Dear Diary,

Today, I went through my old diaries. Jeez. I think you all should meet High-School Ari:

High School Ari was awkward. VERY awkward. Her biggest issues were having neither boobs nor a boyfriend. Naturally, both these things kept her up at night. She would use phrases like “utterly handsome” to describe Robert Pattinson (here’s to all these moments she would pause Twilight only to be able to zoom in and gaze at Robert’s face in Aaw…). She would write things like “I am really slacking in school, I’ve been bringing home nothing above a B+ lately, that needs to improve” … and actually be serious about that. She would crush on a guy for 1.5 years but he ignored her and fell in love with her best friend instead. Still, she would fill her diaries with daily entries á la: “He is still soooooooooooo …. x1.000… oooooo cute. I need to make a move soon before he has a girlfriend!” I never made a move and he never became my boyfriend.

High-School Ari would also be very self-critical and much more unhappy than I remember her to be: “I am kinda the biggest loser in class. I wish the kids would stop bullying me and actually become my friends, but that’s okay. I will get good grades and make it.”

And while I felt sorry for the 13-year-old girl who wrote those lines, I mentally high-fived her, too. Because I did achieve just that. I moved abroad, I am fluent in English. Hold and beware, I even have boobs AND a boyfriend. But these past days, I also realized that these things don’t come free to us. I began to understand the trade-offs we always have to accept when going our own ways and making life choices. I am grown up now. There’s no point denying that. As much as I would like to just stay home a little longer, spend my days playing guitar, laughing with my brothers, getting fed by my granny, drinking wine with my parents, I can’t. Because there is a life waiting for me, there’s responsibilities and people relying on me and promises.

When I was 14, all I wanted from life was to grow up and move away, show ’em that I was right focusing on grades and dreams. But now, I kinda wish I wouldn’t have let myself grow up all that quickly. I wish my biggest worries would still be boys and when I would finally get kissed. Life might have been less exciting at 14 but it was more innocent and it involved less letting go of people and places you love. We all eventually have to accept that our childhoods are over and the sooner we let that go, the faster we can grab the steering wheel again. I lucked out in many aspects of life and I don’t want to complain. But I will try my best to teach my future children the art of holding on and letting go off their childhood!

 

Remembering Hildegard

I meant to write this in time for the 4th anniversary of her passing away, but I was caught up in so much that I, as embarrassing as it is, forgot. I forgot it was that day. For the first time in four years, October 2nd came and went and I didn’t think of it.

She died October 7th, but we lost her five days earlier. My aunt found her lying outside on the lawn, just a minute or two after she’d spoken to the delivery guy who brought the new mattress for my aunt’s bedroom. It was an aneurism in her brain, and she never regained consciousness.  She had just celebrated her 80th birthday, with all her family except for me, because I was travelling in Australia.

Hildegard was my grandmother on my mother’s side, and the only grandparent I was close to. She lived next door all my life. My mother raised three kids by herself, working part-time, so my grandma would come over and do the laundry, iron clothes, clean the house, bring food, and so on. Even when all three of us outgrew the age where we needed constant attention and care, she’d come over every day to see us and check up on us – and she always took the dried laundry with her and brought it back ironed, even when she clearly started having trouble standing long enough to iron a whole laundry basket full of kids’ clothes. (Personally, I’ve never understood my family’s obsession with ironing EVERY SINGLE PIECE of clothing – and towels!)

She was the greatest grandmother I could have ever asked for. She always let us win at boardgames, until we were old enough to figure it out, and even then, she usually still lost because she really did have extraordinarily bad luck with dice and cards. She tried to raise us to appreciate classical music and be proper Catholics (the former, successfully, the latter not so much), and she would let us sleep over at her place some weekends, which was always like an adventure, even though it was really only going next door. I can’t even count the number of times we ran out of milk, or butter, or eggs, and I went over to her place to ask for one of those things – only to come bag with both arms full of stuff that she “meant to give us anyways”, that she “just saw in the supermarket and thought we would like”, or, best of all, cookies or cake that were “just out of the oven, would you like some?”.

The day I lost her, the phone rang at 6:45 am Australian time – my mom was on the line. I was so sleepy I didn’t even pause to think why she called this early, and of course I complained. She didn’t say anything for a while, but the second she spoke, I knew something was terribly wrong. The following ten minutes were the saddest of my life. I sat alone in my little apartment in the middle of Brisbane, on my desk, clinging to the phone, crying wordlessly. I considered going home, maybe making it to see her one last time before she was gone forever – but she was already gone. I might have been able to make it to the funeral, but what for? She never liked graveyards, much less the people who spend weekends at their relatives’ graves. “That’s not where they are”, she’d say, and she was right. I went to her grave much later. She wasn’t there.

She’s in the really old and shapeless blue knit jacket that I kept, and in the small carpet she made by hand that is now in my bedroom. She’s in the old iron that I kept, because it still works, and because I remember her ironing all the time. She’s in the woollen socks that she made for all of us. I think of her whenever I find a white hair on my head, because she never stopped warning me about how all women in our family get white hair very early in life (she seems to have been right, sadly!). I think of her every time we make marble cake using her recipe. I think of her every Christmas – she’s everywhere. She’s in the cookies we make according to all her secret recipes, she’s in the songs we sing, she’s the reason I still like to go to church during advent, and the reason I feel bad when I do, because she was so critical of people who only go to church on Christmas and maybe Easter. I’ve become one of them, and she’d be sad about it.

But I like to think that she’d also be proud. She got to see me finish school with good grades, and she’d have been proud to see me finish a BA with similarly good results. She’d be happy I’m still living in Germany and not so far away as she feared I might, and she’d be proud that I know how to sew a button back onto a blouse. I like to think she’d be proud of the person I’ve become, just as much as she’d be proud of my siblings and cousins. I wish she could have seen my little sister graduate this year. I wish she could have lived another ten years and maybe have seen me get married and have a child. I know she’d have loved to be a great-grandmother.

Writing this is grieving her all over again. It’s amazing to me how painful this piece of writing can be after four years. I haven’t cried for her in a long time, and I’m almost glad I am crying now. I never want to stop missing her. Not missing her would mean not loving her. Not missing her would mean finding a way to fill the space she left behind, and there is nothing and nobody that can ever fill this space. In this space, I have room to remember her.

I want to end this piece on the note it began – remembering. I want to remember Hildegard – not just the grandmother I knew, but the person I knew through her stories. The sister who lost her brother in World War II. The daughter who lost her mother when she was younger than I am now. The wife whose husband left and who never even looked at another man again because she’d promised him faithfulness until death in the eyes of God. The mother who wanted sons and had three daughters instead, and realized it didn’t matter, and nothing could make her happier than her daughters did.

Most of all, I want to remember and share a story with you. It is the story of my grandmother Hildegard’s first kiss. I think it’s a better note to leave this story on than a crying twenty-something missing “Oma”… so here you go:

Hildegard was 16 years old in 1945. The war had just ended, and most of the German population lived in poverty. Hildegard’s former school remained closed after the war. It may have been that the building was destroyed, or it may have been that there weren’t enough people left in the village to fill the teaching positions. Therefore, Hildegard took a train to school every morning. Many teenagers did the same, so the trains were usually very crowded.
There was a boy she saw on the train every morning. Their eyes would meet and they would look away quickly, maybe sometimes smile shyly at each other. Eventually, they got to talk a little bit, and Hildegard realized she really liked this boy. The feeling was mutual, yet they were both too shy to ever bring it up, so for weeks they were content just riding the train together, chatting.
One day, the train was particularly crowded and there were no seats left. The ended up standing next to each other in the middle aisle. It was rainy and pretty dark outside on this day, the clouds wouldn’t let even a little bit of sun through, and it was pretty glum inside the train because the lights in the carriage were not working.
Then, as every day, on the way to school, the train had to pass through a tunnel. Since there were no lights in the carriage, it was suddenly pitch black dark. In those few seconds, when nobody could see, the boy she liked leaned over and kissed Hildegard.
The train exited the tunnel, they could see each other again, and for a moment, all they did was stare at each other. Then they both looked down and stared at their shoes. They never talked again… but for the rest of her life, the memory of that moment would put a smile on Hildegard’s face.

The Parentchute

Phil from Modern Family once noted in his “Phil’s-osophy”: “Never be afraid to reach for the stars, because even if you fall, you’ll always be wearing a Parentchute.”

Nobody’s perfect but the great thing is, that you learn from your parents mistakes. So, although my parents didn’t do everything right, I learned even from their downfalls. Hence, here are some reasons why my parents provided me with the best parentchute I could have asked for:

1.) My moms’ OCD taught me from early onwards the values of cleanliness and efficiency. Thanks to that, no roommate would have to complain about the state of my space ever. (You’re welcome, Judith)

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2.) My dad was a firm believer of my natural interest in sciences. On every single vacation, he took me to the local science museums. I loved those father-daughter moments so much, that I would never have told him the truth- I hated science. But thanks to that, I got excellent in faking interest in something (You’re welcome all you teachers in your early-morning-classes).

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3.) My parents’ past (having grown up in communist Eastern-Germany and then having to adjust to a free market economy after Hasselhoff teared the Berlin Wall down) imprinted one rule into their brains: Good school grades= good future. I wouldn’t dare bringing a D home, so instead, I graduated as Valedictorian (You’re welcome parents).

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4.) My moms’ passion for Ballet led to me dancing for over 10 years. Lessons learned: I hate Ballet (You’re welcome tho, flexibility).

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5.) My moms’ confidence in her driving skills shaped my life goal: Move to a big city where I would never need a car ever. Some things just run in the family, no sense in fighting that.

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6.) My families’ fearlessness of spiders taught me that there will always be someone in my life to remove them from my room, so its OK to be scared.

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7.) My moms’ abstract concept of time (“Just five minutes, I gotta tell you about the neighbours’ daughter (… 30 mins later…) and then she picked up the apple and I told her to eat the apple but then she put the apple down and oh, she’s such a cutie, I wish I had grandchildren (…20 mins down the road…) but its ok, finish your masters but I’m telling you, that girl’s a cutie)
taught me to ignore phone calls without feeling guilty about it.

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8.) My parents’ love for a quite, provincial life increased my urge to live differently (been to NYC, goin to SF…see what I’m doing there?)

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9.) My fathers’ trust in my tolerance level allowed me to watch Stephen King’s IT with the age of 13. Clowns are awesome…said no one EVER!

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10.) My moms’ admonishing words that any girl should be able to handle the kitchen taught me the importance of knowing how to defrost and prepare microwave food.

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My parents sure had their fair share in me turning into this fun-filled triple-crazy popsicle that I am but I am thankful for everything they did and still do. When I still lived at home, they were the ones pushing me out the door to go clubbing with friends instead of growing gray hair over homework. They are constantly telling me how proud they are of my achievements, they support my dreams, confirm most of my decisions and make me question a few others. Sure, sometimes they annoy the heck out of me and I wanna shoot either them or myself to the moon to get light years between us. Most of the time though, I am touched by their love and confidence. I know how hard it is for them to let me go to “this big country with the tall buildings and the strange language” (they didn’t say that but I know that’s what my mom’s thinking of the States) and I endlessly appreciate that they not only let me go but support me along the way as much as possible. They might hate the thought of losing me to the US but they also know that it makes me happy. And I know that, should the States and I not work out (which we totally will of course), I will always be able to open the Parentchute and return to a loving home with home-cooked meals and free laundry service. So, here’s to my parents, I wish they spoke English 🙂

Go hug your parents guys or write them a nice Email or bake them a cake.
Cheers!

Forever Young

Today, for a random reason, I stopped by my old kindergarten and talked to the teachers for a bit. Naturally, that would make me reminisce and dwell in the past. I came to the realization, that my childhood was pretty awesome. Here is why:

1.) We grew up in an AWESOME neighborhood that was very child-friendly, full of wild-life adventures (or at least we perceived the near-by park as such) kids my age. My two best friends from then are still in my life- for now 17 years!

2.) The OCEAN. Growing up in a city by the baltic coast with ocean view from my room (if you lean far out of the window and crane your neck), made my childhood inevitably closely connected to the beach. We had the wild beaches 2 minutes away from the house, where we would go skinny-dipping in summer and ice-skating in winter, camping in spring and exploring in autumn.
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3.) Said Ocean carries irreplaceable memories: My first adrenalin kicks I got from standing on a bridge and fighting my fear of heights by jumping down into the water.
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The first time I slept outside without tens or mats, just me, my friends and the star-spangled sky on that beach:
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The go-to place for first dates:
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4.) I played with Barbie dolls- a LOT. And for a long time. When I turned 14 and still wouldn’t make any attempts of growing out of that phase, my parents subtly adviced me to think about hiding that stuff a little more, at least the barbie house and the stalls (yes, I had horse stalls. And horses. And a carriage. And a car, a house and what felt like 30 barbies. Awesome times). I did as told but still secretly played with that stuff until I was 16. In fact, the other day, my cousin and I digged up our entire Barbie collection. Barbie, we love you. Don’t listen to those people saying that your proportions are life-disabling. Haters gonna hate.
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5.) We actually went outside to play. I knew how to climb trees (trust me, I was the tree-climbing KING yo!). Today, I had a splinter in my finger and my younger brother asked me what that was. That’s when I realized, that the youth of today has no sense for reality!

6.) Our cartoons were cooler. What better is out there than the Lion King?! Huh? Huh? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

7.) Two words: Tamagotchis and Furbies. I wanted both so so badly. What I got, was another Barbie. And Polly Pocket

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8.) My valuable painting skills were awoken through Disney coloring books (I would throw them away after having  exhausting myself colouring the princesses’ dresses) and deepened through this handy-dandy tool:
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9.) This goes mostly to the Germans: Ever acted out the “Vogelhochzeit” in kindergarten? 🙂
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10.) Apart from Pokemon, Digimon, Dragonball Z and Heidi, this holds true for my childhood as well:
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There are so many more things coming into my head right now but this post isn’t supposed to go on forever. Bottomline is: I had a really happy childhood, I was encouraged to use imagination, to be outside, to be around other kids as much as possible. And today, I was reminded that that’s something to be very thankful for and not to be taken for granted.

Cheers and go play 😉