15 October 2007

Getting settled

The children are in school. That took quite a bit of work.

First, the German had to register our marriage in the Sauerland where he was registered. Then, when we returned to Berlin, he registered both of us and the children here. I did some research on line and found some kindergarten/kitas within walking distance, called them, and set up appointments. The first one we went to, one that was supposed to be based on a nurturing method, left me in tears. The head told us that they were not really interested in children that would be “transient”, eg staying for less than three years, and that also the documents that the children require would take weeks and weeks to get, so why would we even bother to put them in school when they would be leaving Berlin in the spring? I pointed out that Thing1 was very sad, had walked up to a little boy in the school and asked him to be friends, and that Thing1was regressing due to interactions being mainly with Thing2. The head didn’t exactly shrug, but didn’t seem to give a darn.

She did give the German the number of the state agency that would provide the required documents, but reiterated that it would take weeks to get the forms, perhaps even months. When we walked out the door, I really was in tears at the thought that the children would not be able to play with other children for the foreseeable future. The German told me that everything would be alright, that in a country where children have a legal right to schooling that it would be impossible for it to take so long to get required documentation. In the event, he called the agency the next morning and when he went there, the woman in charge was wonderful. She assured him that it would take only a day or two for the document for Thing1 to reach us, and that she would be able to issue one for Thing 2 if he could provide documentation that I was taking a course.

So the German registered Thing1 for the 5-7 hours of kindergarten that she is legally entitled to. However, Thing2 could not be registered until I provided documentation that I either had a job or was taking an integration course.

When wandering about our new neighborhood, we had discovered the Jewish Community Center (Judisches Gemeinde Haus). When we stopped in to ask about the community, we were told that they have a Volkshochschule, which is a type of community school all across Germany, where I could take a Deutschkurs for Anfangers (German for Newcomers). So I signed up for the semester, the German took the information to the state and we received the documentation for both the girls within three days.

(Germany has an amazingly good post system. It generally takes only one day for mail to reach us from just about anywhere in Germany. If we haven’t received something in three days, we know that there is a problem and know to call to see what is wrong.)

We got the names of some Jewish kindergartens from the JCC and called a few to see which would have openings and how far some might be. The real problem was Thing2, because the spots for her age are generally filled (there is a legal requirement of fewer young children per teacher at her age). We went to one lovely school in Grunewald, but not only would it be quite difficult for me to reach by public transportation, but also they would have had a problem with Thing2- she would not have been able to start until January, when they would be adding a teacher. The head was very nice and after showing us around, she sat the girls down to play with toys, took us back to her office, and started making calls for us. After two tries, she was able to make an appointment for us with the head of X school. So we called a cab and went there. We drove back and forth but this time, after stopping and asking for help and calling for clarification, we finally found it. This was funny, because we had attempted to reach X school almost on our arrival in west Berlin. But when we had called to get directions there we had not been able to find the school: it’s not easy to find.

In the meantime, I had gotten information from the JGH about Jewish kindergartens and kitas and had spoken to an International School (second choice, being both quite expensive and thwarting our aim of having the girls exposed to German as soon as possible). ) So when we got to the X school, finally, we were very impressed. The Rabbi knew our previous school, was warm and friendly (from the US;-) ), the classes seemed good and at least one of each teacher pair spoke some English, and the curriculum seemed great and familiar (although with both German and Hebrew). This is just what Thing1 has been needing.

The Things started school October 8th, the first day after Succoth, when my class also started. I spent the first two days with them at school, making certain that they would be ok, and on the third day the bus service that the school has started and I was able to go to class. We are all enjoying our classes now, although you would never know it from Thing1: she doesn’t tell me anything that goes on! Thing1 has been to the Zoo and the Opera House and to the library, but I only know that from the teacher: she is not yet good at communicating this information.

We have suffered through waves of illness. First, I was sick. A bronchial illness that hung on until I went to der Artz in the Sauerland (the weekend our container finally came in) and wound up getting antibiotics. Then, the week after Thing2 started school, she was quite sick. She had a temperature of 104+ and I had to find a doctor within our area and run her over. Dr R assured me that it was a virus and I should continue to concentrate on keeping her temperature down, which I needed to do by medicating her every six hours around the clock with Motrin. Her high fever continued from Sunday through Friday, when the doctor had told me to return if she were still running a fever. The doctor looked again, said it was still just a virus and prescribed a mucus thinner as well as continuing with the Motrin. Thankfully, her fever finally ended on Saturday. I kept her home on Monday, just to be safe.

This had played havoc with my classes, of course. I took two days off, we hired a babysitter one day, the German stayed home through my class one day, and the final day we had another babysitter, who we needed to send home because she was unable to comfort Thing2 (the only person, ever. We complained to the agency about her.) So back zur schule went Thing2 on Tuesday and on Tuesday night Thing1 started to run a high fever. So, Wednesday I went in to class for a few minutes to pick up my work. Thursday she seemed a bit better so I brought her, with coloring books, to class with me. She was exhausted and wound up falling asleep on me when I carried her out, but it was the day of my appointment with the Alien Affairs office and I needed to be there with the German in person.

So Thing1 and I took a cab there and met the German, they quickly called us in and gave me my residence visa, and then he called us a cab and went back to pick up the forms and come home later. Germany is extremely organized in processing newcomers and it’s admirable.