Wednesday, December 24, 2014


It's Christmas Eve in 2014 and I've got a second child and a second husband as well. I'll be wrapping presents and perhaps baking, looking forward to the children's excitement when they see all the presents around the tree. Pretty normal, it appears.

Christmas Eve in 2005, I dressed my then 1.5-year-old in a silky Christmas dress, a festive hair tie and red, sparkly shoes much like Dorothy's 'there's no place like home' pair. My husband's family was there, moving boxes pushed aside to make room for themselves and a tree, and we all walked down to the rehab clinic for patients with brain and spinal injuries.

We ate a special holiday dinner with O. and all the others whose condition was too grim to permit going home at Christmas. Nurses and therapists and family members wheeled the patients in their hospital beds - or wheelchairs, if they were very fortunate - into the multi-purpose room. Some were severely brain injured, and some, I think, may have still been in comas, so it was up to staff and family members to manufacture convincing enough holiday cheer for the whole party.

Any genuine cheer may have derived almost solely from our little G., chatting (in 1.5-year-old fashion) and prancing, providing distraction (and possibly annoyance to a few, being a toddler). The French cafeteria ladies, serving the guests traditional yet, let's be honest, institutional Swiss Christmas cookies, cooed over her dress, her shoes, her giggles, her loving hand-holding with Oma and Opa (German grandparents). The cheer flowed more easily at that dinner than in all those hours when we stood around O.'s bed, when I would try to force interaction and make O. and G. realize that they were father and child. (By Christmas, O. had remembered the fact of having had a child, but mostly both just took my word for it, not remembering how they had adored each other before O.'s crash.)

After dinner, aunty and uncle took our toddler home. The in-laws and I went with O. to his room. For the first time since his accident two months prior, O. seemed quite lucid, and cried, and asked the question I'd long been asking incessantly: "Why?"
Not available on 12/24/05

My head suddenly felt insanely itchy as what felt like all the blood in my body rushed to my head. I scratched and scratched and tried to think and tried to swallow; my mouth was so dry. As much as I wanted O.'s brain to work again, it seemed unbearable to have him realize what he had done and all the consequences. Among the "what if?'' scenarios his family and mine and friends and I had been discussing was this very question, 'why.' 'What if Oliver starts asking questions? What if he starts to remember? How should we talk with him?' Experts at the rehab recommended honesty, followed by therapy, I recall.

There were no tissues in the room, and I assure you that they were needed. I later told a nurse about the tissue shortfall. ''Of all places, this is a place where there ought to be enough tissues," I said, assuming that landing in that rehab would mean sad times for pretty much anyone. I saw a flash of annoyance in her face and thought of how it would feel to go every day to work to a place no one wanted to be, a place of loss and sadness. Later, I learned that in fact, not everyone is acutely sad there all the time. Some people, for example, are active wheelchair users who just go periodically for exams or therapy; and there are some patients who get better. O. was there for a very long time - too long to maintain a Christmassy intensity of crying.

Friday, July 5, 2013

It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's a...???

I have a lot in common with Clark Kent. Well, not a lot, really. But we have both pulled some identity shifts.

Everyone's identity morphs sometimes, to some extent. People might identify themselves with a certain clique in high school, with a profession or a hobby, and/or take pride in an identity as a vegetarian, a fan of a sports team, a resident of a beloved city, proponent of a favorite cause, an expat, a mom or dad. Over the past nine years, my identity, to me, was mostly: mom, then single mom. There have been lots of other components, but that has been the uppermost layer. After O's accident, I was a mom, still, but the 'single' makes a big difference. (Fun fact: In German the expression is not 'single parent,' but 'raising-a-child-alone parent.')

So it feels strange to duck into that phone booth again and essentially adopt another identity once more. But it is time to do so, because many changes are afoot. I am about to no longer be a Single mom. I'm starting again - with a new partner, and even a new baby, due in 76 days (I recommend the "How Far Along Am I?" feature on to all obsessive expectant parents). 

What will this new identity be like? Does a newly unsingle mom just fall into a family pattern of "normal" again, just like that "normal" that eluded one during the nuclear-family-fallen-apart years? Will it be like having PTSD, or having a baby after infertility, which makes one jumpier, more anxious, sensitive and protective than if all had been "normal" all along?  

Maybe there ought to be a trendy media buzzword for single moms who get a new start with a new partner and new kid. There are patchwork families, SAHMs (stay-at-home moms) DINKs (double income, no kids). I'll be on the lookout for a fitting nickname. If you have one, do share.
This kind of 'Superman' I can really identify with.

Guess it will be time to update the blog profile soon. I won't be "thirtysomething" much longer, either....

Friday, December 7, 2012

Make Me a Bird. So I Could Fly Far, Far Away

Note: The title of this post is adapted from a quote from Forrest Gump.

Usually I, as Lady MacBeff-the-blogger, wear my expat mama hat; sometimes the one with the single-mom brim. But today's post comes from the caregiver corner of my hat collection.

The person I give care to is my ex-, my daughter's father, who made a bad call with a daredevil sport in the Swiss Alps seven years ago and became severely disabled. He's now more like my brother. Actually, more like a son; like a kid sometimes, he gets stubbornly fixated on things. And like some with traumatic brain injury (TBI), he can lack awareness of, or interest in, reality - a condition that we caregivers don't have the option to ignore. It can be frustrating because it's like bearing 200% responsibility for everything. But then, one does not want to begrudge someone who now clearly is getting a very raw deal for the rest of his life.

Case in point, O. decided that he WILL take a round-the-world trip for his 50th birthday. O. used to travel without a care. His sibling and parents have travelled the globe. Li'l G and I cross the planet routinely to visit our U.S. family. O. does not see why he shouldn't do this, too. Well - there are, in fact, many good reasons why not; but truth is, none of the reasons is truly insurmountable.

Only, to surmount them requires a heck of a lot more than just calling a travel agent. And this trip... it's so risky. Imagining all the what-ifs makes me want to just crumble to dust. It's unbearable to think of his tragic vulnerability if, say, his wheelchair broke down in Dubai or there were a toileting emergency on a 20-hour flight over Asia, or a real medical emergency or if his passport were stolen. His bearing zero responsibility for dealing with these problems - and not even being able to imagine them or see why he should bother to try - can almost be seen as one of few upshots to his particular brain damage, in my eyes.

Wheelchair Stranded at Zurich Airport
This was the stunning (depressing, apt, ironic, rude?) tag attached at Zurich Airport when one of the few flights attempted since O's accident was cancelled.

So, I'm trying to make this trip come true. Main destinations: Dubai, Singapore, Australia and Hawaii. Because few of us have two whole months free for such travel, let alone the nerves for it, my first task - the one the whole thing hinges on - is to find a person to travel with O.

This must be a person who is pleasant, unshakable and incredibly trustworthy. To say nothing of O's gullibility (like when he recently thought a store gave him a raincoat for free as a present; while I received a $300 invoice a few weeks later), O's very life will depend on this person. I placed an ad in the local university's online bulletin board. I really wasn't sure what to expect in response.

The responses have been overwhelming - both in quantity and substance.

A few are just ridiculous. The ad does mention that a fully paid, business-class trip around the world is part of the compensation package. It's no surprise that this elicits some responses that amount to, 'Sounds awesome. Dude, take me.' Remember, we have to place O's life in this person's hands, so we're not hiring anyone who sounds too light-hearted and -headed. The superficial, greedy-sounding responses make me feel like Little Orphan Annie when Daddy Warbucks offers a cash reward to find Annie's parents, and scores of desperate scam artists line up claiming to be her mom and dad.

Most responses, on the other hand, are sweet and seem sincere. Some are witty and convincing. Some are heartbreakingly moving. Some people just felt compelled to say how touched they were and how they wish O. the best of luck in fulfilling his dream.

If you're interested, here is the ad - mostly in German, with some English thrown in to ensure applicants can really manage an international journey. If you really want to know what it says, ask me or Uncle Google:

Job: Temporär
Begleitung für behinderten Mann auf Weltreise

Wir suchen eine Begleitperson für einen sehr netten Mann im Rollstuhl (als Folge eines Unfalls mit dem Deltasegler). Sein Wünsch für seinen 50. Geburtstag? Eine Reise nach Australien und Hawaii, mit Zwischenstopps in Dubai und Singapur! Wir wollen nicht, dass seine Behinderung ihn verhindert, seinen Traum in Erfüllung gehen zu lassen.

Deswegen suchen wir eine angenehme Person (m oder w), die SEHR vertrauenswürdig ist, und die sich auch 6-8 Wochen Zeit nehmen kann. You should be abe to speak English pretty well, especially so you can support the traveller at various international airports, hotels, with nurses, etc.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy... Nothing Day!

I am almost tempted to blame it on the body snatchers. But I think it's expat-ism that is really to blame for the Thanksgiving that Wasn't.

It is the fourth Thursday in November - it is Thanksgiving, to my mind the most important U.S. holiday! And for the first time (to quote A Chorus Line), I'm feeling nothing.

It's strange, really. Thanksgiving has long been my favorite holiday; at least, since I grew up and stopped fixating on the big gift and/or candy holidays. Thanksgiving is beautiful, inspiring people to feel gratitude and share love with with their families and friends. The classic T-day feast features the best of American food (except for bagels and peanut butter/chocolate, maybe). And there's hardly any commercial aspect to Thanksgiving (if you can drown out the Black Friday adverts).*

While living abroad - fourteen years total between my earlier stint in Germany and the current one in Switzerland - my heart had always been achey-breaky over missing Thanksgiving, the time with my family and the traditions. A few times, I did up a makeshift Thanksgiving for our tiny family unit in our itty-bitty kitchen with the teeny-weeny oven and refrigerator, And I'm lucky also to have shared many wonderful Thanksgiving events with dear expat friends. Every year, I made my proprietary walnut bread, the one recipe only I was ever mandated to make, since I was 11 years old.

But this year, while happily observing the gratitude emanating online from my American friends and family, I'm feeling that today is a plain, old Thursday like any other. Though I promised my daughter we could watch A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving** tonight, she decided to play at a friend's house, and that's fine. We had work, we had school and we'll probably have müesli and yogurt for dinner.

Of course, we could make this and have
This letting-go of Thanksgiving Thursday might be the single biggest change I see in myself since living abroad. (Besides, of course, that I now find lukewarm Diet Coke nearly acceptable and don't blink when I see cold fish and cucumbers on a breakfast buffet.)

But I am not sad. I am happy to think of the Americans I love enjoying this special day. I am happy I have to deal neither with Black Friday nor with boring sports on TV. And I'm stuffed with gratitude for many reasons. One of these is a wonderful American-German friend's invitation to celebrate Thanksgiving belatedly on Sunday. We will be a multinational, multilingual melange of 10 adults and 8 kids. The kids collectively are of American, Swiss, German, Canadian and Scottish blood, and there may be more nationalities.

I wonder what Thanksgiving memories those kids will have! Thanksgiving will surely have a much different meaning for them as they grow up, but I hope it will be, to them, just as special.

*Adverts? Did I just write 'adverts?' Good grief, I have been in Europe a long time!

**In 2011, I attempted to latch my daughter and I onto the U.S. holiday spirit by showing Li'l G It's A Wonderful Life for the first time, but it ruined her. She howled with inconsolable sadness for two hours when George jumped off the bridge. So Snoopy it is in 2012.