Thursday, September 27, 2007

American German Relations

Here is some food for thought for all the American Expats out there.

Exchange Students Find a New Way to Deal With Germans

How does an American fit into the German society these days? Was it different 5, 10, 15, or 20 years ago? Obviously there are challenges a plenty when you live in a foriegn country, and simply speaking the language does not cover all of the bases. University professors have written volumes on the subject, so I won't digress.

Der Spiegel has been looking at this topic for some time now (article is in English and you have to read all the way to the end to see the "real" point of the article).

On a personal note, I believe that even my young children have experienced this negativity and so I believe it is something that will not repair itself overnight.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Back in the City

I picked up Shantal from a Birthday party in Düsseldorf last Friday night. It was a lovely fall night with relatively warm weather and no rain. I was taken aback by the calmness of the city and a flood of memories came rushing in.

The birthday party was just three blocks from our old furnished apartment. The apartment we lived in for 2 1/2 months after arriving in Germany a year ago. And as I drove by our old stomping grounds, the city seemed suddenly so safe and serene compared to our recently turbulent lives in the country.

The city has a sort of calm and peace despite all of the noise. An anonymity and accessibility that is missing in the country. A sort of freedom to be alone for yourself that we haven't had in the country lately. Naturally there are transportation advantages in the city as well. Easy access to all things bus and tram (bahn). Shopping is easy to get to. Work isn't to far away and the nice thing about German cities is that the greenery also is not too far away. In Düsseldorf where we lived the Rhein was about 7-8 blocks away.

Naturally the country has great advantages as well. A nice backyard, two parks right around the corner, the quiet in the air, and the relatively quiet streets, among other things. But I longed for the city that night.

I picked up Shantal at her friends house (a girl from Norway from our congregation). We ran over to my company's office to drop off an expense voucher and then back home. We had a nice time together. Shantal put balloons and streamers in her hair before we left the party and looked very pretty and playful - she's good at being playful and having fun.

Then we came home and Tamara had some bad news to share with me and some related information for the kids - there has been a stalker at the school this last week (kids knew already, but I hadn't been able to speak with Tamara yet). Parents were notified on Friday and Tamara had some information to give to the children regarding safety. The stalker has apparently taken photos of the children on the playground (from behind some bushes) approached two children and asked them to get into a car. They ran and told the principle.

The school's reaction has been swift and appropriate (all parents were notified even though only a few children reported a problem, and even though there were no other witnesses). It is pleasant to see such a strong reaction from the school and to see parents talking to each other to unitedly ensure the safety of their children.

It is, however, a horrific feeling to think about the possibility of losing a child, or of having a child molested and returned. Obviously it can happen anywhere and at anytime, but on that night it just strengthened my feelings that the city was more of a safe haven as compared to our lives here in the country and I longed for a feeling of security.

Gratefully we have two weeks of Fall break and visit from grandma and grandpa. And, we will return the kids to school with more rigorous security measures after the break.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

One Year in Germany

Today is the official day. We have now been in Germany for one whole year. We can hardly believe it. Naturally it is like all things in life - time plays tricks on your mind. It seems like forever since we lived in the states. Our children seem so much older than when we arrived. We have had so many experiences. And yet some memories are very fresh in our minds. Family and friends. Our house in Wisconsin.

Today was a wonderful summer-like day and our kids were especially peaceful. Watching them play and live there lives was eurphoric. Tamara made tacos, not to celebrate, but it worked. It was a good day. We look forward to many good days here in Germany and strength to endure the bad days.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Emma and German

How does a 2 year old, just learning to speak deal with two languages (being raised as a bilingual child). Amazingly well, as do all of our children. I smile everytime I hear my older children rattle off long explanations of complicated things in German (their 2nd language). It's amazing.

But with Emma, I just have to laugh out loud.

Emma is just learning to speak at 2 years of age. This naturally comes by leaps and bounds. One day she is saying 2 word sentences and then a day later I hear 5-6 word sentences. She speaks primarily English. She lived in the United States until she was 16 months, and her older brother and sisters generally speak English. Mom is the designated English speaker in our home.

The hilarious thing with Emma occurs when mom happens to say a German word. This has happened a couple of times, but the funiest occasion occurred when Hannah's friend was over to play. Hannah's friend and Emma were talking about a dog for some reason and Tamara overheard Emma say "Hund" to the little girl. So, Tamara joined in and said "Ja ein Hund." (yes a dog).

Emma turned to Tamara and said, quite emphatically I must add, "Nooooo!!! ...... Dog!" Remember that Emma had just spoke to Hannah's friend and said "Hund." But all attempts by Tamara to say Hund were met with this same resistance.

She commonly does the same with the siblings when they speak German, but not as emphatically. With me she allows me to say the German word, but only if she knows the German word. At least I think that is the pattern. I will usually translate the word from English (the word she keeps insisting that I say in English) to German and then use the German word from that time forward. And she seems fine with that. Take for example the word "Horse", an animal we don't see everyday, but that we recently read in a book. After I said "Pferd", Emma began insisting that I say Horse. I responded in the following manner:

Emma, Horse heißt Pferd auf Deutsch (Emma, Pferd means Horse in German).

After I say this she stops insisting that I say "Horse" and I can use the German word "Pferd" from then on. Also amazing is that she generally remembers the german word days and weeks later. It's rather phoenomenal really, and a joy to watch.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

A time to weep

Well, I'm doing a bit more of the blogging now and am naturally behind. Tamara says she is on vacation from the blog. She didn't mention when she is coming back, but I'm sure you will all agree with me that you hope it is soon.

Today, Thursday, September 20th, one day after the meeting with school officials, school principle, the teacher, I woke up and was not overly excited about life. After meeting with the school and asking for an apology on Wednesday, but only receiving partial apologies with excuses regarding why they didn't do more, it was hard to get up and get going.

On top of that I had been a bit weepy this week, you know, like a faucet turned all the way on weepy. I thought it might end after the meeting, but it didn't.

What happened is as follows. I prepared notes for the meeting Tuesday night until very late. I printed out the first draft for review on the bus the next morning. For me this preparation is a must in a foreign language, since I can only do so much without notes, whole sentences, etc.

On the bus I read the draft of what has happened to Spencer in the last year and what I expected from the school. I was crying as I thought about why I hadn't done more in February, when Spencer was attacked by 6 children in the school classroom. While in the bus I remembered that his only prayer on the night of the incident was "Father, please help me to make friends!" I still feel horrible for not helping to answering my child's prayer and forcing more action from the school and other parents back then.

Between working I made updates and asked a friend to review the 2nd draft. She made some great edits in the German. I finished out the 1/2 day and was ready to go to the meeting with the school. I hopped in the elevator and looked in the mirror at the back of the elevator. I thought I looked pretty good (in a suit) and was ready to go, except for one little fleck on my nose. To my horror & relief (that I saw it now), the little fleck was dried snot that I thought I had taken care of (did I mention the time to weep).

Then as I turned around I noticed my tie in the mirror and that it was tied with a small knot. Suddenly a flash of memory popped into my head. I remembered when my dad first taught me how to tie a tie. He gave me two options: one that I couldn't follow - with the big knot, and a second option with the smaller, and for me, simpler knot. I never looked back, even now that I think the big knots are back in style.

I got on the bus, train, bus to go home. I got off the last bus and on the walk home I ran into the school principle. She was taking a walk between school and our meeting at 3:00 p.m. We talked about how nice Homberg is and how it is important to be outside in the fresh air. She then asked if Tamara was coming to the meeting. I said no, and thought because it would be impossible to find a babysitter for five kids in the middle of the afternoon.

I went home to use the restroom and kiss my wife. Our friend was there with her daughter (who is Hannah's age), which I had totally forgotten about (I wasn't planning on going home except that I had to use the facilities so badly and I had an extra 10 minutes that I did not want to wait out in the school). I asked if the friend would stay with our children and let Tamara go to the meeting with me. She agreed. It was so nice to have Tamara in the meeting.

We went to the meeting and spoke with the officials. I felt that the school principle was nicer to us in the presence of the district officials. The teacher was about the same. They seem to be making an effort to improve and the discussion was generally positive.

They asked why I was seeking an apology and why I feel the children, who attacked Spencer should still apologize to Spencer now (six+ months later). I read my written version of the attack by six children from February and couldn't make it passed the 2nd paragraph. I started to cry again. Gratefully Tamara could take over.

The meeting ended well, but I was still a bit confused about what happens next. There wasn't enough time to discuss what the school was exactly doing to prevent this from happening in the future and to make right what they had not done in the past.

We went home and releived our friend from babysitting and decided to go to the park together. Emma (our 2 year old) said I want to go with her (our friend, whose name she didn't know or couldn't remember). That was very cute.

Thereafter we rested, got the kids in bed, and spent the evening together. We called my dad a few friends from the states. It felt really lonely that night. Tamara chatted with her sister via instant messaging.

As stated in the beginning of this blog, I woke up today feeling not quite 100%, maybe only 73.5%. I drove to work today and was already weepy again. I listened to the scriptures on cassette in the car. The passage was a father's advice to his sons just prior to his own death, and the words seemed to touch my heart directly.

Alma 38:
3 I say unto you, my son, that I have had great joy in thee already, because of thy faithfulness and thy diligence, and thy patience and thy long-suffering among the people of the Zoramites.
4 For I know that thou wast in bonds; yea, and I also know that thou wast stoned for the word’s sake; and thou didst bear all these things with patience because the Lord was with thee; and now thou knowest that the Lord did deliver thee.
5 And now my son, Shiblon, I would that ye should remember, that as much as ye shall put your trust in God even so much ye shall be delivered out of your trials, and your troubles, and your afflictions, and ye shall be lifted up at the last day.

When I arrived I work I spoke to my friend and colleague (whose wife stayed with our children the afternoon before) about the day. I wanted to thank him for his kindness (and that of his wife's) and tried to say how much it meant to us and just broke down right in front of the computer for at least 3 or 4 minutes. It continued thereafter for several minutes as well. I was trying to say that our kids really miss their aunts and uncles and cousins and how important the time his wife spends with our family and kids is to us, but it just wouldn't come out.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The School Saga Continues

As Tamara stated, the saga continues.

The school did not respond appropriately on three occasions and sadly I stood by as an idle witness the first two times. I thought, wrongly, the school is the authority and if they believe this is the appropriate action, then that must be the appropriate action. I was wrong, and now I must provide the report of wrong doing, and allow the school the opportunity to reconcile themselves to us, the one they have wronged.

I don't like fighting. I am not very good at fighting. I always assume others have my best interest in mind. It makes for a bad fighter. I don't follow that fundamental rule of fighting that every good hockey player knows - don't stop fighting until the referee peels you off.

But as I fought for my son this week I began to see him through new eyes, and wondered if I have fought hard enough for him and my other children thus far in their lives and made new commitments to myself to continue fighting for them.

To help me keep my nerve up I carried a baby picture of Spencer throughout the week as I prepared for meetings, held meetings, talked with friends and aquaintenances, etc. At the end of the week after my meeting with the School District Offices I broke down and cried in the car for at least 5 minutes. I was so tired and worn out from the fight, that I just let everything out.

Here is the beginning of the story from my point of view:
I tried to call the school on Monday afternoon after Tamara told me about the incident and reached no one. I was furious. As I thought about the incident throughout the afternoon I felt that we should invite the boy to our house and give him a chance to apologize. I thought that would be easy. Go home, call Spencer's teacher and then call the boy's parents and move on. I was sadly mistaken.

I got home at 6:30 p.m. and started making phone calls - the teacher could not be reached, and had not called us. No one from the school had called us. I didn't know what to do, but then I remembered that our landlord's husband is a lawyer, so I called them and left a message.

Gratefully I called them because the landlord called back and explained many details about the school system here in Germany that I did not previously know (role and influence of the parent teacher association (PTA), need to fight for your children, i.e., witnesses, written statements, complaints at the school district offices - Schulamt, and the importance of dressing up - she actually called me back to tell me that, but it proved very important).

I called a friend and fellow parent from the school to get the name and number of our class' PTA representative (elected by all the parents in the class, but I didn't have the name or number). The class PTA representative did not have the information for the other class' PTA rep., so she sent me to the overall school PTA rep. There I was able to find out the information I was looking for - the parents of the boy who had punched Spencer. It was also through the school PTA rep. that I found out that the boy was living in a Foster Home.

Reaching the foster family at 10:00 p.m. that night gave me the first ray of hope (other than speaking with friend and our landlord). The foster mother was very distraught and glad that I had called. She had been working with her foster son all afternoon on how he could apologize to Spencer. At this point the stories were still not lining up, but she was willing to listen to Spencer's version of the story. She also thought Spencer's tooth was loose. I proposed that we meet, so that their foster son could apologize to Spencer. We decided upon Wednesday afternoon for dinner at our place.

If I were sensible I would have gone to bed at this point. I don't remember doing anything very productive (i.e., writing notes, planning strategy for speaking with the school, etc.). But I remember deciding to dress in a full suit and take in my laptop. I would set the laptop up and ask for an opportunity to interview and record witness statements. At about 2:00 a.m. Tuesday morning I fell asleep.

We made it to the school about 15 minutes early. I was still furious. I walked up to the principle and said I would like to meet. She was talking with someone else and asked me to wait a minute. I said fine and did not move. She then asked me to move back a few feet so she could finish her conversation. A moment later she shuffled us into her office and went to get the teacher.

The teacher did not know that Spencer had been attacked by two boys in Spencer's first week in Homberg. She also interviewed Spencer and the boy who punched Spencer on Monday together at the same time (never watched Colombo). She had a class all day on Monday and forgot to call us because she thought Spencer's tooth was just a loose almost falling out tooth.

When the principle came back in I said this is the third Spencer has been attacked in less than a year and you don't even call me. She asked "3rd time?" She did not know that Spencer had been attacked by 6 boys in school in February, just after the new class was founded with Spencer's current teacher (children are in the same class - room and teacher - for all grade school years). She also thought that it would be better if we made an appointment for such things. I talked for at least 15 minutes after that comment. Then I made an appointment for Thursday morning at 7:15 a.m.

After speaking with the school, we took Tamara to the doctor for a check-up. She has anemia and needed to get her blood rechecked after taking vitamins and getting vitamin shots. When it was difficult to find Tamara's vein, the doctor said "What, did you send all of your blodd to Iraq?" Normally, a funny joke, but after your son gets beat up in school for the 3rd time in less than a year, you begin to wonder.

We then went to the foriegn citizen's office to renew our visas. We received a two year extension. It was a relief not to have to worry about that paperwork for another two years, but very ironic on a day when we didn't really feel like being in the country. When I went to pick up the passports, I contacted the school district offices to make an appointment (part of the school district offices same were in the same building as the foriegn citizen's office). The appointment was for Thursday afteroon at 2:30 p.m.

On my way to work Tamara asked me to to drop off some cake pans at a friends house. Tamara was supposed to be in the church on Tuesday night to bake cakes with the young women. But since we had so many appointments during the week I had to go into work sometime. I told the husband, who is also the president of the Elders Quorum in our congregation (ward) about the problems I was having and he listened. At the end he simply asked me if I would like a priesthood blessing. I started to cry and tried to say yes.

In the blessing he stated that I would be powerful in the German language, that I should work with Spencer, and be patient as things in the school work themselves out. He then stated that the Lord was pleased that I had come to Germany with my family. I started to cry again.

I went to work and didn't get much done. I worked a lot on plans for my meeting with the school on Thursday. My main goals were the following items:
- an agenda for the meeting
- a list of steps for responding to school violence (to compare what the school did, with what I as a parent would expect - I came up with 19 steps).
- a list of steps towards reconcilliation (when two children fight, how should the aggressor reconcile himself to the one he has unjustly harmed - things such as a punishment, a confession of wrongdoing, a commitment not to repeat the offense and to take care of the one you have harmed like a best friend, a gift to the one you have harmed, such as a card)

I received help from colleagues at work with the German structuring of sentences.

On Wednesday evening the foster family came to our home. Again, that same feeling of peace returned (a ray of hope in this dark week). Spencer was still an afterschool activity in the school when they arrived, so I spoke with the boy and told him that Spencer was so sad about this week that Spencer had decided not to eat dinner (b/c he did not want to see the boy). I told him that if a boy goes without dinner, it must be pretty bad (he and I both being boys, I told him we knew how sad Spencer must be if he did not want to eat, because eating comes before most everything in life). The foster mother said, why don't you go and meet Spencer, apologize, and walk home with him. I was a little nervous, thinking and beat him up, but gave the boy a chance. He and Spencer (and Shantal) all came home laughing, or at least smiling.

The mom told me that she was able to get a full confession (regarding the boy punching Spencer) by rubbing creme on his elbow the morning after the fight. She said it would help his elbow feel better. The boy then confessed that he had in fact punched Spencer. Smooth mother. The Foster mother and father were grateful that we had invited them over expressed their worry about their boy and his situation. The boy had backed muffins, written a letter of apology, and gave Spencer 11 Pokemon cards (had stolen 5 two weeks earlier).

Tamara made tacos, which the family enjoyed, and we felt very comfortable with the family. Who wouldn't feel comfortable with Tamara's cooking, but that is a side story. The foster parents have served a service mission in India, and the mother is the boy's Godmother in the Lutheren church as well as the foster mother. They are worried that their foster son because he has very few friends in the school. His home family life does not have much order and structure and he goes home every weekend, which would be hard for any human, especially a child.

I watched Spencer and the boy play together and realized that they played like brothers and seemed to be very happy together. As I watched this I thought of what has happened to Spencer this last year - lost his country and familiar surroundings, lost his extended family (yearly visits are wonderful, but challenging for a young boy), lost a lot of his father's time to extended hours at work (back in the states, I worked fewer hours and was home much more often), and lost a lot of his mother's energy, first to a new baby brother, and then to anemia, and has to deal with three sisters around him, who don't always want to play light sabre fights.

I felt that they both needed someone hoped that thay may have found someone through this difficult experience.

I thought of the scripture in the New Testament that I believe answers the question - why do good thing happen to bad people?

John 9
1 And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth.
2 And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?
(my translation - why do bad things happen to people? - it must be because they are bad in some way or another, right?)
3 Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him . . .

6 When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay,
7 And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is by interpretation, Sent.) He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing.

I came forth from that evening seeing a bit more clearly and felt, again a warmth and a peace that was missing throughout the rest of the week. I felt a great love for Spencer.

And, I believed the peace will come, with the school, with the boys who harmed Spencer in December, and in February, but not without a fight. And that is what I am fighting for - to give the boys, and the school a chance to reconcile themselves to Spencer for the wrongs committed against him. They may choose not to do so, but I must give the report of wrong doing, otherwise, the wrong did not happen and I would be making the same mistake I made in February and December, standing by as an idle witness to people harming my child.

Last Week's School Saga

This is a post I have seriously been not wanting to write. But it is part of our experience here in Germany. And, I have people who are asking about it, as I mentioned it on a message board. But I never did update. So, here it goes. I am just warning you, this will be a very long post!

Sunday a week ago, we were sitting at the dinner table and Spencer was sitting right next to me. He said, "hey mom! I think I have another loose tooth!" He was very excited about it and I told him to show me which tooth. As I looked, it was one of his "pointy" teeth. I believe it is called a K9? I'm really not sure. Anyway, upon further investigation (my finger wiggling it), I came to the conclusion that it was not wiggly. Maybe it was starting to move a little, but definately not wiggly. We are talking perhaps a few months a way it *might* come out.

Then Monday the kids went to school. I did my usual errands on Monday. I ran to the grocery store (good ole Aldi's) and then I also had to take Ian to the doctors for his immunization shots. The kids came home from school and it was like every other day. Spencer asked right away if he could run to a store and buy more pokeman cards. I said lunch and homework had to be done first. He mentioned he had a surprise for me but not until after he bought pokeman cards.

He finished his homework, ate his lunch and then rode his bike to get these cards that he so loves. Honestly, I still hate the things. I think it is a waste of money. But he is happy again. And for that, I am happy.

He comes home and I immediately ask him what my surprise is. He sits down next to me on the couch and opens his mouth. He then directly points to this tooth. The same exact tooth I had looked at the night before. Well, I didn't really look at the tooth, because it was not there. It was out! I asked him, and quite puzzled I must admit, "It came out?" Which to he responded, well, not really. Someone knocked it out of my mouth!

You can probably imagine my reaction. First came the 20 million questions. "What do you mean someone knocked it out." "How did it happen?" "With his elbow or his fist?" "Who was there when it happened?" "What did your teacher say?" "When did this happen?" Ok, you get the idea. And for the record, I think I asked him to tell me the story like 20 million times too. You can imagine him not wanting to talk about it. But I really wanted to make sure I understood everything.

So, here is what he said: We were on our 10 minute break (which is recess here in Germany). And we were playing Cops and Robbers. I had boy #1 hands behind his back. Then boy #2, who was not playing the game, thought I was hurting boy #1 and came over and started pushing me around. Boy #1 assured boy #2 that nothing was happening. In the meantime, boy #3 comes a long thinking boy #2 is in trouble and just starts swinging and pushing. He had Spencer up against a wall. Boy #2 was asking boy #3 to stop. Spencer turned his head to look at boy #2 and then all of a sudden boy #3 takes his fist right into Spencer's mouth! Of course, Spencer was in pain. Started crying. Boy #3 told Spencer, well look, I got hurt too! He proceeded to show Spencer his fist that had cuts from it hitting Spencer's teeth. Then Spencer puts his hand up to his mouth and out comes his tooth and a bunch of blood. When boy #3 saw this, He said, Oh Sorry. Sorry. I didn't mean to!

Of course, at this time, the bell rings and Spencer goes into the bathroom. He is still crying and hurting. A nice boy, calling him boy #4, stayed with him in the bathroom until he felt comfortable enough to go back to class. When Spencer finally went back to class, his teacher started getting mad at him for coming in so late. So Spencer proceeded to tell her that he was in the bathroom because he was bleeding and his tooth came out. Her response was, WOW, that is great. Your tooth came out. And Spencer told her, "No, It didn't just come out, someone knocked it out!"

So I hear that they took Spencer and Boy #3 (the one who knocked the tooth out) into a room together with both their teachers. They tried to figure out what happened. They ended up calling boy #3 parents. But no one called me. My Son got beat up (again! For the third time in less than a year!) and I got no phone call at all.

I tried calling his teacher for 6 hours. No one was ever home. Of course, the school closes at 1:20 here. And my kids get out of school at 1:20. So no one was around there either. We had no last name of the boy who hit spencer because he was in a different class.

Here in Germany, The Parent Teacher Oraganiztion is made up this way: they have two parents over every class. And then there is one parent who is over all these parents for the school. I don't know if this is making any sense at all.

But, we ended up finally calling one of our parents who is over Spencer's class. We were trying to see if she had the number for the other class parents so we could get a last name of the boy. She directed us to the parent who is over the whole school. We got a hold of her, and she gave us the boys last name and his phone number.

Gardner called, it was 10pm at night by the time we got this information. And I have to say, I had been trying to call people since 3pm. This is a long time to go and not hear anything! The longer time was going, the more angry I was getting. Anyway, Gardner called. We found out that this boy lives with a Foster Mom and Dad during the week and then his Mom on the Weekends. The Foster Mom said the boy hit Spencer with his elbow, it was an accident and because of Spencer's loose tooth, it just popped out. Gardner responded with, "It was not a loose tooth!" And I am in the back ground telling Gardner to tell the Foster Mom to check her sons Fist, as I know there are marks on it from when he hit Spencer.

Well, Gardner and I went to the school first thing Tuesday Morning. First off, the principal knew nothing of what happened. She told us she was out of the school on Monday. She was not helpful at all. Told us we really needed an appointment to discuss things like this. This made me very angry! My son just got hurt at school. I got no phone call to take care of the situation the day it happened. And now you want me to come back in two days! I don't think so! I told Gardner that we need to go to the School Offices. Gardner called, made an appointment and once again, it was for Thursday.

So Wednesday, we have the boy who hit Spencer and his Foster Parents over for dinner. It was a good decision on Gardner's part for this to happen. They were able to work stuff out. This boy made muffins for Spencer. He gave Spencer 11 Pokeman Cards (He had stolen 5 from Spencer a few weeks before). And his foster Mom said the boy finally came out with the real story of what happened. And it was just as Spencer had said.

Thursday, Garnder goes to the school to meet with the Principal and the Teacher. The principal said because of Us, and the amount of phone calls we made Monday night, Now everyone in our little town wants this boy kicked out of the schools here and his Mom is wanting him back out of the Foster Parents Care! Um, this did not sit well with me at all!

First off, If they had called me, then I would not of called anyone. Second off, we called two people! We called the person over our class and then the one over the school. We were trying to get phone numbers. If everyone in our little town knows about the incident, it isn't from us. Could it possibly be that it happened on recess and lots of kids saw this happen? Um, hello, they probably went home and told their parents. But my biggest thing is, I doubt that is even the case at all. I have a feeling she is just saying that to be mean.

Anyway, Gardner went to the School Offices and filed his complaint. The problem is, not only have they not called us this time around, the previous two times Spencer got beat up, they did not follow through on taking care of the situation.

First time, Spencer was leaving the school and two boys jumped him. Schools here in Germany are different because every class gets out at different times. And every day is different as well. Anyway, these two boys were on break (recess) and Spencer was starting to leave. He came home crying and we went directly back to the school. The principal took me to the teacher whose kids beat spencer up. (the principal had no time for me!) and then Teacher had me take these two boys outside to talk to them. Hello? I have been in Germany for three months and my german was not good enough for this. And the teacher shrugged it off and said, well, she doesn't understand much anyway. He is from Sweden.

Second time, Five boys tackled Spencer in the Class room right after break. The teacher was not there. One boy put his hands over Spencer's nose and mouth so he couldn't scream, which at the same time made it so he couldn't breathe. At that time, the rest of the boys either sat on him so he couldn't get away or was punching him and kicking him. On this occasion, the teacher addressed the class on the situation and called the one boys parents (the who had his hands over Spencers mouth and nose). She also called me about this situation. In this case, they should of contacted all the boys parents, not just the one.

During Gardner's appointment on Thursday with the principal, as he is recounting these previous incidents, the principal didn't even know about the one with the five boys. And then she proceeded to tell Gardner that once again, we should of had an appointment instead of me just coming back to the school after the first incident.

After we went into the school on Tuesday, the Principal pulled both Spencer and Shantal out of their class. She asked them why they didn't feel comfortable at the school. Spencer mentioned he doesn't feel safe at recess. And he also told her that no one calls him by his name. He is either, Amerikaner (which is a bakery item here in Germany) or Junge (which means Boy). And Shantal told her that everyone always says to her, "Hey it is that Dumb American Shantal!" The principal told my kids that the school here is one where there are fights and they need to get used to it.

So, like I mentioned, Gardner filed a complaint with the school offices on Thursday. They are supposed to have a meeting now with the school offices, Gardner, the Principal and the Teacher.

Yesterday, Sunday, we got a phone call from the Principal. She had gotten word from the School Offices about our complaint. She was not happy at all. She wanted to take care of the situation internally without the school offices. She wanted Gardner to notify her before hand and thought it was unfair of Gardner not to do so. She then proceeded to tell Gardner that she and the teacher would not be able to make it to the appointment next week.

I know this is long. I know it might not make much sense. My mind is all over the place.

Here is where I stand right now! I am tired. I just want to try to put it all behind us. We have to live here. My kids have to go to that school. When I have to go into the school, I want to be able to go without tense feelings when seeing the principal or the teacher. I want there to be resolution so we can move on.

My biggest thing, is I want to know my son is going to be safe when I send him to school. I want to know that if there is a problem, I am going to be notified. And if there is a situation that arises, all parents of those involved, will be notified. I don't want what has been happening to Spencer to happen to anyone else.

As I mentioned, I want to put this all behind me. I am ready to move on. But the problem is, Gardner is not ready. He wants to continue to fight. He's got his reasons. And with that, I am encouraging Gardner to post his take on this whole last week along with how he feels.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Ian Is Doing What?

OK, so I got two videos I want to share.

The first one was taken Tuesday. So that is three days ago. It is of Ian. His favorite toy seems to be our vacuum. He pushes it around the house. That is the only way he can walk. Otherwise he just crawls. And you have to watch the first video to really enjoy the second video!

Now this video I took yesterday, which was Thursday. What in the world happened over the course of two days?

We are really enjoying the changes that are happening with Ian!

Monday, September 3, 2007

Driving in Germany & The Autobahn


Ever wonder if the autobahn is as cool as it sounds. Want to no more about driving in Germany? Here is some first hand experience that my wife and I have made over the last nine months of living and driving in Germany, including driving on the German autobahn.

We've also captured some of our experiences in Episode 7 our Living in Germany podcast which you can listen to using the player below. This show was inspired by my getting my 2nd speeding ticket in Germany in 8 months (more on that below).

For fans of the literary version, read on.

One of my first memories of driving in Germany came as a 19 year old missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly nicknamed the Mormon Church). I was assigned to work in Aachen, Germany at the time and had only been in the country for about 3 weeks. A couple from the congregation in Aachen were driving me and my companion somewhere in the city of Aachen. We came to a stop light, which was turning yellow and the husband sped up to make the light (he was turning right, which I'll talk more about in a minute).

I thought nothing of this and just watched out the window, until suddenly the wife yelled out "Josef, Kamara!" You can likely guess the translation - "Joseph, Camera!" This took me by surprise and I was not sure what to think. By the time I figured out what she had said and was referring to I could just catch a glimpse of a little green box back at the intersection we had just passed.

For those who have been in Germany, you know that the little green boxes are cameras (commonly referred in German to as Starenkasten or Blitzer). These cameras are used to take pictures of traffic violations and send out tickets to the violators. When this happens to you you have been "geblitzt". This is the common method for issuing tickets and I remember the couple in Aachen discussing whether or not a picture had been taken, and if the camera was new, why they hadn't seen it before, etc. The Police speed cameras come in stationary and mobile forms (see Wikipedia for more).

I did not personally learn much from this history lesson, as I have already been geblitzt, or captured on film twice for traffic violations in our first nine months in Germany. But in a way this inspired our podcast and has hopefully inspired me to drive a bit more slowly.

Well here are a few of the other things we have learned about driving in Germany and about the thrill of driving on the German autobahn.

  • No right turn on Red. In other words, a red stoplight means stop 100% of the time.

  • Yellow means slow down. Why? Because of the next interesting rule.

  • Red, Yellow, Green, means go. It's like at the race track. Before getting a green light you are forewarned that green is coming with a Yellow light. When the Yellow is shown (red is still lit as well) then you start driving. Thus slowing down on yellow is generally a good idea because the other cars are reving up on the other side of the intersection.

  • street on the right has the right of way (unless there is a sign to indicate otherwise).

  • As mentioned above, Cameras are used to catch moving traffic violations, and they are very good at catching people (see the podcast for more).

Some Rules for the German Autobahn

  • Contrary to popular belief, there are speed limits on the autobahn. These occur near major cities, in tunnels, in high traffic, and near major interchanges.

  • Just like any other moder freeway system, the German autobahn experiences traffic jams, especially during rush hour. In German this is called a Stau. The radio stations (British stations as well) generally report on any Stau or traffic jam of greater than 3 kilometers. If there are not very many traffic jams, then they report on any Stau or traffic jam of greater than 2 kilometers.
    We had the lovely experience of sitting in two traffic jams of 10 plus kilometers each on our way to Hannover this summer.

  • When enforced, Autobahn speed limits range from 80 - 120 kilometers per hour (roughly 50 - 75 m.p.h). 80 km p.h. is common for tunnels.

  • Autobahn = No passing on the right --> very important rule at speeds near and above 100 m.p.h.

  • The German word "Autobahn", means highway or freeway.

Before showing some of the common signs that we found worthy of posting and discussing on our podcast, I'll discuss driving on the autobahn, and one of the best and most exhilarating signs in all of German driving, the one that takes away all the speed limits.

Seeing the "no more speed limits" sign on the autobahn is truly awesome. For me it's like being on a race track and driving under yellow or caution (120 k/mh or 75 m.p.h.) and then seeing the green flag starting to wave. Cars start to speed up and race ahead. The traffic starts to thin out and the stronger cars move left and to the head of the pack, while the slower cars move into the right hand lane. Truly exhilarating!

When there are no speed limits I generally drive between 80 & 90 m.p.h. Since most modern cars are designed to drive this fast it seems normal and natural to drive this fast. I'm not sure how many tickets I'll get when we go back to the states, or if I'll be able to slow back down to 55 - 65 m.p.h. This I know, I literally hated driving long stretches of highway in the U.S., but here it is a pure pleasure. And so, for now I'll just continue enjoying our time on the German autobahn.

Here the pics:

Right of way for the Street (until we tell you otherwise - see next sign)

END of right of way for the street

right of way for the next intersection only (thereafter, the streets on the right have the right of way again)

frogs could be crossing here (we have this cute little sign in our neighborhood)

speed limit sign 60 km hour (normally 120 on the autobahn)

"no more speed limits" (normally 120 crossed out on the autobahn)

The police speed camera that caught me at 62 km/h in a 50 km/h zone from the back side (Starenkasten, Blitzer). The sad thing is they have maps published on the internet that tell you exactly where the police speed cameras are located.
Had I only known sooner.

Here are some informative links for driving in Germany :
Getting Around Germany - the Autobahn
The German Way - Autobahn
OfficialUS Embassey Info - good details

March 2007