Our first day out on our own

| September 9, 2012

Friday morning, Paul headed to work in our new rental car.  That left me and Sequoia to explore Wiesbaden on our own for the first time. A lot of emotions came along with that–some expected, and some not so much.

I had awakened that morning determined to use German words all day, even if it was only danke and bitte a hundred times.  So after two morning walks (one to walk Flash, then a second to retrace our steps in search of the plastic ring Sequoia swore fell off her stuffed pony during the first walk), Sequoia and I headed down to breakfast (where Sequoia found the ring, hidden inside the pony’s crown).

Another couple joined us by the elevator and immediately greeted us with a good morning, the woman addressing Sequoia directly.  Sequoia buried herself in me and refused to return the “morgen”.  Already an introvert, she’s overwhelmed by the language barrier and won’t try to repeat even “guten morgen” or “danke” yet.  I feel like I have no way of explaining this to people, but a child clinging to her mother seems to be coming across clearly.

At breakfast I was approached by one of the waiters, who asked if I’d like some coffee.  “Nein, bitte.”

Already I was off to a fantastic start.  I’d basically told him “no, yes, please”.  He hesitated, confirmed I meant “nein”, and left.  When I saw him again, I told him I’d meant “Nein, danke”.  He smiled sincerely, and nodded.

lower left

After a bit, we walked downtown, where Sequoia proceeded to throw a fit for God knows what reason.  I told her to stop right that minute or we were going back to the hotel.  Fit  escalated.  I grabbed her hand and turned around, because we were going right back to the hotel.  And so I nearly detached my right arm from its socket dragging 40 pounds of dead weight uphill toward the hotel as I listened to a whiny, sobbing child insist that she was over the fit and was not going to whine or misbehave.  “I proooommmmisssssssse.”

As she cried, she began to work herself into a state of breathing difficulty, so we had to stop walking to allow her to catch her breath.  When we returned to the hotel room, I told her we were going to use the nebulizer before we set back out again.  I retrieved the nebulizer and the large adaptor sitting atop its case.  I tried plugging the adaptor into her wall, but the prongs were not long enough.  I moved into a different room, where I knew she had used it when we first arrived.  The prongs did not fit.

I tried to call Paul.  The number I had did not go through.  I called the front desk and asked how many numbers I needed.  They gave me additional numbers, corresponding with the area where Paul was working.  No dice.  I gave up.  I had no way of contacting him.  This upset me, but I was more concerned about the nebulizer.  I thought, well, maybe the adaptor was just sitting there and I really didn’t need it.


I plugged the nebulizer into the wall.  It sounded a bit like this: Whirrrrrrr-[stop].  Total silence.  Flipped the switch on and off.  Nothing.  I think I might have killed the nebulizer.  Fortunately, the kid is fine now–no crying, no trouble breathing.

I texted Paul to sign us up at the clinic so that we could make an appointment, so that we could figure out how to order a Europe-friendly nebulizer.  When he sees the text, he can call me, right?

Sequoia and I set out for the city again, and Sequoia grew hungry.  We passed a tiny bakery.  I ordered Sequoia a chocolate-filled pastry and reached into my wallet for some Euros.  There were none.  I now recalled spending them all at dinner the night before.  Embarrassed, I checked my changepurse, but there was no change in it.  The girl was nice, but spoke no English and was clearly annoyed at the moronic foreigner with no Euros.  I walked to the nearest ATM, listening to Sequoia recount our first evening in Wiesbaden, when we didn’t know where any ATM’s were and we wandered around the city, looking for one, starving.

I took out some money, returned, and paid for our pastry and some water.  Just then, Paul called.  He was in the middle of running around in-processing, getting gas ration cards, etc.  When I explained the nebulizer situation, Paul asked if I’d tried calling the this, that, or the other number or office.  I burst into tears.  I’m by myself, I don’t speak English, I can’t even figure out how to call his office, and he’s with a bunch of people he can ask, and he has whole bases with support offices, and I’m alone, and I don’t understand anything, and did I mention I’m alone?

I was shocked by my own tears.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt so alone and helpless.  This feeling was very, very unexpected.  I’m independent by nature, and have always grabbed the bull by its horns and just rushed into the new foreign land, perhaps accidentally wandering into the back side of a closed zoo, having to ride on the floor of a bus, or being pulled into a tiny room by customs officials.  None of that bothered me; they were just adventures, because  I spoke the languages and at least understood what kind of mess I’d gotten myself into.  You can visit a lot of countries with just Spanish and Arabic supplementing your English.  And if you travel on business or you go to work, people are there to answer your questions.  This morning shed a little light on why introverted spouses stay in the hotel or their house or, in the case of military dependents, on base.  It can be overwhelming to be on your own without any of the local language or your support network at work.

And no, not all Germans speak English.  I promise.

Sequoia looked at me, now huddled in the entranceway of a closed restaurant, like, What on earth happened to make Mommy burst into tears??

Once I calmed down and Paul assured me he would ask about how to go about getting Sequoia a new nebulizer, I hung up, and Sequoia and I continued on our way.  We entered a store with a giant cuckoo clock storefront.  It was filled–I mean, every square inch–with German handicraft: cuckoo clocks, nutcrackers, dollhouse furnuture, carved wood, Christmas decor, you name it.  Sequoia walked up to a counter to point a doll out to me, and her stuffed pony knocked over a nutcracker.  The large, gruff shopkeeper scolded her in a loud voice.  She buried herself in me, terrified, not accustomed to being yelled at by strangers.  “Mommy, I want to leave.”  I apologized to the shopkeeper as I picked up the undamaged nutcracker, took the pony from Sequoia, and asked Sequoia to stand in one spot while we looked for something specific.  She was uncomfortable, keeping an eye on the shopkeeper.  Halfway through our visit, the big, bad man brought Sequoia a tiny pack of Haribo gummy bears.  Sequoia clung to me, afraid to take them.  I thanked him and put them in my purse with my collection of gummy bears from storekeepers and waiters.

After I purchased what I came for, Sequoia and I walked into a baby gift store just to check it out.  She played hopscotch on the carpet and with a train set at a table while I perused the books, settling on German activity books and a German/English version of  The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  Before we left, I sprayed her with lavendar-scented Anti-Monster Spray, just in case we encountered any monsters on our way to the park.

We planted ourselves in front of the grand theatre, facing the lake.  Sequoia immediately attracted a two-year-old boy, who chased her for half an hour; clearly it was not Anti-Toddler Spray.  We then celebrated Mickey Mouse’s birthday with a party at the treehouse, until I informed Sequoia that Mickey was having a birthday parade in the direction of a bathroom.

wiesbaden church    We wandered around the garden by the church in the center of Wiesbaden, then up toward one street of restaurants.  We were hungry, so I figured we’d kill two birds with one stone.  After very little ado since the child suddenly found herself urgently needing to use the toilet, we chose a restaurant.  We climbed a steep spiral staircase.  “This is scary,” Sequoia announced; it’s a declaration she makes an average of once a day on staircases.

When we seated ourselves, I realized we were in a steakhouse.  Oh, well, I guess I have to order a steak.  So I did.  I used a few German words, e.g. “wasser ohne gas” (uncarbonated water), a couple of conjunctions, please and thank you…and that’s about it.

After lunch we popped into another toy store.  This one had a water toy table outside, a train table inside, and a large animal farm table inside.  Sequoia was plenty occupied.  From there we stopped at a shoe store so I could look for a pair of nice closed-toed shoes.  I didn’t find anything for myself, but Sequoia pointed to the kids’ shoes, so we went back to check them out.  Well.  There was a big, spiral wooden slide in the middle of the room.  I’m talking, a pretty cool one that I wish I could’ve gone on.  Fast, too.  What is with Germans and awesome distractions and handing out gummy bears left and right?  When I was a kid, lollipops at the bank.  That’s about it.

wiesbaden shoe store slide    Sequoia of course slid down the slide a few times, but surprisingly she really wanted to check out the shoes. She found a pair of pink light shoes with a princess on the toe, which she liked.  The woman then measured Sequoia’s feet in a nifty double-foot-measurer,

wiesbaden shoe store   declared her a size 28, then fit some shoes on her.  Sequoia left in her new shoes, another bag of gummy bears in hand.

Having finished with my own errands, I took Sequoia to the Lego store.  We’d been in the store twice already, but since then someone told me there was an upper floor with a Lego table and other activities.  Now, I’ve been in a Lego store before, so I have seen Lego tables for kids to play in before.  Or so I thought.  This table filled with Legos was at least the size of a queen sized bed.

  There were also about 7 or 8 computer stations, a pile of GIANT Legos (larger than a shoebox, larger than the large cardboard brick-looking building blocks), of course a giant Lego man, and I forget what else, along with an insanely expensive line of Lego clothing and luggage (really?).  Around the Lego table were maybe 8 or so ottomans to sit on.

At first it was just us, then it seemed as if school let out.  First 3 young boys, maybe 8-9 years old, joined us.  They looked us a little curiously when they saw us speaking English, but played on.  Soon, they tossed some flower Legos our way, as we were creating a botanical garden and art museum.  Sequoia was shy, but took them.  I was ecstatic, as this gave me the chance to teach Sequoia that even when you don’t speak the same language, sharing is universal.  We shared back and forthfor a little while.  Soon two more boys came in.  We all played (yes, I was still occupying a seat–I had a botanical garden going) until we were kicked out of the room.

Sequoia and I created 3 weird Lego people and bought them before leaving, then headed back to the hotel, pooped after 5 1/2 hours on our own in Wiesbaden.  We’d survived our first day alone, together.

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Category: Ex-pat Parenting, FAMILY, In Germany A Broad blog, Linguistics, Shits & Giggles

About the Author ()

Kari Martindale is a writer and ESL instructor. She’s visited all 50 states and 37 countries, including many of the big cities of Europe and a ton of Christmas Markets. She spends her days straddling the fence between a sense of adventure and a sense of dread. She is married to what is clearly a patient man and has a daughter who, frustratingly, is just like her. Her academic and professional backgrounds are in linguistics and foreign languages. When she's not teaching ESL, she's writing. When she's not writing, she's thinking about her next trip.

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  1. Very shy- 09 September 2013 | Sequoia Spricht | October 6, 2013
  1. Jacki says:

    Lynn hit the nail on the head — you weren’t on your own, you had Sequoia with you. Big difference. And even if you hadn’t been feeling it, moving to another country is a huge stress!
    You’ll be fine, danke. Or would that be bitte?

  2. Lynn Bullock says:

    oh, good for you — and the difference in your previous travels and now? — sequoia is with you — and the awesome responsibility that goes along with her — you’ll be fine — bit of a rocky road for a while probably — you’re doing good so far ☺ love