The last kid who came to my house before corona times was a quiet, serious boy with a glamorous, almost flamboyant mum, Nadine. Nadine’s about 10 years younger than me and looks like the richest girl in my year at school so I sometimes get a bit mixed up in my head and act like I’ve known her for years and years – when I actually I met her last summer.
So, in February, before corona times started coronaing, Nadine phones me up – being ten years younger than me, of course she sent me a WhatsApp message beforehand, asking if she could – and then announced, flamboyantly, glamorously, that she wanted to go to the cinema. Actually, I think she said movies.
“I really want to go to the movies!” She said.
I wasn’t sure if she was inviting me to the cinema with her or not. She’s a very flamboyant, glamorous person, you know, the kind of person who would hot-foot it to the cinema after Kita – with a couple of toddlers in tow.
“Baby Leo’s not been to the cinema yet,” I said cautiously. I am not a hugely cautious person, I don’t think, but I am not super-glam either. “Just the Lego 4D cinema at Legoland Discovery Center. He got a bit scared during the police chase.”
“Well,” she said, “I was thinking I could drop Laurence off at yours around seven, come pick him after the movies, or maybe I could even sleep at yours, shall I bring you some popcorn?”
“Don’t bring me any popcorn,” I said sadly. “I’m meant to be be ketoing.”
“I could bring you some plain popcorn? Salty popcorn?`” She said.
“Plain popcorn isn’t keto either,” I said, even more sadly.
“Are you sure?” She asked. “It’s just corn, isn’t it? It’s just a vegetable?”
“Yeah, I’m sure,” I said, sadder than ever. People in their early 30s have some very optimistic ideas about keto.
So Laurence, her grave, funny boy, stayed over. He’s one of those kids where everything they say is a sudden, serious announcement.
“I can’t sleep!” He announced suddenly, in his serious little voice. “I’m worried about Baktus and Karies.”
He didn’t have his toothbrush with him, and I couldn’t find a spare one, and German kids worry a lot about Baktus and Karies.
“I don’t think Baktus and Karies come every night,” I said.
He sat up in the mini-bed I’d fashioned for him out of cushions on the floor.
“I think they do, actually.”
Baby Leo toddled, waddled into the room. Compared to Laurence, he was 100 percent toddler – his fat bum, swaddled in his nappy, gave him a Donald Duck vibe, his fat, sturdy turkey legs made him look like a little Buddha. He pointed at Laurence’s impromptu cushion bed.
“Ich auch!” He shouted happily and the boys burst out laughing. By the time they fell asleep, it was 11.50pm, and the next day there was going to be a big costume party the next day at Kita – an incredibly early Fasching. I remember looking at the clock and thinking, imagine if I was German – imagine if I was called Wiebke – I’d never agree to this.
Nadine’s German, but she’s not GERMAN-German. She’s not a Wiebke. Wiebke is kind of like a German Karen, although the analogy isn’t great – Wiebkes are softer than Karens, give their kids homeopathic medicines for teething, for example, but take them to the real doctor’s when they break a leg. Wiebkes boycott Disney, never go to Legoland because of the sensory overload, eat tofu paté for dinner, and, most importantly of all: ALWAYS GET THEIR KIDS INTO BED BY 7pm.
Wiebkes always know where their kid’s rain-trousers are. A Wiebke once asked me where my now-teen, then four-year-old’s Regenhose were.
“I don’t know,” I said helplessly. “I think they might be in the kitas?”
I thought this vaguely acceptable pathetic excuse for an excuse might just pass for something a Normal German Mum would say – but Wiebke narrowed her eyes at me disapprovingly and said:
“What are they doing in the Kita? It was raining on Friday!”
Imagine dropping your kid off at 7pm at a Wiebke’s – just so you could go to the pictures. They’d literally die – their brains would explode, their hearts implode, their internal organs would fail, their lungs would collapse like they were the World Trade Center lined with explosives.
I’m not friends with many Wiebkes. I don’t see how you can be – when would you meet up? Their kids have their midday sleep at 12:30, sleep until 1:30 or maybe 2:00 p.m. Any activity you’d play has to be over by 5.30 pm AT THE ABSOLUTE LATEST so the kids can have their tofus paté dinner at 6pm – and be tucked up in bed by 7.
You think I am slagging the Wiebkes off, but I’m not, not really. Well, okay, I am, but I don’t mean it as harshly as it might sound. I am a mum, I know kids, I know how anstrengend they are. I know men, I know how lazy they can be, I know motherhood, I know how exhausting it can get. I believe Wiebke when she says her kids have to be asleep by seven. I respect 7pm bedtimes – Baby Leo has been in bed by seven so many times – I know how gorgeous it feels, to have hours and hours of literal freedom stretched out in front of you, even if you do end up filling it all up with cleaning the kitchen and watching Netflix.
This is what I don’t understand. I can’t totally understand how Wiebkes don’t find time spent with other people SO MUCH FUN that every now and again they buy a bottle of cheap white wine and go to a friend’s house, shut Kinderzimmer door and let the kids stay up till midnight. And I also can’t understand why Wiebkes have suddenly discovered how important socializing is. Like I would’ve expected the glamorously flamboyant types like Nadine to think life without socializing not worth living. But it’s the Wiebkes who are complaining the loudest! People who only organize social activities with other people for a fixed window of 2.5 hours in the middle of the afternoon now think their kids are so traumatized by lack of social contact? How do they even notice the difference?
All the Wiebkes I know are writing 3000-word status updates about how awful the lack of social contact is for their kids.
I don’t know. I kind of feel like playdates, those parcels of time, those artificial slices of social contact, are actually slightly more depressing and lonely than three months of hermiting yourself away with your kid, but I guess it’s just me.
Baby Leo and I walked past a super-full playground the other day.
“Schlayschound,” he said, which is how he, horrifically, pronounces the word playground, “is. Nicht. Mehr. Kaputt- Schlayschound is better.”
“Yeah,” I said. “They opened up the playgrounds again.”
“Playground. Is. Nice.” He said. And then he looked at me questioningly: “Hein?” This is, reasonably enough, how he prononuces the word rein.
“Better not,” I said. “Look how full it is. Let’s go play on the grass with the football.”
“Okaaaaaaaaay,” he said cheerfully, and I wondered if I had swapped places with Wiebke. Wiebke, with her DM sunblock and her Regenhose, is now the fearless one, who thinks social interactions more important than anything else.