Alleinerziehend: Today’s #dailydeutsch

I am exhausted. Again.

A couple of years ago, at an outing with all of the parents at the Kita, one of the dads turned to me and said, “Gosh, raising your kid all alone must be tough.” To this dad, who had never met my ex, I was doing everything by myself, hence his word choice: alleinerziehend. There’s not really another word for a single mom (which is why the English phrase single mom has, to my chagrin, been adopted here in Germany).

On my other side sat another dad, one who also didn’t know my ex but who’d had a kid and then separated from his baby mamma and then continued to raise his kid with her, co-parenting so that both of them had the kid 3-1/2 days each week. And so this dad, based on his own experience, answered for me. “It’s not tough. She’s not alleinerziehend. She’s not doing it all on her own.”

Oh. Um.

Compared to my friend, whose baby daddy lives in LA and doesn’t ever visit or pay child support, he’s right: I am not completely alone. Diva’s dad every so often has picked her up to go have fun in his garden and he pays his laughable minimum according to the Duesseldorfer Tabelle (doesn’t get any more frugal than that, with a maximum per kid payment of 334 Euros if you’re an upper bracket earner). I guess I really haven’t been doing all the work myself.

However.

A kid is around 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And I’m having a hard time believing that I’m not in it alone, as I am currently doing all the housework and getting the finances in order and working and looking for new work and making sure Diva gets all the love and attention she needs while also getting her ready for her future school days, not to mention making sure she is cleaned and bathed and fed and well-slept each night while her dad has, once again, gone off the radar. Since January, he has seen her five times. Five. My lawyer tells me this is not enough. She tells me Diva needs to see her dad more.

You see, Germany has adopted the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and as a result, one of the firm beliefs in German custody laws is that the child needs to have both parents in his or her life. So technically, on a legal level, there should never ever be an alleinerziehend situation. At least not on paper. And if, then only because the kid was placed in severe danger by one of the parents or paternity was absolutely unknown. And so, even when Diva is living with me and spending 24/7 with me, we are technically legally splitting custody 50/50. There is no way around this.

However.

Erziehen is translated as the process of raising a child. Custody is not erziehen; it has nothing to do with instilling morals and values nor on where and how a kid is brought up. So although legal custody is limited to who can decide which school a kid goes to and who can sign her passport application — if there are two names on a birth certificate, both of those signatures have to be present on all official documents — erziehen falls under the everyday nonsense that comes with bringing up a kid and that is not necessarily decided on by a court but by the parents. And unless the parents get along and are willing to do the so-called “Prenzlauer Berg” model in which a kid shifts homes every Sunday, spending one week with mom, the following with dad, the erziehen really is done by the person with whom the kid stays the most.

In our case, me. And so when her dad isn’t around, as has been the case for over a month now, I don’t understand how this cannot be called alleinerziehend. I’m alone. I’m raising her. Five out of 120 days doesn’t feel like 50/50. So how is this not alleinerziehend? Is this a semantic issue or what am I missing (besides sleep)?

#DailyDeutsch … Erholung, or why I’m hiding in my bed with a comforter pulled up to my eyes

With just one post a month, you’d be forgiven if you’d thought this blog was long dead. If you’d stopped reading, I wouldn’t be mad. Sorry. Not sorry. It’s been a busy couple of months in the Lederhosen household. Or not? Like everything, busy-ness is relative. There are people like Mandi who train for half-marathons and finish 300-page dissertations simultaneously and don’t complain about busy-ness. I, on the other hand, take to Twitter to complain if I have to go grocery shopping and to yoga class on the same day. IT’S TOO MUCH I TELL YOU!

After too many years of not really working but never really taking a vacation, I forced myself into a 3-week Kur in September. Well, my body did the forcing. The exhaustion my doctor diagnosed years ago finally caught up to me physically last year and so I have had to start taking life less seriously and start relaxing more and this Kur was supposed to show me how to do that. It did and it didn’t and I’ll talk more about it another time — the fact that three weeks on a car-free island in the North Sea was paid for by my insurance company is definitely worth its own non-sponsored blog post.

Here’s what I did learn from the Kur:

That Germans believe in the sanctity of three week vacations. The basic belief is that one needs the first week to chill out — to forget email and work and stress and get it all out of your system, usually with a cold or flu to really force you to power the fuck down — and the second week to just be a beach zombie and the third to “erholen” which I guess means recover or recuperate but which linguistically seems to have its own unique gold-star status in German. Everybody needs to erhol themselves every year. Without Erholung, your time off is worthless, I guess. Which is why, some people have told me since then, most companies require that you take three weeks of vacation at once at least once a year. Why am I freelance again?

In a lot of respects, the Germs are dead-on with their belief. I got sick in week one, wandered the beach aimlessly during week two and then started making elaborate plans for relaxation during week three. Where it didn’t work for me was the idea that this Erholung in some way prepares you for re-entry. In fact, I wrote a short story about burning up on re-entry after this Kur because that’s exactly what happened. Oh, I’m nice and chill now so let’s just throw me back into the oven kiln that was my life? And see if I can squeeze in an hour of meditation into an already tightly packed daily schedule? Sounds like a fucking explosively good time! But I guess that’s the point of recovery, too, isn’t it? You aren’t the same afterward. My Erholung was so fucking fantastic that I felt like I couldn’t leave my house for a week upon re-entry because STRESS. There were cars and people outside and a house to clean inside and Jesus, the news just doesn’t quit. I couldn’t check email for ages and didn’t start working for like a month afterward. Gave me loads of time to think about all the things I want to change in my life. You know, to keep it from getting ueber-exhausting again. Except the earth is dynamic, as is life, and as you can imagine, trying to repair things while in motion is ridiculously difficult so instituting those changes is going to take a bit.

So that’s where I am at today. Erholt. Ready to take on life — and this blog — again. But I’ve got to cut these bomb wires while the bus remains at a speed above 60 mph and I’m not Sandra Bullock so you’ll just have to bear with me. There will be more again soon, I promise.

#Dailydeutsch Eierfeier

This one I’m making up, which is a true feat given my inability to even make a German children’s book rhyme when I read it aloud. I may be getting better at German but my wit and alliteration are at its minimum in this language. I’m no Nein Quarterly.

But I’m especially proud of coming up with Eierfeier.

When the folks over at Uberlin blog asked on Twitter if one could translate Sausage Fest as Wurst Fest, I found myself struggling to find the right replacement. See, I tried hard once to get a German friend to understand the concept of a sausage fest using that translation and it went nowhere. This is the same friend I tried explaining a cock block to — a concept well understood but seemingly untranslatable. And the same with trying to translate a meat market as a Metzgerei or Fleischerei (for the record, it’s die Fleischbeschau). My friend had tried to give me a suitable German phrase to substitute it but nothing really had the same impact in that way that few sexually-connoted slang words do in German.

And since Germans don’t usually refer to their penises as their Wuerstchen (do English speakers actually refer to them as sausages?), I went through all sorts of possibilities in the whole five seconds it took to Tweet back with the most suitable replacement, including rehashing the meaning of the Gliederzug before arriving at Eierfeier — a balls party. Because for whatever reason, I’m finding that it’s only kids who talk about their penises. Grown men seem to prefer discussing their balls more, though why I will never know. Plus, it’s reminiscent a bit of the idea of balls-to-the-wall, which, let’s be honest, is often what ladies’ night and other assorted sausage fests often feel like.

Learning German: Sexist Gender Articles

In an inspired burst, I signed up for a seminar this weekend on German articles. Because there’s no better way to spend a sunny November Saturday than by trying to discern the centuries-old logic that categorized German words into masculine, feminine, and neutral.

It’s appropriate timing for the course, I suppose, seeing as Germany just added the option to check “intersex” on birth certificates, so gender’s all over the news. And after eight years here, I may very well soon need to validate my love for the country by testing my linguistic abilities. It was one of my goals for the year — to stop speaking toddler German and start speaking like a real, live Deutscher, and one of the reasons I sound like a two-year-old is because I say Das Tisch instead of Der Tisch (who knew a table could be masculine? I certainly didn’t).

Because I learned German in a roundabout way, I missed the first, very important vocabulary-building lessons and have acquired all my nouns haphazardly, so I was really hoping this weekend would be a great way to gain that knowledge back. You know, learn tricks like “when it ends in -e, it’s likely going to be die”, i.e., die Lampe. And I did learn that. The teacher was very nice and passed around photocopies from a Duden grammar book and we learned all the endings that have definite rules about gender.

And then he said, “But that’s only like 10 percent of German nouns. The rest you just have to try and figure out on your own. I suggest pasting notecards up around the house.”

Oh fuck that noise. Taping postcards up in my house? What am I, a teenager?

I’ll admit, I’m a horrible student. Most teachers are. I very nearly got up and walked out after that first 15 minute introduction. But I held my breath and made a mental note to oversleep for class on Sunday (I did and skipped five of the seminar’s eight hours, and getting a blessedly long night of rest).

Needless to say, I didn’t learn much, but I did gain some insight into German ways of thinking. Because, as the teacher explained, assigning gender to an object comes from the centuries-old conception of what’s masculine and what’s feminine. That’s why, he says, the sun is feminine in German. “Here in the north, we welcome the sun because it makes us warm. In Spain, though, where the sun can be deadly with its heat, it’s masculine.” Um, ok? So anything not cuddly or sweet is masculine?

By this logic, he explained, people refer to cats consistently in the feminine form. Back in the day, he said, cats were domestic and useful, just like women. That’s also why dogs are referred to in their masculine form: because they’re volatile and aggressive, just like men.

Right.

That’s why schnapps and whiskey and vodka and everything is masculine? But what about beer? Why is beer neutral? Because it’s neither deadly nor cuddly?

Fuck this language and its nonsense. Imma gonna keep talking like a toddler, slurring my way past the articles. Because it’s just too much to think, “Hmmm, would a 16th century sexist think this chair is sturdy like a woman or since it can hold a lot of weight more like a man,” every damn time I open my mouth.

#dailydeutsch: Koerbchen

No one ever accused the German language of being impractical. To the contrary, it may be the most pragmatic I’ve ever encountered, what with its stickle-brick words like Brusthalter, or BH. I mean, how very logical of them to refer to a bra as breast-holder.

Stickle_bricks_connectionLess logical, however, is how they refer to the cup size: Koerbchen, or little basket. At first it was insulting to hear: “Oh, what size is your little basket?” emphasis on little. Then I did the translation and was like, cups? For real, English? Is this a form of measurement taken by holding up various glasses over a woman’s breasts? A shot glass is an A, a rocks glass a B? I guess I should prefer the little baskets. At least that way, it sounds like there’s something worth measuring.

#Dailydeutsch : Gliederzug

A couple months ago, a friend and I were addressing the issue of my lack of vocabulary for a person’s private parts — male and female — auf Deutsch. It was inspired by my improper use of the word scheiden and, as all conversations with me are wont to do, spiraled into vulgarity quite quickly.

I taught her that floral bedspreads are also known as cock blockers, which led to me cringing hardcore because I just hate that word. I always think of a rooster, which is possibly the most awful thing to be thinking about when that word’s being bantied around. So she taught me her cringe word, the one that I should know but never use: das Glied. Why the German word for cock is not masculine, I don’t know. Maybe because it also means a link or a chain? (On a side note: the translation for missing link is also missing penis, which puts that King Missile song into rotation in my head and Jesus H Christ, what if the missing link between chimps and humans is actually a penis? Grrrr… ADHD).

Anyway, of course that word got easily stuck into my head because my very first association with it was the English word glide and I kept repeating Gliede glide so there was absolutely no hope of ever forgetting it again, despite my friend’s desperate attempts to get me to shut the hell up.

Fast forward a few weeks to a ridiculous telephone conference I have to do about once a month with a client so that we can decide what, if anything, I can write about for her. And this time, there’s a dude on the telco with us whose English isn’t quite up to par so it’s being done all in German and with no context for me. I may be fluent in German but with zero context and no in-person contact, it is sometimes totally impossible for me to fill in the blanks or puzzle out words I don’t know. Dude is explaining something to me that I know absolutely nothing about and I’m about two steps behind when he throws this into the conversation: “Yeah, it was so big we had to hire out a Gliederzug from Hungary.”

I choked audibly. A Glied-er-zug? As in (in my head), a parade of penises? You had to hire out a parade of penises from Hungary because what was so big?

I did everything I could to maintain a modicum of professionalism as I asked what the hell a Gliederzug was because that image in my mind was just….ugh. Christopher Street Days, maybe? And the response was one of those uncomfortable silences where it was clear they expected me to know what they were talking about. Finally, dude e-mailed me a picture. It was a truck. A Gliederzug is an extra-long mode of transport.

Appropriate, seeing as the German word for sex is traffic (verkehr).

#dailydeutsch: Schmierpapier

One of my neighbors is a professional tennis player. And by professional I mean he’s a tennis pro at a local club, not that he actually plays on a circuit or anything.

You know all the cliches about tennis pros? He fits them to a tee. He gets tan from traveling to all the tennis events in Australia and Miami and then comes back to Germany and turns his skin orange with self-tanner to maintain the bronzed look. He thinks nylon running pants are the height of good fashion. He looks an awful lot like Ivan in “The Squid and the Whale,” actually, with the same hairstyle and everything.

And because he’s my upstairs neighbor and the walls/ceilings/floors here are pretty thin, I think I can safely say he sleeps with quite a few of his clients. Just like Ivan.

Now, normally I’m all about acceptance. Everyone makes his or her own life choices and who am I to judge, right? If you feel good in your skin, that’s all that matters. Except this dude has a really bad habit of being a super sleaze when he’s talking to me. This isn’t necessarily unusual for men to do, I guess because of either their inability to be gentlemen or my propensity for making vulgar jokes, but I have learned from far too many encounters with super sleazes to always make these jokes in safe company. You know, like with my female friends. Who speak English. Not with guys who could mistake my frequent use of the word fuck to be some sort of attempt at flirtation (which we all know I stink at). So I’d say it’s them, not me.

Super sleaze’s last try at coming on to me came right after his trip to the US. Like all Germans, he wanted to express his confusion at the Americans and their choices (me too, buddy, me too). And part of his confusion came from what, in his mind, was the typical American woman. Bottle-blonde, botoxed, big-busomed and always, always in pairs on the arms of wealthy gray hairs. His opinion of American women was that we are all super skinny but big breasted gold diggers. Um, ok? Maybe in South Beach? Or LA? But, um, maybe not? I raised one unwaxed eyebrow and suddenly, he pulls out this gem of a pick-up line:

“So what are you doing here, all alone in Germany, if you could be stepping out of a Lamborghini in Miami?”

Wait a minute, did you just compare me to a Playboy bunny who has no qualms about sleeping with an elderly Hugh Hefner if it means she’s set for life? Is this really what you think of me? He went on to explain in a smoky bar voice, wink wink, that he meant this as a compliment on my appearance.

What brand of low self-esteem does this dude think I have, if he expects that comparing me to a bimbo is the best way to get me into his apartment? Argh.

In the words of one of my other neighbors: a real schmierpapier, this schmuck. Though it really means something like a slimeball (based on my friend’s definition), I originally thought of the German propensity for curses involving caca and translated to mean a real piece of toilet paper. Fitting, I think, even if it’s not entirely accurate.

**Note to men in my vicinity: If you use bad pick-up lines, I’m going to call you out on them on this here blog. You’ve been warned.