On Broken German Schools and Hellish PTA Meetings

As all of my Twitter followers know, Diva started school here last month and so that means I have had near-weekly parents’ nights since mid-August. I’m already a pro at these from being a part of a parents’-run kindergarten and for some reason I thought I’d get through elementary school without another wasted Wednesday night bickering about whose talented kid isn’t being given enough support. I was wrong. Because in Germany, middle-class parents seem to have nothing else better to do with their time and schools here don’t just run themselves. And based on my recent experiences at these meetings, those two sentiments are severe understatements.

Die Zeit took a frightening, in-depth look at the poor state of German schools and I gotta say, wow. Just wow. I chose to educate Diva in a public school because I believe in public school education. I chose to educate her here in Germany because although they are absolutely opposed to gifted & talented programs (a topic for another day), the students who go through university preparation in Germany are much better educated than most Americans in urban areas. I had never considered the state of the schools.

We pay a lot of taxes here in Germany, with billions of our Euros going to unfinished construction projects — like BER or the Cologne Opera House or the goddamned U-Bahn that was supposed to be open in time for the World Cup held in Germany in 2006 and which is maybe finally going to open in December(!). From the looks of these schools, though, not a penny of those taxes is going to school buildings. Diva’s school, though nice, hasn’t been painted since the 1970s and to get to the bathrooms, the kids have to run outside even in winter to an unheated addition. Talk about freezing your bottom. But she is lucky. At least her gym wasn’t condemned, as two in Cologne were this summer. And her school is too small to be housing refugees, as other gyms in Cologne are doing at the moment.

Because of the sorry state of the school system in Germany, Diva’s school now has a very very active PTA, committed to ensuring that the little school children have everything their little hearts desire. I scoffed at this at first, until I learned that without the PTA, there would be no toilet paper in the bathrooms, nor would a cleaning lady be there all day every day to make sure the kids feel safe enough to freeze their little bottoms off in the unheated outdoor toilets. I mean, it could be worse; she could be in one of the state-of-the-art schools that my former employers, an architecture company, built in Wisconsin with bulletproof doors and an alarm system that allowed teachers to lockdown their kids in the classroom in case a gunman walked in. Pick and choose, I guess.

Thing is, though, that for this cleaning lady to come every day, our PTA feels the need to send home a note every month reminding us that we are not good parents unless we contribute to the fund to pay her; we just got another passive-aggressive note reminding us that because some of us aren’t paying, all the kids may soon suffer the consequences of having no toilet paper in the bathrooms. Really people? Really? Where is the principal or the custodian? Why are we as parents having to handle this?

Well, funny I should ask: on Friday we got a note from the principal saying he’s leaving the school and due to a shortage of headmasters in the area, it’s unlikely he’ll be replaced and so we, as parents, have to step up. We have already had four parents’ nights meetings since mid-August and now we’ll be having more, to see who can pick up what slack while the city thinks about whether or not it can hire a new headmaster. Anybody who has been following the Cologne election fiasco knows just how laughable this idea is. Cologne’s bureaucrats can’t even print a stupid election ballot correctly and have to keep pushing the election date for our mayor back; why would this headmaster of a teeny-tiny school be of any importance to these incompetent beamter?

I could very easily slide into the role of PTA coordinator/headmaster if I wanted to and I could get shit done. Organization and leadership skills are not my competencies. People skills are not my competency. And yet, I could do this.

Except as I am learning from these PTA meetings, my way of doing things is not the preferred way of doing things. Instead of asking a translator to come to speak with the parents of the refugee boy in class who’s having difficulties, the preferred method of the PTA is to shout at the refugee parents in a mix of German and English and hope they get they hint that their kid needs to stop borrowing the other kids’ school supplies without asking (they don’t understand a word).  Instead of asking for the toilet paper fund to be paid in advance for the entire school year, we’d rather have the teachers collect 1.50 Euro from each student once a month and waste everybody’s time by sending obnoxious letters home.

Ok, fine.  I didn’t want to run for PTA President anyway. But when these meetings are not optional, do we really need to waste a half hour of my life getting lectured on how bloody important the Carneval culture is to our school and how we have to positively absolutely immediately get started on our kids’ Carneval costume planning right now?

Man, it’s going to be a long four years. Please tell me the private schools aren’t any better or I might just ship Diva off to one…. at least so I can enjoy my one kid-free evening a week by not thinking about kid things.

On Being Altruistic vs. Being “American”

A couple weeks ago, I met a friend for lunch who was debating what her next life steps would be. She’s American, having a rough time of it in her life, wondering if she should stay in Germany or move on. And no, there’s no “home” to “go back to.”

I’m not usually one to bash zee Germans … although things are done differently here on this side of the pond than what I am accustomed to from my childhood, I don’t like to think of something as being normal or abnormal. I’m fond of saying Typisch Deutsch and Typisch Ami as a way of getting around the problems of pigeonholing an entire culture based on the actions of some of the people who represent those cultures. Most of the time, I try to keep a sense of humor about it. After all, Germany is my Wahlheimat and it would do no one any good — especially not my daughter who had no choice about having Germany as her home — to hate the place in which I live and bash it because things don’t work as I’d like them to.

That disclaimer in mind, this conversation was not one of bashing but more one that bordered on nostalgia. Friend said, “I just feel like there’s part of me that’s missing when I’m in Germany,” and “There are some parts of my personality that I like that are dying while I’m here.” Lest this sound too melodramatic, she gave me an example that I could fully relate to: the problem of niceties.

For example: a frequent complaint I hear among Americans is that Germans, especially Germen, don’t hold doors open for other people (except train doors, when they see people running to catch the Bahn). I didn’t think much of this until I struggled to get a door open while carrying groceries and pushing a stroller and spilled the food all over the front stairs. Sometimes it’s the little gestures that help make a person’s life easier. And it’s gestures like these that my friend said were failing her, making her day-to-day life less rich. So while life in Germany is okay, it’s not as good as it could be. Not as good as it might be in other places.

I feel this. I really really feel this.

I read an article a few months ago in Brigitte where the author was raving about how wonderful and friendly Americans are and she cited the example of the pay-it-forward coffee movement in Berkeley. Someone at Starbucks paid for her coffee before she’d even bought it. What a lovely gesture, she thought. It made her day so she did the same and before you know it, the entire line had bought each other’s coffees. “Why can’t we be more like this in Germany?” she asked and I nearly lost my shit. Not only because this movement originated in India or Sri Lanka and was adopted by Calis as a form of “karma yoga” but also because have you ever been to Berkeley? Have you seen the way the homeless are treated there? Sure, they’ll buy you a $4 cup of joe but that change the dude out on the streets is begging for is not going to come into his possession anytime soon.

As the bumper stickers say, people in California are fond of these “random acts of kindness.” The problem, however, is one of altruism. What are the intentions behind these gestures? Is it to make someone’s day better? To clear their own conscience? Or to make them look good in front of their peers? Is it the pressure they were feeling because everyone else was doing it? Or was it just meaningless goodwill because really, only one person donated that cup of coffee and everyone else was already planning to be for his or her own and no one wants to be the asshole who says, “Yo, free joe here. Sweeeeeeet.”

I’ll be honest here: I do nice things for people. Sometimes. When I can. And partially this is because I’m altruistic and have good intentions. Partially because I think the kind of place I want to live in is one in which other people help each other. Partially this is because I know how hard it is to be in a place where no one cares about the problems you’re having. And partially because this is how I was raised. If it’s because I’m American, I don’t know. If it’s because of my age or my midwestern upbringing, I’m not sure.

I also do shitty things to people. I can be a real dick. Sometimes. When I want to, and sometimes when I don’t even realize it. Partially this is because my everyday life is tough. Partially this is because I live in a place where no one cares about the problems I’m having. And partially because this is how I was raised.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is intention is everything and although these niceties commonly accepted in the US are missing from our lives in Germany, it’s not necessarily because Germans are “bad” or whatever. That doesn’t make their absence any less difficult for expats to bear but remembering that there are assholes and nice people in every culture is really important to me at the moment for getting through life. And concentrating on the nice ones is the key to well-being. Not paying for somebody’s overpriced coffee. I just wish we could all be a little more altruistic. Doing nice things for the sake of the community and not because it makes us feel good.

I guess what I’m saying is I’m nostalgic for Zizek’s communism — the one in which the Starbucks system, where you can pat yourself on the back for donating 1 cent for every $4 cup of coffee to some poor starving kid in Africa — is replaced by people motivated by a greater love for others than for themselves. Whether that be in Germany or America.

Bicycle in Germany Without Breaking the Law

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In Copenhagen last summer, we tried to rent a bike for Diva and were turned down flat. “It’s against the law,” the guy at the bike shop told me and when I pressed for more information — the Danes, after all, are cycling queens — he said it was forbidden for kids under 6 (or maybe it was 8) to be in the bike lanes. Since no bikes are allowed on the sidewalk, either, the only place a kid might bike is at home, in the driveway or the courtyard. No wonder cargo bikes are so popular and school kids all arrive on Razor scooters.

Back home, in Germany, I breathed a sigh of relief that I wouldn’t need to continue trucking around in an old Christania cargo bike. They look sweet and all but pedaling one of those is like riding a stationary bike … unlike Long Duk Dong, I got nowhere, fast, and slowed down a lot of people on the Danish autobahn as a result of my wide-girth and slow-spinning wheels.

For many morning school runs, I pop Diva’s princess helmet on, pull her pink princess bicycle back out of the basement and off we go, cruising down the sidewalks to school, dinging our bells to let everyone know to get out of our way. Although this seems to be par for the course here, a British woman I went out to lunch with a few years back took serious offense to this behavior, cussing out a 6-year-old for being “on the pavement” before diatribing about how truly awful the Germs and their manners were. “Think their kids take precedence over other human beings, do they?” So when a policewoman came to Diva’s Kindergarten a few weeks after we got back from Denmark, I had to ask: can kids ride on the sidewalk in Germany? What are the laws here (because you know, it’s Germany and every damned thing is regulated)?

The answers she gave were really surprising. Here, in brief, and not fact-checked, is what the law says:

1. Kids under the age of 8 MUST bike on the sidewalk.

2. Kids CAN ride on the sidewalk until the age of 10 (which she recommends because of sightline problems for drivers).

3. Parents who follow their children on the sidewalk are breaking the law — even though there is most often a row of cars between the sidewalk and the bike lane (if there is a bike lane), therefore separating kid from mom or dad — and can be fined heftily for it (though she admitted that most police — and every annoying ass old biddy you pass on the way — will just warn you against it).

Not a big deal, right? Excepting that Germany has no mandatory helmet requirements so even Diva’s classmate, a 3-year-old kid of an emergency room nurse at the children’s hospital WHO HAS SEEN THE RESULTS OF BIKE ACCIDENTS FIRSTHAND doesn’t wear a goddamned helmet while not properly strapped into his seat on the back of his mom’s bike (bitch is insane, I swear), seems pretty straightforward. Except:

Kids aged 7 and up are not allowed to be on their parents’ bikes in street traffic anymore. So that cargo bike? Or that extra-special imported-from-Holland bike seat meant to hold kids over 22 kilos? Verboten. (I can’t wait to tell Diva’s dad this — he just dropped over 1000 Euros on a cargo bike to take her to school in but won’t get much use of it soon.)

So legally, when a kid turns 7 and wants to ride a bike, he or she absolutely positively must do it on the sidewalk. And from the ages of 8-10, he or she can still keep his or her wheels on the sidewalk (recommended by the policewoman, who also admitted that after the bike accidents she has seen, she doesn’t even let her kids bike).  That’s what I’m going to do. And I’m going to find that law and print it out and laminate it and show it to every old biddy who lectures us to get off the sidewalk for the next four years.

#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.

My Kidneys Warm Themselves Just Fine, Thanks

A couple years ago, Diva came home from a visit to her dad, bragged to me that he’d let her eat Leberwurst for breakfast and then promptly puked all over the place. It’s a bad habit she has, this puking whenever she eats lunch meat or too many hot dogs and so I sent him a very unhappy text message asking him, a vegetarian, to get his girlfriend to refrain from feeding the kid Leberwurst unless she’d be around to clean the puke up. “She doesn’t need to be a vegetarian,” I told him. “But if she’s going to eat meat, at least make it something she can digest.”

His reply? “It’s not my fault she’s sick. You dress her too thinly. Her kidneys get cold.”

Her kidneys get cold?

Clearly, this was not my ex speaking, it was his girlfriend. A German. Because only Germans believe in the nonsensical notion that it is not viruses or bacteria or digestive issues that make people ill. Germans, an otherwise intelligent people (for the most part, anyway), believe that it is the kalte that makes people sick.

Kalte Fusse, kalte Kopf, Kalte Nieren. Cold feet, cold head, cold kidneys. The German trifecta of illness causes. Forget Ebola or flu or whatever. It’s the cold. That and the draft. The way many people here think, we should all be sick whenever it dips below 20 degrees Celsius and the wind blows. If we’re not, it must be all the precautions we take by dressing appropriately (you know the old saying, “there’s no bad weather, just bad clothing” is HUGE here).

And by appropriately, I mean that we are wearing socks at all times. Height of summer, you bet we’ve got black socks beneath the Birkenstocks, no peeptoes allowed. Even in houses with in-floor heating, socks must remain on at all times (except when doing yoga, for whatever reason). Your underwear do not have to be clean (Germans have several times taken the prize for dirtiest skivvies in the annual “Which European country’s people shower the least frequently?” survey with a record-breaking average underwear change coming only every 3 days… alarming stuff, I tell you), but your socks cannot have holes in them and they must go above your ankle bones.

Also required: undershirts. I always thought that those Hanes white ribbed tank tops sewn by 6-year-olds in The Honduras and sold 3 for $10 were only used by suit-wearing dudes to wick away sweat whilst tucked underneath an Oxford or for dudes hanging outside on the porch in the summertime who want to look tough and since I don’t dress like a prep nor a gangster, I have never owned shirtsleeves in my life. Tank tops, yes. Camisoles, yes. Things without sleeves that are loose and made to be seen and not covered up? Yes, yes, yes. But undershirts? I guess this is a thing that German kids and adults alike are required to wear in order to keep their kidneys from getting cold. There’s even a very very popular women’s clothing brand called Kidney Karen whose entire line of products is dedicated to keeping your kidneys warm in an attractive way (see photo):

kidneykarenNever mind that my kidneys are on the inside of my body, which, last I checked, was a balmy 98.6 degrees. And never mind that whenever I do get a cold, it’s my head that hurts and my nose that runs, not my kidneys. I guess here in Germany, bodies are different.

I mean, I get the old wives’ tale that going outside in winter without a hat might make you sick (it doesn’t, but I get it). I also see now the relationship between cold feet and feeling ill (thanks to circulation, cold feet are a symptom of a fever since they don’t feel as hot as soon as the rest of the body does once a fever sets in. So not a cause but co-relation). But when was the last time you were like, woops, there’s that old flu again, hitting me right in the kidneys? I once put on a mini-skirt before going out with a friend for the night and when I asked her what she thought, she said, “I think my kidneys would be too cold in a skirt like that.” Not my legs would’ve been cold (they would’ve been because we all know tights are not *that* warm). And I wasn’t wearing a bauch-frei shirt, either. What in the ever-loving fuck is this belief in cold kidneys?

Anyway, to accommodate Diva’s dad’s girlfriend and her stupid belief in the perils of having cold kidneys, I bought Diva a couple of undershirts and asked her to start wearing them. She refused. She was only three at the time, but she has never been an idiot. “You don’t wear them,” she told me, after noting that her princess dresses didn’t look so pretty with shirt sleeves hanging out underneath. Now, however, two years on, she insists on wearing them every day. And not just wearing them. She has to tuck them into her tights, which she pulls up over her belly button because Papa’s girlfriend told her she’ll get sick otherwise.

So there go all of my efforts to raise a non-nerdy American little girl in the Vaterland. I now have a princess who wears ergonomically correct shoes instead of pink sparkly cowboy boots. A girl with undershirts to match every pair of underwear she owns (which she changes at least once a day because although she may be half-German, I will NOT let her be that Deutsch). But so help me she starts mumbling on about cold kidneys or wearing black socks with her Birkenstocks, I am sending her to the States for some style reformation. Some of these Germanisms I just cannot abide.

Watching Feuchtgebiete

When Charlotte Roche’s over-hyped novel “Wet Areas” was released a couple of years ago, my German was too awful to bother trying to read it. And when it came out in an English translation around the time diva was born, I bought it only to put it down after a couple of pages. Even after having a kid, first spending nine months of my life puking and then spending the next nine months cleaning up all manner of bodily fluids all the while discussing the myriad ways in which said fluid-producers had entered the world and the truly horrible things that happened to my fellow mummies’ lady parts during said entrance, my gross out factor was too high for this novel.

In the intervening years, my inability to withstand discussions of what some might argue are “normal human bodily functions” has increased exponentially. My stomach of steel has weakened dramatically and I find myself gagging on a near-daily basis, whether it be from the smell of feta cheese or the frequent runners’ forum discussions on the trots or the giggles Diva and her friends share while calling each other cackwurst — shit sausage (I gagged just writing that).  Note to other expat parents: do not raise your kids in Germany if this talk makes you want to puke because, as I’ve said before, there is some sort of Freudian fascination with poop here that has people talking about it. Out loud. Often. Ugh.

So it’s as big a mystery to me as it must be to you as to why I checked Feuchtgebiete on DVD out from the local library. I mean, really, if the book made me want to puke, what are those visuals going to do? As @Zurika said on Twitter recently, this book is one that doesn’t really need a visual interpretation.

But I drank down some Pepto-Bismol and stuck it out. From the very first scene, I had to fight my gag reflex — there is so much rampant disgustingness that I almost found myself desiring a Chuck Norris flick instead and violence of that sort gives me nightmares for months. (I won’t go into detail here except to say that I don’t think I will ever be able to eat pizza again in my life.)

Despite the nastiness, I realized that the person who recommended this movie to me was spot-on in her suggestion; below the nasty surface is an incredible story about children of divorce and the psychological impact that parents have on their children. As the epigraph reads, kids of divorce want nothing more in life than to see their parents back together. It’s true — diva tells me this every single day. But even more so, it’s a story about how much children suffer when raised by selfish parents, depressive or narcissist or whatever they were, and it was both supremely enlightening to watch and terribly heartbreaking.

Though I personally could have done without 7/10s of the movie and will have trouble digesting my lunch for weeks to come, it was one of the starkest portrayals I’ve seen of what psychologist Oliver James discusses in his books (chief among them: They F**k You Up) about the impact of divorce on kids. I’m sorry for Diva’s sake, that she’s had to endure the hell that is a parental separation but after watching this, I’ve become even more committed to making sure that I have my shit together and that she never does such random and bizarre things to get my attention. Because behind all that filth is a desperate cry for help and attention. Which is why the cheery happy ending was so sad to me — neglected teenager finds solace in caring man — but it is what it is.

Not that I’d recommend any of you watch it to confirm. Just trust me on this one. Kids of divorce really truly do get traumatized by their parents’ bad behavior. You don’t need to wade through all the nasty to get to that point.

How to Raise a PC Kid

Like most parents, I have no idea what I’m doing most days. For most of the last five years, I’ve been feeling my way in the dark. And although I wanted to be one of those hyper-liberal parents who lets her kid just be a kid and doesn’t try to interfere in any way, everyone knows that even non-choices and non-interference are choices. Because we all have these beliefs — morals, if you will — that we intentionally or unwittingly pass on to our kids, either through our actions or through our words. I’m a vegetarian, for example, and although I’d never take a cue from this asshole and tell my daughter about animal cruelty, and I really do let her choose what she wants to eat (within reason) including meat, by not cooking it at home, I’m making her an evening-and-weekend herbivore.

Actions may speak louder than words, but now that Diva’s got an extensive, multi-lingual vocabulary, this playing it by ear parenting technique has gotten a lot easier. She can express herself (recently telling me how delicious the chicken at a birthday party was) so I’m getting to know her wishes better. And when she’s confused about the world? Just ask Mom. Makes my life a lot easier to finally know what in the world is going on in that overactive brain of hers. When you’re dealing with a kid, words are the central key to understanding those actions.

At the same time, it’s gotten a lot tougher to be a completely unprepared parent. Like a couple months ago when she, seemingly unprompted, wanted to know if blood comes out of a vagina when a woman is having a baby. I’ve always believed honesty to be the best policy so I said yes, but I didn’t go further because I could not for the life of me figure out why she was asking this and I didn’t want to scare her off having kids when she still hasn’t hit puberty (which is, of course, when we’ll be YouTubing deliveries to scare her away from the boys). Turns out, there was a very graphic drawing in her “Was ist los im Krankenhaus” Wimmelbuch and she was just fact-checking the illustration. How very pedantic. Her curiosity as to why this happens was not piqued. Thankfully, because I wouldn’t have known how to proceed. By using medical terminology that would just confuse her more? I had a set of books as a kid called “Tell Me Why” that explained all this stuff in a very straightforward manner that was easy to understand, but which seriously led my mom to be like, “Go get your books” every time I had a question. And since I feel like my role here as a parent is to guide my daughter through life, I’d prefer to be using these “teachable moments,” having these conversations with her myself, even about topics I don’t know a damn thing about. So I’ve been trying to prepare myself better, trying to figure out what age-appropriate topics she’s going to be asking about. But still, mostly feeling my way in the dark here.

I totally disagree with guiding my daughter through life by putting ideas and questions into her mind, so I’m taking the “you ask, I’ll answer” tack and not the other way around. She hasn’t asked yet about anything even remotely religious so I am not spending my days explaining the concept of heaven to her whenever we look up at the sky. Instead, we talk facts, like “that’s a cloud,” and “those are stars.” By waiting for her to call the shots on certain topics, however, I recently realized I’ve put her at a distinct disadvantage. You see, a lot of what runs the world are social constructs and if you aren’t directly faced with these constructs, they’re somewhat baffling. They are beyond what a five-year-old can imagine on her own.

Take, for instance, the idea of angels and devils. Thanks to the masses out celebrating Carneval, my daughter now knows what these are supposed to look like — all golden halos or pointy red ears and tail. But the concept? Completely foreign. Some people and/or spiritual creatures are good and some are evil? But why would some choose to not be good? And why do they insist on wearing red stilettos while doing so?

Thanks to books she’s had read to her at school, her imagination is filled with flying unicorns and glitter-sprinkling fairies but in her world everything is happy and shiny and damnit, I aim to keep it that way as long as I possibly can. She doesn’t ask why these unicorns can fly and I am not about to go and put ideas in her head. Just like I’m not going to explain the concept of the devil on anything more than a superficial level.

But here’s where it just got tricky. Thanks again to Karneval, Diva was exposed today to the idea of cowboys and Indians. Not, of course, the true-to-life sort of Native Americans that live on reservations near my parents who do such exotic things like teach at universities and wear blue jeans or Ford F150-driving cattle herders whose shit-kickers are caked in dirt. Nope. She was introduced to fucking Winnetou and Old Shatterhand and needed to know, immediately, why people would put feathers in their hair and PAINT THEIR FACES RED and wear ponchos. Now maybe it’s my Americanism or the fact that our family descends from displaced Cherokees or maybe in part it was the whole Blackface debate that’s been raging in Germany lately, but this just put me over the top. How am I supposed to raise a culturally-aware and sensitive human being when we are surrounded by this nonsense? How do I help her understand that fun is fun, but doing so at others’ expense is not okay?

I decided to take the factual route and explain to her that while she and I were real Indians, even though neither of us had black hair, the people dressed as Indians were insensitive assholes trading in stereotypes and by trying to take the individuality away from a specific ethnic group through othering, they were showing their racist nature. And then I complimented her on her not-gender-neutral choice of Princess costume complete with magic wand and we got off the train feeling like a bunch of Klugscheissers.

But seriously people. How the fuck are we supposed to be raising humanists in a world where these arbitrary divisions based on ethnic heritage are not a thing of the past? How am I supposed to be answering questions about social constructs I don’t even agree with? Help!