Our five-year-old has been picking up German with the ease of, well, a five-year-old. He counts merrily to thirty in German and bursts out with phrases I can’t say he learned from me. He likes to play a game as we walk (this is a child who rarely simply walks–there’s always some intricacy involved in his locomotion–and if you have a child like this, you need to read this piece by Ian Frazier): he’ll mosey along slowly, droning “Laaaaaaangsaaaaaaam” (slow) and then burst into a run, barking, “und schnell!” (and fast!) Then again, “Laaaaaaangsaaaaaam…..”
I’m generally a schnell sort of person. In my normal life, there’s exercise and breakfast-getting and kids-off-to-school-cajoling and work, and work, and meetings, and meetings, and grading into the nights and on weekends. I like to make the most of my time, and, when I’m in a city as filled with history, stunning architecture, beautiful parks, and–I’ll admit it–tantalizing-looking shops as this one is, I’m ready to hit the crooked streets. Schnell, schnell! Let’s go!
Being langsam can frustrate me. I traveled with my college concert band to Europe my freshman year, and progress with 50 people and a trailer full of instruments is laaaangsam. I remember pressing my face to the bus window and watching Sweden flash by–tormented by places I’d never get to linger. Yesterday, all five of us went to Munich for a day trip. I’m fairly confident that not a half hour went by without one person becoming suddenly gripped by hunger, plagued by a rock in the shoe, laid low by sore feet, or in desperate, crotch-gripping need of a bathroom. Laaaangsam.
As I get older, in spite of the pace of my working life, I’m becoming more patient with slowness. When I visit my parents, I slow down. My mother, who was once as schnell as I generally am, now measures her day by inches : out of bed, safely to the coffeepot, slowly to the couch, maybe, on a good day, outside. When I’m there, one activity per day is enough. The same is often true with small children, and even though my kids seem never to stop moving, much of their motion is repetitive, generally energy-consuming, but relatively purposeless. The back yard or the Englischer Garten in Munich is all the same to them, as long as they can fling their bodies around and eat snacks after.
Two days ago, we took a family bike trip upriver a few miles to see a castle ruin. We rode, we stopped and played, we rode to the town, we ate lunch. We hiked up the hill to the ruin. We explored, we snacked, we hiked back down, some of us peed in the bushes, we rode, we stopped and skipped stones, we arrived home. The trip took all day. Laaaangsam. When we got home, we discovered my daughter’s glasses were missing. I rode back nearly to the town again, to find her glasses case perched in a tree where a thoughtful passer-by had placed them. It felt good to go fast–my first fast ride after the long midwestern winter. It took me less than 50 minutes, there and back.
It’s good to know I’ll be here long enough to go langsam, taking stock, peering around me, maybe even expending some energy uselessly. I’m looking forward to some schnell-time, too, of course. The biking around here is excellent and a rider by herself could go miles along rivers, through forests and little towns tucked in valleys. Schnell und langsam – they are different ways of seeing and involve different sets of negotiations. As my son already knows, it’s probably best to practice them both.