Apra’s German Grandparents in Vrindavan – 28 Oct 16

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Apra’s German Grandparents in Vrindavan – 28 Oct 16With everything that has been going on in the past days, it is obviously a little difficult to find time in between to write openly and freely for my daily blog. However, I want to keep you updated, so that you know we are fine and what is happening over here.

Diwali is getting closer and in this year we have two special guests for the Indian festival of lights: Apra’s German grandparents have arrived at the Ashram! It is the first time that they are here after the opening of the restaurant – and they now have the chance to try their way through our whole menu!

We are of course proud to show our restaurant, as they have seen the work going on over the past two years! It is great to sit down and present them with our menu where they can choose from a big variety of dishes! We had an Italian evening already, tasting our way through pasta and pizza and more!

And of course it is lovely to have them here, so that they can play with Apra, read for her and also see how she lives now – with her new routine of going to school, doing homework and the like! They went to pick Apra up at school and visited her classroom, saw the school and met her teachers as well.

So we are enjoying our time together and are now preparing for Diwali – which we are looking forward to show my parents-in-law, too!

Jeder Augenblick mit meinem Baby ist wertvoll! – 5 Okt 16

Ich bin heute Früh aufgewacht, wie üblich neben meiner lieben Frau und meiner süßen Tochter. Während Ramona im Badezimmer war, kuschelte ich mit Apra und genoss die Zeit, bevor ich sie aufwecken musste. Und während ich sie so hielt, spürte ich wieder einmal, wie wertvoll dieses kleine Wesen in meinem Leben ist!

Es ist der Wahnsinn, wie schnell die Zeit vergeht und wie schnell Kinder aufwachsen! Von dem Tag ihrer Geburt an liebte ich es, sie in meinen Armen zu halten! Dieses Gefühl, ein kleines Wesen zu halten, das gerade mal von deiner Hand bis zu deinem Ellbogen reicht, völlig von dir abhängig ist und dabei dein Herz in seinen Händen hält!

Damals lag ich so gern neben ihr oder legte sie auf meine Brust und lauschte ihren Atemzügen. Auch nach viereinhalb Jahren liege ich noch oft neben ihr oder rolle sie auf mich drauf. Jetzt hängen ihre langen Beine zur Seite runter und ihre Atemzüge werden oft zu unverständlichem Murmeln im Traum.

Oh, und wie sie träumt! Es gibt Nächte, in denen sie Ramona und mich mit ihrem Treten oder ihren lauten Unterhaltungen im Traum aufweckt. Manchmal lacht sie, aber manchmal fängt sie an, laut zu protestieren und zu rufen, ganz sichtbar unglücklich mit irgendeiner Situation. Auch da umarmen Ramona und ich sie gerne und sagen ihr, dass alles in Ordnung ist. Das beruhigt sie jedes Mal.

Was wäre das Leben ohne sie? Ich kann es mir gar nicht vorstellen! Natürlich testet sie ihre Grenzen jeden Tag aus, natürlich gibt es mehr als genug Streitereien mit den Jungs um kleine Dinge, völlig unnötig. Doch das ist auch einfach nur ein Teil des Großwerdens, oder? Erfahrungen machen, lernen und erleben.

Ich bin glücklich und froh, sie auf diesem Weg zu leiten – und ich schätze solche Augenblicke wie diesen Morgen!

Treasuring every precious Moment with my Baby – 5 Oct 16

Today I woke up in the morning, as usual next to my lovely wife and cute daughter. While Ramona went into the bathroom, I cuddled with Apra, enjoying the time before having to wake her up. And while holding her like this, I once more felt how precious this little being is in my life!

It is amazing how quickly time passes and how fast children grow! From the day she was born, I loved holding her in my arms! That feeling to be holding a tiny being that reaches just from your hand to your elbow, completely dependent on you and completely in charge of your heart, love and feelings!

In that time, I loved lying next to her or have her lying on my chest, listening to her breathing. After four-and-a-half years, too, I lie next to her or roll her over onto my chest. Now her long legs hang down and her little breaths often turn into mumbling in her dream.

Oh, does she dream! There are nights when she wakes up Ramona and me with her kicking legs or her loud dream conversations. Sometimes she laughs but sometimes she starts shouting out in protest, visibly unhappy about something. In those times, too, Ramona and I love to hug her and tell her that everything is alright, knowing that this calms her down each time.

What would life be without her? I cannot even imagine! Of course she tests her limits in daytime, of course there are more than enough instances of her fighting with the boys about little things, completely unnecessarily. But that is just part of the game, isn’t it? Growing up and making experiences, learning and exploring.

I am happy and proud to be her guide on this path – and I treasure such moments like this morning!

Parents of a School Girl – working on perfecting our daily Tasks! – 22 Sep 16

I already told you that Apra started going to a school in Mathura in July and that this has changed our lives once more. Yes, ours, not only Apra’s – because we are now parents of a school girl which is a fully new dimension of parenting!

I would not have thought that sending your child to school would involve so many extra tasks! Well, the first thing is that there has to be a regular rhythm of bringing her to bed and waking her up now. As we have anyway changed our lifestyle with the opening of the restaurant however, it was not difficult to implement that, too – and while bringing her to bed it mostly Ramona’s task, I am the one waking our little angel up in the mornings. I am not sure which task is the more difficult one! 🙂

We are not only responsible for sending her to school, though! At the time of her admission, we got some papers with instructions and we are doing our best to follow them – but as first-time school-child parents, I know we are still working on the details!

Obviously, there is a dress code. For normal days, this means school uniform, which is quite nice as we don’t have to think about what to dress her in. There are however also ‘Fun Fridays’ – on each Friday, the children of Apra’s class can come in regular clothing. That clothing should however fit to the ‘Colour of the Month’, which is yellow for September for example. At least a small part of what she is wearing should be yellow!

Oh yes, and Fun Fridays also means that you can bring ‘Fun Food’. That is an exception to the normal rule of giving her only healthy food in her lunchbox. Ramona had her own struggle with that, as ‘healthy’ for a regular Indian family may very well include deep-fried potatoes – but not pasta with vegetables! Well, we found a good average with parantha and vegetables!

Of course there are more special days like the 15th August, India’s Independence Day, on which you should send your child in traditional clothing, days on which the kids do arts and crafts and you have to send plain flutes, glitter, decorative bands and more.

Then there are ‘PTMs’, which are ‘Parents-Teacher-Meetings’. We had our first one this month – because we forgot to go to the one in August. So we arrive there, Ramona and I, thinking that we will go and talk to the teacher about Apra and leave. But oh, there was an exhibition of what the classes had produced in artwork over the past month and all kids were there and playing and proudly showing their parents everything… well, next time we will bring Apra as well! 😀

As I said, we are working on the details and we are confident that we will improve our parenting-school-skills over the next weeks and months!

Apra getting used to School Routine – 14 Sep 16

I told you that I already had some stories for you resulting from the fact that Apra now goes to school. She is mastering this big change of her life very well – and loves going to school!

Obviously, the first day was simply exciting for her! After the summer holidays, she was one of two new children in her class. The sessions now already start in April, a few weeks before the big summer holidays – but as we had only decided to send her to this school in June, she was a newcomer. Most of the other kids were not even new to school in this year but already had started their academic career one or two years before! Apra had of course been to our school but I already told you that she had the freedom to leave whenever she wanted – and we were never far away!

So it was a big thing for her to leave us and go to the classroom on her own. On the first day, everything was so new and exciting that she didn’t even get to think of us until we were already back to pick her up. The days that followed however showed us the process of letting go – which obviously has to happen from both sides! Here, however, I again see how great of a choice we have made: the teachers were so professional, lovely and kind with her that it really did not take long for Apra to adjust. Saying goodbye remained difficult for a while but as soon as she was in the classroom, she played, laughed and enjoyed!

By now, Apra marches off towards her classroom happily and waves back with a joyous smile, looking forward to the many fun things she will get to do in school, together with her new friends! They work with clay, they paint, they go to the playground and in between they also learn – English, Hindi and Mathematics.

She comes home with homework and we take out time to do it with her – and the other kids of the Ashram. One table at the restaurant then belongs to this little study group for an hour or two! This has also become a time that our volunteers started sharing with the kids. Young travelers on a budget who want to take part in our retreats and explore India can help us at the restaurant in the evening – and do homework and play with the Ashram boys, Apra and whoever joins them from the kids of our staff. Obviously, after work, there is also fun – and lots of it!

It is lovely to see this development and this new routine. It also means that Apra now has a fixed bedtime – because she has to get out in the morning! Of course that works better on some days than on others but Apra definitely has got used to her routine. And she loves it!

We can see that very clearly when we hear, just like day before yesterday: “Do I have school tomorrow?” “No, it is a holiday.” “Oh noooooooo!” 🙂

Why we needed to change Apra’s School – 12 Sep 16

I just realized that during the time in which I wrote less blog entries, I missed telling you of a very important event which has brought again a big change to our lives: Apra has officially started going to school!

Maybe you remember how I told you last year that Apra had joined our school. With her three and a half years, she was still very small and we had no intention of really sending her that early. We are generally of the opinion that children need the time in that age to play and not sit in school for learning, as it is so often here. However Apra’s Ashram brothers all went to school in the morning and so she also very much wanted to go – and she enjoyed going to the classes where teachers were singing and playing with the kids!

So we let her go and encouraged her, too. Soon however we noticed that it was not as easy as we thought: Apra has her own mind and started wandering in between the classes, sometimes sitting here, sometimes there. The teachers enjoyed playing with the little one – but that was obviously not helping her learn and at the same time disturbed the other classes! And whenever she felt like, she would return back home, walk into our office and declare that she was done with school for the day!

We realized that our school, as much as we wanted her to learn here, would always present exactly this problem: she would not be one among others and home would always be too close! For a certain discipline which she would need to learn in life, she would need distance in between home and school! But what to do? We know that schools in the surrounding all use violence in their daily teaching – something which we would not be able to bear! Did we have any other option?

It was in the last summer holidays that a lady came as a guest to our restaurant who had been working in one school in Mathura that we had only heard about until that point. We had tried to find out where it was but found it difficult online. In our talk with her however, we asked very clearly whether corporal punishment was used there – and heard that it was strictly forbidden! It was music to our ears!

We immediately called and went the next day to visit the school – and were amazed! There, in Mathura, not very far away from our Ashram, we found a place that actually matched our philosophy, where children could learn in playful way, where violence was strictly banned and where there was no pressure on the little ones! Activity classes have more importance and there are lots of playgrounds, sport areas and fields for games on the huge grounds of the school. The teachers whom we met were lovely and the principal’s words explaining their philosophy so much matched our ideas, we immediately paid the advance for Apra’s admission fee!

And that’s how, on 4th July 2016, we walked into the school, Apra in between Ramona and me, in her new school uniform and incredibly proud! Apra and Ramona had made a ‘Schultüte’, which is a German tradition for the first school day, a large cornet with little presents for the child – and after a few hours at school, she was allowed to open it, finding sweets, stickers and a pencil case for the big school girl!

So now we are officially parents of a school girl – and of course I can already tell you some stories of how this has changed our and Apra’s life!

When Apra is having Fun… – 18 Jun 16

I nearly daily see the proof that Apra is my daughter – if naughtiness is passed on from parents to children! Yesterday again, she did something we had to tell her not to do again but which we will laugh about for a long time!

We had showered Apra in the afternoon, when it was about to get dark, as she had played outside, sweated and just needed to get fresh. When we went towards the restaurant, Apra wanted to play on our playground with the other kids. We have added more sand there, which was still lying in heaps at the side of the playground, so Ramona agreed with one condition: only make your feet dirty, we have just showered!

Unsurprisingly, and hour and a half later Apra arrived in the restaurant: happily smiling and from top to toe covered in sand! In her hair, on her arms until the shoulders and of course inside her clothes as well. Oh well, Ramona sighed, talked with her about the ‘only your feet’ rule of before and wanted to go towards the bathroom again when she noticed: Apra was not wearing her shoes.

“Where did you leave your shoes?” Ramona wanted to know. She got a wave with the hand in direction of the playground. Off they went towards the playground where Ramona expected to see the shoes neatly by the side of the swing. Or maybe not neatly but at least visible in the low light of sundown. She did not expect that she would see simply nothing, not a trace of Apra’s pink sandals! “Where are your shoes?” she asked our four-year-old again, who immediately went to work: she dove in directly with both arms into the next hill of sand and started digging!

“We put them somewhere in here!” Apra explained! Obviously she could not remember anymore where exactly she had buried the shoes!

Ramona gave up and told her we would search in the morning, in daylight – and of course told her that this was not the right place to keep her footwear… but she could not help laughing!

Neither could we and I was reminded of so many stories of mine when I was her age or a bit older. Yes, that’s how the life of a child should look like!

Putting Film Characters on Clothes – not for the Kids but for Profit of Companies! – 21 May 16

A few days ago, I told you how much fun Apra had in Germany with just seeing the raindrops on our car! When we have been out there, I saw Germany from the eyes of a father of a four-year-old. While there are so many things that are really wonderful for the small ones, there are others which, I believe, are rather made for the benefit of adults, not children! One of these has to do with the story I told you about yesterday: Elsa and Rosa.

We went shopping a few times for different items. One was underwear for Apra. Already on our last trip to Germany, we went to buy underwear for her and reaching the floor of the garment store where kids’ underwear could be found, there was a surprise for Apra: underwear with pictures of Elsa and Rosa on them! Wow!

We bought them then and when we needed underwear again now, Apra got excited: ‘Can I have ones with Elsa and Rosa again?’ So we went for shopping with Apra’s German grandparents. And you cannot believe how many Elsa and Rosa we found in the stores all over the place! It was not only underwear, you could get shirts, pants, skirts, bags, caps, gloves, hairbands, socks, swimming suits and basically everything with images of Elsa and Rosa on it!

We managed to get out with only the underwear that we wanted to get. That is mostly due to the fact that she, herself was a bit overwhelmed with all the things she could see in the big mall we were in. Ramona however told us upon leaving the store: “If we lived in Germany, I would probably tell Apra that we would not buy anything with a face on it!” As we spend most of our time away from this massive offer and overwhelming marketing, it is alright if she gets such items from time to time.

Here, I really see the benefit of living in India and in a town like Vrindavan: we don’t have this overdose of offers! You can say that we don’t have the choice but when it comes to this way of marketing for the small ones, it is a big advantage!

Brands, images and children’s movie characters are not promoted mainly for pleasing the young ones. The main aim is to make them want more and more so that they pester their parents who then feel compelled to buy more and more – which ultimately fills the pockets of big corporates.

No, it is not the joy of children which is the first purpose here. And that’s how I am very happy that Apra has not developed the attitude of ‘I want this all’, probably due to our life in a small Indian town!

Apra’s Fantasy creating fictional Worlds – 20 May 16

Today I would like to tell you about two names I have been hearing a lot lately from the mouth of my four-year-old daughter Apra: Elsa and Rosa. Oh, the parents among you paused while reading? Yes, I am talking about Elsa, the ice queen of the movie ‘Frozen’ and also her sister, just that she is called Rosa in our home. Let me tell you why.

For understanding this, you would have to know that Apra has not seen any Disney movies yet. In India, they are not as popular as in the west but more than that, the reason is that we don't watch TV and feel that she is still too small for those movies. There are elements which would make her unnecessarily afraid and which she would not understand at her age.

She has however heard and also seen some of the songs, as many of them are really nice, have a message and go into the ear easily. Apra likes seeing the women and girls, the ‘Disney princesses’ singing – and that’s how she, too, has seen Elsa. Ramona had heard that this character was quite popular but as neither Apra nor she knew the story, the two of them created their own story around Elsa and her sister.

In the movie, that sister is called Anna but Apra gave her the name Rosa. She created her own story around these two characters, first wanting to marry them – to which her mother said no, it was impossible to marry among sisters – and then giving them both one prince with the condition that they had to share him!

Of course, Apra picked up the magical elements of the video clip she saw and created lots of stories around how Else could do magic with her hands! For many days, we were playing that she could freeze things and she evolved how Elsa made it possible for Rosa to do magic too: by giving her a wand that she herself enchanted.

Finally, Eva brought Apra a book with the story of the Disney movie and Ramona had to read it out to her daily for quite a while. So now she knows the story – but that doesn’t keep her from making up elements on her own and disposing of parts of the story that she doesn’t like!

It keeps the fun alive – and I am sure we will still hear a lot of Elsa and Rosa!

How happy a Child can be about the Wipers of a Car! – 17 May 16

Sitting in the car in Augsburg, I saw another example of how Apra got happy at the small things. It started raining, something that people don’t usually get happy about. For Apra, it was the entertainment of the whole car rides from and to the shopping center!

She sat in her car seat and suddenly started laughing loudly, pointing at the windshield. Ramona asked and tried to look outside from her angle to understand what she had seen outside but couldn’t make it out. When Apra had calmed down a bit, she could finally explain, under giggles, what was so funny: her grandpa would wipe away the rain from the windshield but it would immediately all come back dripping onto it!

She looked at Ramona and said ‘Wouldn’t it be fun if every car window had this?’ Ramona told her that only the windshield and the rear window had wipers – which made her turn around and wait for the rear window to do the same!

Again, Apra turned to Ramona and said ‘It would be so funny if every car had those!’ We smiled at her: ‘Every car HAS those!’ and she was completely surprised: ‘Also in India?’ Upon confirming, that cars in India had that, too, and yes, also our car had wipers on the windshield and the rear window, she was overjoyed!

She spent the remaining time looking at the wipers in front and back and the raindrops on her own window. Again, it was so wonderfully exciting for her: ‘OH LOOK! This big raindrop is eating all the others! There! It vanished down here!’

Obviously, she had not seen rain while being in a car in Vrindavan. We don’t have a lot of rain and when it rains, we don’t often happen to be sitting in a car. The rain made this a great car ride and we were just happy to watch her joy over this simple thing.