Todd Family Blog

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Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Next Chapter....

Hello, all!  Und willkommen auf dem Blog!  Below is our first update from the start of our time here in Germany.  We are located in Bavaria (yes, think Oktoberfest) about 20 minutes south of Munich.  We live in the summer resort town of Starnberg, which is right on the Starnberger See.  Right now it is very low-key with just the locals, lots of snow, and the mountains hidden by clouds.  But we hear it gets crazy in the summer and is sure to be beautiful.  As you will see from the pictures below we also have been getting to know Munich, which being a big city has many wonderful attractions for kiddos.  And Brad's job is going famously.  They threw him right into the deep end, and while it has been busy he also appreciated their confidence in him.  So far we think it will be a great experience for him.

Now, if you want to read about something that sounds like a fun family vacation, I'm afraid Der (Das?  Seems to be debate on that...) Blog may not be your cup of tea.  Because, really, how many of us take our potty-training-internationally-adopted-with-a-slight-language-delay-toddler on our European vacations?  (And the vacation lasts 2 years?)  No one that I know.  Ever.  In fact, not one person who is thinking about visiting us has mentioned wanting to bring their young children.  (Though they would certainly be welcome!)  And there is a reason.  A 2-something year-old doesn't exactly do tours of castles, go to museums, have the stamina for a full day in a city, requires a schedule of early rising/nap times/going to bed, etc., etc., etc.  Oh, and this isn't a vacation, as I am constantly reminded by trips to the grocery store (and looking lost), cleaning, unpacking, homeschooling, doing laundry, training the dogs, residence paperwork, setting up internet, a bank account, trying to make know....lots of normal life stuff.

So, what is really going on here in Der Blog is the painful process of leaving a wonderful place to live and trying to make a temporary home in another wonderful place, all the while hoping you've made the right decision.  As our friends and family, I'm sure you won't mind if I am frank about such things and try to give a fair account of what we've gone through.  Bavaria is a lovely, lovely place which I HIGHLY recommend.  But there is a reason that the north side of Indy is constantly recognized as one of the top places to live in America.  Oh, and after extensive travel I have realized that I also really like living (totally different than visiting/traveling, mind you - still love going to other countries) in America.  So, there are pros and cons to everything, as is generally true in life, huh?

Bar none, the hardest part of this transition and what makes me the most homesick (yes, even second to Target and Coscto - and I REALLY miss those) would be Levi's school situation.  I had no idea that the flexibility of a couple hours on just a couple mornings/week was not the norm in other places.  Not only are there no spots available mid-semester in the English or bilingual schools, but they all are 5 days/week.  And there just isn't the plethora of preschools, perhaps because in America so many are run by area churches, as well as all the chain schools, private schools, daycare/schools, etc.  I miss Levi's wonderful preschool (as does he - oh my) more than I can say and it is definitely the thing that makes me saddest.  If I'm honest, it actually keeps me up at night.  Perhaps this is increased by my fear of being solely in charge of his education (about which I have no expertise) and socialization now (especially as he's an only child).  I have been trying to get myself organized enough to truly do a bit of "homeschooling."  Thank God for Pinterest!  And perhaps next year he will be ready for 5 days/week (though I may not be).

Oh, and what else you all should know incase either of these vices catch up with me, the stress (and the 45 stairs in our row house) is luring me to much coffee, wine, chocolate, and carbs.  And just about the only thing we have in walking distance is a bakery.  And now that I've found yeast in the grocery store here I'm baking lots of bread.  So, there's that.

I will save further details for the picture descriptions below.  Otherwise, here are some of Levi's highlights as he closes out 2 years-old!

Firsts and Quirks:  Still puzzle obsessed; He now can tell me about things that happened when I wasn't around, like at school or fun with Daddy;  He thinks it is hilarious to pretend ANYTHING is a phone and says loudly, "Hellooooo!"; Still freaks me out with his sense of direction.  For example, pointed out my doctor's office when we were coming from a completely different direction and he's only been once or twice; Picks out shapes on his own as we drive around; Loves to call himself my "Helper Tiger"; Always calls our house in Germany the "Pink Germany House"; Ugh, jet lag.  Would take him 2 1/2 hours to fall asleep  while crying that he "loves us so much and wants to pray!"; So sweet and gentle with his doggies now (for the most part!), pets them very sweetly and gets lots of kisses in return; Lots of wanting to do #2 on the potty and asks us to leave, "Mama to leave!  Privacy!"; Calls the dogs by their names now instead of GaGa, GeeGee and GoodGirl; Has "S's" in his words now; Frequently asks for the "Green Friend" (of which he is scared, from the Indy Children's Museum) to come to Germany.  Huh.

Funny Sayings:  When leaving Red Lobster with Daddy, 
(to the lobsters) "Bye bye, Crabbies!"; 
LT: "Vi's in trouble trouble." Me: "Vi's in trouble?"
LT: "No thank you, trouble.  You're welcome trouble.";
This one freaked me out: "Vi go up up in plane.  Crash down down in people's houses.  Bummer.  Biggest bummer ever."  
Where does he get this stuff!?!?;
Shortly after arriving in Germany, "Bye bye Pink Germany House."; 
After a particularly hard day when he lost a lot of "priveledges" he woke from his nap saying, "No Rawr, No Train, no MingMingTuck [all his favorite shows].  Listen to Mama.";
While I cut his hair, "Ow!  Mama, be gentle!"; 
"Blow nose.  Blow nose need boogie out.  Boogie out now.";  
"Vi bite Mama's nose off.  Put on floor.  In Vi's mouth.  
Teeerrrrible mess!"  (Again, WHERE does he get these things!?); 
"Napkin in lap!  Ready to eat!";
While screaming and crying here in Germany, "Mama, Dada love Vi so much!  Dada come back to Pink Germany House!" 
(Break my heart!);
"More donuts!  More treat food!  Please?  Please, Mama!?";
Lots and lots of imitating one of Brad's favorite frustrated phrases, "Come ON!", as well as my classics, "Good thoughts", "Good idea" and "Yummy in Vi's Tummy";
"Vi eat jelly beans...for dinner.  More treat food.  And broccoli.";
Told Daddy to "Go to work in the bushes" on the weekend 
(Roche is located in a big forest);
"Nana, Pa proud of Vi singing."; "Vi miss Vi's friends at school."; 
Me: "Where are your trains going?" 
LT: "Going to dancing!" Me: "Dancing?" 
LT: "Blue Thomas going to dance in garage with blue car!"; 

The Last Round of Goodbyes:

An absolutely fantastic last hurrah with the girls in Chicago.  How I love our Chicago weekends.  

How blessed are we to have these friends with boys all around the same age?  We had wonderful gatherings with our Zionsville play group (below), hosted by my dear friend Jen and wonderful contributions by my other friend, Karen.  They made us feel very special.

And a last hurrah with the Motts.  Levi can't look at these pictures now without adamantly insisting that "Mommy, Daddy and Vi all go to Noah and Caleb's house.  Go downstairs and play with trains!"

Taryn and Steve hosted a wonderful going away gathering for us and some friends.  Everyone brought amazing food, and we have to thank Adrianne for spearheading the whole thing, too.  To see so many dear friends in one place before we left has made for a wonderful memory to last us until our summer visit.

Kate and Bonnie

Chad and Kate made the trip from Ann Arbor!  Thanks, guys!

Taryn gave Brad a hilarious gift - a mug with an otter (his FAVORITE animal - seriously) in the bottom.

Jen and Eric

Lynn and Kurt (Who also happens to be our fantastic vet - he had a big job to do in getting the dogs ready!)

All of us from the Class of '95 at Zionsville, Natalie, Lynn, myself and Alli

The final crew before we all headed out - the Smiths, the Sowinskis (who came down from Detroit!), the Metzings, and our hosts, Taryn and Steve.

Me and Taryn

Me and Miriam

A final meetup at the park by our house with the Hoskins.  We got lots of wiggles out, despite the cold.

Great walk down to a bridge that goes over a stream.  The boys talked about what kinds of animals could be down there.

Goodbyes are hard, even when you're 2 and 3.

I got this sweet picture of "Miss Angela" (a.k.a. Jacobi's Mom) and Levi via text during an animal demonstration at Levi's preschool.  Apparently he sat in her lap the whole time.  So cute.  

This was always what I would see after dropping Levi off at school.  When Levi sees these pictures he says, "Funny faces!"  I would go on the other side of the window and be goofy to get smiles before leaving.  Always a favorite moment on my Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Our beloved "Mrs. Willwums" bringing Levi out on his last day.  How Levi loves her, as do we.  Is there anything better than having a wonderful place to send your child to be cared for by adults who truly love them back?  (And yes, I cried as she handed me his bag of cleaned out stuff from the classroom....sigh....)

Nanny came to visit and do vast amounts of work in helping me get the house ready before leaving.  We did about 6 months worth of To Do's in a week.  Of course, there was plenty of quality Levi time mixed in too.  Levi loves snuggling with his "Neenie."

A last batch of donuts from Titus, easily one of the best donut spots in history.  (And I should know after my years of working at The Donut Den during high school, which set the standard.)  The round, cream-colored iced donuts are called "Pershings" and are Un.Be.Liev.Able.  I miss them terribly already, as does Levi.  He looks at these pictures and says, "Treat food!  Get more donuts now, please, Mommy!"

Our goodbye meal with the Todds the night before we left.  

Singing Zippideedooda with Nana.

Final snuggles before "the big plane to the Pink Germany House."

When we got home from dinner, Angela and Jacobi brought Levi some goodbye gifts.  The books, picture album and police car were IMMEDIATELY enjoyed (and quickly memorized).

Moving Day!  First the doggers were loaded up for their trip to O'Hare.  They did just great and seemed very comfy in their crates.  Ace Pet Moving was fantastic, and I highly recommend them.  Everything went just perfectly.

Levi squeezed in between all the suitcases.

Plenty of time for a fantastic meal at the Indy local spot, Harry and Izzy's, at the airport.  
"Cheers-ing" with Daddy.

Mmmmmm.....their famous shrimp cocktail.  Levi LOVED the extremely spicy horseradish in it.  He got big eyes, touched his nose in surprise and then said, "Again!"  Definitely my son.

Our first flight to Chicago.  Puzzles, packed in ziplocs, were a huge hit.  No surprise there.  Especially nice as he can do them without any help and I can get a moment to relax.

Making sure Daddy appreciates his success...

Before our trip I made sure Tigie had his own luggage tag.  There is no way we are losing Tigie.

Levi adjusted to business class rather well, I would say.  I thought it would be hard not to disturb others with a wiggly toddler, but it was no problem at all and great to have so much space/a bed for him.

After dinner (and battling me a bit, requiring a "time in" in the bathroom) he slept the entire rest of the flight.  Whew!!!

With all our luggage at the Munich Airport.  The car rental is VERY far away from baggage claim, so hauling all our stuff and Levi there was very, very interesting.  Having him ride on the luggage cart turned out to be the only way to do it.  

When we got to our temporary rental car it was a Mercedes sports car.  Um, not so great for a carseat and six massive suitcases.  I ended up with 70 lbs of luggage on my lap for the 45 min. ride to our house.  No, I couldn't feel my legs when we arrived.

Literally the moment we walked in Levi started on puzzles.  Truly, it is an amazing obsession.

The dogs arriving a bit after we did.  Brad put them each directly into the backyard.  They seemed no worse for the wear, though their adjustment continues.  Brad says he will never forget the surprised look on Gracie's face when she saw him.  

Checking out their new backyard.  Fortunately/unfortunately there is a VERY popular walking path through some woods right behind that fence.  We are still in the process of training the dogs not to bark, nervous as they are feeling.  And for some reason people like to let their dogs stop and bark at (attack?) our three through the fence.  The owners seem amused by it and also amazed that we have three.  When I go out to correct our dogs they often say in surprise, "Drei!?"  Apparently this is unusual.  (But where is it normal?)  I did have one small confrontation with a man who was truly letting his dog attack the fence.  I said quite dramatically to him, "Warum!?"  ("Why!?")  Ha!

Happy to be all together.  Gracie seems completely unfazed, but the boys were/are still a bit nervous, especially Cal.  We expected that since they were both older rescues and had a bit more trauma in their lives.  But they do understand that we are all together and staying that way, and that is what is important.

Thankfully, they love snow and cold weather!  Just makes for  A LOT of wiping dog paws!  

We found the house extremely welcoming.  There was an amazing gift basket and card from the owner.  We immediately dived into the provisions.

The house is also wonderfully furnished.  We didn't get to look through all the cabinets during our house hunt, so that has been a pleasant surprise.

One of our first outings was to the Olympic Park in Munich and to go to Sea Life, of which we immediately became members.  It is a nice afternoon to go to the aquarium, eat at the bratwurst or crepe stands, and walk around the park.

Without most of Levi's toys I had to get very, very creative with ways to pass the time, especially as Levi often REFUSED to leave the "Pink Germany House."  Staying home is definitely what he sees as his safe place.

Here he's giving his cars a "bath" in the tiny sink in our front bathroom.  It actually is very handy that the toilets and sinks here are kinda child-sized when you have a potty-training toddler.

Hilarity after dumping a bottle of water on himself.  

Bumping cars over spaghetti and trying to pick them up with tongs.

This was a big hit - threading spaghetti through a colander.  

If there was one thing we had, it was boxes after our air shipment arrived a week after we did.  The big one had shapes and numbers that we drew inside and the little one has the letters of his name written in "parking spots."

Ways to make his puzzles new - throw all the pieces in a big pile and go.  Still can handle it all by himself!

This puzzle is meant for 5+ years-old and is made up of small jigsaw pieces.  After just a bit of practice had it all down and obviously proud of his efforts.

This is a perfect description of my life - His "Cobi car" as he calls it (Jacobi gave it to him the night before we left) with the siren being superglued back on, drying between wine bottles.

The day after we arrived we made the requisite trip to Ikea, or as Levi calls it, "The Big Store."  It all went very, very smoothly (even if it did take 4 hours, driving included) until I went to pay and THEY DON'T TAKE CREDIT CARDS (though they did in the restaurant - confusing).  Thank God there was a cash machine in the lobby.  
So embarrassing.

Oh my.  These (pictures below) were the looks I was getting a lot of everyday.  Such a very sad boy.  On top of the normal testing of a late 2 year-old there was the retesting of every known boundary to see how this new house worked (are the rules the same?  what new rules are there?  etc.), and then the homesickness/confusion on top of that, plus with his bit of language delay it was still hard for him to express himself much, especially in the moment.  The day I took these was definitely Top 5 hardest parenting day so far.  Put on top of those factors that he refused to leave the house and you are stuck for 12 hours with a very unhappy and impossible to please little boy and still very few of our toys/things from home (no sea shipment for almost a month). 

It really was heartbreaking, and there are many moments that still are.  I frequently can tell that he dreams about friends and family at home as he will wake up and demand to go see them.  And he constantly goes through the list of people that will be coming to visit, and in what order they will be arriving.  I would say, this is a very, very difficult age to do a move like this.  He is old enough to have very strong connections with friends, but doesn't fully understand time/distance, AND can't fully express himself, AND they test so much at this age anyway.  PLUS all he went through in his first year of life with his international adoption, and this worried Mom was definitely losing sleep at night.  This. Is. Hard.  And continues to be.  I do not recommend an international move with a toddler, just FYI.  

(Our adoption training continues to help me in these moments.  Yes, "kids are resilient," but a big reason for that perception by adults, we learned, is that the human brain "prunes" the weaker/least often repeated synapses out of the brain around the age of 5.  So, while this trauma shouldn't affect Levi later as it won't be repeated over and over, kids still go through as much, if not more, grief than we do over these changes.  They can understand so much less about what is happening and rely so much on consistency.  Whew!  Crazy times.  Never knew I would be so grateful for the 20 hours of training we have been required to do, which initially I dreaded.  
It has been priceless.)

One of the very few things that cheered him up during these times were the picture books that Elizabeth Mott (Noah and Caleb's Mom), Angela James (Jacobi's Mom), and I made for him.  He would look through those, containing ALL his family and friends, and I would get glimmers of my happy boy.  We talked about all the people who love him and that seemed to really help.  But as I write this, he is still struggling with the adjustment.

When I was able to get him to leave the house with me (I should say, it was easier to coax him out if it was a car ride and Dad was along.  It was more when it was during the day and just the two of us.) he really enjoyed walks in the woods behind our house.  The "Big Snow" made for lots of fun stomping and plopping.


First train ride!  Needless to say, big hit.  And he loves that most evenings we go "Get Daddy at the train station."  We have fallen into a routine of getting up all together, taking Brad to work (one hour total, round trip - not bad), and then picking him up about 6:15 at the train.  It is nice 'cause we can chat in the morning, all eat breakfast/have coffee as we go, I check my email as Brad drives on the way there....

Deutsches Museum!  Very, very cool.  A temple to all things engineering, from sailing to trains to tunnels.  And a huge children's area down below.  This will be a great sub for 
the Children's Museum in Indy.

We have made good friends with another family from Roche.  Amy actually helped Brad with is first international assignment years ago in Switzerland.  She married Tobias, who is German, and they now live here with an almost 5 year-old daughter and an almost 1 year-old son.  They were incredibly sweet to have us to dinner, be our guides at the Deutsches Museum, and lend us a giant box of Duplo blocks while we waited for Levi's toys.  We are so very grateful and they have really helped us feel more at home here.

Thank you, Jaden and Karen, for the Thomas chopsticks from Korea!  Levi LOVES practicing with them.

Ah, what our dogs will put up with, especially Luke.  These pictures show why there is NO splitting up this family, human or canine.  
A lazy Sunday morning with my boys....

These pictures make my heart squeeze.  What wonderful friends we have.  It really is "the company you keep" and we worked very hard in finding fantastic families for Levi's community in Indiana.  Sometimes I think, it is good that we miss home so much because it means there is something wonderful to miss....

Levi loves making "triangles" with his hands.  We knew it was Triangle Week at his school, so we sent them this picture.  Below are the pictures we received back.   Talk about making a homesick boy happy.  

Chair Pictures - 2 years, 1 month home
(Yes, we brought the chair with us!)

Cal has a very hard time with these stairs.  I think the marble is hard for him to see?  Poor Buddy (as we often call him).  Levi likes to encourage him and Luke gets pretty concerned.  Gracie doesn't care.

Levi often is very loopy and tired at night.  Thankfully, that makes him very funny.