at one of London’s main stations in the bustle of the day among the extremely trendy and streetwise crowd always leaves me in awe and with a sense of excitement. The city can’t help but buzz. And there is always something new to discover, no matter how many times you visit the city.

7. The English countryside

Pick even one of the less pretty industrial cities (sorry Birmingham), travel 30 minutes out of the city and you will hit green pastures, forest trails and maybe some modest hills if you are lucky. While you may have to travel quite a few miles to reach a mountainous landscape (rather to Scotland or Wales), the English countryside around you possesses great charm.

8. Pub lunches

And if you did make it through one of the above nature trails, there is no place better to unwind that in a cosy pub. Log fires, wooden panels and copper pots lend snug perfection in winter and the variety with gardens over-looking canals, streams and rivers are perfect for the summer. And if you scoff at the idea of simple pub grub, then seek out a gastropub.

9. A nice cup of tea

I stopped ordering tea in German cafes a log time ago. Because they can’t make you a nice, ever-comforting cup of tea like you would get at a friend’s house at home. They classically offer you the choice of one insipid black tea and then a selection of peppermint, herb or fruit teas. It’s just not the same. There is a place in the world for Tetley/PG Tips/Yorkshire tea.

10. The English Heritage

Ancient ruins, grand manor houses, beautiful English gardens – the history of England is all here and well managed by the English Heritage.  And they offer a huge number of summer events.

The summer season for me includes whenever possible watching an outdoor Shakespeare play with the backdrop of one an ancient priory or a spectacular courtyard, spread out on picnic blankets and snacking on pork pies and scotch eggs.

A few days in Basel

It seems to me that I have an unknown penchant for cities beginning with the letter ‚B‘ (see Brussels, Barcelona, Berchtesgaden). Or at least fate seems to take me there. A family get-together this weekend was a wonderful chance to discover Basel. And what a pretty little city it is.

The beautiful old-town was a perfect Swiss combination of German orderliness and French charm and was completely free from cars, and in quite a few streets seemed to be completely free of people.

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Probably because the blazing sun on this summer weekend took the residents of the city down to the Rhine. And the Rhine had a completely different character to the one I am familiar with from my time in Duesseldorf – clear, blue and full of swimmers and pleasure boats.

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And so after a wander around the old town, we too took a stroll along the hot riverside paving and cooled off by diving into the Rhine and drifting pleasantly down stream to a handily placed beach bar.

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This seems to be a city with an astounding quality of life. The weekend was rounded off with a Sunday morning walk along the Rhine, a strong coffee from a riverside cafe and the promise to visit the city again.

On Europe

One of the things I like about living in Germany is that I feel more a part of Europe and much more a European. And it’s purely an emotional thing.

Our summer holiday saw us driving through southern Germany, Austria, Italy and France in a matter of a week. Miles of breath-taking alpine scenery, picturesque hilltop villages , sprawling towns in the valleys below and lakeside panoramas. The border between these countries was more marked by the change in architecture, town planning, traffic signs and toll charges than the largely redundant border controls. This free passage is something I never take for granted.

As we dined on delicious pasta and took in the romance of the Italian lakeside towns, as we breakfasted on coffee and scrumptious croissants in a simple French bar, as I conversed with American wedding guests who marvelled at the diversity and charm of Europe and as we returned home to beautiful Munich (and finally to some good German bread), I could only hope that Europe is not dying.

As the Greeks head to the polls today, as the nations decide on the future of Europe, I hope that in a non-political, non-financial and completely emotional way that our neighbours will be ok and that I will one day stand in awe of the Acropolis and dip my feet in the Aegean sea and still feel as if I am in the heart of Europe.

First family holiday

There is no better feeling than the last day of work before a holiday. Desk tidied, mail traffic sorted, important jobs handed over and a previously unnoticed weight lifted from the shoulder as you exit the office door.

It’s not quite the same feeling on maternity leave. But all the same.

Almost 3 months in, I still consider looking after a baby a pleasure rather than a chore. However, 2 pairs of hands are a definite bonus when it comes to this job.

And whilst being on holiday doesn’t now automatically equate to lie-ins and carefree sundowners, there are more than a few things I am looking forward to:

Long walks in new surroundings, sharing the baby’s happy morning moments with my husband, sharing the dreaded witching hour with my husband, daily swims with the sun on my shoulders, a week of room service, good pasta, the increasingly curious looks of the baby, a good book (Drohenland by Tom Hillenbrand), an Irish-English-French wedding knees up, fresh French baguette, the daily view of mountains and lakes, and some family time.

A few days in Duesseldorf

I left Duesseldorf with my heels dragging almost exactly one year ago. And as great a city as Munich is, with its wonderful backdrop of mountains and lakes, Duesseldorf will always have a special meaning for me. The time when a foreign city and country started to feel like home.

How lovely it was to spend a weekend in Duesseldorf again. To arrive just in time to enjoy a sunset walk along the Rhine.photoDUS1

To walk familiar streets and notice everything new and old. To feel instantly at home and yet view the city as a guest.

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To discover new sides to the city.

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To be bathed in sunshine.

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And to be reunited with friends. Ah, Duesseldorf.

On Immunity

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A colleague and I have noticed how paediatricians here appear to be ever so latently and subtly anti-vaccinators. They don’t tell you this outright, but it’s the feeling you are left with when the topic of vaccination is brought up.

Sure, doctors are no longer paternalistic, and that’s a good thing. And parents are increasingly well-informed. But an expert opinion and clear illustration of the main facts are always invaluable. I don’t know if it’s time constraints, but my perception was that the approach was heavy on parental choice with a distinct impression of lack of concern if parents decide not to bring their child along for certain jabs. Disappointingly without really spending the time to explain the benefits of vaccination for that disease, both to your child and the community of children it lives in. Or to mention that we are speaking about standard vaccinations that are recommended by paediatric societies in many parts of the world.

On my reading list this week was therefore ‚On Immunity – An Inoculation‘ by Eula Biss. A book tackling the history of inoculation, the scientific world of immunisation and the ethical and social side to vaccination. What I wasn’t expecting was that these hard issues would be told in a creative journey of stories relating to mythology, metaphors and motherhood. And what a beautifully written journey it is – a journey through hard facts, conflicting opinions, the fascinating history of medicine, a personal narrative of the neurosis and anxieties of new motherhood and with just a little bit of philosophizing along the way.

A highly recommended read for anyone really. And certainly for all mothers. All parents.

Raising a bilingual child

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Before Erik came along, I proudly stated that this wouldn’t become a ‚mommy blog‘. Although I meant it, I was a little naive about the fact that being a mum is currently my ‚full-time job‘ and a lot of the things that I do, things I read, people I meet, places I go, conversations I have, somehow relate to my new status as a mother.

Wracking my brains for a non-baby related theme is currently harder than I had imagined or planned. Thus for today I’m giving up, with a note to myself to try to be broader in future.

A topic I am currently occupied with is bilingualism.

Being a Brit living in Germany, it’s important that Erik learns to speak English as well as German.  The plan was therefore for me to speak to him in English and my husband in German.

This is not as easy as I imagined.  I’ve gotten so used to speaking in German one hundred percent of almost every day, that it feels strange to speak to this little person beside me in English. When we are out and about, in the presence of strangers in shops, park benches etc. it feels almost wrong to speak to him in English rather than the language of the community. Perhaps because I don’t want to be seen as a foreigner who doesn’t speak German.

Thus I am reading a book about bilingualism ‚Be bilingual – Practical ideas for multilingual families‘ by Annika Bourgogne and quizzing every other bilingual family I happen to meet on their experiences.

Our tactic of ‚one parent, one language‘ does seems to be the recommended way for us to go. Here are some of the important facts I have learned:

1.Worldwide, the majority of the population is either bilingual or multi-lingual. So it’s really not that special. And most of these parents are presumably raising their kids bilingually quite naturally without giving it too much thought. It’s more that as a Brit, learning a second language is often seen as a nice extra but never a necessity meaning that it does indeed feel like something special.

2. A child needs to be exposed to the ‚minority language‘ for at least 30% of the time. For the first year at least, Erik has the advantage that he pretty much has no choice but to hang out with me. After that however, the ‚majority language‘ of German is what he will increasingly be exposed to and quickly starts to dominate. That is why for example, a bilingual nursery would be a huge advantage. And engaging an english speaking babysitter. And regular video-calls with family.

3. Being brought up bilingually doesn’t hinder speech development as previously thought. Some kids may start to speak later, but this apparently falls into the normal spectrum of language development, just as there are stark differences to be seen between monolingual kids.

4. Expect some resistance from your kid at some point. I consider English my native language. My other native language is Tamil. Despite the fact that my parents spoke to me in Tamil, at some point after our move to England, I just replied in English. Perhaps due to a need to fit in. The result now is that I am a passive bilingual: though I understand Tamil without a problem, I couldn’t string together one sentence on my own. The fact that I possess no literacy skills in Tamil is another factor which contributes to this.

5. A second language is often referred to as a gift. But apparently it also takes a bit of work. Simple things such as books and multimedia in the second language are important. But also contact with kids the same age who speak the minority language. And regular trips to a place speaking that language.

6.Bilingualism has many advantages for later life. It is said to have a protective effect on cognitive decline, slowing for example the onset of dementia. It also supposedly makes it easier to later master another language.

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