A General Update

April 30, 2014

DownloadedFile-5I am now 22 weeks pregnant. A friend said that the fatigue one feels during pregnancy is as if you have been drugged or darted, like a rhino in a game park. During my first trimester, I wandered around in a dazed and foggy stupor and felt as if I would topple over any second. Now I have more energy and no longer constantly feel as if someone’s fired an arrow into my bum.

Spring is here! Hurrah! I love this time of year. It is light until late (my favourite part!) and everything is new, fresh and bursting to life. Spring comes with its minor stresses though. For the first time in my life, I have a little garden to maintain. It is growing and growing and we can’t keep up. There’s no respite and the garden is not even that big. Alastair mowed the lawn the other day and now we need to do it again.

DownloadedFile-2I can spend the afternoon weeding and the next day, I will look out the window and a lone weed has popped up in the centre of the lawn overnight, complete with leaves and a yellow flower so it looks like a cherry on my lawn-cake. I want to start a veggie patch and a flowerbed but haven’t had a chance, what with all this weeding and mowing.

The problem is that this garden-related work is dependent on Alastair. I need him to cut thick branches, lift 10kg bags of soil, mow the lawn and chainsaw the hedge. Home maintenance requires a lot of man muscles.

Every weekend, I draw up a list of things we need to. Alastair can’t understand why my to-list contains so many things for him to do. ‘Stop nagging!’ he says and I explain that I am not nagging, I am project managing.

DownloadedFile-6Weekends are full on at this time of year and there is no time to lie in or dilly-dally. One Saturday when Alastair was pruning the hedge with his electric saw, our French-speaking Swiss neighbour yelled over that we are not supposed to make any noise between 12h00 and 13h30 every day and no noise whatsoever on Sundays. This means we must do the most intensive garden work on Saturdays within the allocated hours. Saturdays are already manic as that is the time to buy garden supplies and weekly groceries because all shops are closed on Sundays. Saturdays are exhausting.

Megan is delightful. She knows about 10 English words and her crèche teacher says she understands French. She waves au revoir (“ov-va”) and says oui. Our cul-de-sac is full of kids who play hopscotch on the driveway and ride their bikes until late. Megan loves tagging around older children and she chases after their bikes like a happy puppy. One day there was a knock at the door and 8 year-old Louise from next-door asked if it would be ok if Megan came out to play. I hesitated, ‘Well, she is only 20 months old…’

I always imagined the sleepless nights and a child’s boundless energy would tire me most but I find that I am most drained by the culmination of small moments during the day when I have to assert my authority and enforce boundaries. Nappy changes and getting into the car are prime examples.

DownloadedFile-7When I smell a dirty bum or see the full nappy hanging like a hammock between Megan’s legs, I dread the rigarmarole involved in changing it. Nappy changes take ten times longer than they should. Megan refuses to lie down and get it over with. I’ve abandoned her changing table because she prefers to stand on it and survey her surroundings below. If I change her on the floor, she hops up and dances round the house while I hold a fresh nappy in my hand and plead with her to return. I have to chase her, grab her and then pin her to the ground while I force it on.

I have noticed that she is limp and submissive when I change her on some sort of unfamiliar precipice such as on a rickety changing table in the shopping centre or in the car boot where her legs dangle off the sides. I need to simulate something like that at home.

I wonder if all children hate getting into car seats? It must have been easier in the 80’s when there were no security rules for kids and our parents chucked us in the back seat. Megan prefers to stand in her seat and when I force her in, she wails, knashes her teeth and stiffens her body so it is like bending a plank of wood. Once she’s in, I’m flustered and frazzled. She quietens down and then rips off her shoes and socks in protest. It’s the same procedure every time we get into the car, which makes even a quick journey down the road seem like coordinating a mission to Mars.

Alastair is participating in a competition with some of my extended family. It’s called The Biggest Loser and the aim is to see who can shed the most weight in 6 months. Al has lost 2kgs in 2 months. I am not sure whether that is good or bad but it has made him more disciplined food-wise and so I’m thrilled.

images-53I couldn’t care less if I have a tubby hubby. What bothers me is that he has heart disease in his family, favours a carb diet, doesn’t exercise and has a reasonably stressful job and I suspect this combination is not good. I’ve tried everything to get him to change his ways with no success. I’ve trialled the blunt, direct approach – ‘YOU’RE FAT.’ I’ve tried subtle, gentle diplomacy such as, ‘Is it necessary for you to have grilled cheese on toast for breakfast? Can’t you eat cereal or muesli like everyone else?’ Then I changed tactics altogether and told him it turns me on when he displays self-control in his diet and eats a balanced meal. That got him listening, hence the 2kgs in 2 months.

So, life is busy but good. I still wish I had the self-discipline to write more blogs. I enjoy the process so much but all my down time is spent aimlessly and mindlessly trawling the internet, after which I generally feel unfulfilled, empty and guilty, as if I have just eaten McDonalds or watched porn. But that’s a whole other blog …


Expats and BFFs

April 9, 2014

When I met Alastair and realized he was The One for me, I was relieved that my dating days were over. No more break ups. No more putting my soul through the wood chipper. No more blind dates. No more navel-gazing and hyper-analysing compatibility.

images-56Now, it turns out, I am back in the game. This time I am not playing it for a boyfriend but I am on the look out for a new girl friend.

At least this time there is none of that debilitating loopyness and intensity that I experienced in my early twenties when searching for the perfect man. I don’t check my cell phone every 30 seconds or arrange situations where I accidently bump into the person on purpose.

I have dear and treasured friends but they don’t live here. I need a special, best bud that lives 5-minutes down the road and preferably in the same village. I suspect I may soon be forced to break up with my current girl friend as she has been spending weeks in South Africa and I bet she may soon move back for good.

I have lots of lovely mates but they are the kind to whom I say, ‘You free next Thursday for tea?’ or ‘Come over for lunch on Sunday 25th April’. It’s all planned and unspontaneous. I am on a quest to find more of a chum who I can ring up for a random natter. I am not the popping-in type but I would like someone who I feel relaxed enough with to phone up and say, ‘I’m at a loose end this afternoon – want to come over?’

I’ve noticed the search for a girl friend involves many of the same characteristics as finding a husband. You check the person out, arrange a few meet-ups/dates and have some probing chats to assess compatibility. There are a few sad break ups when people leave town and sometimes I wonder if I will ever find a Best Friend Forever (BFF) that meets all my requirements and with whom there is that infamous, almost chemical Click.

Living in Switzerland is unusual. I am not fully integrated into the local, French-speaking culture so I hang around a lot with English-speaking expats. Being friends with expats comes at a price because people are always coming and going and, I would say, 70% of them are not here for longer than 5 years. I feel like I am constantly making friends and losing friends. I build a friendship circle, then someone leaves and I need to recalibrate and start again.

The standard greeting when you meet someone new is, ‘How long have you been in Switzerland?’ and then, ‘Are you here permanently?’ When people say they are here on a short-term basis, say 3 years or so, then I subconsciously pull back and a little voice in my head tells me not to invest too much time and energy. Usually these short-termers work for the American government (at a place they call “The Mission”). Some of them are the loveliest people but I can’t get too emotionally attached because three years flies by and then the next minute, they are gone.

images-58Another challenge is that people go home for long periods. Things shut down over the summer and Christmas and everyone vanishes. Or people go back home when the weather is bad or they can’t cope with the kids. Or, their family and friends visit so they are otherwise occupied for weeks on end. That doesn’t happen in other places. It’s a weird set up and I’m weary of investing in people who have one foot here and another foot somewhere else. Next time I meet someone, I am just going to ask upfront, ‘Where are your feet?’

During the three years I have been here, three people who I have been particularly fond of have left. When people move on, they say things like ‘Let’s keep in touch’ and ‘Let’s still be friends’ but you know deep down that you are breaking up. Our lives are so busy and it is unlikely you will maintain the friendship other than superficially on Facebook.

Just as with finding a man, you need to find someone with whom you are compatible. I need someone who is from my tribe, who thinks in the same zone as me and who operates in a similar groove. You can’t be best pals with any old person simply because they are also South African or also have a child aged 19 months. Many friends introduce me and set me up on blind dates with South Africans. ‘Julie, I know a lovely South African girl. You should meet her.’

The problem with making a special friend is that I have all these “requirements”. It would be great to have a close friend within walking distance, who speaks good English, who doesn’t travel home overseas every five seconds and who intends to stay here long term. There are lots of lovely people around but few with whom I have that unexplainable, intangible flow or click.

images-57I’ve realised I enjoy the company of people who are into healthy-living and general wellness. I don’t expect Megan to always eat rice cakes and hummous but if I am going to spend lots of time with a BFF, I need them to be on the same page, wellness-wise. I once met a girl who regularly feeds her kids those American cheesy goldfish biscuits and it took five wet wipes to get the luminous yellow colorant off Megan’s fingers. That date didn’t go beyond the first one and I thought, ‘We can’t be best mates. I would go through too many wet wipes.’

Another deal breaker is when people have an extremely laissez-faire, chillaxed approach to parenting. I had a play date with a girl who let her 10-month-old baby tottle around with a sharp pencil. I had to body shield Megan as he waddled towards her, pointing his weapon at her eyeballs. Again, I knew I couldn’t take that friendship to deeper levels because I want to feel at peace leaving Megan with a BFF in case of an emergency or should I need a babysitter.

Being an expat in a foreign country can be very lonely, especially during the grey, dreary winter months when there is nothing much to do but visit people in their homes. Expats have no family nearby so we need friends.  There is nothing more grounding and comforting than to have an extra special one that can stand in as your sister, just from another mother.