The Reluctant Homeschool: Our Educational Journey Thus Far

Thrifty Travel Mama | How We Accidentally Ended Up as HomeschoolersI spilled the beans in a previous post that we’ve become educational outliers – we do school at home now.

Even before I became a homeschooling mama (reluctantly, as the title reveals), I was intrigued by the educational choices of various families. I truly enjoy reading and discussing the rainbow of perspectives on everyday experiences that are common to all people (food, clothing, education, hygiene, medicine, relationships, etc.). I am fascinated by the differences, encouraged by the similarities, and drawn to each story’s underlying reasons.

In case any of you are cultural anthropology nerds like me, here’s the why and how of our homeschool journey.Thrifty Travel Mama | How We Accidentally Ended Up as Homeschoolers

History

I grew up thinking homeschooling was both completely awesomeStay home all day! No drama! No PE!and absolutely horridWould I have to wear denim and turtlenecks? Would I fit in if my hair didn’t reach my rear end? My mom doesn’t drive a 15-passenger van.. is that ok?

I was never homeschooled as a child, and I never intended to homeschool my own children.

As an outsider looking in, I thought homeschooling was WAY too much work. I’d rather have my kids go to school. They could leave for half of the day, and I could get a job doing something I enjoyed during school hours while earning some extra money (hilarious, I know).

Homeschooling was definitely out of the question.Thrifty Travel Mama | How We Accidentally Ended Up as Homeschoolers

Math

When we moved to Germany in 2010, we thought it would only be for one year. That year turned into two, and that two turned into four. When we would visit the US, I would talk to my old friends about what their kids were learning in school, and what their educational experiences had been like (see? nerd!). It was through these conversations that I learned American kindergartens teach kids to read.

WHAT!?

German kindergartens do not teach their children any academics, only useful skills like how to manhandle power tools, chop potatoes to make soup, and scrounge around the forest for seriously cool sticks. And, even if they did teach the kids to read, it would be in German. Duh.

I suddenly realized that if (okay, WHEN) we moved back to the US, I could end up with a first-grader who was unable to read, write, or do basic math.

I felt for my children. I did not want them to be the weirdos that didn’t know anything about schoolyard politics, the latest cartoons, how to speak decent English or six year-old slang… AND they would be illiterate.

No, no, that would not do.

Homeschooling in Germany is illegal, but I figured the Germans wouldn’t mind as long as my boys went to German kindergarten, too. So, that’s what we did. German kindergarten in the morning, English homeschool in the afternoon.Thrifty Travel Mama | Our Reluctant Homeschooling Journey

English

I started with the book How to Teach Your Children to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. I set my expectations low (finish the book) and got to work. Eventually, I added a math workbook, taught my son how to write English characters, and I even sprinkled in some fun activities based on the Five in a Row series.

You guys, to my utter astonishment, it worked. I cannot even express to you how mind-blowing this achievement was.

Full disclosure – we had our share of tearful, hair-pulling, fist-raising moments. But, my kid could read! And write! And do maths! And he didn’t hate me! (yet..)

At this point, I still was not on board the homeschool full-time train. When we landed in the US last October, I again met up with my friends for good ol’ what’s-your-kid-up-to chats. Alpha was now in first grade, and I wanted to know what “normal” first-graders were learning… Spelling. Science. Spanish.

CRAP.

It was then that I started to feel the tides turning. I panicked a bit, thinking about all of the things my child didn’t know. We still were technically homeless, and I had no idea how long it would be until we were settled.

Putting my sons in school and then pulling them out whenever we traveled to look for jobs was just not an option. In my own childhood, I attended 18 schools in Kindergarten-High School. I know from experience it’s terrible to constantly be the “new kid.”

I began to realize that perhaps it would be better if we homeschooled for the rest of first grade to help with the transition and then Alpha could go to the local elementary school.

Thrifty Travel Mama | How We Accidentally Ended Up as Homeschoolers

 

Geography – Mapping Out a Plan

I scrambled to put together a loose plan of what we could manage while on the road when we had no permanent place to live and could only take what would fit in our car. We worked on plus and minus, long and short vowels, print and cursive whenever we could.

When we finally moved to Arizona for a job, I looked into the local public schools and the many wonderful charter school opportunities in our city. But, I just couldn’t bring myself to register my kids at any of them.

With a husband working all day and all night to keep one lecture ahead of his classes, a house to unpack and organize, four years of paperwork to catch up on, waves of reverse culture shock to tame, and countless other tasks to figure out and do on my own, there was one thing I could not manage – getting three kids and myself out of the house every day, twice a day, for school.

This is in no way a complaint or meant to disrespect or discount the MANY parents that do this every day. Both homeschooling and organized institutional schooling are hard on families in different ways. I know I/we are blessed with choice, and I do not take that lightly.

Once my mind was made up to give this homeschool thing a go, I bought legit curriculum and made legit lesson plans. Slowly, we worked our way up to a full load (well, for a first-grader).

I encountered the usual whining and complaining here and there, but on the whole, I felt like this experiment was still working. My kids were learning, and (surprise, surprise) I actually liked being with them. There was just one problem.

Charlie.

Spelling… T-R-O-U-B-L-E

Oh, my dear Charlie. This kid keeps me laughing, guessing, and fuming all day long. He craves attention, and when he does not get it, we all pay.

Charlie is not interested in addition or spelling rules. Charlie does not want to play quietly in his room while his brothers learn addition and spelling rules. Charlie wants to be in.your.face.all.day.long.

Thrifty Travel Mama | How We Accidentally Ended Up as Homeschoolers

Fill in the blank… Homeschooling is a ______________.

At first, I did the bulk of our school day in the afternoon while Charlie napped. That worked well, but it left me with NO quiet time to recharge. As an introvert, this was a recipe for a very mean mama and seriously stressed kids. I felt like I could tackle just about anything if I could only have an hour or two of quiet several afternoons a week.

In our new circle of friends, I started asking if any teenagers would be interested in being a mother’s helper to my absolutely charming two year-old (hey, he’s potty trained! No diapers to change! That’s got to count for something, right?).

Thank God, I was able to find two great kids willing to come over a few times a week in the morning to gain experience and a little pocket money in exchange for hanging out with a bossy awesome kid.Thrifty Travel Mama | How We Accidentally Ended Up as Homeschoolers

Science – Experimenting

Okay, that was last school year, but will we keep things the same for this year?

Yes… and no.

I absolutely agree with this post by Tsh from The Art of Simple. I love the idea of evaluating each child, each year. I am in no way anti-school, and I am not ruling out a public or charter school possibility for the future. However, for second grade and kindergarten, Alpha and Bravo will stay home.

Oh, and Charlie? He’s already signed up for preschool. 🙂

What kind of school do your kids attend? Would you change it if you could? Have you ever tried homeschooling? I would love to hear about your options – even if you think I’m nuts – and what you like and dislike about your current education situation.Signature Thrifty Travel Mamatitle photo source

Happy 1st Birthday, Baby!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Happy birthday, baby!I’m sure I’m not the only mama out there that breathes a HUGE sigh of relief at the arrival of baby’s first birthday.  I always feel like it’s such a miracle to make it to one.

This special moment is a milestone of the best kind, one that can’t be criticized, analyzed, or compartmentalized.  No matter what your baby is doing – eating, sleeping, crawling, walking, somersaulting, bungee jumping – the first birthday is a day for the whole family to celebrate.

Big Foot’s arrival was a bumpy one; but, I thank God every day that through it all, we made it through with a healthy baby.  I know we are so blessed, so lucky, to have the biggest complaint lie in almost 8 months of sleepless nights.

This is a season of wonder for us.  This cranky baby who took 7 months to decide that life outside the womb was okay, even good, now shrieks with laughter and joy.  We are amazed at his determination to walk as early as possible and to perfect his balance in order to chase after the big boys.  As the big 1 approaches, we are so thankful for this bright-eyed boy built of solid muscle and trimmed in pinchable pudge.

In his first year of life, our wee traveler-in-training has visited 8 countries and 4 US states, crossed the Atlantic four times, traveled by train/bus/car/and plane, made his mark at 8 castles, and sneezed at one of the highest mountain peaks in Europe.  That’s a busy 12 months for such a little guy!

We love you, Big Foot, and we look forward to the many adventures to come over the years.  Happy birthday, baby!

P.s. – In case you are wondering about the photo… For all the emotions this kid has in him, he barely blinked at the sugar high served to him on a plastic orange platter.  No glee – no tears.  I guess this is preparing me to expect the unexpected from this little man!Signature-Marigold

Yep, I’m THAT Parent

Thrifty Travel Mama - Expat Life MishapsAn open letter to those bystanders who opened their eyes but not their hands…

Hello, you.  Yes, you.

Have you forgotten how it feels to have a baby in your arms, in your care?  I suppose if you’ve never had one, I’ll grant you that excuse.  But your face betrays the fact that you know.  May I presume then, that you’re drawing a blank as to what it’s like to run errands toting a baby who protests his presence in your plans with all the force his twenty two pounds can muster?

Because you look like you’re judging me.

Yep, I’m that parent, the one who parks her bike + trailer as close to the bank door as possible without actually blocking the exit or getting anyone else’s way but still manages to absorb the sneer of the suited man on his way out to grab coffee.

Yep, I’m that parent, the one who precariously positioned her baby on the ledge jutting out in front of the ATM, while flailing arms punched numbers, grabbed cash.  Yes, I know I could’ve put the baby on the floor, but wouldn’t you have glared harder had he howled in protest at being only an arms length away from his beloved?

Yep, I’m that parent who weaved through the pedestrian crowds with said bike + trailer the length of a minivan, accidentally bumping old ladies and chanting “excuse me” right and left as if tossing flowers for a bride behind.

Yep, I’m that parent, the one that found a marginally acceptable place to park the self-propelled minivan in front of the home goods store only to have the entire bike and occupied baby seat tumble over while reaching for the steel U-lock nestled on the floor of the trailer.

But you, you were the one who wagged your head at me in judgement as my baby wailed more from shock than pain.  You offered me no help.  You craned your neck to peer at the poor woman who surely must be idiotic or inconsiderate to allow her child to topple toward the cobblestones.  You wondered, was I that kind of parent?

Yep, I’m that parent, the one whose left arm cradled a concrete ten month-old and with the right clutched a bag containing a rather fragile plate bearing a chip not noticed until purchased with precious little pocket money, all the while praying that neither arm would give out.

Yep, I’m that parent, the one who rehearsed the phrases in another language, debating word choice, verb order, correct question grammar, formality all in a whisper while shushing her still-whimpering baby.

Yep, I’m that parent, the one who fumbled over her lines, voice trailing, humiliation apparent, yet surprisingly emerged victorious with a darling new, chip-free plate destined to be the centerpiece of friendship and fellowship for as long as it shall live.

Yep, I’m that parent, the one who held her head high as she walked past you, the onlooker sipping her coffee in the shade of the cafe and squinting at me in disapproval, only to realize that the awful crunch and creak coming from below belonged to a hopelessly flat tire sentencing me to an even further frustrating walk home.

Yep, I’m that parent, the one who has these kind of adventures almost daily, the one who sometimes finds kindred spirits and kind faces, that blessed stranger that gives empathy so warm you care not if summer ever arrives or if it should leave without notice.  But, alas, not today.Signature-Marigold

Beware! Not All Travel Tips Are Actually Helpful

How many “Top 10” travel tip lists have you read recently?  I must admit, I’ve pinned plenty of these.  But, how many have I actually read?  Well, let’s just say there’s a reason the “pin now, read later” phrase exists.

A few days ago, I came across this tweet… “10 Things to Never Let Your Kids Do on a Plane.”  Sounds educational, right?  I’m always on the lookout for great family travel tips.  I clicked the link with the intention of pinning the post.

And then my eyes fell to the first tip on the never, ever, EVER list – don’t let your kids kick the seat.  This must be a joke, right?  The number 1 tip when traveling with children on a plane is to make sure your kid doesn’t mistake the front passenger’s butt cheeks for a soccer ball?

Come on.

The only excuse I have for this sorry list is that it must not have been written by a real-life parent who has actually traveled extensively with his or her children.  The list reflects the writer’s self-consciousness; what others think about him or her is most important.  I can only imagine the miserable time the author (an au pair?) must have had to pen this list!

In an effort to set the record straight, let’s have a gander at these serious travel sins.

Never should you ever let your child…

Kick the seat.  “It is up to you to make sure your child keeps her feet to herself. She doesn’t realize how uncomfortable she is making the person in front of her, and most passengers will not turn around to complain, but instead will silently curse you and your child.”

Where to I begin?  Sure, you can teach an older child that kicking the seat in front is not kind.  But, what about a baby or toddler sitting in a forward-facing car seat on the airplane?  These little ones often have legs that don’t dangle much, leaving their toes touching the seat back.  Reality check – it might be physically impossible to prevent your child from toe tapping the traveler in front.

I’m not suggesting parents disregard the comfort of other passengers.  But I do think there’s only so much that can be done.  Remove the child’s shoes (this softens the kick), do your best to explain how to be a nice neighbor, and then embrace the reality that your kid is going to kick the seat at least a few times despite your best intentions.

Better advice?  Apologize.  Profusely.  And buy the unlucky recipient a drink.

Big Foot breakin' the rules.

Big Foot breakin’ the rules.

Stand on the seat.  “This is a dangerous thing for your kids to do, so don’t encourage them to do it and make sure that you put the kibosh on seat-standing the moment it’s attempted.”

Let’s go back to those babies and toddlers.  When tiny legs are a squirmin’, the best thing you can do is to let them stretch their muscles by bouncing gently on your lap or the seat cushion.  As long as you’re abiding by crew member instructions (including those all-important seat belt signs), what’s the harm?

Now, if you’re allowing your ten year-old to create his own mosh pit in 31B, that’s a different story…

Play with “guns.”  Really?  I guess I could let this one slide for travel newbs who have had their head in the sand the past 12 years…  I have three boys, and I can’t say my kids have ever wanted to play or talk about fake guns or other weapons on airplanes.

My naughty baby - roaming the aisles.

My naughty baby – roaming the aisles.

Run up & down the aisle.  “Kids get restless when they’re asked to sit for long periods of time, but that’s no excuse for them to run up and down the aisle of an airplane. For one, flight attendants often walk the aisles with beverage carts and food, making it a dangerous place for your kids to be. Also, it is a risk for other passengers who will use the aisle to reach the restrooms. Keep them in their seats.”

GET REAL.  True, the safest place for a child on an airplane is in their seat, belt fastened.  But this advice is not realistic for parents with young kids on flights longer than 2-3 hours.

True, you little one shouldn’t use the aisle to train for the 2028 Olympic track team.  But provided flight attendants aren’t serving meals or drinks, I wholeheartedly recommend you get up and walk the aisles a few times with your child on a long haul flight.  P.s. – It’s also good for your health.

Throw a tantrum.  “Granted, fits and temper tantrums are not necessarily controllable, but they will disturb the entire plane and put all of the other passengers on edge. Do your best to put the cap on any tantrums as quickly as possible, for your sake and for the sake of all on board.”

Wait, who benefits from this advice?  The child?  The parents?  No!  This is obviously written by an annoyed passenger who’s had one too many screaming seatmates.

Tantrums will happen.  Why?  Because kids are out of their routine, out of their comfort zone.  Yes, do your best to avoid meltdowns, but admonishing a parent to never let their child throw a tantrum on a plane is unrealistic.

Panic. “Keeping yourself calm is step one, and getting your kids to relax is the next step. Keep all panic out of your voice and your actions, and your kids will trust your instincts and mirror your reactions.”

This is one for the parents – not the kids.  I guess this is good advice if the parent thinks there’s something worthy of panic.  But, hopefully any psychological issues with air travel will be worked out before boarding.

The only thing worth panicking about on board is whether the pasta meals will run out before the meal cart reaches your aisle leaving you with rubberized chicken for dinner.

Take off the seat belt.  If the seat belt sign is lit, don’t let your kids take off their seat belt… It’s best for them to remain belted throughout the flight if possible.”

Sounds solid, right?  Yes, this tip would be golden… if it weren’t so absolute.  How are potty-trained children going to take a tinkle while strapped in?

Leave with strangers.  “If your kids end up in a seat in a different row from you…”

Hold it.  Stop right there.  The rest of this sentence should read, “then fight tooth and nail to get reseated.”  Don’t take no for an answer.  Sit with your kids.  You wouldn’t let someone else entertain or take responsibility for your iPhone during a flight, would you?  Then why in the world would you do the same with your most precious children?

Eat too much.  “Letting your kids eat too many treats could lead to trouble.”

What, like them sitting quietly in their seats for an entire flight, passing the hours one Cheerio at a time?

Of all the tips on the list, I consider this one the worst.  Snacks can get a mama through a multitude of trials: delayed flight, missed connection, those infamous mystery chicken nugget kid meals, long haul boredom, and more.

I’m not advocating administering a stream of sugar – candy, chocolate, cookies, cake, and Coke.  But bags of crackers, pretzels, cereal, almonds, vegetable sticks, fruit… seriously, let ’em eat!

Let their ears pop.  If this is something to never let your kids do on a plane, then forget traveling altogether.  It’s impossible to prevent a change in pressure.

Instead, be prepared with (age appropriate) tools.  Let little babies drink a bottle, nurse, or suck on a pacifier.  Older toddlers and children can lick lollipops, chew gum, and slowly sip a drink.

My advice to you – treat travel tips as just that.  Tips.  Not rules, not absolutes.  Make sure the advice you’re filling your overstuffed parental brain with is from a reputable source.  Take what works, and toss out what doesn’t seem to fit your family’s values and lifestyle.

And then, just go!  Get out there.  The best travel tips come from personal experience.  In no time, you’ll be writing your own list!

Signature-Marigold

Marvel: Homeschooling in Germany – Illegal!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expat Life - MarvelsCan you believe it?  Educating children at home in Germany is illegal!  And I don’t mean illegal as in it’s illegal to operate a dance hall on a Sunday in South Carolina.  No siree, trying to homeschool your kids in Germany is dangerous business.

I’ve known about this rule for a while now, but I never gave it much thought.  When we first arrived in Germany, T-Rex was only 2, and Screech was barely 10 months old.  We had no plans to stay for more than one year.  Since children must already be 6 to start first grade, what concern was this homeschooling law to me?  Plus, I wasn’t even sure I would want to homeschool.

Actually, I’m still not sure.  But I like options.  I don’t like serious fines and legal mumbo jumbo and threats about taking away custody of my children because I might decide that a German primary school isn’t the best place for them.  Unfortunately, that’s the reality for any family who dares to fight the iron-clad, you-must-not-educate-your-children-yourself rule.

Germany is very serious about their compulsory education.  All children are required attend a state-approved school, no exceptions.  Absences must be sorted out in advance.  My neighbor had to secure special permission to take her daughter out one day earlier than the scheduled Christmas break so that the family could fly to their homeland for the holiday.  If she had not obtained this approval, she could’ve be stopped at the airport and denied boarding with her daughter.  No, this is not North Korea we are talking about; this is Germany.  One of the richest and most prosperous countries in the world is also one of the most fearful.

Fearful of what?  Of course one could argue that fanatics of any religion might want to indoctrinate their children and isolate them from peers and open thinking.  This is a concern to be sure.  But that doesn’t seem to be the underlying thought when it comes to this particular law.  No, this fear is fixated on losing control of the masses.

All governments around the world share this anxiety, at least to some degree.  If enough of the people do not agree with the government and teach their children to dissent without respect, then disastrous consequences could ensue.

While these worries may be reality in some places to some extent at some time, it’s extremely pessimistic.  Loads of creativity, innovation, and advancement are also possible, perhaps even likely.

Fortunately, not every country in Europe is as tyrannical as Germany when it comes to homeschooling.  Sweden is an ally in Germany’s prohibition, but Switzerland, France, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom allow home education to some degree.

Do some families in Germany risk fines, imprisonment, or even losing custody of their children in order to homeschool?  Yes.  Some teach at home under the radar, doing their best to avoid detectionOthers are advocating for change, allowing themselves to be examples to the world and hoping the exposure of their trials makes way for dialogue that leads to a reversal of the law.

But, what about Americans and other foreigners living in Germany?  Are they exempt from the German education laws?  Usually not.  Some members of foreign armed forces or families of diplomats can get away with it.  But everyone else must obey and send their children to a German school (public or private).

This is not to say that German schools are inherently bad or that they are brainwashing children on the sly.  I merely aim to point out the lack of choice and bring attention to the prevailing public thought that the government knows what’s best for all children in Germany.

Be thankful for your freedoms, Americans, hug your children tightly, and pray for the wisdom to handle the challenges – educational or otherwise – of raising them.

You can read another excellent post discussing homeschooling in Germany here.  If you’re looking to get involved and help a homeschooling family, you can find action steps at the end of this article.Signature-Marigold

German Well Baby Visits

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expat Life - withaBabyWe’ve been trudging off to the pediatrician an awful lot these past few weeks.  But, thank God it hasn’t been for illness.  Nope, it’s been time for all the boys to get their check ups!

I’m not quite acclimated yet to the German well baby visit schedule.  But, I seem to have lived here long enough to forget the American schedule.  Either that or I’m totally sleep deprived.  Yeah, let’s not go there.

Waiting rooms at the pediatrician are much like the US, only with more wooden toys.

Waiting rooms at the pediatrician are much like in America, only with more wooden toys.

The typical visits that a baby will have to the pediatrician in the US are at birth, 2-3 days, and 2, 4, 6, 9, and 12 months (yep, I had to look that up).  In Germany, it’s slightly different.  Big Foot also got an examination at birth and at 2-3 days, but then he is supposed to go at 6 weeks, 4 months, 7 months, and 12 months.  These visits are labeled with the letter U and then a number, starting with U1 and going up.

Exam rooms are much the same as in the US.

Exam rooms are much the same as in the US.

What was most surprising to me, however, was not the frequency of the visits but what the doctor does (or doesn’t do) at the check-up.

I’m almost certain that the midwife or obstetrician – and not a pediatrician – performed Big Foot’s U1 check after the birth.  And, I know for sure that his hearing was not checked at the hospital.  In fact, it wasn’t checked until 6 weeks!

Pediatric Ultrasound machine.

Pediatric Ultrasound machine.

Even more strange than watching your little tiny baby have a hearing monitor shoved in his ear is watching him get an ultrasound of his hips.  It’s quite routine for babies here to get 1 or 2 hip ultrasounds in the first few months of life.  The pediatrician has a machine right there in the exam room, and performs the test himself.  He explained to me why they do this, but honestly I completely forgot since Big Foot’s sockets were normal.

Baby exams take place on this changing table underneath a heat lamp.  The scale is old skool - not digital.

Baby exams take place on this changing table underneath a heat lamp. The scale is old skool – not digital.

Immunizations don’t start until the 4-month visit.  Babies in Germany get huge combination shots with 6 or 7 diseases all rolled into one.  I asked about separating these whoppers into smaller bite-sized doses.  No dice.  It’s just not possible.

Don't forget to wash your hands!  The bathroom has a child-sized sink and potty.

Don’t forget to wash your hands! The bathroom has a child-sized sink and potty.

Germany doesn’t require all school children to be vaccinated like in the US.  As such, doctors are usually open to changing the schedule if the parent desires, but one should not expect to get away without an earful of why that decision is completely and utterly stupid.

Shot records are detailed in a little yellow immunization booklet called an Impfpass.  This is to be kept with the child’s check-up records which just happen to also be bound up in a yellow book.  Surprise, surprise, just like the Mutterpass, all these documents are the responsibility of the parent.  I must remember to take the booklets with me for every well baby/well child visit and any extra trips we make to do catch-up immunizations.  Geez, way to give a parent one.more.thing.to.do.

At each checkup, I’ve received safety pamphlets to keep with my child’s records.  The pages are filled with little pictures illustrating the dangers of having a child in your house.  Don’t put furniture in front of the window.  Put your cleaning products out of reach.  Look both ways before you cross the road.  Don’t carry a baby and a hot beverage.  Be careful when cooking and the children are around.  Don’t tie a pacifier around a baby’s neck with a string.  And on and on these little booklets go.  We get one every.single.time.

The one thing that I don’t get a lot of are questions about my children’s development.  At Big Foot’s last check (4 months), the doctor didn’t ask me anything about sleeping.  Or eating.  Or fussiness.  Or general temperament.  Or if he could roll over.  Or do jumping jacks.

The pediatrician did ask how it was going.  I said, um, okay, and tried to talk to him about how Big Foot doesn’t sleep well at night.  He brushed me off and merely said, “It’s an adaptation issue.”  I protested that the other two didn’t have “adaptation issues.”  He then smiled his aren’t-you-such-a-dumb-little-American smile and replied, “Well, 1 out of every 3 babies has it, and he’s your third.”  No other questions.  No other answers.  Mystery solved.  “Adaptation issues.”  Case closed.

On the plus side, I don’t pay anything for my boys to go to the doctor.  Ever.  Not for well visits, not for sick visits, not for shots, not for tests, not even for after hours urgent care or ER visits.

So even though our pediatrician is a piece of work (and he’s our second one in two years so I’m not keen on trying another), at least the coverage is very good.  Now if I can just keep our trips to his office to a minimum – and the kindergarten sickies at bay, I’ll be one happy mama.Signature-Marigold

Parental Leave – A Benefit to Living in Germany

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expat Life - with a BabyIf you’re an American, you’ve surely heard about the awesome maternity leave in places like Sweden.  It makes our standard FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) of 12 weeks – unpaid – look eternally pathetic.  Even if a mother could afford to take more than 12 weeks off work without pay, her job would surely be handed to someone else.

Not so in Sweden – or in Germany.  Legally, the mother can take up to three YEARS of maternity leave, and her employer must allow her to return to her position.  Also, if the employee and employer agree, one of those three years can be saved and taken when the child is between the ages of 3 and 8.

Granted, most of those three years of leave would be unpaid.  But, there are paid benefits.  The mother receives 14 weeks at 100% of her salary, starting 6 weeks before her due date.  After the 14 weeks are up, she is entitled to 12 months at about 65% pay.

Thrifty Travel Mama

To sweeten this deal even further, if the father wants to take leave as well, then the couple has 14 months that they may divide among themselves.  Again, these 14 months would be at 65% pay.  Seriously, awesome.

And this is just what Doc Sci and I did.  Since I did not work in Germany prior to Big Foot’s birth, I was (understandably) not eligible for the 14 weeks.  But we were allowed to take the 14 months at 65% of Doc Sci’s pay.

We chose to only have him take two of the fourteen months.  After all, we are here for him to gain experience in his field, and it seems counterproductive to just hang around living off the state for a year.  But, even with only two months off, that is still far more than he ever would have had in the US.  I love it.

I especially liked the option to not have to take the two months consecutively.  As such, Doc Sci was home for Big Foot’s first month of life, and he will also be home for the fifth month of life (starting mid December).

While living in Germany can be quite frustrating at times, I have to say that it sure is a swell place to have a family!Signature-Marigold

Children and Television – Help or Hindrance?

Screech and T-Rex “cycling” together with the Wii.

I used to be one of “those” mamas.  You know, the kind that smugly says she doesn’t need TV and her kids won’t be watching any until they are two.  If ever.

I only had T-Rex at the time; and, really and truly I didn’t have a need for TV.  But, then I found myself about to have another baby (that would be Screech – and he was scheduled to arrive, ahem, before T-Rex turned two).   One day while making dinner, I suddenly panicked.  What would I do with T-Rex when I needed to feed Screech, cook, or (gasp) have five minutes of time to do something for myself?

All of a sudden TV didn’t seem so “bad” anymore. 

(Just to keep things clear, when I say TV, I mean the actual television set.  We’ve never had cable, and I can’t keep track of air channel listings for the life of me.  We almost exclusively watch DVDs.)

So, I did what I could to encourage a toddler who had no interest in TV to sit still and watch a black box for a few minutes at a time.  I had no idea it would be so much.. work.  Getting a toddler boy to sit down for ten minutes seemed like a serious, award-winning accomplishment.

Fast forward a few years, and here I am today expecting baby #3.  T-Rex is four and a half and will usually watch about 30 minutes of TV if I need him to do so.  Screech, on the other hand, lasts maybe five to ten minutes max.  He’s almost three years old, and he’d much rather destroy the house than watch Lightning McQueen learn to make friends.

Speaking of friends, I one in particular here (she’s American) with three children, ages three to eight.  Her kids will watch TV for hours.  When she told me this, she probably thought I’d judge her.  We do a lot of judging each other as parents which hurts us (because we’re often wrong) and the other person.  I’m sure she was surprised when I didn’t.  Nope – I thought, lucky!

Now, she doesn’t plant the kids in front of media every day.  And nor does she do it so she can lounge in a back room, paint her nails, and check Facebook.  She works from home and due to some circumstances has no childcare for a few months.  She has no family here, and no means to afford a babysitter for even a half day for three kids, five days per week.

Come September, all of her kids will be in school again, she can work during that time, and the hours-long television fests will be a thing of the past.  She’ll only pull that trick out of the bag on special occasions.  But, mostly it will remain a memory of a desperate measure utilized at a desperate time.

Desperate.  Yes.  That’s where I find myself sometimes when I think of how on earth I will get anything done with three little boys under the age of 5.  Quiet boxes, special toys, off-limits games (like the Wii), etc. only work with my boys for so long.

About two months ago, Doc Sci suggested I have the boys choose between reading a book and watching TV every day while I make dinner to help them get used to sitting (somewhat) still for 30 minutes.   (Keep an open mind here..  Remember what I said about judging?)  No matter what the two of them chose, it rarely lasted more than 10-15 minutes.

That is, until family movie night.

We decided one Friday night to do something different with the boys.  We’d let them watch a movie with us during dinner and stay up a little later than usual.  I’m not one for animated films, so I chose The Parent Trap.

To my surprise, my two can’t-eat-enough boys barely touched their dinner.  They were mesmerized.  We only watched about 1/3 of the film that evening, but I turned it on a few times in the next week while cooking dinner.  Each time, they sat there, riveted.  When we eventually reached the end of the film, Screech immediately said, “Watch it again, Daddy!”

And then it dawned on me.  Maybe the key to a longer attention span is not to encourage a shorter one.

Everything that flashes across that screen teaches my boys something whether it be educational, moral, spiritual, etc.  All of the DVDs in my current rotation are children’s programs – short and sweet – ten to thirty minutes tops.  But maybe the propensity to cater to kids’ attention spans actually reinforces their immature tendencies.

I tested my theory this weekend when we watched several Olympic events (a rare time when the “television” function of the TV was actually in use).  Swimming, gymnastics, diving, cycling, tennis – they both sat for longer than I’ve ever seen during each event.  When we turned off the TV, they wanted to act out what they’d seen – especially the swimming and gymnastics.  And, they wanted to do it with us.

TV gets such a bad rap when it comes to children.  Among other things, it gets blamed for childhood obesity and for a lack of connection and communication in families.

I’m not saying everyone needs to train their children to sit still and watch a black box.  If you have a backyard – use it!!! I don’t have one, and I won’t have one any time soon.  If I did, I probably wouldn’t even be thinking about TV as an option to help my household run a bit smoother and my sanity to stay intact.

I’m also not suggesting to throw caution to the wind and let children watch any kind of programming.  Discretion should still be used when selecting which programs to watch.  I just think that we shouldn’t limit ourselves to choosing children’s programming because it’s been marketed to us as what kids want (and should) watch.  Parents should still be in charge of the process, even if they can’t always sit down and watch the entire program (because they’re, say, feeding a new baby or cooking for five).

If television is used as a tool – for a determined purpose and time – I believe it really can be a help instead of a hindrance.

What about you? Do your kids watch TV at home? Have you found some programs to be more successful or beneficial than others?  Do you think the short format of children’s shows helps or hinders their attention span, growth, and development?

Shameless Repost: Are German Parents as Superior as French Parents?

I don’t often think about if German parents are different than American parents.  That’s a no-brainer.  I just know they are.

But one thing I haven’t given much thought to is the question of how German parents differ from their American counterparts.

Several weeks ago, I ran across an article listed in Simple Mom’s Weekend Links that happened to be from the Wall Street Journal, entitled “Why French Parents Are Superior.”

I loved it.

Since then, I’ve been consciously thinking about two things I took away from the article: delayed gratification and teaching my children to entertain themselves by playing alone while I am busy.

As I read the article, though, I wondered how similar French and German parents are.  The last time I spent more than one day in France, I was pregnant with my first child and not at all into hanging out at playgrounds or observing child rearing techniques.

And, even though I have lived in Germany for a year and a half, I am still no expert on German parents.  So, I was quite pleased to run across a comparison on the German Way Expat Blog of French and German parents based on the aforementioned Wall Street Journal article.

Head here to read the full comparison.   (Or you can cheat and read the final count here: Similarities – 3 and Dissimilarities – 2.)