A normal life

2 years of living in Switzerland and life is … well, normal. A new normal which contains excessive amounts of chocolate, phone calls back home and the use of the F-word to get me through my days. A new normal where I am now a mother of a teenager. A new normal which includes a foreign language, one which on some days still feels as unfamiliar to me as the day I arrived. A new normal where cups of coffee are shared with loved ones over the phone instead of around a kitchen table. A new normal which includes driving on the right wrong side of the road. A new normal which feels a lot like falling into a swimming pool and not knowing how to swim.

Before we left, everyone said that it would take approximately two years to feel ‘at home’ and familiar with our new country. Two years later, and I can honestly say that it still feels as familiar to me as my brother-in-laws-sister’s-husband’s-uncle’s-cousin’s-ex-wife. The language is a huge hurdle for me. I spend an enormous amount of time learning (and re-learning) my German words. I have literally adapted my learning technique to that of a Grade 1 student and now use flashcards as my learning method of choice. I have weekly on-line lessons with a private tutor as well as a weekly in-person lesson with another Tutor (aka my Guardian Angel, Monika), although due to the arrival of Covid-19, these have now been replaced with weekly telephone calls. “Deutsch mit Heidi” was also (pre-Corona) a much anticipated weekly cup of coffee and catch-up with my favourite neighbours in German.

So much of who we are is expressed through our language and not being able to communicate proficiently means that so much gets lost. Humour and quick witted responses are a thing of the past, it’s difficult enough to think of how to respond to someone well enough to be understood, let alone to come across as intelligent, charming and funny. Often by the time I have interpreted a passing comment of a friendly stranger, that person has moved on before I’ve even had a chance to think of how to respond.

English is and will probably always be our home language and my language of choice although as time goes on and thanks to the current lock-down, our home has come alive with the sounds of German. Julia, who is now completely fluent in German, spends all day, every day video calling her friends. Whether she’s doing school work, playing a game or lounging on the sofa, her phone is always on and connected to one of her friends. So much so, that there is absolutely no chance of walking around the house naked on slumming it in our PJ’s because, and I learnt this lesson the hard way, someone is always watching.

As with everywhere else in the world, the Corona virus brought our schooling year to an abrupt halt. The shut-down was announced on the news at 15:00 on a Friday afternoon and by 9:00 on Saturday morning we received a letter, in the post, from the school confirming the same and outlining the way forward. The teachers scrambled to put content and classes together and by the following Tuesday morning we were back up and running online – Swiss precision! Much to Julia’s surprise (and my delight) the teachers had also included some extra activities which needed to be done, documented, photographed/filmed and submitted … learning a new dance routine, baking a Zopf (Swiss bread), washing up and vacuuming the apartment!

We are now in our 5th week of lock-down and I am not hating it! In December Julz turned 13, which felt no different to any other day however as we entered into 2020 things started to change. My once shy little girl had turned into a confident young woman who suddenly wasn’t scared to venture out into the world with her friends, catching buses and trains to get to her destination, managing her own money and returning after dark without a care in the world. She was loving and living her best life. I on the other hand, was not. It caught me completely off guard and I felt like I had opened my motherhood toolbox only to find that all of the tools which I had collected were suddenly made of play dough and of no use at all. I was completely unprepared and just wanted a little extra time with my girl … Corona gave me that and I will be forever grateful. I have unpacked my tools, left them in the sun to bake and although I know they’ll still be fairly useless, I am hoping that I’ll be a little better prepared in the future.

My other child (the fury one) is doing really well. I often look at her and wonder if she somehow knew what she was doing when she failed her gun test that day, sealing her fate to become a Monticelli. Over the last few months, the pressure has eased up and we’re no longer focussed on her training like we were before, if strangers put their hands out to greet her, she’s now allowed to say hello and she sometimes follows this through with a ‘hug’ too. She reminds me of Disney’s Frozen character, Olaf – “Hi, I’m Quila, and I like warm hugs!”

In a little over a year, we will enter a new programme where she will be trained to become a social dog, allowing her to visit old age homes, schools and hospitals. A job which I think will suit her friendly yet gentle personality perfectly. A job where my dodgy German skills won’t matter as much because Quila can communicate her purpose perfectly … 26kg’s of pure love!

Benito has continued to work throughout the lock-down period which means that whilst he doesn’t need to worry too much about who’s lurking on Julia’s iPad he still needs to look presentable for his colleagues. He’d been hinting for a while that he needed a hair cut and wouldn’t entertain my suggestions for a man-bun, so when he turned to me on Saturday morning holding hair clippers in one hand and his phone with a YouTube tutorial in the other, I knew he meant business. I later realised that this was the ultimate test of trust and love … and one which I’m going to insist that Julia does with any future boyfriends going forward, because if you can drop an “Oh f@#$!” whilst reviewing the back of his freshly amateurdly cut head of hair and he responds with “That bad huh? It’s okay, it’ll grow back”, then you know you have a winner!

2 years of living in Switzerland and life is, as you can see, pretty normal. Except that it’s not … everything is different. We’re in it deeper now and the stakes are higher. Slowly we’re all changing, no longer clinging to the sides of the pool, some swimming, others (me) paddling.