Greetings from Faraway TV Land

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By Kristin Tovson

So many of my childhood memories involve watching television. My parents owned a bar and spent many late nights working. I spent those nights with my maternal grandmother, a tiny spitfire woman of Irish heritage who unabashedly swore like a sailor. Frankly, this alone explains a lot about me. We would sit in her living room, glued to the likes of wildly inappropriate-for-my-age evening soap operas: Dallas, Dynasty, and Falcon Crest. I ate frozen pizza on a TV tray. She drank cans of Budweiser and sat at her sewing table doing embroidery. It was heavenly.

My own kids are currently obsessed with watching cartoons, one in particular called Calliou. I want so desperately to bond with them the way my Granny and me did, but watching this show makes me want to shove an ice pick in my eye. Calliou is 4 years old, bald (why?), and apparently Canadian, judging by the way he says “aboot.” I grew up in Montana, U. S. of A, which lies on the border with Canada. By all accounts and general consensus among humans in the know, Canadians are among the nicest, loveliest people on planet Earth. There’s no logical explanation as to why this cartoon boy inspires such deep-seated annoyance in my heart. Except that he’s so impossibly earnest. It’s not normal for fuck’s sakes.

Much to my chagrin, my girls can’t seem to get enough of Calliou and his hijinks, or lack thereof. Perhaps such innocence appeals only to those who are equally wide-eyed, though don’t let my youngest fool you. Undoubtedly there are worse things to be than boringly sincere. Have I just become that cynical? Or am I just that tired? Most days we parents just get on with it, this business of catering to the near constant needs and whims of tiny humans. But I think most of us will admit we had no earthly idea coming in, the level of sheer exhaustion of it all. Some days I’m done before I begin.

My oldest is also 4 years old, and also apparently exhausted by the business of being 4. We come home from the dramas of a day at kindergarten and the decompression is palpable, audible like air leaking from a tire. I turn on the computer and let her and her sister watch an onslaught of (age appropriate!) cartoons while I make dinner; blissful silence ensues.

I don’t remember myself being 4—at all. In fact, I often struggle to recall specific childhood events. I’m racking my brain right now and nothing of note is coming to mind. What I mostly remember is the details, the texture, the sky. In Montana, the sky is as vast as vast can be. It’s terrifying even; the space, the sound and the color go on forever, in all directions. Almost always but especially in spring and fall, you can see the changing weather rolling in, coming right at you from miles away. And then there it is, that lightning flash, an image, though you can’t remember from when. I’m gleefully counting railway cars with my dad as they roll by into town, us sitting at the crossing idly, waiting in the car. They too seem to go on forever in all directions.

And now in the city of Berlin, sprawling in its own way to be sure, the famous statue, die Siegesäule (or the ‘Golden Lady’ as I call her), watches over us. How did I end up here again? It escapes me sometimes, the steps that led our family to this place, these people, this life. What will my kids remember from this current concrete jungle we call home? I wonder this just about every time I stare into their eyes. What’s being recorded, shifted or jumbled about in this slippery eel of the thing we call memory?

I remember something else now. I’m sitting with my mother on the couch late at night, my head in her lap, way past my bedtime, watching episodes of an 80s sitcom called ‘Kate and Allie’. I remember her breathing and me trying to match her breath so that our chests would rise and fall at the same time, at the same rate. Time slowed, and I was safe. Both my girls do this with me now, sitting on the couch, heads in my lap, fighting over who gets to claim me more as mama, watching episodes of another impossibly earnest cartoon, a German one called ‘Lauras Stern’. The moments are fleeting, these quiet ones of stillness and utter indescribable content. I wait, holding my breath. Somewhere down the line, these moments will blur and morph into something else, another time, a far off place. Years from now, they’ll too have TV flashes of their mother, in a context and culture that is uniquely theirs, but not mine.

In a thousand different ways, decisions big and small, very adultly made, consciously and not so, I have chosen to give them this life, so very different from the one in which I grew up. The sky here is stone grey too often in the winter and littered with buildings. It’s hard to see where you’re going, let alone what’s coming your way. The trains are of the s-bahn variety, or underground where it’s harder to breathe and nearly impossible to count them racing by on the platform.

But then spring begins to make herself heard, the sky begins to crack blue, the city wakes from months of generally being in a bad mood. It awakens to something glorious and then you remember why you won’t leave. I look down at these creatures, these babes of earnestness, joy and tedium all wound together. I see my husband and versions of myself in their eyes, versions even I’ve forgotten about, versions it seemed motherhood had somehow erased. But there they are staring back at me and I realise that together, we are all, always home.

Kristin Tovson is a dancer, sometimes writer and English language trainer, but most often yoga teacher living in Berlin since 2009. She came here from the US with her German husband on a Fulbright fellowship and then stayed to raise a family. She is mom to two spitfire girls, ages 4 ½ and 2. She loves macaroni and cheese from a box, especially with a glass of wine in front of the television.