“Einem geschenkten Gaul schaut man nicht ins Maul.” —popular German saying.
German school was scary enough.
My mom lived in Germany as a student; she thought the opportunity for me to learn German at a young age would be invaluable. And so I entered the German-American School of San Francisco when I was five. I remember being terrified. Most of the kids my age knew German already and were learning English, which, in the beginning, made certain kinds of communication tough. Thank god for the schoolyard communication of sand hitting hands and trees meeting feet. Life started anew in those arcadian interruptions known as recess. Pause, we called it.
First grade was probably the last time I felt that the customs of my school, and of my newly adopted culture, were truly foreign. First grade was when we finally got to wear backpacks, or Schulranzen. German backpacks differ from American ones: they’re boxy, look almost like a briefcase, and have whimsical little patterns on them. This posed somewhat of a problem. I didn’t know if my parents would get me one. Would they know that having an American backpack telegraphed my status as an alien? Does one have to travel to Germany to get German backpacks? Is there anyone who might share their backpack with me? There was nothing I dreaded more than having to explain my difference to my peers. I was convinced that, on the first day of first grade, with a black or blue Jansport in hand, I would be the ultimate outcast, the loser American. In my mind, it took years to recover from a misstep like that.
How wrong I was.
Never lose faith in your mother. Your mother is your greatest asset, your biggest advocate, your staunchest ally. Your mother will do for you, out of principle, what others would not do for gain. Your mom hurts when you cry, exults when you laugh, and triumphs when you succeed. Your mom is the monsoon that brings life to the choked sands. Your mom is the planet that keeps her moons always close to her bosom.
My mom pulled me up on that first day of grade school. I don’t know how she knew, but she did. Backpacks were delivered, pride was restored. Leaving, she handed me a colorful paper cone filled with candy and school supplies; she had made it herself, alongside the other German mothers. At the time, I did not think about the meaning of her gesture. I couldn’t know. Now, I’m embarrassed I doubted her in the first place. But you cannot engineer selfishness out of your body. It must be shaken out of you.