Monday, July 1, 2013

Weekly Interlude 4: Notes from a Distraction Professional

People always say that a child's imagination has no limits, but I never appreciated how true that is until I got to Vienna and met Lillian. I've been with her almost every day since I got here, and spending these long days together has actually been more successful than I'd imagined. The first week I was with her, she was sick and VERY clingy to her mom; cue my terror. I mean, how could I possibly take care of this child who screams any time her mother leaves?

Lillian's bird!
But I'm more than just a nanny. I'm a Distraction Professional.

I bought a craft kit and brought it to the apartment, and you'd think I was Santa Claus. With construction paper, glue, scissors, tape, feathers, jewels, googly eyes, and (oh God) glitter, Lillian and I have managed to create birds, flowers, dinosaurs, bumble bees, paper chains, and some paper hands (for a tree we never finished). As you can see with the bird pictured here, it needed two feet and two wings to fly.

But wait! There's more! We spent a while one afternoon singing improv songs with Elmo and playing the xylophone. Lillian would say, "Sing about mamas!" and I'd have to just start singing about mothers. I'd say to her, "Sing about moons!" and she would break into a high-pitched, meandering song about moons and stars and planets. The great thing about making up songs with a 3-year-old is that you can't get it wrong. You can sing the most beautiful, stage-worthy ballad, or you can sing an atonal song that would put Schoenberg to shame, but either way, it's fun!

Accordion band

Sometimes, when we don't want to make up our own songs, we go to the piano and play/sing children's songs from Singing Bee! Lillian likes to help me play the accompaniment; so while I play the melody and sing, she wails away on the bass notes, making the whole experience seem kind of like my Advanced Sight-Singing class in college.

Lederhosen and Dirndls
And the activity changes every five minutes! First we're craft-ing, then we're singing, then we're playing with Bunny the bunny, then we're drawing Picasso-esque pictures, then we're playing my ALL-TIME FAVORITE (not) game: Mama and Baby. Aka, Baby Goes to Kindergarten. This seems to be the only game that can hold Lillian's attention for more than 15 minutes at a time. To give you an idea, Mama and Baby/Baby Goes to Kindergarten consists of me (the Baby) and Lillian (the Mama) constantly switching places in the apartment; one place is home, one is kindergarten, and one is Mama's work. Mama drops Baby off at kindergarten and goes to work; Mama picks up Baby from kindergarten, and then they go home for dinner and a bedtime story. And repeat. For an hour.
Perchtoldsdorf vineyard

It fascinates me how each location (home, kindergarten, work) are so clear in Lillian's mind. She looks at a trampoline and says, "This is the kindergarten!" She looks at a spot on the floor next to the kitchen counter and says, "This is home!" Everything is so vivid and clear to her -- which stretches my imagination, too. In Kid World, plastic duck-shaped watering cans can talk and swim on trampolines; a squiggly line drawn on a piece of paper is a snake. Or actually a butterfly.

My days start getting very long around 2:30 or 3, which is right when Mama and Baby seems to take off or when Lillian gets it in her head that she wants ice cream. Forget the Cookie Monster (or is it the Carrot Monster now? I heard a rumor...); Lillian is the Ice Cream Monster! We made strawberry ice cream last week, which was delicious. She doesn't like to eat lunch and dinner very much; it's a struggle to get her to sit and finish anything on her plate. But when she wants ice cream, there can easily be a huge meltdown. (Cue the Distraction Professional!)
Small side street in the Salzburg province

Everything is exciting: the leaves on the trees, the slug on the sidewalk, the glitter stuck to her wrists, the glue ("It's STIcky!"), a heart-shaped jewel on the floor. This makes it easier to distract her from a potential meltdown than I originally thought it would be.

Now, what have I done this week? For myself, not much (except eat oodles and oodles of chocolate), because I'm usually so exhausted by the time I get home. I now cherish my half-hour-each-way commute on the S-Bahn where I can sit in peace and silence, reading Harry Potter auf Deutsch. My reading/comprehension skills are getting faster and stronger(!), although my aural comprehension skills are still woefully schlecht (awful). People keep coming up to me on the street and in U-Bahn stations asking me questions, and I have no idea what they're saying. I ask them to repeat once, just on the off chance I'll understand, but it quickly becomes clear that I need a, "Tut mir Leid, sprechen Sie Englisch?" And then they almost always walk away...

Passau, Germany
Right now, Lillian, her mom, and I are in Passau, Germany, visiting some friends. (The accordion band and the men in Lederhosen, pictured above, were from a small town near Salzburg, where we stopped on our drive to Passau.) The parents are also opera singers, and their kids are great with Lillian. I don't need to play with her one-on-one all the time when her friends are around, which is at once wonderful and disconcerting. Do I go over and play with them? Do I keep them in my line of vision the whole time? Do I do my own thing but keep my ears open for hysterics? What level of involvement should I realistically take? Sometimes, going with the flow can be SUPER STRESSFUL!

On the plus side, one of the parents was around this evening, and I was able to go upstairs to the music room and practice!!! It was glorious!! Last night, I saw Rigoletto, a Verdi opera; there were no subtitles, and I foolishly hadn't looked up the plot beforehand, so it was fun to discover the opera as it unfolded before my eyes. The music is brilliant, and the migraine threatening to ruin my evening disappeared by the end of the performance. Proof of the power of music! :) Tomorrow morning, we're going into town, which should be picturesque, if my view from the bathroom window is any indication. While it's strange being in Passau as the guest of a guest, I am going to try and enjoy it as much as possible!

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