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.

7 months and a few good nuts

Our seven month anniversary in this [not so] foreign land brings with it the reality that those gloriously long Summer days that I so lovingly referred to a couple of months ago get replaced by short Winter days and loooong Winter nights.  Our sun currently rises at 07:26 and sets at 16:56.  I’m not complaining as Winter also brings with it the promise of cosy evenings in front of the fire, woolly jerseys, beanies, gloves and scarves, Christmas markets, hot roasted Maroni nuts, cheese fondues and of course, this …

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pretty pink cheeks after a very cold walk home from school.

We are no longer ‘new’ to Switzerland and yet everything still feels so new and unfamiliar.  We are learning our way around a fairly complicated schooling system and Julz is in the midst of testing for high school next year to see which tier she will fall into.  Guys, my baby is going to high school!!! (When did that happen?  I swear she was two just yesterday.)

Until then, we are soaking in the delight of primary school as it is not as intense as back home with a strong focus on play – letting them stay little for just a little bit longer.  There is also a strong emphasis on creativity and Julz is now pretty comfortable using a hand saw as well as a sewing machine (both skills learnt from Hand Craft). It almost feels like we’ve enrolled her in Scouts or Girl Guides as opposed to formal schooling.

Language is also a big part of the schooling system with German, English and French all being taught in the local schools.  My guardian angel, Heidi, gives Julz extra French lessons after school which gives me a good excuse to join them for a cup of tea and to listen to my child being taught another language in another language.  I am in complete awe!

As for me, learning a new language has come with many challenges.  When my nearly 40-year-old brain actually remembers a word, I am often unable to get my tongue around the word to pronounce it correctly.  The good side to this though, is that I am providing Julz with hours of entertainment as well as added opportunities for her to practice her German because she’s constantly needing to correct me.

Luckily for me, the people here are extremely patient and kind and are happy for me to fumble my way through this journey with little judgement.  The Swiss have a bad reputation for being cold and closed off but I’ve come to learn that they are just overly polite and don’t want to intrude on someone’s personal time/space.  We joke that the Swiss are like nuts, difficult to crack.  Once you’ve cracked that outer shell though, they are warm, wonderful and genuine people.

We’ve managed to crack a few nuts so far and our little circle of 3 is gradually growing into a beautiful community.   One that feels a little more like family.

Benito is already in his second month of work and whilst I don’t envy his early morning wake-up calls, I do envy the fact that he has somewhere to be every day with a purpose.  I’ve never been a stay-at-home mom so this transition has been a tough one, but we have set some goals and will work towards bridging this gap in the new year.  Also, I booked my first photography shoot!

Speaking of photos (my language of choice) … this is what we’ve been up to lately …

The Chinese Gardens in Zürich

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Hiking from Uetliberg to Felsenegg

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Caumasee

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My cows.  I visit them often and they’re starting to know me (Swiss cows are happy cows).

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