How I survive what they call Young Parenthood day by day. Part 1.

6 months ago, a miracle changed my life. Now I am a parent and still feel fairly new and clumsy about it. I mean, honestly, it doesn’t matter how often people tell you that a baby will change everything. It all comes down to “I wasn’t expecting this.”

After delivering my son I had a vague idea why people say that nothing can shock a mother. In the weeks and months that followed I didn’t immediately feel like a mother. Everything shocked me. Crying. Pooping. Bathing. Milk. Tummy rumblings. Sleeping.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned this far along the way in our little US-German mixed family, in no particular order:

  • a baby is a 2 person 24/7 job. Period. Financially, of course, but also in every other respect. You never have enough hands to get everything done. Baby, household, your own body care. Say goodbye to multiple tasking.
  • you cannot spoil a baby in the first months. When your baby cries something is really bothering him/her. And along the same line:
  • they don’t cry to bother you. Since they don’t have a concept of self and cause and effect yet, they don’t know what manipulation is. That will come later. I know, it might seem like they do.
  • sleep is a luxury. You can go without for quite a while.
  • Parenting is a series of best guesses.” (from “Parent Hacks” by Asha Dornfest) Yup. If something bothers the little one, it is most likely one of the following: being hungry; being hot/cold; being tired; or pain like tummy rumblings, gas, etc. Work off the list and see what works.
  • poop is super dooper interesting and can keep up a conversation for HOURS.
  • they are small real people from day 1. They have their very own individuality and temperament. And it is a fine line between accepting and respecting their personality and setting limits.
  • there is so much stuff out there that babies don’t need. Our baby is a formula-fed lad. So take a look into the formula shelf of the store of your choosing. Confused by the variety? Yes. That is the whole point. Formula 2,3, baby tea, cookies, snacks, or the tons of lotions, etc. are only meant to flush money into the big company’s pockets. Formula 1, or newborn, are closest to breast milk and all a baby needs until your little squirrel is ready for solid food. Most cookies or cerials (as starters for solid food or snacks) contain added sugar or added corn starch. In fact, there is NO cerial or cookie that I could find in the USA without these ingredients. In Germany, we go with unsalted rice waffles or corn puffs. Both are basically flavorless and are nice to munch on
  • the simplest toys are often the best. A spoon, a cup, a pack of tissues, Mommy’s purse, keys, a plastic bottle (empty or filled with rice). There is little need for expensive toys. I admit, though, some are amazing!
  • not having a period is something I could get used to. Bummer.
  • baby formula in the US is so so so so sooooo expensive! Wow. Plus, “newborn” formula is rather hard to find. WHY?

So, this is my first summary of what I learned in the last 16 months. In the following posts on Surviving Young Parenthood, I will tell you more about our coping mechanisms and the routines we’ve developed in our little universe.

What about you? What ist your experience with little diaper kings/queens?

I can’t wait to hear from you!

How The X-Files Has Bearing on Modern Scientific Philosophy

How do we acquire knowledge? How do we know what we know in science? These may seem like non-pressing and unimportant questions, but someone has to get paid to think about this shit right?! Sir Karl R. Popper and Thomas Kuhn were two such individuals who thought about this subject extensively. Yet, each of them came up with vastly different thoughts and hypotheses about the acquiring and acceptance of scientific knowledge. For a fully informed discussion on the subject a little background info is needed on these two individuals.

Sir Karl Raimund Popper (1902-1994) is considered one of the most famous contemporary philosophers of science. While teaching at the London School of Economics as a professor, he wrote his views on the methods the sciences should use to expand their understanding of the world. Using the method of induction, in his eyes, made the natural sciences suffer from the time since Sir Francis Bacon. In Popper’s view, this „process of establishing or justifying theories by repeated observations or experiments“ (88) was insufficient to apprehend the depth of science or to prove its accuracy. Seemingly in affirmation, Albert Einstein once said about his own work: “No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.“ Popper’s suggested solution for this issue was to replace the inductive method with a deductive one. In order to be scientific, a theory needs to be testable and/or refutable. A theory would be disproved through a contradiction/refutation of its deductive consequences. Popper’s idea implies that all theories remain hypotheses until they are proven to be wrong, and likewise that theories are produced in our minds rather than being established by reality. Popper’s views could also be seen as an extension “of Kant’s impossibility of knowing things in themselves as corresponding the the for ever[sic] hypothetical character of theories” (92).

Thomas Samuel Kuhn (1922-1996) was an American philosopher and historian of science. His most important and influential work was “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” in which he discusses the nature of the accumulation of scientific knowledge. In Kuhn’s view, the progression of science is not linear but undergoes periodic revolutions, also called “paradigm shifts”, where the perceived nature of science is suddenly transformed. Contrary to Popper, Kuhn sees non-confirmation of a theory to its paradigm as a failing of the researcher until there is enough consensus that the paradigm changes. As non-conforming or anomalous data is built-up, a “crisis” point is reached where a new paradigm is generated. He also thought Bacon was the best thing since sliced bread. The new paradigm succeeds the old as the non-confirming results are collected into, and accepted by the scientific community. This is also known as “revolutionary science”. A quote by Thomas Huxley compacts this view nicely; “Science is organized common sense where many a beautiful theory was killed by an ugly fact“. Though Kuhn does make the concession that “Scientific revolutions, … ,need seem revolutionary only to those whose paradigms are affected by them. To outsiders they may, … , seem normal parts of the development process.” He gave a later example to clarify this statement. To people unaffected, something new could just be seen as a simple addition of knowledge. Yet on the other hand, someone working in the subject where the discovery was made would first have to look at what was going wrong with their model before changing their paradigm fundamentally with respect to how their model works.

At first glance both Kuhn and Popper have completely different theories about how we assemble and change our body of knowledge. In a way, Kuhn and Popper seem to have similar views on their subjects as Mulder and Scully from the X-Files. Popper, who could be seen as Scully, believes in things until they are contradicted and/or proven wrong. A theory is refuted by looking at their deductive consequences and judging these consequences. Kuhn, a gentleman with a character more compatible with Mulder, who considered (at first) the data that did not fit the accepted paradigms a failure of the person making the observation. But might eventually building up enough evidence to have a “paradigm shift”, changing key views and incorporating the new evidence into a new paradigm. In my opinion, the entire method of Popper seems to flow better with the traditional way of scientific thinking. That we can take and build upon theories until we encounter something new, and then make a new theory that is deductive based upon the new and available data or knowledge. Kuhn goes about this in something of the same way but I would personally tend to avoid the politics involved with the science, and changing of the paradigms, when discussing an overall theory of how theories of science are created. Though I know there is politics everywhere, overall it does not matter how much you discuss something before it changes, but what comes out of it at the end. Which is why I think Popper’s theory handles the progression of knowledge a little better. Thankfully unlike in the X-Files, the views of both Popper and Kuhn lead to the same outcome, the acquiring of knowledge.

So how DO we acquire knowledge? According to Popper, we replace the inductive method in science by deduction. Refuting a theory by a contradiction in the deductive consequences is his way of freeing theories from their hypothetical status. Yet by definition, never knowing if a theory is correct or not. Kuhn on the other hand, did not agree with this linear point of view. According to Kuhn, scientific progress happens in periodic revolutions or “paradigm shifts”, where non-conforming data under one paradigm is collected until there is agreement to change the paradigm. The so called “revolutionary science” method of thought. In my view, Popper’s method makes more sense to me, but I want to believe…

Saving Money — Cutbacks in Education Is Not a Solution

John F. Kennedy once said: “Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future”. If one showed this quote to any person on the street, they would agree. But why is it that politicians tend to forget that? It often seems that their promises are nothing but words as soon as an election is won. One could almost get the impression that their desires are restricted only to the four years of their legislative period. Their efforts are invested mainly in profitable sectors of the economy and after that there is little to no money left for educating the next generation. What happened to “the world’s most valuable resource”? There are three important reasons why cutbacks in education can never be a solution with budgetary difficulties. Helping society or leaders of tomorrow would be impossible. And what happens if this continues? Germany would have to import even more skilled labour than it already does. This would increase the number of unemployed people here. Their loss of perspective and therefore social integration would end in frustration that conferred also upon their children. The outcome of these circumstances would be  worse results in international education comparisons than they currently are and a generation with little money that cannot spend it to benefit the economy.

While it is obvious that research and teaching cost money, investments in these areas are crucial to develop our society. New insights and growing knowledge are indispensable to Germany, because the majority of our economy and GDP is based upon exports of technology and manufactured goods. The findings of research, in turn, benefit all members of a society, for example in the fight against EHEC, cancer or other diseases. Not only medical advances, many other industries improve the quality of life and the environment, for example new forms of clean power generation.

Students in schools and universities today will be the executive managers tomorrow. So there should be a great interest in giving them the best education possible in order to prepare them to face an international economy. As such, businesses spend millions on training their employees to become more competitive. Re-enforcing an atmosphere of “life long learning” should be preferred over “cutting costs that have no immediate returns”. These poor decisions made by the government not only hurt the students, but also employees of the companies later, when the policies that are set by the government are used by the executives of tomorrow.

Cutbacks in education cause a vicious circle that ruins a society bit by bit. What happens if students don’t have the chance to become excellent teachers, doctors or engineers because their classes are too crowded or not offered at all? The result: they won’t be prepared for their jobs. Teachers will be more overstrained because they have to teach more students in fewer classes with little money. This will automatically lead to poorer education of such. When this happens, we can’t keep our current status in international comparisons, even if we are not even close to where we want or expect us to be. The next generation of students, or any other future one, might not be educated enough to enter university at all. Meanwhile, doctors might not be able to find new cures for diseases that are incurable today. It may be that engineers might not be able to solve the problems as quickly as others in the world. In turn, engineers from other countries need to be employed to do jobs in Germany. Our own engineers might have to look for work in other fields if they are able to find any and what will the well respected label “Made in Germany” be worth then?

It seems it should be a sign of prestige to supply universities with sufficient money.

Even now, there is still a way to go till we can afford that prestige. We need excellent academics of all kinds to develop our society and face the challenges of these times. Yet we cannot reach that aim by restricting the means of universities and schools to be effective.

My Object of Wonder

At the moment, I am taking an online class in creative writing. This is my answer to the first three writing assignments: bringing an ordinary object to life as if it was the character in a story; introducing another character and developing a conflict around the object; and the way the object helps resolve the conflict.

  1. The Candle

I like to give a warm light to everyone close by. So many faces have I seen in its life that I have stopped keeping count many, many years ago. I only remember the very first people that I have met, and the most recent ones. My creators looked different than most others I have been seeing since I left the place of my creation. They wore hats that made them look like mushrooms. They weren’t the talkative types, just kept their hands busy all day long until the delivery was finished and they could finally go back home to their families. That’s what I heard them say several times, even though I don’t know what it means. Do they have a family like I have a wick? It seems to be important to them, and I couldn’t possibly be without a wick. So maybe?

I have been living on a dining room table for the past months. That is quite a sight at times. Most of the day there’s not too much happening around here. But when everyone returns, and the woman spends some time in the room next door, and they all meet at the table I live on to eat and talk about their days, it can be interesting. They talk about other people, about work and games, about plans, they say things and laugh, they say other things and argue. I am not quite sure why they do all this, or to what purpose.

When I am on my own most of the day, I like to look at the picture above the mantelpiece. It shows a table with lots of people around it. On the table is something that looks familiar. Maybe it is something like me but it appears to be so much different. It is round like a cylinder. I am not like that. It also seems bent over at the top. I can’t do that either.

What happens at times is that one of the shorter ones who I use to see every time it turns dark outside, stares at me and puts his finger pretty close to my flame. They must be ok with heat, even though the place here is pretty cold. I don’t see any others of my kind, maybe that’s why it is so cold. They don’t seem to mind.

Sometimes, when the little ones come to the table and need more light than I can give them, they push a little button on the wall and the big round thing above me wakes up with such a bright light that I would like to close my eyes, but I can’t.

Once I dreamt of a fairy coming to the table I live on granting me one wish. Well, at first I was unsure about what she meant. Because I was so uncertain, she came back the night after, and by then I could tell her my wish. I wanted to know what family is. I’ve heard them talking about it a lot. And it must be nice, but I don’t know what exactly it is. Maybe the fairy will come back to me one day and grant me my wish for real.

  1. Time to move on?

Coming home from a terrible and long day of work, all I wanted was a calm evening. Maybe that was a little too much to ask. A landfill would have been a better description of the apartment. Unsure of whether I should start laughing or crying, I went to my sleeping flat mate, woke him up rudely and demanded an explanation.

“Go away. I’m hung over,” he mumbled, and went back to snoring as if he wanted to bring the house down.

“I don’t care! Get the f*** up and clean this mess! This is not a dump, and I don’t need your dirt everywhere!” My voice was very close to squeaking. Too close to losing control.

When we moved in together, I had never imagined that living with him would be hell like this.

He didn’t react in any way.

I had two choices. Either I left the apartment now, got some fresh air, and returned by the time my roomie was alert enough to talk to me. Or I’d clean up myself. There was no guarantee that the first option would work at all within the next few hours. Even if he was awake, he probably wouldn’t care too much about cleaning up. I wasn’t too keen on the second option either. Ever since this alliance for shared living costs started I have been stuck with cleaning after him if I wanted a nice place to live in. And it never lasted longer than two hours at most before he started trashing it again. I was so sick of this way of living. But should I let him win and retreat from my apartment? He knows I can’t afford to throw him out.

I will do what I should have done eons ago: I will set up an ultimatum. After that he will have to leave.

So the time of these arguments are limited now.

I took a deep breath, went to the living room and started cleaning up the pizza boxes, chips bags, beer cans, and other trash. I even vacuumed, making sure to also bang his door several times as hard as I dared.

When he got up hours later, he found me at the kitchen table waiting for him. I had before me something that I had gotten out of the garbage. It was the candle that my parents had given to me when I was only ten. It meant a lot to me. He had tossed it. My looks talked murder.

“Why did you trash the candle?” I demanded.

“It was in the way. I needed space for my new movie collection.”

“Your WHAT?”

“I got a really good deal on it. And it needed a place.”

My eyes squinted.

“Keep it in your room. I don’t care. Since you didn’t care asking me first. What about last month’s and this month’s rent by the way?”

He looked at me in surprise, and kept silent.

“About that. Yeah, I wanted to talk to you about that. See, my cousin needed some cash because he has some serious money problems, and I…”

I cut him off.

“And you think you have no money problems being not one, but two months behind? You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“I can give it to you next month, all at once, promise.”

“Oh shut up! Listen, buddy. You don’t pay your rent, you don’t clean. You don’t do any of your duties as flat mate. That means one thing: you pay me the two month’s rent by next week, or you’ll move out.”

“Woah, slow down! That’s a bit drastic, don’t you think? Do you have you PMS? Common, that candle is nothing to get so hysteric about.”

“I mean it. Pay. Or get out. Friday, and not one day later.”

With these words I left him standing in the kitchen with the candle on the table.

  1. Endings that might have been happy.

I knew that this couldn’t end well for him. The moment he came towards me with his glassy eyes, grabbing me and taking me to the smelly bin in the kitchen. I knew she wouldn’t approve of that. And so it was. The moment she spotted me, her eyes widened with surprise.

“Oh finally! I was afraid you’d never find me here!”

She didn’t move. Just stared at me.

“Erm, what about getting me out of this thing?”

That’s when she leaned over and toughed me with two fingers only – who can blame her? – and carefully set me on the counter. She cleaned me and once more I was grateful that my wax doesn’t take on smells quickly. We waited for him to return.

“How long do you want to allow him to step on you? You don’t deserve this. If your parents knew…”

“Shut up! Don’t start on the folks, you hear. He knows I can’t kick him out. I need the money.”

“Which money? Oh right, the money he hasn’t paid you in what… two months now?”

“I know. What do you suggest I do?”

“Easy. Tell him to pay, and then piss off.”

She did. And once more, I was proud of my little stubborn princess. She still has it in her.

[Sniplet] The Gaiman Story (working title)

It wasn’t just the murder, he decided. Everything else seemed to have conspired to ruin his day as well. Even the cat.

That morning, everything started with finding a black and white photograph of several people that he had never seen before. The picture was shoved under the windshield wiper of his car and showed a fairly happy company in an open field, with arms around each other’s shoulders and all smiling broadly into the camera like a sports team that just won a big prize. The picture was not of the best quality, it seemed to be decades old. He recognized the mountains in the background as being the ones a little west of town.

He put the picture in the inner pocket of his suit, got into the car and went to work. Traffic was ridiculous and no matter how much he wished, or cursed, the car in front of him to go away, nothing happened. At the corner of Lanley and Andrew Road, waiting for the traffic light to turn green, he caught something out of the corner of his eye. A man was standing on the pavement, looking straight at him, mouthing something. The intensity of his look made Glen shiver. The man was unusually pale like all of the color had been sucked out of him. The blue sky and sunlight didn’t seem to reach him in the open area.

Glen was torn out of his daydreams about what he saw when his phone rang. It was his PA, Carol, reminding him of his appointment with the CEO in thirty minutes. When he looked up again, the man on the corner was gone.

Work was usual, besides the fact that everything that could possibly have gone wrong went wrong. His coffee ended up on his pants twice (he was glad it happened after his appointment), the CEO was satisfied but not too enthusiastic about his report, on which he had worked for weeks, his car was hauled off, and at midday his phone battery died. Exhausted for one day, he decided to take a cab home and take care of the car tomorrow.

When he thought the day couldn’t get any worse, he found the blue and red lights of police cars all over the place, and people on the sidewalk wanting to catch something interesting from the crime scene. About twenty official cars were crammed into his neighbor’s yard, and a barrier had been put around the house up to his driveway. The police man in the front yard told him that someone had found a corpse and that he had to stay home until the officer could talk to him. That could take all night since it was a crowded neighborhood and everybody had to be asked about what they had seen or heard. Or done.

He went inside and remembered the picture for the first time since he had put it in his pocket. He took it out and examined it closely. The people were still smiling and with their arms around their neighbors’ shoulders. The background was still clearly the beginning of Mount Haren. He couldn’t fight the feeling, though, that something was different from the first glance/first time he had looked at it (or he hadn’t looked properly before). Glen counted seven young men but hadn’t there been eight? With the photo in his hand he went to the kitchen window to take a look outside. His eyes gazed casually over the crowd stained in blue and red light. Everyone was focusing on the garden next door. Except for one. Glen gasped. A man was standing among the crowd who seemed to have no interest in the crime scene. He was staring directly into Glen’s eyes, mouthing something. It was not the same man from this morning, but he was just as colorless as that man, even in the dark. He seemed to be like a forgotten shadow. Pale without much contrast, just like an old picture. An. Old. Picture. Glen stared at the man as it struck him. He looked down on the photograph in his hand. He saw six people, smiling, with their arms around their friends’ shoulders. When he looked up, the man outside was gone.

His hands started sweating. Icy chills ran down his spine leaving his face motionless with his eyes wide and mouth open. His thoughts were racing at the first thought that something odd might be going on. At first sight, what he was seeing was photographed men from the found picture in the real world and then they just disappeared from the picture. Something like this was simply not possible.

Still staring, he reached into his suit and got his cell phone out. Maybe someone could beat him back to his senses. Insanity was knocking on his door and he did not intend to open it.

The phone rang before he could dial. He picked up. No one spoke. All he could hear was a low and even noise like breathing. Hello? Who is this? All he could make out was a quiet voice whispering. As he hung up he imagined he had heard one word: Help.

[Sniplet] Peaches

The stroller rolled off without her noticing it. She was too occupied with her cell phone to notice the breaks loosen and release. When she did see the carriage slipping out of the corner of her eye, she couldn’t help but hold her breath.

A storm was closing in from the east, the wind chilling down fast and rough, and the stroller rolled faster and faster down the road, heading straight for the main intersection.

The first rain drops touched her cheeks. She didn’t notice. All she could see was the stroller driving away from her, and the black clouds at the end of the street. The grip around her cell phone tightened, she didn’t move. Couldn’t. Only a few moments left until the stroller would have reached the bottom of the little hill she was standing on, and then it would be run over by one of the cars coloring the main road. Her pulse was racing, faster than the music beats in her ears. Only moments left. The catastrophe was imminent. Not even a miracle could have helped her now.

A giant truck entered the picture. It appeared on the main street and was about to hit the stroller at any moment. The red label of the truck clearly belonged to the flower shop down the street. That’s where it must be going. The stroller was at the intersection entering the main road. The flower truck couldn’t have seen it in time. All she heard were breaks and horns. She was still holding her breath.

Breaks, horns, a crash. Somewhere someone was screaming in surprise and horror. No one could have seen this coming.

She saw the crash. The stroller tipped over, was lifted by the force of the flowers, and started flying.

Little pink balls started flying. A bundle from inside the stroller started flying. The bag in the back started flying. Such a mess.

Silence. Nothing moved. No one dared to breathe. The main road had gotten to a stand.

Her knuckles were white from the force she put onto her cell phone. It shouldn’t get too wet in the rain. Endless moments of nothingness didn’t want to pass.

Someone touched her shoulder. She felt a hand toughing her hair. As she turned her had there was no one there. She reached for the hand, gently, then turned around.

“It seems like we have to go back and get your grandma new peaches, my dear.” The little hand in her hair started laughing, and so they left the scene.

[Sniplet] Die alte Frau in der Mensa

Jeden Tag zur selben Zeit machte sie sich auf den Weg. Sie packte einen kleinen Rucksack und stieg in den Bus. Der Weg war stets derselbe. Pünktlich um zwölf Uhr betrat sie die Mensa der Universität, blieb in der Tür stehen und ließ ihren Blick durch den Raum schweifen. Die Prozedur war stets dieselbe. Sie nahm sich ein Plastiktablett und steuerte die Tagessuppe an. Das war das günstigste Gericht und meist ganz lecker. Dazu wurde ein trockenes Brötchen gereicht. Das reichte ihr. Sie bezahlte die achtzig Cent und ging dann immer zu einem der kleinen runden Tische, an denen es mit zwei Tabletts schon sehr eng wurde. Die meisten anderen Gäste waren jünger als ihre jüngste Enkelin. Die Geschäftigkeit in den Mittagsstunden beeindruckten sie noch immer. Diese jungen Leute hatten es immer so unglaublich eilig.

Heute war die Suppe zu salzig. Trotzdem aß sie sie auf. Es war ihre einzige warme Mahlzeit. Wenn sie fertig war, stand sie niemals direkt auf. Sie liebte das Treiben. Gleichzeitig fühlte sie sich geschützt vor den forschenden Blicken der Schwester. Schwester Anna sah sie immer so durchdringend an, das mochte sie nicht. Sie tauchte viel lieber in der Menge an Studenten unter und gab sich ihren Gedanken hin.
Manchmal sah sie dabei traurig aus. An manchen Tagen war sie wirklich traurig. Oft dachte sie dann an ihre Enkeltochter Maika, ein hübsches und intelligentes Mädchen. Sie wollte nichts mit ihrer Großmutter zu tun haben, weil ihre Eltern ihr Sachen erzählen. Was das genau für Sachen waren, wusste sie nicht. Sie wusste aber, dass Maika weder zum Geburtstag anrief noch ihre Anrufe entgegen nahm.

Manchmal erblickte sie das eine oder andere freundliche Gesicht. Ab und zu ergab sich ein flüchtiges Gespräch. Die dauerten nie lange. Höflichkeiten. Und stets schürfte sie allein ins Freie. Kaum jemand bemerkte sie.
Manchmal erhob sie sich erst gegen zwei Uhr wieder, um ihr Geschirr abzugeben.