(Deep breath, exhale)
This is a difficult post to write. One reason is that it has probably been actual years since I last made the time to write anything other than a grocery list or quick text (¨Hey, we are heading to Juckerfarm this afternoon if anyone wants to join!¨). Life with littles has revolutionized my existence on this planet over the past 5 years. It was/is a welcome revolution (okay, well, maybe not totally welcome ALL of the time AT the time, but I come around in the end!), and it has all happened against the beautiful backdrop of jagged mountains, alpine meadows, soaring church spires, bitingly cold lakes, breath-taking valleys, stars and sunsets of Switzerland!
Another reason this is tough is because, really?, how do you do justice to all those millions of memories in a teeny tiny blog post? We are talking about a significant chunk of our lives here! In fact, let’s consider the numbers for a moment: We have lived away from Canada for 10 years! The first 2 years were spent in the quiet suburb of Duvall, WA – a paddling pool experience before our giant leap into the deep end of 8 years in Switzerland!
Some history: 2 years into our marriage, I graduated university at 26 years old. 2 weeks after the ceremony we packed up everything and said goodbye to friends and family while mumbling something about only being gone for 2 years! We were young, we had our whole lives ahead of us, we were ¨doing it!¨. It was grand (so many incredible memories, wonderful people, enduring connections) in Seattle. It was hard. After the first year I gave my life to Christ on an overcast autumn day in the woods. We decided to leave. We packed up everything, gave our beloved dog back to the breeder, said goodbye while assuring everyone we would stay in touch and mumbling something about not wanting to put a time limit on this next adventure. Again, we were ¨doing it!¨, off to learn a new language and culture in a place people only ever dream about visiting! Sweden! (Yes, I even made this mistake a few times before we actually got here!)
Then followed 8 years in Switzerland. 4 homes: Zurich Letzigrund area, Zurich Enge, Effretikon, Pfäffikon ZH. Letzigrund was 6 weeks of almost total misery. Arriving at the end of a beautiful October, we had 1 tiny room in an apartment with a pension-age couple and their sister who only spoke (as far as I could tell), Portuguese (not that I knew one single word in German at any rate). We had one key between us, and Tim started his new job the day after our arrival in the totally foreign land where I didn’t know a single soul. For 6 weeks I cowered in this tiny room with a futon bed, our 3 suitcases bursting with all of the beautiful, expensive, professional clothing I had purchased in the mistaken belief that they would imbibe me with a confidence to move breezily through this couture city, and my laptop with (thank God!) wifi. Exchanging my pajamas for jeans and a sweatshirt only when I needed to leave the room to go to the bathroom or cook something in a shared kitchen (which I did only when I was sure the other people were out), I watched hours and hours of t.v. on youtube. I started looking for an apartment. I started looking for furniture. I tried not to pester my husband endlessly with fear and doubt and loneliness. It was an incredibly difficult time for us as a couple, and for me as a natural introvert who then had very little foreign travel experience.
Hindsight has its own graces though, and there are a few funny/fond memories from this time as well. The first day I did laundry (involving a tram ride, and speaking to a stranger with my handwritten list of translated words, and decoding the machine)! The 2 times I found myself locked out of the apartment after the door blew shut behind me. One of those times I was stranded in my slippers and no idea of what Tim’s handy number was. A wonderful university student in a WG in the same building found me miserable on the stairs and invited me in for coffee and to wait for Tim to arrive home. We found ICF on the net and started going immediately. Our first contact was Nic Legler and he was so pleased to tell us that a new international celebration was just about to launch! I was so relieved to have something I could jump right into.
Before Christmas we moved into our apartment on Mutschellenstrasse, where we enjoyed 3 wonderful childless years. Tim was totally spoiled, being able to walk to work in 13 minutes with a view of mountains and Zurich lake. I found a job teaching English in Luzern (a job I never really enjoyed and gave up after 9 months). We joined a home group of internationals and formed lasting friendships. I met an incredible woman whom just so happened to also be Canadian, and we still know and appreciate the uniqueness and blessing of this friendship, which continues though she moved back home years ago. Tim and I travelled whenever the opportunity presented itself, much of it on a yellow BMW R1150GS that we lovingly named Gerta. Collectively we have been all over much of France including an unforgettable group ride in Corsica, seen much of Italy including spending a Christmas with Norwegian friends in Tuscany (on the motorbike, what an adventure!), Prague, Dublin, Salzburg, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Barcelona, Tirol region in Austria, Munich, Amsterdam (Tim even travelled to the Netherlands weekly for a while as a PM on a specific project), Cologne, Berlin, and others I am sure I have forgotten (!). All that in addition to seeing nearly all the nooks and crannies of Switzerland – more than many, many native Swissies!
We did not do absolutely all of our travelling in those 3 years, but much of it (I also did not include all the trips back to Canada and London). And then, the time came when it started to feel a bit boring. I know that is a very personal statement. I am not applying it to anyone else other than us. We were ready to take the next plunge and grow our family from 2 to 3. And so, all worry and impatience aside, I became pregnant, and realized that though I loved our apartment in Zurich I did not love the idea of traipsing up and down 6 flights of stairs with a pram/baby/groceries+baby/laundry+baby/etc. And so, after 3 years in the city we moved to the suburb of Effretikon where a wonderful group of friends were already living and embarking on growing their own families.
Around this time also came some hard goodbyes. A few couples in our home group left to return to their native lands, including the leaders. It was a difficult time as it was hit home for me again and again that our lives here would always have a healthy dose of “goodbye” included. Because most of my friends are/were international and for one reason or another decided to leave, it suddenly became important to us to make “Swiss” friends. This was really tough. Where does one meet “Swiss” people? The answer seems obvious (everywhere, anywhere, they usually leave their invisibility cloaks at home), but I was attending an International church and had American friends, and I would not be indoctrinated into the local school system for a few years yet. Where does one break in? What crazy pressure we put on ourselves!
Luckily, it was a really wonderful time, living in Effretikon. I am glad we decided to stay. A few weeks after the move Tim came home and said that his job with Microsoft was disappearing back to the USA. We had a choice: stay or go back to the USA. I find it interesting now that in my mind the third option of returning to Canada then was not really on the table. We decided to have faith and stay in Effretikon. It is certainly not the most beautiful of Swiss towns, but I found it incredibly practical, wonderful for children, and welcoming at an extremely difficult time. We moved when I was 5 months pregnant, and so I spent the months leading up to the birth “nesting” and walking around and strengthening friendships. After the birth I all but disappeared. It is not an uncommon theme: baby arrives and turns your world upside down! The depression took me by surprise, because though it became like a thick fog, it started out as a mist. I didn’t even realize I was living my life enshrouded in a heavy gauze that I fought with constantly to accomplish even the most basic things. During that time I was blessed (there really is no other word for it) by 2 pivotal people. The first is a woman named Monika who, for many years, was president of the Familienverein, and volunteers 2 mornings a week at their Kinderhuetti. I started bringing Noah there when he was 4 months old so I could have some sort of break. It was directly across the street from our house. Monika took me under her wing and we spent many 15 minute intervals over the years drying my tears, talking about motherhood and being a foreigner. She has lifted me up time and again and I am so grateful that she continues to be a touchstone for me when I am in need of a hug or a no-nonsense encouraging smile. She is fabulous, I hope you have the chance to meet her one day!
The other woman God sent to be a rock for me here on earth is Salome. Wow! However I try to describe the beautiful heart that beats in Mama Mae I will fall desperately short. I was introduced to her via a dear friend who was already visiting her home weekly with her own little boy (Salome is her Aunt by marriage). Salome adopted us. She welcomed us with open arms, for joint weekly visits with Lydia and then on our own as well. We joined the family for their traditional lunch times, and often stayed for dinner times as well. I brought my loneliness and depression and embarrassing German; and in return I received love and kindness and family. It was only many months later that she told me God spoke to her about me and told her to help me. I am so glad He did!
Then, the time came when we wanted to add another little person to the fray. I spent months “nesting” again, getting things ready. It had been a difficult pregnancy and I was excited about meeting my baby girl and fearful of how on earth I was going to manage it on my own after my mother left (she spent 3 heroic weeks with us, arriving the day Abigail was born!). Then, things changed again. The house was too expensive for our shrinking budget. Tim was (with my whole-hearted support) pursuing a photography career and that meant less income. We couldn’t seem to find anything in our price range in Effretikon, and so, 3 years after moving in, and 4 months after Abigail was born we moved into a bright, lovely apartment in Pfäffikon ZH.
Next month marks 2 years in this apartment, and 8 years in Switzerland. As in Effretikon, I enjoy a fabulous relationship with ‘my Migros’. We live on top of it (in Effi it was a scant 2 minute walk). In fact, I can bring the shopping cart directly into my apartment! I will definitely miss this. There have been countless walks by the lake (including the beer garden!), Abigail’s first steps and first words, meeting and learning to play with neighborhood kids, and Noah starting school this past August. Even as we prepare to leave, we continue on in the natural rhythm of life. As I said, so much has happened here.
(Deep breath, exhale)
And so, how to end? How to do justice to such a huge portion of our lives, in a place, and in a way that so many Canadians (anyone!) only ever dream about? And, how to honour the very real battles with homesickness, depression, feeling lost and embarrassed almost daily as we are (obviously, unapologetically) confronted with our and their “otherness”? How to say goodbye to all the people who made our Swiss experience the amazing adventure and biggest blessing we could never have imagined?
With a party, of course! We are throwing a massive party in November and you ALL are invited! We want to say HERZLICHEN DANK! to everyone who has befriended us over these past 8 years, and to hug you one last time. If you have not received an evite or personal invitation but you are reading this blog (because surely anyone who reads all of this wouldn’t do so unless you were a friend of ours!), then ping us via the usual channels and demand to be invited! It will not be a party without you! We truly hope to see you there.
All my love.
there is a box. let’s say, a shoebox box. it has a few random things in it, and it sits comfortably under my arm or on my lap. there is no lid. at some point i notice that this box is filling up. no worries! i get a bigger box. out come all the things in the shoebox and swiftly, with hardly a glance, they are deposited into the new, bigger box. maybe it’s the size of a new microwave box. this one is a little trickier to manage though, not fitting under one arm. it definitely requires more care to keep upright, lest all the contents come spilling out. new things get added to the box, revised versions of older things jump in every now and then. every once in a while a thing of delicate beauty finds its way in. like rice paper origami figures they filter light and air and make you smile with their tinyness and precision. rare and delicate, they are easily crumpled amid the heaviness of the other things in the box. soon, this box fills up too and a bigger box is needed. it takes a little while to find this new box, so some of the contents do come tumbling out. casually they are picked up, dusted off and piled back on (there!), threatening to topple again until …. a bigger box! whew! okay, well now all those things need to be transferred to the new box. i don’t really feel like taking it all out again and repacking it, how about i just put the old box into the new box? see? it fits! there’s some room to spare! surely this means more can be added! in go some more things, not really heavy things at all, but combined with the others it is really quite heavy and unbalanced. it’s difficult to see around or over this box anymore. i have to be careful how i hold it. if it shifts around too much then it’s loud and clangs and people start to look and wonder why anyone would carry such a large box around with them all the time. perhaps if i decorate the outside, make it pretty, then it won’t get noticed. it works for a while, but eventually the colourful artwork smears and fades. it’s difficult to carry on conversations or perform daily tasks with such a large box.
where are all the other boxes? why does no one else seem to be carrying such a large box? i was sure i saw someone else with a shoebox. i try to look, but my box is so large that it’s difficult to see my own feet let alone another person. after a while, i notice my box is leaking. i try to put it down and rest, in fact some kind people offer to hold some things from my box for a while, make it lighter. i try to find something to give them. it’s too much. too jumbled. i don’t know what they want to hold, how long they want to hold it for. all i can do is think about the box. my body is now shaped to carry the box. there is no other way. i wonder, how long will i have to carry the box? will it grow ever larger? sometimes i try to lighten the load by examining all the things in the box, to get rid of what i don’t need anymore. after a few tries i give up. the contents of the box seem to have magical properties where every item i examine seems to double in size! trying to lighten the load actually makes it heavier! now i need yet another, larger box.
months go by …
it’s a lot and it’s not. guess that’s me (finally) becoming accustomed to being a mom. creativity has blown up in my face. there are bits of it scattered all over the house! and spring cleaning has arrived early this year … tim will soon be trying desperately to lay hands on everything so i don’t get rid of it
on a more mature note, i wonder if perhaps this desperate (may not look like it on the outside, but on the inside … whoa) rush to “do everything” isn’t really more about filling that gap that God once filled? in all honesty, i couldn’t feel less close to Him. it seems no matter how good my intentions, church never happens, nor praying before meals, nor even worship on the stereo. i am busy being worried about how to raise a christian … when i do know that me/us as an example is the biggest influence for the longest while … these are habits i always *meant* to form for myself … and now that they loom every more importantly on the activity board i am farther away from it than ever. yarg.
unfortunately i am also in non-german mode. it’s really quite painful how these ups and downs keep happening. for weeks/months i’ll be rolling along, doing the work (kinda), being interested and enthusiastic and asking questions, etc. then this wall comes along and i’m all like, “nuh unh, no german here! can’t wait to move me outta this country and get back to where crafty things are plentiful and varied and CHEAP. and where food is TASTY and full of salt and wonderful packaging and variety. where i can JUST TALK and not have to think about it first or feel embarrassed or stupid or just plain small and inadequate. where the driving lanes are BIG and the cars BIGGER so i can go to places and buy stuff and just TOSS IT IN MY CAR because that’s easy and awesome. and, let’s not forget, where the FAMILY lives!”
usually this means it’s time for a visit to Canada … so i can choose all over again to live in Switzerland. 2 weeks of having to drive everywhere and getting constipated on fast food usually does it for me.
soon noah will be 1. i don’t really know how i feel about that. there will not be a big party – saving that for age 3 or 4 when he might actually remember, or will at least have loads more fun! but how to mark/celebrate the accomplishment? both for him and for us? i am now mindful that whenever another baby turns up we will need to “match” the effort or scale or whatever of the first … so i guess a family trip to thailand will have to keep waiting
i am hosting a baby shower in 1 week & i “must” do everything myself: make decorations, food from scratch, rearrange living room, totally change my personality … gah.
(friday now) i think noah is coming down with a cold. he/we woke up at: 8:30, 9:30, 10:30, 11:30, 4am, 7am. guess how much sleep mom got? this morning i already made up the sofa bed in his room in anticipation of sleeping there over the next week or so … yeah i’ll have lots of energy for a baby shower! can anyone say “migraine”? seriously wish that wasn’t a real possibility …
as roz would say – “first world problems!”
i know it doesn’t compare to hiding from guerilla soldiers, wondering where my next meal is coming from, trying to find clean water for my kid, having my husband hauled off to jail for nothing, or being sold into slavery by him … but it’s all relative. that doesn’t mean it’s not hard at the moment.
at least the sun is (finally) shining, though it’s -13. made sweeping the 7 inches of snow off my ginormous driveway/walkway a rather beautiful huff and puff. 11 minutes left of beautiful solitude before the kinderhuetti goes on vacay for 2 weeks (play group keeps the same holidays as the schools). i’m gonna miss them
please excuse the rambliness/randomness of this post (far and above the yuge) – i’m more in mind of wanting to see something posted instead of saved draft …
it is hard being a mom right now. i have a schizophrenic child. during the day he is his usual, jovial self. he wakes up happy, he eats well, he naps as normal/regularly and plays all the same. except for a little more attachment during play (really doesn’t like being alone on the floor for more than 3 minutes) he is the same as he always was.
but the nights. ugh.
there is no normal here anymore. it used to be that bedtime was 7/7:30 and after a bottle we’d go and read a story and say goodnight to a few things in the room, then plunk and little fuss. sometimes he would cry for a bit – 10 or 15 mins. but less than often not. and those nights would be scattered in with the predictability of the rest. and he’s wake in the morning about 7am. but now … i really never know what i am going to get. for the past 4 – 5 weeks.
it started with him waking up in the night (anywhere between 11:30pm to 1:30am) and wanting to be fed. that hasn’t happened in … a long time. but i figured, hey growth spurt, no probs. then that once waking up turned into waking every 2 or 3 hours. then that turned into waking UP earlier and earlier, by a half hour every night until it was 4:30am. then it turned into “only mama can get him to calm down”. and that turned into me sleeping in his room after the middle of the night bottle (neither me nor tim are getting quality rest, as you can imagine). and now he’s giving grief when it’s time to go to bed in the first place.
my mind has been all over the map:
- growth spurt? seems to be over now if it was …
- new milestone? he is making gradual progress on the crawling, but does it warrant this? in the past his nighttime milestone disturbances have lasted 1 week, tops.
- solid food? ah, the catchall for “what the fuck?” who the hell knows? i have stopped feeding him anything that could be ‘upsetting’ to his tummy … basically all the kid has been eating for 2 weeks was rice cereal, apple/pear sauce, pumpkin, carrots, and whatever combos of that. really. boring. but it didn’t seem to make a difference.
- he had a cold for about 3 weeks … ? we even got a humidifier. but it’s gone now ….
- was/is it just a quadruple whammy of all these things? again, wtfk ….
i am having the most crazy dreams now that my sleep is all over the place. of course, just at the time i feel i need to be the best rested as we are soon entering the frenetic holiday time – which i am so looking forward to but am not blind to the energy required for it all. i don’t want to turn up exhausted, hand over a baby and then go find an empty bed for a week … but it may happen.
apologies in advance if i forget your present at home/at the airport/somewhere between here and there ….
it will get better. it will get better. it will get better. if it’s still like this by the time he starts school i may have a problem …
i am frankly aghast … the second attempt at having a “weekend to ourselves” was sabotaged. this time by the freakin’ weather! (and my propensity? for migraines)
we were all set: noah getting picked up, beautiful sunny day, motorcycle all repaired (ahem, see last attempt at “weekend to ourselves”) and an easy 5 – 6 hour route all set. it goes smoothly, though i have been basically walking dead on my feet for at least a week, maybe two (who can keep track)? always tired with a baby you say? true. but lately i’ve been in a fog. reasons for this later …
where was i? oh yes, achtung fertig los! it was lovely – rolling hills, nice breeze (even hotter than we thought it would be), nothing too challenging. then, our plans of eating by the lake get nixed as we realize there’s nothing ON the lake. then we’re starting to get cross as we’re getting hungrier and hungrier, hotter and hotter. the storm rolling in for tomorrow is already well on its way to my tired/thirsty/hungry/hot chagrin as my head starts to pound. i know this is not a small thing
disappointed we find an overpriced restaurant with decent salads (originally wanted pizza, oh well) and my head continues to pound stronger. i attempt to lay down in a lovely park, but nothing gives. we gotta take the boring but fast way home so i can get to bed – already nausea is starting to set in …
get home, Tim is irritable (understandably) and i am just … so so sorry for this crappy physiology and wish with all my heart there was something i could do. our “togetherness” goes down the tubes as Tim goes to gaming and i try to nap. later he goes to a bbq as i continue to rest. we will meet again at 1:30am as he’s coming to bed and i get up to pee. sigh.
next day is somewhat better – we share a movie together, but beyond that it’s all a mash up. rainy, can’t inflate our bike tires because we have the wrong style pump, do some cleaning, then it’s off to our various distractions and … ?
so, still not ideal
leaving for church in 10 mins where we/i will pick up noah. just starting to miss him …
he’s growing so fast! his finger dexterity now is amazing. i am still in this weird limbo place where i don’t really know how to play with him, and feel this constant war with wanting to have time to myself to DO THINGS, while not having clear goals about what that exactly is, while not wanting to miss/rush him through.
oh, the battles of the discontent
i have been more tired than usual because i’ve been trying to give actual time for my marriage. noah beautifully goes to bed around 7:30/8pm, but i am still exhausted at the end and want to just go to bed myself. but i’ve been staying up later in order to try to spend time with hubby, and have some time for myself. but the little dude obviously still wakes around 6-6:30am, so the only person that loses sleep is me i have been trying to nap with him during the day, but it somehow leaves me more tired because i just seem to fall asleep when he wakes up … better not to have tried
so yeah, i needed to catch up on the rest – which was nice about not having noah, but …
i guess the real difficulty in all this is that i don’t see this part of parenthood getting much easier any time in the next 6 years … especially if we wanna have another one … my 30s will be a bit of a crazy blur it seems … but hey, making it to 40 with my sanity instact will be a wonderful gift