Monday, July 24, 2006

A Summer of Sound ...

In little less than a month our summer holiday will be over. We are enjoying our time here in the Catskills. His Holiness has started to spend more time in the water, getting his confidence. Later this morning he will take his third swimming lesson, it’s not much of a lesson really, he wades out into the water and retrieves some floating horseshoes and then lies on his back, supported by George the lifeguard and swimming instructor, but it is all very large in his life and HH is very proud when the fifteen minutes is up and he comes running to me all wet and smiling.

As much as he has enjoyed the water, the one thing he has most enjoyed this summer is making noise – noise of every imaginable kind and it stared shortly after we arrived in Smallwood. Those of you who live in Germany know all too well that most Germans are not particularly fond of loud children. Add to that the enforced quiet times each day and quiet Sundays and in our case, fussy downstairs neighbors who leave nearly-nasty notes under the front door, and HH ends up spending a great deal of time lowering his volume.

When we arrived in Smallwood it was late in the afternoon. We had been in an airplane for nearly nine hours and then in a car for another two hours. HH had behaved impeccably with nothing more than a handful of normal toddler moments where the confining spaces and seat belts got to him and he rebelled as is his right and duty. But upon arriving at our cabin and rediscovering all the toys he had left behind at summer’s end last season, he started yelling and calling out to me about this or that hammer or piano or doll and he was joyous – joyous and loud! With that face that all parents recognize, he looked at me by way of asking, “Am I making too much noise? Have I reached or exceeded the acceptable volume level here Papa?” I asked him to come over to me so that we could talk. I looked him squarely in the eyes and told him that here in Smallwood he could make as much noise as he wanted, he could stomp his feet on the floor, sing as loudly as he could, play his piano and his drum and bang his hammer as often as he wanted because we were not in Germany any longer and in Smallwood there were no noise restrictions.

Well, over the course of the last five weeks he has become something of a showman. He has taken one of the footstools in the living room and made a small stage platform out of it and every day, two or three or more times a day, he performs, singing long and loud on a variety of topics. The topics vary but the melodies remain remarkably consistent. Once he finds a good melody he tends to work it. He also discovered a new musical instrument at a yard sale a few weeks back, a large pink dinosaur piano with ten keys that actually works pretty well. It was the best $2.00 I’ve spent on a toy and he plays it regularly, in every room of the house and in the yard and in the basement. He carries that pink dinosaur piano with him everywhere. One of our neighbors gave him a beautiful picture book telling the story of the young Mozart and in the book there is a drawing of toddler Mozart playing the piano with his hands behind his back. HH plays his pink dinosaur piano backwards now as well, although he isn’t quite limber enough to use both hands so we have to settle for the single-handed backwards variety, and when he plays he reminds us that he is playing in the style of the great composer himself by every now and then calling out, “Mozart, Mozart” as he struggles to find the keys with one hand wrapping around behind him and the other flailing in the air.

The house is quiet, it is still early in the morning but any minute now he will crawl out of bed and with his blanket in one hand and his bear in the other, and he will come sit in my lap for ten or twenty minutes until he is fully awake. Not long after that he will begin another day filled with sounds, maybe even a little interpretive dancing.

I don’t know how to break it to him that soon we will return to Cologne and when we do we will also be returning to the land of quiet Sundays and afternoons and early mornings. I can almost hear him now, asking me when we will be coming back to Smallwood.

7 Comments:

Blogger Cathy said...

Deine Kleine macht nachtmusik mit ihrem Dinosaurklavier :)

3:55 AM  
Blogger Berlinbound said...

You are so right - it is one of his favorite tunes.

1:46 PM  
Blogger Chloe said...

he'll be all right as long as he is with you!

12:28 PM  
Blogger Berlinbound said...

Or maybe the reverse is true chloe ...

12:55 PM  
Blogger scatty said...

With four children, we are well familiar with this attitude to noise. When our eldest was 4 and our second child 1, we lived upstairs from a very grumpy pensioner who would complain every time they did anything above a whisper. At the time I remember reading about a judicial decision that said that the noise of children playing was exempt from the noise rules in Germany. It is funny though, how playgrounds are totally deserted between 12 and three here in Germany. Maybe that dinosaur piano will have to have a midday nap, but I think you can let your son exercise his right to run and scream and shout.

9:09 AM  
Blogger J said...

Hi Richard,

Somehow I missed this post. Better late than never.

I just wanted to thank you for this post, especially this part:

“With that face that all parents recognize, he looked at me by way of asking, “Am I making too much noise? Have I reached or exceeded the acceptable volume level here Papa?” I asked him to come over to me so that we could talk. I looked him squarely in the eyes and told him that here in Smallwood he could make as much noise as he wanted, he could stomp his feet on the floor, sing as loudly as he could, play his piano and his drum and bang his hammer as often as he wanted because we were not in Germany any longer and in Smallwood there were no noise restrictions.”

Being a single person with no children, the noise restrictions have never bothered me here and would probably work to my advantage if my neighbors had kids (but I wouldn’t complain to them unless it got completely out of control). However, this post has opened my eyes to how those restrictions might affect a child.

There’s something called ‘switching’, which means that people know more than one culture and can change from one to the other depending on where they are and who they’re talking to (you usually can’t talk to a German like you can talk to an American, things get done differently in business in Germany than in America, etc). So, I hope that HH will grow up knowing both cultures – that of you and that of your wife, rather than having to feel oppressed here.

Actually, this post has made me think about how German I might or might not be becoming based on something that happened last weekend in Italy. Or not….I’ve never really had much tolerance for unruly kids and am thankful that HH is not one. Frankly, you might be raising another Juniorette, and that’s better than just a ‘good thing’.

Ignore this next bit because I have no clue about parenting and you’ve probably already brought my suggestions into play, but as far as this goes:

“I don’t know how to break it to him that soon we will return to Cologne and when we do we will also be returning to the land of quiet Sundays and afternoons and early mornings. I can almost hear him now, asking me when we will be coming back to Smallwood.”

Wouldn’t it be advantageous to explain the differences to HH between Smallwood and Germany rather than ‘break it to him’? That might help him understand that his two homes are very different places, rather than make him think that one has more advantages than the other. Explain how cities are different than the countryside and liken them to places he knows – Smallwood vs. NYC and Cologne vs. Grandma’s place in the Eifel. Don’t let him think that Smallwood is kids’ paradise and Cologne is an oppressive place. Yes, I do realize that there’s a big difference between NYC and Cologne, but you get the picture.

So, thanks again Richard. Keep up the insightful blogging about the differences that you and HH notice between Germany and the US.

2:01 PM  
Blogger Berlinbound said...

J ... Thank you for that thoughtful post ... Odd thing, just as I was reading it - after spending the day with Oma in the Eifel, HH was jumpiing on the floor in front of me - nothing special just a short celebratory jump after a small accomplishment - and the neighbors downstairs started pounding on their ceiling in protest!! Like they had been waiting all day for the chance to do it ... So, it all goes on and at times I think the Germans earn their reputations.

9:09 PM  

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