On the last day that I will probably ever be in Germany in this lifetime, I grabbed a German magazine about parenting that had caught my eye for several weeks when I would go to the grocery market.
For the first time since I had graduated from college, I had stopped working.
Or so I thought.
For years I had yearned to be a parent, and I couldn’t wait to be a stay-at-home dad.
Or so I thought.
A natural parent I was not.
Endless hours spent alone with our daughter in our apartment in Bonn, Germany, while my husband was teaching were lonelier and harder than I ever imagined. Our gorgeous girl has always slept beautifully, and I used much of that time to savor books and magazines before I would wake up, try to smile, warm bottles, feed our baby, read and sing to her, take her for walks, sing and read more, once in a while visit a friend in our home, and wait for the hours when Ben could be with Ellen so I could train for a marathon, buy groceries, or go to church with the family on Sundays.
My appreciation for gifted parents rose exponentially.
Ben is a natural father. I am not. Ben is the reason why our daughter, born with an extra chromosome, is more than holding her own with her age peers. She is a gifted reader of two languages. She has a working knowledge of Hawaiian. She speaks and writes well. Her penmanship and math skills could use some improvement, but when I step back and think about all she has accomplished as a student fully integrated in her public school, as an athlete (she loves to climb walls at the YMCA), Girl Scout, young Buddhist in Dharma School, hula dancer, and loyal friend to a half a dozen kids, I realize how lucky we are as parents.
I think back to my last day in Germany.
One of the feature stories in the magazine I gave myself as a farewell present was about a family with a young daughter born with Down Syndrome. The mother had decided to start a blog about the family’s experience. (I should write her some day because she is one of the many people who inspired me to start my blog.) She also expressed her fears openly about how her daughter would gain any kind of decent schooling in Germany, be accepted by others, and lead an independent life.
Her fears were the main reason we left Germany: to give our daughter more opportunities in the Land of Opportunity. The clincher for me in Germany came one day when a mother in a baby group we had joined actually asked when we would have our daughter sterilized.
To say I was shocked and horrified would be a major understatement. I later learned she had been checking in for months with other parents (but not us directly) about why we had joined the group.
After I caught my breath, I said to her, in my most polite German, that I thought we were living in the year 2010, not 1942. The other parents were silent. One hugged me as I got up to leave. She and I later became lifelong friends.
I never went back to the baby group.
I’ve always been proud of my German heritage, my family traditions, and, although a citizen of the United States, keeping the language of my grandfather and his parents and siblings, but I knew I wanted to leave the country as soon as we found a home back in the States.
To keep a long blog post from getting longer, I’ll just write what many followers of this blog may already know. We settled in a Quaker learning community in Iowa before we moved to Hawaii permanently four years ago. My husband and I both work in a wonderful school. Our daughter is thriving.
I have a horrific fear of flying, so I likely will never make it back to Europe, or for that matter even the Continental United States. If I ever did go back to Germany, though, I would take my daughter to the mother whom I never saw again and say, “Look at our beautiful children. Aren’t they all remarkable and give us hope?”