The thing that almost always works


I don’t have a work visa for Germany, but I do have a mission-critical job—I keep seven-month-old Theta* contented while the rest of the crew (Liebling, Chiquito and El Guapo) get on with apartment renovations. Our Germans had a lot done before we arrived (bathroom and kitchen both painted, wall prep started), but there’s still an impressive amount of work left to do.

We got through all the wallpapering (for the ceilings, actually—it’s a German thing) and have made good progress on the painting (needed for both the ceiling paper and the walls), and are currently spending more time than you’d think could possibly be required on installing flooring.


If we’re lucky, Theta falls asleep on the drive to the apartment† in Eckernförde, which used to take 30 minutes, and now takes 45, since construction began this week on the main road into the town, the detour for which is a very long way round. (I recognize that many people aren’t even able to leave their apartments right now; it’s not so bad to be able to go from isolation in one town to isolation in another.) Once he wakes up, the real work begins.



He’s not yet very mobile but is already very interested in everything he can’t get at, so now is a time of yearning and discontent. Chew toys lose their charm quickly, Mama is elbow-deep in renovating tasks, Oma is just not as good—life is hard when you’re a baby!


As so often happens, babies like best to chew on things not marketed as chew toys. Here’s a cutting board that’s getting it done.


Sometimes we undertake the substantial task of getting the stroller up the stairs from the basement; often we try bouncing on a yoga ball. The one thing that almost always works is singing. So I sing my way through lullabies my mother sang to me, through children’s songs, folk songs, and songs composed in the moment. It’s amazing how effective it is.

Theta’s tired discontent is not unlike the situation we find ourselves in throughout the world right now, and in the absence of a yoga ball big enough to bounce us into a state of calm, many of us are turning to music.

There’s been consistently alarming news coming out of Italy over the last several weeks, but there have also been the heartening stories of people coming out on their balconies in the evening to sing. Here’s a performance by young strings-playing twins from Sicily. And here’s a Crosby, Stills & Nash song made beautiful by each solo contribution of dozens of Italians alone in their rooms:


Another collection of solos made into an ensemble number comes to us from students of the Berklee College of Music in Boston, the Mother School of Berklee Valencia, where El Guapo teaches.


Over the past six years I’ve posted a lot of music here that deserves returning to. Even setting aside all the Christmas music which may not fit the current need, there’s a lot to enjoy. Here’s a selection of Easter music. Remember Zoë Keating? How about some amazing Spanish guitar? Or perhaps Danny Boy. Here’s some cello music by J.S.Bach.

Have you found some musical relief to the current situation? Please share with me in the comments.



*Before he was born or even conceived, he was contemplated as a theoretical possibility, and talked about as the Tiny Human, TH for short, abbreviated by the Greek letter theta: Θ

†Renovating an apartment seems strange to me, as I would expect that the landlord is supposed to have the place move-in ready, but this is a somewhat unusual situation. I think Liebling and Chiquito were given a rent rebate of some amount in exchange for the sweat equity they would be investing to return the place to the level of habitable.


[Images:, yours truly, Liebling]

4 thoughts on “The thing that almost always works

  1. You are so lucky to be there and tasked with such a fun responsibility. I laughed at your explanation of ‘Theta,’ as it reminded me of when we were expecting our first, Aubrey. As she had no name yet, we had a nickname for her as well. We both sort of giggled once when Jim was offering our family prayer and he said, “And please bless the Little Unit.” Hugs from Nevada to Forsyths and Kleiners!

    • You’ve got to call that growing child something, right? One of my currently recognized shortcomings is that I can’t remember the prenatal name for child number four, and I haven’t yet scoured journals to see if I wrote it down anywhere. It’s on my list—

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