But the holidays are upon us, and unfortunately over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house we go is only doable if your grandmother happens to be conveniently located over the river and through the woods. Julia's grandma lives in a small German village, a place where everything—fruit, vegetables, fish, gingerbread, marzipan, strudel, small children, churches from the 14th century, cobblestone streets, Volkswagens, you name it—is drenched in some sort of cream sauce and it is virtually impossible to get even a single ice cube for the Diet Coke you are drinking in a futile effort to mitigate the effects of all that heavy cream.
The truth is, I wouldn't want to live there, but it actually is a nice place to visit. It's the place where I have the luxury of reading long books and running around without my watch and sipping tea every afternoon. It's the place where I get to see Julia pluck grapes and strawberries right off the vine and pop them into her mouth. The place we go to water pale peach dahlia blossoms in the back garden or pick plums from the tree in the front yard and hang around the kitchen as her grandmother bakes them into a tart (topped, of course, with heavy cream). I lucked out in the mother-in-law department; we get on very well. Ulrike is warm, thoughtful, no-nonsense, but I think the secret to our success is probably that she speaks very little English and the only word of German I know is dachshund. Our conversations usually go like this:
Ulrike: [Big smile] "You like some schwimflugels mit your knoblauch?"
Me: [Big smile] "The horse rides at midnight."
Ulrike: [Big smile] "Shmetterlink sweeten the gloffgarten."
Me: [Big smile] "Jack Spratt could eat no fat."
Ulrike: [Big smile] "Johannes, komm rein!"
Me: [Big smile] "Johannes, get in here!"
Where my parents might take us for Chinese food and bowling, Grandma Ulrike takes us into the forest to feed corn kernels to the wild boars. Where my parents might switch on a Wiggles CD, Grandma Ulrike is strictly Bach. In my folks' gated community, we swim at a chlorinated pool. In Germany there is a lake. And Julia, who next year will be graduating from the International Preschool at the United Nations, loves it all. I envy her freewheeling spirit, her ability to roll with the punches of severe jet lag, her delight in packing a bag ("Jingly ball. Check. Paper clip. Check. Grasshopper finger puppet. Check. Okay, I'm ready!") and taking off for parts unknown. I hope at some point to be as secure with the world as my baby is. I hope wanderlust can be cultivated. I hope one of these days I'll learn to relinquish control, skepticism, all the fears that keep me grounded—and simply fly. I hope the journey becomes every bit as sweet as the destination.
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