Adventures in bilingualism: two years on

The mother is in a language limbo, the eldest child now faced with Swiss German in kindergarten while the smallest only understands English despite being born and raised in Switzerland by Swiss parents. It's been nearly two years since we left London Town. Time for an update.

The setup

For our children's sake, our family language is still English. We want our kids to grow up bilingually, which is relatively easy since Mister M and I are both fluent in English and we have a lot of English speaking friends locally here in Zurich. But of course things have changed since we left the UK and the English speaking territory. Here's how...

The mother

Two years into our life in Switzerland, it appears our language set-up has brought me into some sort of limbo. Most of the local mums I hang out with are English speaking - I didn't actively search for this, rather it just happened. 80% of my week is being spent speaking English; to my children, mummy friends and husband. I have the occasional chat in Swiss German in the shops, to my old friends, relatives and Mister M which accounts to about 20%. Most of my social media interactions are in English, and I only read English newspapers, magazines and TV shows, just because their cultuture still feels closer to my heart. And here's the language limbo: of course I'm still fluent in Swiss German, although even there I often struggle to find the right words. However, Swiss German is a spoken language only. For writing I use English and German. My English has become less complex and rich because I'm not fully surrounded by the language anymore. And my High German, which we Swiss use for writing, has become very lousy. I haven't used it much during the past 8 years and it bothers me a lot that I can't write in German properly anymore. Of course I can write stuff but I used to be able to write complex, intelligent things which my current level doesn't allow anymore. So I'm a bit stuck with two inferior language skills. As someone who loves writing and the complexity of languages, this is bothering me a lot.

The 4.5 year old

Big Sister arrived in Switzerland as a three year old with poor Swiss German levels. For 18 months now she's spent regular time with all four of her grandparents and a babysitter. While English is still her mother tongue, she's become near fluent in Swiss German. Her English is flawless, the Swiss German still accompanied by many mistakes but she can talk fluently and her accent is a very Zurich town one. She started the local kindergarten last week and loves it. She doesn't say much there yet since it's all Swiss German and High German, but her German will improve quickly and she'll open up soon. Also, the kindergarten offers free German classes twice a week to the non-native speakers which will help too.

The 1.5 year old

Little Sister is our other language guinea pig. She was born in Switzerland to two Swiss German native parents but has been raised in English since birth. She's around Swiss German speakers sporadically only. During the past 6 months she's been more interested in developing her physical skills (which is so often the case with younger siblings, it must have to do with walking being a more efficient survival skill than talking if you have to defend yourself against an older sibling all the time). She's only very recently started to pick up new words every day, and they're all English. She understands a lot in English but not much in Swiss German. It'll be interesting to see how this develops but I'm sure her German will be better and the English poorer compared to her older sister once she starts kindergarten in three years time. 

This is how things are here language-wise. Other than that I think we've all settled well in Zurich by now and enjoy the peaceful lifestyle here, compared to hectic London.

Four years on: have I finally learned my lesson?

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Mid April I decided to take a break from all my work stuff because I started to feel it was getting too much again. The weather was bad all April, so the weekly Forest Playgroup was cancelled anyway. Also, I had a good look at my Wunderlist and postponed all work-related tasks generously. The only thing I kept doing throughout April was processing shop orders if there were any but none of the additional stress of doing advertising, worrying about how to increase sales and so on. Instead I started reading a book (Under A Mackarel Sky, Rick Stein's autobiography) and watched TV (currently Rick Stein's food documentaries) - both luxuries I hadn't allowed myself to do for years. Furthermore I started a Swiss food blog, but just for fun so no pressure there. I'm mad about food so this little food themed holiday makes me so happy!

It's been three weeks now since I stopped the work stuff, and I have to say it's amazing. For the first time in four years I don't feel stressed. It's the first time since Big Sister was 6 months old, four years ago, that my work day ends already at 8pm when the kids are asleep and that my weekends are proper downtime and time to get other things done. I feel so relaxed. And I can enjoy family time with my beloved ones without constantly having to think about those work related tasks that need to be squeezed into every free five minutes I can gather during the day. Don't get me wrong, it's far from a life of the lady who lunches. There's still two little ones to look after, including countless nervous breakdowns of immature little brains that need emotional first-aid, siblings fights to solve, hundreds of questions of a four year old to answer each day, and whatever else it takes to raise two happy children, hence never more than a one minute break during the day, and the work day still only ends at 8pm and I still do the night-shifts with at least four wake-ups. So, I still have an, at times tiring, full-time job with long days. But for the first time in my life as a mother I give myself a little bit of pastime instead of squeezing another job into every spare minute I can find.

So, why did I ever start this double job thing and why haven't I stopped it earlier? For one, I love to work (but I also love spending the first years with my children like my mum did with us, which is why I didn't take on a regular daytime job). I love creating things and find out whether other people like it too. Also, even though it may be only a little money, it's nice to have some money to spend which I earned myself rather than spending my husband's money. Secondly, after Little Sister was born, a big part of doing all that work was my attempt to forget how much I missed my life in London - I did have an emotionally very tough time adjusting to life back in Switzerland. And lastly, for another large part, I did it so I can be 'someone'. Because, if you're a stay-at-home mum (SAHM), officially you're out of work. I hate every situation when, at a new doctor or anywhere else where I have to get registered, someone asks: 'Do you work?'. If you're a SAHM, you're requested to say 'no', because they have to tick the 'no' box. But then, what's the difference to a nanny who looks after two little ones full-time? If she was asked that same work-question, they would tick the 'yes' box. Just because the two little ones I am looking after were produced by myself, I'm officially not working. Where's the logic in that? Also, I hate the German word for stay-at-home-mum - Hausfrau (housewife). It sounds as if all I do is stay within my four walls, operating the washing machine and calling my friends. But anyway, I know that my negative thoughts have more to do with my own perception and my struggle to shake off societal prejudices. It might have taken me a shocking 4.5 years but I can honestly say that slowly I am feeling like a valuable (and valued) person in our Western society, despite not having a paid job. I just need to find another word for Hausfrau and for the question 'do you work', because that just really annoys me.

I love my current break so much that I even don't know whether to go back to my work things or not. I still plan to get myself organised with work for when both kids are in school. But that's another three years. Do I really want all this pressure for three more years? Because, let's face it, a person like me who needs a lot of sleep won't create a business empire during those embarassingly short evening shifts and the weekend slots I'd rather spend with my family or doing something relaxing or fun. Neither do I make tons of money. And the kids are only small once, so maybe I should just plainly and fully enjoy them being small while it lasts. But then again, I do like working and doing something unrelated to parenting. Aah the 'you can't have it all' - the same questions for every mother, no matter whether she's in employment or at home. I've only been on this break for three weeks so it's too early to make a decision. But I'm thinking about it while enjoying more of this awesome break. 

It's Mother's Day today and officially it's the day to say thank you to mothers, but in my particular case it's more about saying thank you to my husband. That he's put up with me and my struggles to feel valued as a SAHM for such a long time and that he's given me all this time to do the work I so much needed to do. He's been so patient during all these years. I think it's time now for me to give some family time back to him.

Lastly - Happy Mother's Day to all the mums out there. Whether you work full-time, part-time or whether you work in private childcare as I do, you're all doing a fab job, even though there will always someone be who says you're doing it the wrong way round. Just ignore them, keep going and know that you're doing great.

Turnaround

turnaroundI was in a pretty bad shape when I wrote that Frazzled Mind post. I guess it was the attempt of my sub-consciousness to tell me that things were really wrong and needed correcting. I did try to correct them, however without much success; the plan was to go on a week long holiday to the Swiss Alps where Mister M does a big share of entertaining the kids so I can rest. The problem was, Little Sister, then 14 months old, spent her first ever week in the mountains and really suffered from altitude sickness. Her nighttime sleep became worse than it was already, and during the day she was in a bad mood and wanted to be with me all the time. When we were back from our 'holidays', I felt near breakdown and became increasingly nervous about how to manage looking after the kids. The thing is as a stay-at-home mum, you can't just call in sick at work when you're sick, because, your kids don't attend any childcare so you're going to look after them no matter how you feel. There must be some major breakdown happening until you feel eligible to hand your kids over to your husband (who has to take time off his work) or your relatives for several days. But so it happened. My body couldn't cope anymore and made sure I stayed in bed by giving me a nasty ear infection. It was incredibly painful and not fun at all, but I was immensely thankful for this illness so I could stay in bed, finally, and recover from a long winter with countless sleepless nights. I'm a huge admirer of the American-Hungarian doctor Gabor Mate. His belief is that body and mind are inseparable and that, for finding the root of any illness, both need to be taken into account. A thought which is old news in Chinese medicine and many other cultures, but a bit of a novelty in our Western medicine. There are some amazing videos of him speaking on Youtube, my favourite one is When The Body Says No. It's a talk about taking care of yourself when caring for others, for example if you're a parent, but the talk goes far beyond that. He shows how most chronic illnesses have their roots in psychological matters, and how for example high-achievers typically suffer from exactly the same chronic illnesses. He also talks about how guilt, suppressed anger, wanting to please others and other emotions and human traits have a direct impact on our health. It's a fascinating talk with a lot of facts and insights that are new to most of us. I would highly recommend this talk to anyone. I re-listened it when I was in bed with my ear infection and realised once again how much of his advice I finally have to take on board. My illness reminded me very much of the economist Joseph Schumpeter's principle of 'creative destruction'. It means that sometimes destruction has to happen in order for something new to emerge. This applies for economics, but also very much so for people and their illnesses. After a week in bed I felt better than I had ever since Little Sister was born 14 months ago. My recovery period was paid with the high price of other people cancelling all their plans and taking care of my girls, hence I was determined not to let this happen again. I can happily say that I've changed quite a bit in my life in the past few weeks and it seems to work. Here's my 5 step plan to more wellbeing.
  1. Kaizen. I'm a huge fan of the Japanese principle Kaizen (Continuous Improvement), a strategy used in business where employees at all levels of a company work together proactively to achieve regular, incremental improvements to the processes. The key to Kaizen is to continuously make small improvements, observe the outcome and make more small improvements. It can be applied to personal life too - make improvements, observe, decide on more improvements and never give up - it's easy to fall into a routine and not realise that things could be smoother, so Kaizen is a good reminder to keep working on making our lives better with tiny steps.
  2. Rearrange the home and keep it tidy. Rearranging rooms and keeping the home tidy has a huge therapeutical effect on me. Ever since we moved into our flat half a year ago, there were two rooms whose arrangements never satisfied me, I didn't know why but it somehow just felt wrong. Once I felt better after my ear infection we rearranged these two rooms and swapped some of their content, and now our home finally feels right. I don't know much about Zen but I think we managed to bring that Zen calm into the house with these rearrangements. I also did a big tidy up and have analysed our shit spots (the spots in a home where clutter constantly starts to pile up) and am now determined to keep these shit spots clutter free. I feel like an eagle, constantly trying to spot clutter and instantly put it away, and I'm now tidying up a tiny bit whenever I'm home, and it seems to work. It looks a lot tidier. This really makes me feel good. I've also invested in some bits and pieces like a daytime blanket for the bed and a nice basket to put in clutter that needs to go upstairs or downstairs. Small things that can make a big difference in terms of a neat looking home, providing a calming effect for the nerves.
  3. Being very strict with myself. Now this isn't easy for me. I have a mind full of ideas and an even bigger urge to write and create things, but I realised that at this stage in my life, resting my body and not trying to be an over-achiever is more important than anything else. I have become very strict with myself. I'm in bed early each night, at 9pm latest and sometimes even at 8pm (because Little Sister's sleep is still a bit rubbish, which, due to the newest research is due to the genetic setup and not how we deal with their sleep, which is what I always believed), and I now rather let some of my work stuff untouched for a week or more if needed. I still love doing stuff but I'm now taking it very easy, getting on in slow-mode. I know I don't need to prove anything to anyone (above everything, not to myself, which is the hardest part!), and my family and I benefit from me feeling well and in a good mood. I know it's a no-brainer, but not an easy one to follow for people like me.
  4. De-cluttering. I have started the process of de-cluttering and selling things/giving them away. It's immensely liberating.
  5. Wunderlist. After several attempts of having a task list on my phone I downloaded Wunderlist, and, oh my goodness. Finally I found a task list I actually use. I love it. For me, apps and I have to click, we have to love each other, otherwise I won't use them, as it happened with all my smartphone task lists previously. But this one, what can I say! It's like a mirror of how my brain patterns. It's amazing. I have all my tasks in there now, neatly organised like I always wanted them to be organised, into the categories private and work, with a to-do list for each day and each week. I have to admit, I'm so much in love with it that I now spend a considerable amount of my me-time staring into the Wunderlist, rearranging tasks, planning the week and thinking about how and when to get things done. But it's worth it for me because, finally, I'm cracking on with tasks that have been neglected for months, some even years. And this again feels so liberating and calming. Ticking that little box of a task and hearing the 'task finished' sound, what a feeling. We've now also added our family tasks and can conveniently share the needed information in there, and another ingenious thing I've added is my entire dinner planning. Now, for every day in the week there's an entry for dinner so I easily can plan what we're going to eat. If I have dinner ideas but don't know yet when to cook them, I make an entry without date and like this I have a handy list of soon-to-cook meals for when I need to plan a new week. Nutrition and eating good meals is such an important factor for feeling well and happy, and the constant rush and search for ideas for nourishing my family really was wearing me down. Now every meal is planned in advance which makes me calm and happy.
  6. Meditation. It's been 10 years since I started my Vipassana meditation journey. It's not easy to keep up with regular meditation in the early years of having children - I won't be able to attend any longer retreats until they're much older (during a Vipassana retreat you're completely isolated from the world and aren't allowed to talk to people or write messages on a phone), and I just can't find time for that daily, ideal hour or two for the sitting meditation. But I've started to meditate for 10 minutes before I go to sleep to offload the daily stresses, plus I practice the short but very effective Body Scan in bed both before I fall asleep and when I wake up. It seems to make a big difference.
There's, of course, a lot more I could do for more wellbeing such as the yoga classes I desperately want to attend or more exercise, but I'm still in that very intense period with small children who don't sleep well and need a lot of attention, so for now the above changes already make me feel so well and happy. The kids grow so fast and the storm will calm and leave me with more time for stuff that's good for me. For now, I'm just grateful for everything I'm blessed with.

My frazzled mind and me

I've been a mum for four years now, and even though my life couldn't be more different compared with my previous, career-focused life, I've never really thought I had changed much in these past four years. Until I took this online psychology test last week. They say life with small children is chaotic, and even though it can be a bit hectic at times it hadn't occured to me how much my life has plunged into chaos. Before I had kids, when I was working for a Swiss bank as young, aspiring professional, when I spent my free time in the gym taking care of body and mind, when I was spending most of the weekends either on my race bike or mountain bike, when I was reading countless books, alternating between novels and self-help books, and when I spent my money on classical concerts and nice dinners, brunches and coffees, I was a perfectionist, living in my own small tidy world. All my tasks were neatly written down on to-do lists, I followed a regular schedule for exercise, healthy diet and downtime. I was the one who never ever forgot a date, or borrowed money that needed to be paid back, birthdays or any other occurrence. My flat was tidy, every little thing was in its place, I spent countless hours planning and preparing dinners for my guests. I loved being organised and feeling on top of the game. But being a perfectionist with enough time to think about my life also meant that I never felt accomplished, I was never completely happy as there was always this nagging feeling that something was still missing, no matter how much exercise I did or how many tasks I completed. I was constantly on the search for happiness and fulfillment. IMG_0897When I tried to answer the questions of the above online psychology test I was baffled. Many of the questions focused on how we do our planning, how we tackle and complete tasks, and so forth. My old self, my autopilot, wanted to answer them in the way I used to be - always organised, thinking ahead and acting on time. But after giving it a little more thought I realised that this wasn't me anymore. As much as I still perceive myself as the organised person, in reality I'm far away from it. I receive phone calls from doctors who are waiting in their practice for me, I've got several task lists spread around the house on paper and electronically, but I never remember checking these lists nor do I ever have the time to actually tackle one of those tasks. I have absolutely no clue anymore whom I've lent which book or CD or whatever, at least once per week I'm wondering in the evenings why my mascara doesn't come off, only to realise that I never applied any in the first place, and the amounts of times that Mister M talks about something he had told me before but I can't remember it is starting to become worrying. My frazzled state of mind is a combination of an enormous lack of sleep (normal baby sleep plus countless colds, stuffy noses and fevers of two children who won't have anyone else staying up at night with them other than their mum) and too many projects going on; in my little time when the kids aren't present I'm running an online shop, a new British foodie blog, plus I run a weekly forest playgroup and admin a Facebook group that has literally exploded in the 12 weeks of its existence. There are so many things in my mind, and that mind doesn't even work properly due to all the tiredness, plus there's two little ones around me all day every day, one of which won't stop talking for more than half a minute and the other one requires a lot of attention due to being one year old, so it's probably no wonder that I've lost most of the control over my life. IMG_1671Now, this makes me wonder - is this just a temporary situation in my life and therefore will I go back to my old, organised and perfectionist self once the kids are older and life is less hectic? Or are these years going to shape my personality for good? I don't know. Nor do I know which version of Fran I prefer better as both have their pros and cons. Being able to keep everything in order made me feel calm and happy, but the constant search for fulfillment brought its own uneasiness. On the other hand I absolutely hate not being in control of things, forgetting stuff on a daily basis and constantly being unsure whether I messed up another appointment or not. At the same time this crazy busyness means that I don't even have half a minute in the day to think about whether my life has a purpose or whether I feel fulfilled or not. So, both versions bring their own aspect of happiness and both come with a certain feel of uneasiness. I do hope that further down the line a middle way will fall into place. I love the action filled days, but I could do with a bit less tiredness, a little bit of downtime and a lot more free time to spend with my darling husband. And a clear mind. I do crave a clear mind. But for now I try not to dream about the middle way too much just yet and instead enjoy the intense years with small children to the fullest. It is a very short time and will pass far too quickly.  

Back in London

When looking after little ones full time, the biggest sense of achievement you can ever achieve in your daily life is having managed to keep everyone fed, clean and happy for another day,  which is really not that exciting. This weekend, I feel like having achieved something bigger for once, and it feels good. I managed to take my girls to London for five days, all by myself. Little Sister started walking just two days before we left, so the time in the confined seating space of the airplane and all the visits in my favourite shops just got a little more complicated. But we managed. And it was great. IMG_1217The journey to my old stomping grounds in  South West London takes roughly five hours. A five minute train ride from our Zurich train station to the airport, then a 1.5 hour plane ride and then 50 minutes on the DLR train and tube. The journey there went ok, although after having spent the time on the plane it's usually a bit difficult to keep the kids entertained in the dark and stuffy tube for another hour. A taxi would have been easier but Little Sister screams without end in cars so I preferred the tube journey. I traveled with one big suitcase for the three of us, no buggy (Big Sister walking, Little Sister in the sling). Once again I was touched by the kindness of the Londoners. IMG_1284Wherever I had to change trains or get up some stairs or escalators, one or more people offered me their help with the suitcase or the children. In Zurich these offers rarely happen. I had missed London so much and was so happy to be there, and combined with the many kind offers for help, I was fighting my tears of happiness and gratefulness. The journey back to Zurich was a bit more difficult. For one, I got the change from tube to DLR wrong at London Bridge. It's a large station and there are two ways to walk from the Northern Line to the DLR - the one is stairs up and stairs down, the other one is with lifts. I never know which way the lifts are, and of course I got it wrong once again this time, so I ended up carrying my nearly 23kg heavy suitcase plus baby up the stairs and down again, while trying to persuade my very tired four year old to walk to the DLR without breaking down. The flight turned out to be quite stressful too. IMG_1023Little Sister wasn't able to fall asleep at the airport and found it even more difficult in the plane and cried and screamed for a long time. Furthermore Big Sister was very tired and said her tummy hurts because she needed to do a poo but didn't want to do it in the airplane. Plus there was a lot of turbulences due to stormy weather when we left London. So there I was, scared of the turbulences myself, trying to soothe a screaming baby while figuring out what to do with the tired and crying four year old that needed to do a poo. Oh the joys of traveling with children! But somehow we made it back home. In such times I think of my teacher monk at Doi Suthep, the Buddhist monastery in Thailand where Mister M and I stayed for a three week long Vipassana retreat. In that retreat, at the very end, we were requested to stay in our tiny single room for three days without leaving it, meditating day and night, no sleep allowed. It was an incredibly tough three days and he kept telling us that we can get through this and any other difficult time in our lives if we take one hour after the other, even one minute after the other, without thinking about the end target. This approach has helped me so many times already, it also helped me this time in the airplane when both children were crying and several  passengers looking at me in annoyance. IMG_1264The stay in London was great. I've missed South West London and my old neighbourhoods Balham and Tooting so much and it was so very nice to be back. Also, our good friends and former Balham neighbours offered us to stay at their house which was lovely. Their two boys and our girls get along incredibly well and we grown-ups do too, so we spent many happy hours together. Probably the best hour of all was one evening when, magically, all four kids were asleep by 7.15pm and our Nepalese dinner delivery arrived shortly after. My friend, Miss K, and I were so happy about our luck that we were dancing in the kitchen to celebrate this amazing occurrence. As you can see, it takes very little to make mothers of small children happy... The girls and I also met up with some other old friends, and it was nice to see how the four year olds got along so well even though they hadn't seen much of each other for the past two years or so. What's more, I took the girls to lots of places where Big Sister and I used to hang out in Wimbledon, Tooting, Wandsworth Common, Colliers Wood, Clapham and Battersea. It felt great being back but it also made me a little sad as I still feel so much at home there. We also bumped into several old acquaintances from our old London life which was lovely. IMG_1221One thing that made me think it was, despite everything, good to move away from London is the crazy traffic. It takes so long to get to places and with two children in tow it can get tiring when traveling around all day and every day, especially if they're hungry or tired. Zurich is so easy in terms of public transport and accessibility. This was my first trip with two children on my own and I was a bit nervous about it beforehand. But it went well, despite a badly teething and not sleeping baby, and we all had so much fun. Also, it made me so happy to be back in London. I am a little proud of me to have done it, and for once, I do feel like having achieved something larger which feels great. We're now back in Zurich and I'm looking forward to my projects here. I've just opened my online shop with British kids things called Goose And Parrot and the new British Club Zurich which I initiated a few months ago is organising a Zurich Pancake Race on Shrove Tuesday which I'm really looking forward to too. I'm going to run my forest playgroup Wild Tribe Oerlikon again once spring gets closer, and in my Facebook group Around The World In A Year, the host country changes from Israel to China this Monday. Maybe I should write a post about all these projects. Another time though, for now I say bye bye internet. The past week has been great but  exhausting, so I'm going to bed for a well earned rest.  

The year 2015: Oh, boy!

121-2165_IMGIt's the last day of 2015 and the year seems to want to leave me the same way it treated me ever since it started - after (yet another) four days in a row without sleep. 2015 has been both absolutely amazing but also extremely tough. Two weeks into the new year, Little Sister was born. I absolutely love the first year of a child's life with all the snuggles, smiles, new discoveries and pure joy they bring to one's life. But for me this time round it was enormously difficult too. The start was not so easy with an emergency C-section, followed by mastitis and nipple thrush which made the start of breastfeeding incredibly painful and difficult. After that there was the usual first year baby stuff such as nightly feeds, sleep regressions, paired with now two children who can't sleep due to stuffy noses, coughs or fevers, once autumn came. We've had several serious bouts of siblings rivalry/jealousy too which takes a lot of energy - either you stay calm and understanding and absorb all of your children's frustration and deal with this accumulated negativity later on when you're alone, or you get angry to get rid of your own stress immediately and make everything worse. Often this year I was simply too tired to stay calm and understanding, so I've added to the girls' tears myself and wasn't the mummy I want to be. That said, the main reason for my tiredness and not being able to keep cool was that I was extremely low on iron and Vitamin B12. I should have known it but only realised it this summer after several years of exhaustion. After two iron and B12 intravenous infusions late summer, I felt as fit as I hadn't done in years. So, very silly me, but with a lucky ending at last.

photo 4I might not have achieved as much as I wanted this year in terms of work - I crave the opportunity to use my brain as I'm a workaholic stay-at-home mum - and I was tired a lot, but it's still been an amazing year. Our daughters were a joy to be with, we've had some great family time and holidays, plus I'm immensely grateful for my local mummy gang who keep rescuing crappy days with playdates and a good chat, and, after years of tiredness Mister M and I have managed to watch the entire BBC Apprentice season and I'm nearing the end of the first novel I've been able to read in years. Plus, we have a roof over our head, enough money to buy food and everything else we need, we have amazing families and friends, healthy children and live in a stable country. That's a whole lot to be grateful for. 

The biggest thank you goes to my amazing husband, Mister M. It hasn't been an easy year (or years) with an ever tired wife who makes herself even more tired with her urge to do some work besides raising the girls full-time, and a frustratingly never-ending series of events such as sleep regressions, illnesses and jealousy that shake up family life time and again, as soon as things *finally* seem to settle down for once. Mister M keeps supporting me and the girls and helps out as much as he can while he keeps hoping for an easier and quieter life. The girls are still small and it will get easier. There will even be a time when I'm going to be able to stay up at night for an entire movie. But that's an serious milestone and still some time away. Until then we keep enjoying the good days and remind ourselves that the kids are only small once with all it brings - it's utter joy and all the hard work.

Thank you Mister M. I love you forever.

10 Things I’ve learned from 12 house moves

  1. My books are the soul of my home.  Without them it doesn't feel like home. But they must be sorted by colour, not by height or any random order.
  2. I like living in the front row. Our Tooting (South London) pad was in a busy high street just behind a busy bus stop. Now we're overlooking a square lined with restaurants and shops. I love it.
  3. Our new Zurich flat is in a newly planned, former industrial area. Everything from buildings to parks is lined up in rectangles and squares. This regularity makes me feel at peace, I guess there's a bit of OCD in me.
  4. I love open plan kitchens. It means I can spend time cooking a little more elaborate meals while the kids can play next to me or  while I can talk to my husband. This one truly makes an enormous difference for me. Small kitchen = rushed cooking in a confined space while kids are impatient.
  5. I'm grateful for my inside toilet. When I lived in Glebe, Sydney, the toilet was in a shed at the other side of the garden. The nightly visits did freak me out a little since the police were looking for a rapist in that neighbourhood. I've dealt with many other outside, walk-around-in-the-night-toilets in China, Vietnam and some other places. Inside toilets are sooo good.
  6. Strange one: We're now living in a maisonnette flat. It's the first time since I moved out of my parents' house 17 years ago that my place has stairs. It makes me feel more grown-up and like a real mama.
  7. I've gone all the way from not having to open the windows due to crappy old single glazed windows with lots of draft (Balham, London) to not having to open the windows due to high-tech triple glazing with automatic ventilation (Zurich).
  8. I loved living London's Victorian house dream but won't ever miss the never ending supply of mice we were hunting each evening and all the chewed food packages and mouse poo in the kitchen.
  9. I lived in the same house from birth until 19 years of age. After that, I lived in 12 flats (plus 2 years of traveling) within 17 years. I don't know anymore what it feels like to feel properly at home somewhere, nor do I know how restless I'm going to be once we do settle somewhere for 'good'.
  10. I spent the first 19 years in a small town. After that I either lived in the middle of Zurich, Sydney or London. Zurich is as small as I can go today.55_018_resize

One Year Back Home Anniversary

This week is a special week. A year ago Big Sister and I arrived in Zurich for a new old life here. Mister M had to stay in London for some more weeks and Little Sister was still in my tummy. We've been here for an entire year now, have been battling the re-entry shock, put down new roots, met old and new friends, got to know the kids stuff in Zurich and we introduced a new family member to the gang. Time for a little retrospect.

Re-entry shock

I was prepared for this to happen, and happen it did. Being back in Switzerland after 6 years abroad was quite a shock. Now, 12 months on, I've got used to most things again - the high prices for everything, the reserved and sometimes rude people, the more rules and less pragmatism. I still don't quite feel like belonging here but I'm at peace with how things are here.

Where is home?

This is something I'm still struggling immensely with. I'm ok with the Swiss way again and I enjoy my time here, but the UK still feels like my spiritual home - I guess my heart has stayed there, at least a large part or it. I still miss it a great deal which makes me sad pretty much every night when I lie in bed. Also I still don't fully feel settled in Switzerland. So on that front, 12 months haven't been enough time to turn things around for me.

Lifestyle

Admittedly, despite my heart still being somewhere in London, life with kids is way easier and more enjoyable in Zurich than in London. There's so much to do and everything is so easily accessible. Plus it's clean (we didn't live in a posh London area, and there was rubbish all over the place), quiet and calm. 

Close to family

This is one of the reasons why we came back. It's great to live close to our families again. But this also means getting involved in family dramas again which can be mentally draining at times. The geographical distance to one's family when living the life as an expat can be a bit lonely, but at the same time easier on the nerves.

Climate

On this one, London will always win. My favourite seasons are spring and autumn, so the mild winters and cooler summers of London are totally my cup of tea. Also, somewhat surprisingly, London receives only 50% of the rainfall that Zurich does. When we arrived in Zurich we first dealt with the here usual 4 months of winter fog, plus a long and cold winter with lots of snow and then a crazy long summer with constant temperatures between 30-35 degrees. Far too hot for me.

Friends

A definitive win for Zurich. We came back to our old friends (not all though as it's nearly impossible to maintain all existing friendships while abroad for 6 years and many have moved away) and I've made a great bunch of new, superlocal mama friends here. This is in stark contrast to London where most of my existing mama friends moved away to smaller towns or abroad before we left too.

The kids

Even though Big Sister still talks about her favourite London playgrounds sometimes, I think the kids prefer their Zurich life. There's a lot more to do without long distances to travel and since nearly every playground is equipped with water and sand and there's a lot of forests, lakes and rivers too, outdoor play is a lot more sensory and imaginary (mud, sand, water, sticks, stones) than just fenced playgrounds with rubber floors with equipment to climb on and jump off. Also, I much prefer the thought of Big Sister starting kindergarten next year and then being able to play for two more years rather than starting her academic journey in a year's time like her London peers will do.

So, you might wonder as much as I do what my verdict is after a year in Switzerland. It's been nice to be back, but I still don't feel at home here. They say that the re-entry shock lasts up to two years - as much time as it takes to settle in a new country as an expat. So, let's wait another year and see how things change till then...

Sweet beginnings

Nothing about the journey of settling in a new home country is quite so sweet as the very beginning; it's not unlike meeting a new baby straight after birth. It's the exciting new and foreign, coupled with being blissfully unaware of future annoyances and difficulties, and the sheer excitement about creating a new life somewhere new. There's something very fundamental I remember about every new country I settled in. It's not in my consciousness, it's something that captured all senses and is deep in my sub-consciousness - smelling a smell or hearing a song connected to that time throws me back there instantly. The arrival of the cooler and rainy days of autumn here in Zurich makes me remember our start here almost a year ago. And again, there's this warm and fuzzy feeling of arriving somewhere new. Time to think about my past arrivals. Sydney (2005) In my early twenties I travelled a lot in England and Scotland; once I even lived in Edinburgh for three months, working in a youth hostel scrubbing floors and 139-3923_IMGcleaning toilets. My travels in the UK eventually lead me to Sydney where I lived with my former Australian boyfriend and studied for my Cambridge Proficiency certificate. My sweetest early memories of my Australian beginnings are the early mornings, walking from the North Sydney apartment through the frangipani trees lined streets with their beautifully exotic blossoms giving away their lovely smell, into Greenwood Shopping Plaza which I had to walk through to get to North Sydney train station. I remember vividly the smells of fresh coffee in the shopping centre - the Aussie coffee has remained the best coffee I've ever had (sorry Italy!) - and the sights and smells of the for me exotic Aussie food and drinks takeaways like the Boost smoothies, Australian delis and Asian food. Then, after the train ride to Bondi Junction my short walk in the already hot sun to the language school and the downstairs café where I used to stop for my daily bacon and egg roll and flat white before the lessons started. It was an exciting fresh start in my life with an open end (I might have ended up staying and living in Australia) and even now it gives me happy goosebumps when I think of these morning trips from North Sydney to Bondi Junction. London (2008) While it was the morning commute in Sydney which stayed as my sweet first memory, it is the breakfasts that stayed with me for our London IMG_3913venture. When Mister M and I arrived in London we stayed in a temporary flat right next to Wandsworth Common, South London. It was a teeny tiny flat on the 9th floor of a former council house. From our kitchen window we saw across the entire south of London right to the City and beyond. It was a hugely exciting but also a worrying time as we were in London with only little savings left from our travels and without jobs, but at breakfast time we used to forget all our worries. With a mug of home-brewed coffee and the then still exotic smell of a warm, toasted cinnamon and raisin  bagel we used to gaze out of the kitchen window across the town that was about to become our home. Nothing short of magic. Zurich (2014) You never know which part of your daily routine in a new country will stay as your sweet memory that gives you this warm and fuzzy feeling. For ZurIMG_7781ich it is an evenings memory. We arrived in late October when the skies turn dark soon after 4pm, and when the weather is often cold and foggy. My warm and fuzzy memory is walking home with Big Sister and heavily pregnant, from our afternoon activity that was often either the GZ (community centre) or the library in those early days. Walking home feeling my heavy bump and having sweet feelings about this soon-to-be cuddly baby and at the same time missing Mister M who was still in London because of work and being aware that Big Sister was having a really hard time being away from London and her daddy, feeling the cold and dark evening on my skin and anticipating the warm and cozy home, with the bittersweet feeling of being back home and missing London an awful lot. These were my sweet beginnings. It looks like we're going to be here in Zurich for the forseeable future, but I do hope there will be another sweet beginning of some sort sometime. Because I rather like them.

A Fish In Foreign Waters

Laura Caputo-Wickham, the author of the children's book 'A Fish In Foreign Waters', asked me to write a review of her story which is all about bilingualism. Since bilingualism is a big topic in our family, I was more than happy to test her book with Big Sister. fish foreign watersAs a teacher of gentle parenting courses for toddlers (ToddlerCalm - excuse me for the not yet updated teacher's profile as I'm still on mat leave), I can say that story books are one of two big helpers for helping children through difficult, life-changing  transitions. Even when they speak fluently already, small children are not that verbal yet, but on the other hand incredibly multi-sensory, so stories and role play are my top tips for preparing children for big changes such as moves (both just house moves an international moves), new siblings, starting school, and so on, and also for helping them heal from emotional upsets or trauma. When I prepared Big Sister for our move to Switzerland unfortunately I hadn't known of this book yet and there was no other such book I knew of, so we weren't able to read stories about moving to another country (we did lots and lots of role play though). She's now nearly fluent in Swiss German and speaks it to grown-ups, but still prefers playdates with her English speaking peers. For us, this is the perfect time to test-drive this lovely story about Rosie, a fish who moved to another bay with her parents, where both language and food were different from where she used to live before. At first Rosie felt uneasy around her new, foreign language friends and missed her old friends, but she soon realised that being bilingual and living in a foreign country is not always easy but at the same time exciting and that this makes your amount of friends double. fish foreign 2When Little Sister was having her lunchtime nap today, Big Sister and I sat down with a cup of tea (yes, she loves her English tea) and we read A Fish In Foreign Waters. She loved the story and we had a long chat afterwards about her own situation, how she doesn't like meeting up with Swiss German speaking children and how Rosie, the fish, was in the same situation but eventually became very confident and in her new environment. I could see how the story made my 3.5 year old think and how it helped her become more positive about her Swiss speaking environment. Right now we mostly hang out with English speaking friends and she's about to start an English speaking playgroup, but in a years' time she will start the Swiss German speaking kindergarten and I'm quite sure this book will help us immensely during the coming months to help her enjoy Swiss German playdates and to prepare her for the big transition to Swiss kindergarten. Tonight before bed she asked Mister M to read this story again, so I think it has made quite an impression on her. And for me, I truly enjoyed reading the story too. The illustrations are lovely and I'm a big fan of rhyming stories, so for us A Fish In Foreign Waters has been a pleasure to read and I'd highly recommend it to families who are about to or have moved to a foreign country. "And this is not something all folk can say, I guess I am different in a cool sort of way!" (A Fish In Foreign Waters) A Fish In Foreign Waters (Laura Caputo-Wickham), CHF 10.85 (free delivery worldwide with Book Depository)

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