Seriously, how is my little girl in kindergarten? Well for starters, kindergarten in Germany is actually preschool. In Germany, schooling is taken seriously. Before the age of 3, kids go to Kita (daycare) or a Tagesmutter (day mother) if their parents work or need child care. Kindergarten or preschool begins at 3. Once the child is 3 years old, they have to be accepted into a preschool somewhere within city limits and if you are lucky, near your home. At the age of 6, kids go to regular school. Oh, and homeschooling is illegal. (Crazy to think about in the time of Covid-19 where families in the US who have never thought of homeschooling before are potentially choosing that option to keep their kiddos safe).
Our town has a system where every child is given a Kinderbetreuungspass (childcare pass) number. Parents register their child into a childcare system and apply for different kindergartens. Carson was luckily accepted into a preschool near our home, about a 10 minute walk. Her best friend also goes to the same school.
Carson started school back in August. What is different between the American schooling system and the German schooling system is a phase known as the “settling in” phase. From my experience as a teacher in the US, parents drop their children off at school on the first day of school in the morning and pick them up at the end of the school day. Yes, there are tears (by both parents and kiddos) but its more of a jump with both feet into the deep end approach. In Germany, its a weeks long process to get the children ready and comfortable with going to school a full day. More of a dip your toe in the water and gradually walk until the water gets deeper and deeper approach. By week two the water has reached your knee caps and by week three its at your waist.
Just to give you an idea of what the “settling in” phase looks like, everyday week one, the parent and child experience the classroom for one hour. The child is allowed to explore and play while the parent sits off to the side. Throughout the “settling in” phase the parent is only to interact with the child if and when the child interacts with the parent. Week two, the child and parent go into the classroom for two hours. If the child seems comfortable, the parent leaves/waits outside for the last 15-30 minutes. The length of time is dependent on how comfortable the child is and whether the child can be comforted by an adult other then their parent. Week three, the child goes to school for about half a day. For Carson, this meant that she was dropped off in the morning and I picked her up right after lunch. Week four, the child goes to school for the entire day but the parent is a quick phone call away.
Yes, this is a long process. However, I found it particularly helpful. I do not speak German and Carson does not speak German. I am also very used to the American school system and knew very little to nothing of the German school system. It was nice to be in the classroom to experience circle time, play groups, toilet breaks, and interactions between Carson and classmates/teachers. Since her “settling in” phase was during a global pandemic, only one new parent/student combo were allowed in the classroom at a time (and with a mask, of course). In normal, non-pandemic times, 3-4 new students and their parents would be in the classroom at the same time.
Carson has been in kindergarten for about four months already! Wow, where has the time gone? After a month of Carson going to kindergarten regularly, I met with her teacher to check in on her progress. It was a 30 min parent/teacher conference where Carson’s teacher informed me that Carson loves all things school related, especially circle time and singing. She said that Carson has many friends and while they may not speak the same language it hasn’t stopped them from communicating and playing all day.
Well, the time has finally come to toilet train our two year old (a newly turned 28 month old but who’s counting). I did my research, read the book “Potty Training in 3 Days” by Brandi Brucks, purchased 2 packs of underwear and gathered up the rewards (sticker charts, stickers, and M&Ms). Luckily we scored a Toilet Trainer Seat with Ladder from a friend because not all European toilets are the same shape and it didn’t fit on her toilet. We rolled up the living room rug and were ready for a 3 day staycation (not leaving the house for anything) as well as a 3 day electronic break (no phones or tv to really give the toilet training kiddo our full attention).
The original plan was to start on a Saturday but because Germans are following CDC guidelines like wearing masks and practicing social distancing some regulations have been relaxed. I was able to go to Dusseldorf for a ladies night out, dinner and a movie. It was delightful…but also not fair to Jeff who would be toilet training by himself the first night while also taking care of Christopher. Not that he couldn’t do it, it just wouldn’t be fair. So, we started on a Sunday so both parents could be home the whole first day. Additionally, we were babysitting another kiddo that day.
Day 1: The day began with Carson gathering all of her diapers and throwing them away. This way she knew that diapers were no longer an option. Initially she was interested in wearing “big girl underwear” and using the toilet but became frustrated with us constantly reminding her to tell us when she needed to use the toilet. Getting Carson to pause what she was doing and run to the toilet when she “felt the urge” took some time. We quickly went through 11 of the 12 pairs of Elsa & Minnie Mouse underwear. Around pair number 3, Carson would pee a little and say “WET”. We would run her to the toilet and she would finish. She definitely got the hang of getting to the toilet to pee by the end of the day. Number twos were a different story.
Day 2 &3: A complete blur…many successes, a few back slides and finally a number two on the toilet! I was starting to think it wouldn’t happen. According to the book, you don’t actually leave the house for 3 days but if things are going well, you are able to venture out for a little bit on day 4.
Day 4: We ventured out to the park, and for longer then the recommended 30 minutes. Needless to say, accidents happened. I only brought one extra pair of underwear so after she peed in the second pair she had to continue wearing them until we got home (not too long).
Day 5: We went back to the park. Carson told me she had to pee. After quickly ripping off her pants, she decided she didn’t want to pee in the park. She also didn’t want to put her pants back on.
Day 6-present day: No pee accidents! We try before we leave the house and again as soon as we come home. Even when we are out for long periods of time, Carson holds it in. She is also getting better with number twos. Only 2 number two accidents since Day 1. It seems like Carson picked it up pretty quickly. She has also been waking up dry from nap and night time. This afternoon I tempted the fates and let her take her nap in regular underwear, not the sleep underwear (pull-ups). No accidents! Fingers crossed her success story continues.
Back in September when we found out I was pregnant, we never would have guessed that we would be bringing a baby into this world during a global pandemic. We announced the soon-to-be arrival of baby Grimm #2 in cute ways and our biggest concern was that he arrived healthy, 10 fingers and 10 toes.
Except for the fact that I was extremely tired and taking care of a toddler, life continued as normal. I was still meeting friends daily at the gym, walking everywhere to run errands, and we were still traveling the world as a family. I was able to find a wonderful OB/GYN within walking distance from our house. There were some differences in prenatal care but for the most part, everything was the same.
It was important for Jeff and me to have a babymoon, like we did when pregnant with Carson. One last trip where we were a party of 3. We had originally planned to visit Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates but due to political turmoil (aka the US killing an Iranian general therefore creating instability in the region making Americans unwelcome) we decided to head to Tenerife in the Canary Islands. It was a wonderful week on holiday with tons of sun and pool time!
Then COVID-19 hit and spread like wildfire. Flights were grounded, borders were closed, and social life looked a lot different.
March 24, 2020 (email to friends): First, yes, we are doing well. Germany has some pretty strict rules in place such as “no more than 2 people can be together at any given time unless you are a family”. But much like Illinois all non-essential stores are closed and residents are being asked to stay in their homes as much as possible. Borders from Germany to most neighboring countries have been closed but that was mostly because countries with stricter rules were coming into Germany to panic buy supplies. Speaking of supplies, I never thought I’d be so happy to find things like flour, pasta, and toilet paper in the stores! Granted our grocery stores are about the size of a small Walgreens but I’ll take what I can get…when I can get it 🙂 For the past 2 weeks, Jeff has been the one to run the errands. The culture here is that you go to the store every day or every other day because living spaces are much smaller then what we are used to in the US. For example, our freezer is the size of a dorm room fridge…seriously.
The biggest challenge for us has been Jeff working from home. He is able to get his work done but Carson is so excited “dada” is home that she will call for him until he responds to her. Some of our friends from Australia were sent home from this project because Australia has closed its borders and no one knows when they will reopen again. When our friends landed, they had to sign a contract with the government saying that they would self-quarantine in one place for the full 2 weeks or face a $50,000 fine! Yikes!
Second, we have scheduled the C-Section of baby boy Grimm for Tuesday, April 7. My OB/GYN is calling Carson’s birth a traumatic birth so it has been fairly easy to schedule. It is preferable for women to have a natural birth here in Germany and they are hesitant to schedule a C-Section without a pre-existing condition such as a traumatic birth. Weird thing in Germany is that it is extremely rare for the doctors to practice in their own office and in the hospital like in the states. In other words, who I have been seeing for prenatal care is not the person who will deliver Baby Grimm at the hospital. I will have a completely different team, one that exclusively works at the hospital in deliveries. Additionally, since we have private insurance the head of the Labor & Delivery department will be the one to do the delivery. We’ve met her twice now and she is wonderful and speaks very good English.
In other news, I will also be helping with the birth*. After the incisions have been made, they drop the curtain and I will push from the top of my abdomen. I was already reassured that there would be no blood sighting and that its really cool. This is one of the only hospitals in the world to do C-Sections this way. They think it helps the mom bond with the baby because she get to help. We’ll see… However, due to the Coronavirus, there is a strict no visitor policy in place at the hospital. Jeff will be with me in the delivery room for Christopher Willis but once he leaves the hospital, he is only permitted in again when picking me up…after the mandated 5 day recovery. I think in all of this, that is what makes me the most nervous especially because while the doctors speak English, the nurses don’t. Guess I’ll be living through google translate.
April 18, 2020 (email to family): As many of you know, we welcomed Christopher Willis Grimm to the world on April 7, 2020 or as the Europeans write it 7/4/2020 (Carson was born on Grandpa Dieter’s birthday so for me, the European way of writing the date is our little nod to Grammy Dieter).
Thankfully the planned C-Section was/is much easier to recover from then the unplanned/emergency one with Carson. Christopher is 11 days old and I’m feeling much better this time around. Jeff, Carson, Christopher and I go on daily walks around the abandoned messe (convention center) near our house. We’ve even found a large, empty parking lot for Carson to run around. Being cooped up in the house is not great for a 2 year old with a ton of energy.
Giving birth in the time of Covid-19 and in Germany has definitely been interesting. Jeff was allowed into the delivery room for the C-Section but after about 3 hours in the recovery ward, he was kicked out and not allowed to visit. As you can see from one of the pictures, he and Carson visited but we could only wave from the windows. Additionally, I got to experience the very German way of eating and some extremely traditional German meals while in the hospital. For instance, breakfast and dinner are composed of the same things…2 pieces of bread, a pad of butter, 2 slices of deli meat & 2 slices of cheese. Lunch on the the other hand was usually some sort of gravy covered meat, a potato option, and white asparagus.
I was originally slated to stay in the hospital for 5 days but with the virus, they want healthy moms and babies to go home as soon as possible. Luckily for us, that meant only 3 days in the hospital. In other words, Christopher and I have been home for a week and our family is slowly adjusting to being a family of 4. Carson is asserting her dominance/control over food and only requesting chocolate bunnies for every meal (thanks a lot Easter Bunny). Other then the occasional meltdown and additional screen time, she seems to like having a baby brother…so far. She likes to identify his nose, eyes, & ears and thinks he’s “cute.”
Speaking of Carson, she just had her 2nd birthday. As you can see by the pictures, she loves everything Elsa/Frozen. To say she is obsessed is an understatement. At this point she has seen Frozen I & II so many times that she repeats lines and can sing many of the words to the songs. Since all non-essential stores are closed in Germany, I tried my hand at making her an Elsa Barbie cake. I still have a lot to learn but think its pretty good for a first attempt and all from scratch. She loved it and that’s all that mattered.
I’m sure there are a million more things I could share but lack of sleep is preventing me from remembering. We would love to hear from you. Please email, call, Facetime, set up a Zoom. We miss you all and miss sharing this experience with you.
July 18, 2020: The time of COVID-19 is not over yet but because of Germany’s strict policies regarding social gatherings and mandatory mask wearing, we have mostly resumed normal daily life. Everyone is required to wear masks in stores and public places where social distancing is not possible. Yes, there are a few who protest the mask but for the most part Germans understand that in wearing the mask they are doing the most they can for the community. It is much less a “me” society and more of a “we” society in regards to COVID.
*I was not able to help with the birth and “push” because as the doctor put it “he was hiding”. But, they did drop the curtain so Jeff and I were able to see him for the first time at the same time.
*This took place in early February, before social distancing.
Great news, I’m not the only pregnant lady in the friend group! One of Jeff’s coworkers is expecting in early March. Like in every culture, there are traditions around the arrival of babies and baby showers in Germany. For one, they don’t do baby showers.
The belief is that its bad luck to celebrate a baby who isn’t in the world yet. Instead of showering the mother or couple with gifts BEFORE the baby is born, they wait until AFTER. Then everyone, on their own terms, visit the new baby and parents at the house where the new mother serves her guests beverages and cake. Yes, you read that correctly…the NEW MOTHER serves beverages and cake to the guests, who come whenever they want! Um…no.
Luckily for us, she allowed us to throw her one classic “American Style” baby shower!
Since the couple decided not to share the baby’s gender, we decided on a Woodland Animal theme. We also decided against some of the traditional baby games (How big is mom’s belly, What’s in the Diaper? because one is degrading and makes the mom feel like cr@p and the other is just gross) and instead played Baby Jeopardy, Guess the Gummy Bears, and a Diaper Raffle.
One of the things I love about our expat family is that we are all in different walks of life and are all from different places. Some attendees to the shower are grandparents and have done this sort of thing numerous times while others are young professionals and this was their first time attending a baby shower. Needless to say, a good time was had by all. Baby Jeopardy was a huge success with categories including Baby Animals, Disney Movies, Baby Trivia, Things Found up a Toddler’s Nose, and Baby Babble. All teams were given a dry erase marker and board to provide their answers. I’m happy to report that the new parents team won!
Our gift to the soon-to-be new parents was a diaper cake & grooming kit. This was my first time making a diaper cake and it won’t be my last. It was fairly easy once I had all the supplies.
If you are anything like me, you look to each year as a fresh start. A way to fix or correct all of your bad habits from the previous year. Also, if you are anything like me, you have had the same new year’s resolutions since, well, I can’t remember….2015?🤷♀️ Its the end of January (now mid February) and I am just now jumping back on the blog. Clearly 2020 is off to a good start. 😉
This year I am writing down & sharing my goals, not resolutions, in hopes to keep them and build better habits. I’ve also created a calendar/daily tracker to help keep me motivated and on track. When an item has been completed, it gets crossed off! (Clearly this example hadn’t been used yet.) I have found that this system really works for me and keeps me accountable.
Up at 7am (or when alarm is set)
This is difficult for me. Carson naturally wakes up between 8 and 8:30 every morning. Pregnancy sleep (or non-sleep) and dark mornings make staying in bed seem extremely desirable. However, I am a morning person and once I am up, I am productive. If I wait until the end of the day, things don’t seem to happen. Jeff leaves for work around 7 so getting up at that time allows me to kiss him goodbye and have an hour of “me” time.
Exercise 30 min daily (gym or home)
Luckily for me, the gym has good coffee and free kinder care. Its also lucky for me that I have 2 good girlfriends that I meet up with almost every weekday at the gym for a little sweat session and a coffee chat. Jeff easily convinces me to join him at the gym on the weekends. Lately my gym workouts have consisted of a 35 min walk followed by a series of either arm or leg machines. It is much harder for me to get motivated to workout at home…but I’m trying.
Focus on blog (write & schedule, post weekly)
Obviously 2020 (aka January) was not off to a great start…as in, I didn’t blog once. I have some content scheduled but need to just focus and write it! Hopefully this post will be my turning point.
Read or listen to a book 30 min daily/Read 12 books this year
Not sure why it has taken so long but I have finally discovered Audible. Listening to a book has become part of my weekday morning routine. I listen when I make Carson’s breakfast and when we sit down to eat.
Between listening to and reading, I completed 5 books in January! (Educated, The Last Mrs. Parrish, The Silent Patient, Where the Crawdads Sing, & Little Fires Everywhere) February has been a little slower, as in I have only completed 2 books but I am working on my third (Such a Fun Age, The Overdue Life of Amy Byler and Before We Were Yours)
Its important to take time to realize and list the things in your life you are grateful for. Every morning during breakfast, I write down 5 things I am grateful for, big and small. In minimizing all the extra cr@p around my house, I keep one calendar/agenda that holds everything: calendar, to do list, meal planning, gratitude log, etc which is what you see here.
Not sure why it took so long but I just discovered the Calm App. It was originally downloaded when we returned from the US after Christmas and I needed a way to beat the awful jet lag (I had heard wonderful things about the bedtime stories). Within a week I had discovered the meditation part of the app and introduced it into my morning routine. I love the 10-15 minute meditation sessions! If you haven’t tried it…try it now!
Develop & stick to morning & night routine
Seriously, how did I make it into my 30s with never having a morning & night routine. I never made it a priority to wash my face, clean up toys/stuff, get dishes out of the sink…until now. Sticking to my routine and doing a few little things daily has made a huge impact on my happiness…especially when I wake up in the morning (to do my daily meditation). The house is picked up, dishes are in the dishwasher and clean, and I feel refreshed. I guess it just took my about 10+ more years then others in my age bracket.
Log food/eat more veggies
In the past few months, I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people say that I can eat whatever I want in whatever quantity because I am pregnant. If I do this too often, it will be impossible to get rid of the baby weight once baby 2 is born. Using Beachbody’s 21 Day Fix portioning, I have been consciously adding more fruits and veggies into my diet and less carbs (even through carbs are delicious, fast, and easy).
No phone/less screen time around Carson
This one has been exceptionally hard, especially since my US friends are up and on social media around the same time Carson is up from her midday nap.
Fingers crossed these healthy habits stick 🤞. Hopefully your 2020 resolutions and/or healthy habits stick too.
Does anyone else have holiday traditions with your friends? I do! A few actually.
White Elephant Ornament Exchange: Every year a group of girlfriends gets together for a Cookie & White Elephant Ornament Exchange. Everyone brings a wrapped ornament that they would like to have on their tree (I did full on white elephant ornament one year. The tin angel is still talked about and hence, the rule about bringing a nice ornament…one you would like to have). All participants blindly choose a number and the games begin. The person who drew number one starts by choosing and unwrapping an ornament. The ornament is then displayed throughout the exchange. The next person can either steal the ornament or choose and unwrap one. Ornaments can only be stolen twice. If someone steals your ornament you have the option to steal another or unwrap a new one. The game ends with number one. They may either steal an ornament that is still in play or choose to keep the one they have.
Cookie Exchange: Love baking cookies but prefer an assortment to being stuck with only one kind? If yes, then the cookie exchange is for you! All participants bring 2 doz + cookies to the exchange. Holding empty Tupperware we walk around the table and grab 1-2 cookies from each batch until our containers are full.
It’s A Wonderful Life: Last but definitely not least, our friend group gets tickets to Its A Wonderful Life. A local theater plays the Christmas classic. Each year, we dress in our ugly Christmas sweaters and enjoy the showing. We hiss whenever Potter is on screen, sing Buffalo Girls, recite all the lines and of course ring a bell every time Clarence is on the screen.
Not sure about your family but in mine, we always take pictures in front of the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. Well, not everyone…more like me and my two cousins. The combination of family members in front of the tree changes from year to year but our cousin picture is always a constant.
We also have a fancy Christmas Eve dinner with everyone sitting around one table (remember, small family). In the past few years the tradition includes family members helping with various dishes like Glühwein (clearly our addition), salad, veggie, potato, etc. After dinner, we snack on an assortment of cookies, pop the holiday crackers/poppers, and play a family game. Before everyone heads their separate ways for the evening, we read “The Night Before Christmas”. Everyone reads one page as we pass the book around the table. Some years we even use silly voices.
My family, the Dieter side, is small. Three sisters, three cousins, three second cousins…soon to be four, plus spouses/significant others. Our small family has been gathering for Christmas in Washington DC for as long as I can remember. And in the 30+ years we’ve been going to DC, we’ve created quite a few traditions.
One of those traditions is baking cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve day. Every year for the past 10 years, my cousin hosts our family for brunch and cookie making on December 24th. Each year my niece & nephew (officially second cousins) use the various stampers to cut out the cookie shapes and we all gather around to ice the cookies.
I’ve always loved this tradition and hope in continues when Carson is old enough to participate.
It’s Christmas time in Europe which means the Christmas Markets are open for business and plentiful! And let me tell you, the Europeans LOVE their Christmas markets! Please enjoy this post of pictures (mostly Essen & Vienna).
We have a busy holiday schedule, as does everyone else. In between traveling the 8-10 hours to get “home” to the states then squeezing time in with family and friends, we will almost need a vacation from our vacation. Even though we will be extremely busy, I am SO EXCITED!!!
Carson and I are flying home to Illinois early tomorrow morning! Jeff will stay in Germany and work for two weeks then fly home the week of Christmas. Carson and I on the other hand will get to spend some quality time with my mom. We are looking forward to playing with Sophie (our dog), baking and decorating cookies, spending a weekend in Chicago, making numerous Target runs, and finishing up some Christmas shopping. To be honest, most of my shopping is done as our family prides itself on stocking stuffers (previous post), but its always fun to look!
The week of Christmas we are driving to Washington DC. Some of my fondest Christmas memories take place in DC surrounded by family. The drive to DC from my hometown is about 13 hours (14 with stops). It is a drive my mom and I have done numerous times and even look forward to doing. We switch drivers every couple of hours, usually after a restroom, fuel and/or food stops. Jeff will rotate in as one of the drivers on the drive back to Chicago. Carson is currently and has always been a great passenger. She loves looking out the window, playing with her toys, and snacking on the delicious treats she doesn’t normally get. We are extremely lucky that she is such a great little traveler.
Upon returning to the Midwest, my mom will continue home (home town) and Jeff, Carson and I will stay in Chicago. I’m so looking forward to being back in the town that I love so dearly and called home for 14 years. Jeff and I have already started planning our “must do” list for when we are back, mostly including restaurants we’ve been craving. Looking forward to sharing that in another post.