Rollercoasters, doughnuts and other news

August 25, 2017

Our lovely, unobtrusive Swiss neighbours have moved to the US and are renting out their house. I’ve been hoping for friendly tenants with young, housetrained kids, no vicious dogs and no cats. Our horror of a neighbour on the other side (with the out-of-control bamboo) has about 6 cats and that adds a lot to the already large neighbourhood contingent of roaming felines. I detest these cats especially since one of them peed on my pram and it took me forever to remove the embedded pine-coney hone.

We’ve noticed some activity in the house and I saw two cars parked outside but I’ve not yet met the people. I observed to Al that, judging by their cars, these new neighbours appear a bit low class and scruffy. He then pointed out that, ‘Julie, judging by our cars, we also appear low class and scruffy.’ Oh yes, true.


I’ve said this before and I will say it again and again. The thing that most stuns me about parenting is how it can be both absolutely exhilarating and absolutely petrifying at exactly the same time. It’s a lot like the thrill and adrenalin rush of a rollercoaster.

Last week Megan, Jessica and I went for a walk with the scooters along some farm roads nearby. Jessica doesn’t yet know how to brake. With a burst of bravado and self-confidence, she broke away from my grip on her just as we approached an incline. She then lost control and careened down the hill, screaming in terror. The incident lasted about 10 seconds but in that time I used up my entire body’s supply of adrenalin as I sprinted after her in spite of my 9 month pregnant belly and my bust-up coccyx.

You know how you have those dreams where you need to get somewhere desperately and urgently but you are stuck and can’t move? It felt like that. I pushed my body to the absolute limits in those 10 seconds. I literally galloped, just like a horse.  Talk about a mother’s love. I still couldn’t catch up to her. Do you know how much speed a scooter can gather in 10 seconds? Jessica eventually veered into the verge, tumbled a few times and stood up weeping but remarkably unscathed. I feel like cats get nine lives but children are allocated a lot more. One of my great challenges with parenting is to keep the kids alive and intact without being neurotic and overprotective. It is such an enormous responsibility. I’m surprised I haven’t yet developed a nervous twitch.

Jessica and the potty

Talking about Jessica, she’s now almost fully potty trained. Whoop, whoop – big milestone! My theory is that she was ready ages ago but she was too lazy to give it a go. She preferred to stand still on the spot and continue colouring or watching TV while she did a whizz in her nappy. Now that it is the peak of summer, it is hot and stifling in a thick nappy so she’s been more game to try panties and run to the potty. We leave it in the lounge, so at least there is easy access.

Playing Lego, watching TV, doing puzzles, playing with the kitchen and doll house … while on the potty.

The other day Al said he noticed flecks of poo on the wall in the downstairs loo. This is because Jessica won’t leave her business in the potty and let me empty it. She likes to follow through the process to the very end and do it herself – ‘I do it! I do it!’ – so I must drop what I am doing, spring up from wherever I am and race to prevent her from sloshing the contents across the house as she heads to the bathroom.


I’ve been wondering. The other day, when we were at the self-service bakery section of the supermarket, I caught Megan and Jessica licking their fingers and then gently wiping them on about 6 luminous pink iced doughnuts. Do you think it would have been socially respectful and responsible for me to have then bought all 6 doughnuts? Maybe it depends on who saw them do it. As that saying goes, ‘If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?’ If a child fiddles with a doughnut and no one is around to see it, does it matter?

I asked a friend for her opinion and she said that her son recently popped up next to her at the checkout at the supermarket with sticky brown paws and a miniature toy car. She realized he had just squeezed open a Kinder egg so she reprimanded him and then beetled out the shop at high speed. She felt she spends enough money at this store and why the heck do they put these sweets at adult thigh height and within easy reach of a three year old?   .

Another thing that surprises me about parenting is how completely and utterly dependent children are on us for protection, guidance and moral instruction. They exit the womb as a blank sheet of paper and tend towards the feral. It is our responsibility as parents to mould them and tame them and turn them into well-adjusted, respectful citizens. When I saw Megan and Jessica giggling and pawing the doughnuts, I wanted to grab them by the feet and lasso them across the shop but I also have to pick my battles and I didn’t feel that was one of them. I already have my hands full teaching them how to brake on a scooter and not pee in their trousers, so it frustrates me that shops make our already challenging jobs so difficult by deliberately putting pink doughnuts and Kinder eggs within easy reach of hungry, inquisitive toddlers.

The next phase

One more month and then the baby arrives. I am always so zenned and content in the last phase of pregnancy. It’s not like the beginning bit when I vomited every day for three months. I’m bracing myself for that period after the birth when my hormones ricochet around my body and, for about 3 weeks, I feel like I’ve free fallen off an emotional cliff and I cry for no reason at all.

I will miss my belly. I love feeling the baby inside me, alive and well and kicking about but still safe and protected. It amazes me how I can love someone so much already, before I’ve even met them. As with the birth of all my children, it is strange to finally meet someone for the first time and for which I already have a vast, solid, unshakeable kind of love. The pain is worth it, just so I can meet them once it’s over. It’s an exquisite kind of physical pain. In all the negativity and brokenness of the world, it is special to have and to remember the privilege of having experienced three such moments of peace, beauty and joy.

Our big girl growing up. First day of school and what excitement! Her happy moments recently have been ‘Going to School’.

Megan’s 5th birthday party which we did at home with games and the works. We pulled out all the stops. Kids’ parties are hard core. Al and I were so exhausted and that night we toppled into bed like felled oaks.

Megan and Jessica’s play quirks continue to amuse and baffle me. The other day Megan carried 5 undies on her doll carrier at the back of her bike. I also came across undies stuffed in my Tupperware containers.



August already?!?!

August 7, 2017

I can’t believe we are in August already. I remember this time last year and this time the year before and the one before that like it’s just the other day. This summer has disappeared in a busy blur. In fact, this whole year is flying by. It is as if time is this whirlpool and I am a leaf spinning around the top of it.

I remember before we moved to Switzerland and had kids, I was stuck in a series of grey, stultifying, dead-end jobs and the days were a yawning void of slowly ticking minutes. Now that my world feels more benevolent and my life is happier and fuller and much more technicolor, it has me by the hand and is pulling me along so quickly that my feet don’t seem to touch the ground and I feel like I’m flying.

Jessica’s hand

Megan and Jessica’s school created a mural for the entrance and used the children’s hand prints to create the sun. The picture translates to ‘All these little hands are our sun of every morning’. Here is a photo of it. You can see the hands are arranged in a circle for the sun but there is a random one out of place in the middle of nowhere in the top right hand corner. No surprises there. That’s Jessica’s hand. I’m keeping this photo forever because it’s a perfect memento of Jessica now, at almost three. Al and I reckon nothing sums up her personality at the moment better than this picture – strong-willed, feisty and on her own mission.  Lately she’s taken to calling me ‘Julie’. Megan did that for a while too. Cuddle me, Julie! Juice please, Julie! Carry me, Julie! I feel a bit like I’m her au pair, or nanny or personal slave.

The expat life

One of my closest friends in the area will move away at the end of August. This is the second dear friend who has left Switzerland and it takes a while to adjust and reorganise my life without them in it. It feels like a sort of grief, like a vacuum as I adjust to having them around and then, as if in a puff of smoke, they are gone.

The problem with the expat community is that it is so transient. People come and go and it’s disruptive and upsetting when you meet someone you really like and then they leave. People always say, ‘We’ll keep in touch’ but you don’t. I have enough long-distance Facebook and Whatsapp contacts and it is inevitable that the closeness and day-to-day intimacy and knowledge you have of each other slowly dissolves.

I’m on a quest to widen my pool of close friends so I have more to fall back on when people up and leave. As I’ve said many times before, meeting new girl friends is similar to dating. You check them out, get their number, connect on Facebook, meet up and gauge whether you can take the relationship further. I recently identified someone who has potential. She’s open, gossipy and prone to over sharing – all qualities I enjoy in a friend. We will see what happens.

Just because you are the same nationality, have kids the same age or live close by doesn’t necessarily mean you will become best buddies.  In order to properly hit it off with someone, you must have that intangible connection, that click, and you can’t create it because it is either there or it isn’t. Chemistry between two people is a slippery, elusive thing so the process of finding a decent BFF will take me a while.

My coccyx

This week I’ve been in agony as I’ve bruised my coccyx. Now that I have back pain that is chewing at me, slow and steady like an animal, I realize how physical being a mother is. Bending, lifting, pushing, carrying … did I mention bending? Oh my goodness, motherhood demands so much bending!

Jessica is in the process of weaning herself off nappies and she did her first poo in the potty. Alastair, Megan and I clapped, cheered and had just done the can-can when I decided to sit on one of her plastic chairs and cheer her on at her eye level for the final few pushes. I pulled out the chair and didn’t realize it had tipped and I slammed my heavy 8-month pregnant backside into the tile floor.

The challenge is that my busy life must carry on as normal in spite of my bruised and aching tailbone. Megan and Jessica were vaguely sympathetic, but only at first. ‘Mommy’s hurt herself. I’m in pain’, I said but that didn’t register with them. Little kids are some of the most self-absorbed creatures on the planet. They will stare at you writhing in the death throes of agony and still demand you pick them up, wipe their bum or get them a glass of juice.


Megan’s birthday is at the end of August and Jessica’s is mid-September. I know my children inside out but toy wise, I have no clue what to buy them. Every time I see a toy I think they would love (or I love), they aren’t bothered. The train set – not interested. The indoor play house – never used. Balls and tennis set – forget it. Lego – couldn’t care less. The Cabbage Patch doll I searched high and low for – not phased. Kitchen set – bored of it. VTech camera for children – waste of money. The bikes and scooters – ok, but not majorly time absorbing. The doll’s house – five minutes a day max. I’ve learned that if you are at a playdate and the children are particularly drawn to a toy or game, don’t buy it for your own home. That’s why I refuse to invest in a trampoline for the garden. Once it belongs to them, they will never play with it.

I’ve told Megan and Jessica they should choose their own birthday presents and they seem to like these crappy, plastic made-in-China mini dolls that you can fiddle with and dress with various accessories (or ‘assesseries’, as Megan says). Whenever they get hold of the iPad, they watch toy reviews of these pocket sized dolls on YouTube.

Toy reviews are like infomercials, but for kids. Megan and Jessica are mesmerized by them. It’s crack for children. They watch them in a kind of trance. Toy review YouTube videos are generally not professionally filmed. Some random person will unpack a toy and video themselves describing the various elements of it. Sometimes this person puts on voices and acts out scenes involving the toy characters. You only ever see the toy and someone’s fingers as they play.

Entranced by the toy reviews.

Megan and Jessica most enjoy the reviews of Disney princess dolls. They would rather watch this type of amateur, home-made show than a proper movie. Sometimes the quality of filming reminds me of the Blair Witch Project, but they don’t care. I ration these mind-numbing (to an adult) shows and they can only ‘watch princesses’ as a special treat. When we were at the airport flying back from Chicago, I noticed a kid watching toy reviews on his mother’s iPad. There is no better way to immobilize and quieten down a toddler. A few of my friends said their children love them too. I can’t understand the appeal. Toddlers are such fascinating, surprising, bizarre little creatures.

I will end off with a picture I saw the other day.  It amused me no end because it sums up the toddler years so beautifully: