Wednesday, November 30, 2005


As seen at Phantom Scribbler
Your Life is Like

Works for me. One day, I shall tell the long serendipitous story of how R. and I met. It involves cancelled plans, a jacket left in the trunk of a car, over-eager Marines, and a broken toe. And oh! am I grateful for that broken toe!

I'm back...

...and jetlagged (though not as jettlagged as Jetlag Boy, who is sound asleep at 10:30 am and no, it's not his morning nap, it's the second half of his night, silly, since he fell asleep at 01:00, which is right on schedule, that being 6pm in Chicagoland) and fuzzy and hazy around the brain. I'm behind on blog-reading, slowly emerging from a news blackout (what? Roger Federer lost a tournament? Sharon left Likud? The Gentech ban passed in Switzerland? When did all of this happen?), and making up a grocery list. I'm turning essays around in my head, and blog posts, inspired by the treasure trove of family photos I looked at all too briefly and now must wait for my brother to pack and ship over to me before I see again. Procrastination being an S. Family trait, I don't expect to be signing for them any time soon, so I took a representative handful back with me. I already wish I had taken more. Among those I took is a photo of my mother looking impossibly glamorous on Christmas, 1953, and one of my father taken in Rome in 1958. A wedding photo. My mother on the couch with infant me and my 3-and-a-half year old brother. Me in my father's arms in September, 1970. Judging from the date and the background, we can only be sitting poolside at The Three Bears in West Yellowstone, Montana. My mother helping my brother walk riverside at Warm Springs (Sun Valley/Ketchum, Idaho) and then there is the photo that captures my father, my childhood, my longings. He is sitting on the banks of a river showing off a trout. On the back of the picture, in my mother's script, it says "The Madison." It was taken in September, 1966. Forty years. Forty years my family has been sitting on the banks of the Madison River.

Of the photos I left behind, there are countless unlabeled photos of my mother's side of the family. A few are tantalizingly labeled in Swedish. Or say simply "Jens, 17 years." Who are these people? What happened to them? Where are they now? I want those boxes to arrive, I want to sift and sort and dig and piece together the past. For now I can only wait, catch up on some sleep, and send out this piece of advice. If swisslovebaby's battle cry is "back up your work!" mine is "label your photos!"

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Thanksgiving break

We're off tomorrow to visit my brother and his family over Thanksgiving. Ten hour plane ride and seven hour time difference. Wish the Small Boy luck. (Uh, wish R and me luck!)

I'll do Sandra's Thanksgiving meme when I get back...

A warm Thanksgiving to my U.S. readers and good times to everybody else!

Friday, November 18, 2005

Expat Parenting

I love being an expat parent. When I read things like this, or this (link via Raising WEG), or this (via Phantom Scribbler, whose post responding to the story is a must read), I have to say: I love being an expat parent. There is the occasional advantage to outsider status, and in my case it turns out that I really don't care what people think about me. (Believe me, back in D.C. where a lot of my friends were Movers and Shakers, I cared about this sort of thing more than I like to admit.) I don't care if people look at me as I walk down the street with Small Boy in the stroller having a whole conversation with him. I don't care if it's unseemly to let him latch onto my chin in public while I giggle helplessly. I don't care if people think he shouldn't be playing with that straw. (Well, yeah, they were probably right since he did sort of poke himself in the eye with it, but we learned that for ourselves and now we know.) The way I see it, I'm never going to do things like the Swiss moms do them, so why bother trying? It gives me remarkable freedom to follow my instincts. I have parenting books (American and Swiss) and I visit the Mütterberaterin monthly, but in terms of the day to day to day interaction, the way I've decided to be with Small Boy, the kind of mother I want to be - I hesitate to call it my Parenting Philosophy, since I think Parenting Philosophies all too often get turned into sticks used to beat other parents about the head and neck with - I just do what feels natural.

Perhaps I would have been this kind of parent anyway, if we had stayed in the States. Perhaps this freedom to follow my instincts and forget the rest is coming from me and from Small Boy and perhaps I wouldn't feel judged at every turn in the States. It's an unanswerable question since we're raising our son, for the moment, here.

I've tried to ponder this before, without much success, and I suspect I will continue to ponder this without much success until I actually spend a year raising a child in the States. I know that what I read and the lives of real parents are very different things, I know that, but when I read these things I find myself wondering how I would feel doing my thing the way I'm doing it now back in D.C. I know that D.C. is an abberation, but it's my reference point, my home town. And I'm fairly certain that the minute I said "stay at home mom" 95% of the people at a cocktail party fundraiser would deem me Boring and Not Worth Talking To, and I say that as a person who considers D.C. her home town and who would like to live there again one day. But it's a lingering suspicion and, frankly, one of the reasons why for the time being I'm more than happy to stay here despite the occasional bout of Heimweh (homesickness).

Maybe it's not being an expat. Maybe it's just that this is a good place to have a young child. It's quiet and clean and safe and child-friendly and I can act like an adult - go out to lunch or coffee with friends, Small Boy in tow - without being shunned. I am never the only person in the grocery store with a kid, rarely the only person in our neighborhood coffee shop with a kid (Small Boy made a friend with an 11-month old girl last weekend - they shared toys, it was so cute!), often not the only person having lunch with a kid. There are playgroups and story hour (in dialket) at the Tierpark and (in English) at the English bookstore. The public Schwimmbad has a family section with a wading pool and a sandbox and lots of trees so you can keep your young child shaded (it's not cordoned off or anything, I just mean that they've put in a lot of attractions for young children). Maybe it's here that frees me as a parent.

There are times when I hate living out my life between two countries, never quiet getting the Swiss social customs right and slowly forgetting - or rejecting - the American ones, but in this instance I think it's a luxury. R and Small Boy and I are carving out our own space, planting our flag, claiming this territory as ours and setting our own social customs. I like expat parenting. There are no expectations but our own.

(I write all this with the full knowledge that one day, perhaps one day very soon, I will say I hate being an expat parent. But for now I'm finding a real freedom in it.)


Thursday, November 17, 2005

WM here we come!

I'm not a big football (soccer) fan, but we did watch the Switzerland-Turkey WM qualifying match last night. Switzerland lost 4-2, but since we had won the first match 2-0 and thanks to the away goals rule, Switzerland is on their way to the World Cup 2006.

Since I don't know enough to say if it was a good game or not, I'll just tell you what was really sad about it all. Starting from the arrival of the Swiss team in Istanbul on Monday it's been one abuse after another. It took about two hours for the team to clear passport control - Alex Frei's passport alone was examined for 20 minutes. You'd think almost two hours would be enough time to get the luggage to the gate, but after the passport control there was an additional 1 hour wait for the luggage. Whenever a team member tried to sit down on a luggage cart or on the non-moving luggage carosel they were abused by airport personel until they stood again. Mission accomplished, because the training for Monday night was cancelled.

Now, this is bad enough but compare it to when the Turkish team arrived in Switzerland: from wheels down in the Geneva airport to the time the team's bus drove away from the airport took about 20 minutes. (That would be the same 20 minutes passport control took to look through Alex Frei's passport, mock him, and make a big show of writing his name on a list and passing it to the other passport agent. Alex Frei went on to score the first goal of Wednesday's game, so I guess revenge is sweet.)

When the whistle sounded at game's end, the Swiss team sprinted like Carl Lewis for the locker room but not all of them made it there without being attacked. One player was sent to the hospital with internal bleeding (link auf Deutsch).

What is it with football fans?


Wednesday, November 16, 2005


Small Boy wakes up from his nap and needs me now. He needs to be changed now. He's hungry now. He wants to play now. He wants me. Right now. He is an anchor holding me fast to now when the currents of the past swirl around me. What can I do but change him, dress him, nurse him. He needs me now. I turn on the radio and we dance around the apartment to Bruce Springsteen. I shake my head and whip my hair back and forth. He laughs and reaches out for my newly cut locks. I toss my hair some more, he laughs again. I dance around the apartment in big unselfconscious circles, my son in my arms laughing, reaching out for my hair, my face, and I realize that I am not so very far from home after all.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

What I meant to say yesterday was...

...although the rythmic tap tap tapping of the hammer joins the whine of the power drill in a concert of sound not unlike the forest at dusk - can you hear it, a woodpecker and a coyote join forces as the sun slips beyond the horizon? - this perfect blend of sounds fails to sooth the Small Boy into a blissful slumber. Perhaps it is because he is, like his mother and her father before her, a child of rivers, and the sounds of the forest are too intense. Perhaps his spirit longs for the ripple of water across rocks and through grass-laden banks, the early morning stillness disturbed only by the whistle of fly-line whipping through the air as he lets off the perfect cast, the cast against which he will measure all other casts the rest of his life, the cast that sends his Royal Coachman flying, hovering, then floating downstream until it is lost in the mist. No, he does not like these forest sounds. Like a cygnet - like his mother - he longs for open valleys cut through by trout streams. It is in his blood.

Or perhaps I am projecting. My father - my son's grandfather - was a fisherman. The rivers he fished echo through the summers of my childhood like a fugue. I am homesick for the summers of my childhood today.

I am missing my father today.

I am missing the places that brought my father to life. The places where a piece of my heart lies buried, waiting for spring.

I am very far from home tonight.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Patience was never my strong suit

With God as my witness, if those contruction workers wake up my baby ONE MORE DAY I am going to go down their and go all Texas Chainsaw on their asses!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Back to the drawing board

I'm glad I took the trouble to make a sample of P's baby blanket - I've only woven a few inches and it's clear I need to rethink either my design (an unbalanced twill) or my yarn weights (thick and nubby weft but a thin smooth warp). An unbalanced design combined with unbalanced yarn weights is too, well, unbalanced. I guess a more experienced designer would have known that intuitively from the start, but I didn't. Now I do. That's one of the things I like about weaving samples - in addition to saving you from producing an individual bad project, they're good teaching tools. I now know what happens when I combine too many unbalanced elements in a single design.

I've woven unbalanced twills before, and when it works I like it, so I think I'm going to change the warp weight before I change the design.

But the odds that this will be a congratulations on the birth of your baby gift rather than a shower gift are increasing exponentially...

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

It's a boy!

This post made me put this book in my Amazon cart.

While I was pregnant, we made a point of not finding out the sex of the baby. I suppose if I were pushed, I would say I often wanted a girl during my pregnancy, in large part because I didn't think I would know what to do with a boy. But then there were those times I looked over at R. and could just picture him father to a son, and then I wanted a boy. I wanted to watch R. show Small Boy the tractors and threshers at his parents' farm; to build little dams in the same woods he built dams in as a child; to be boys together. I think R. would say he often wanted a girl so that he could watch us be girls together. At any rate, we had gone to such lengths to get me pregnant that I can honestly say all we wanted was a live birth. When I was briefly hospitalized with contractions at 34 weeks I wasn't thinking boy or girl, I was thinking birth weight and lung maturity. The contractions subsided, my doctor sent me home, and I carried Small Boy to term. When I went into labor, the sex of the baby was still a mystery.

Now, nine months on, I can't imagine any baby other than Small Boy. I can't imagine a girl, and I can't imagine a boy with a different personality. And I know exactly what to do with him. He likes when he hold him high overhead and play airplane. He likes to be held upside-down. He likes when I zip around the house in my office chair with him in my lap, making screetching tire sounds and pretending to crash into the walls after taking the corners too fast. He likes his buckets, but his favorite toy is pilot/mechanic (pronounced "pilot-slash-mechanic"). He is all boy, and I wouldn't have him any other way.

The thing is, when the baby was born, it wasn't like the movies. Nobody said "It's a boy!" and held him up for us to see. The baby was placed immediately on my naked chest and then covered with one of those metalic warming blankets that marathon runners get at the end of a race. I stared at its little face, so alert, staring back at me with big dark eyes, and counted fingers, and said "Hello. Hi there. I'm your mom" over and over. And this sounds unbelievable, and it is unbelievable to me now because he had such an old man face when he was born he could only have been a boy, but for the first two minutes we didn't know if it was a boy or a girl. Nobody told us, and we didn't check. And in those two minutes I fell in love with my child. Not my son, not my daughter, but my child. My child, unencumbered by my stereotypes or my pink- or blue-colored expectations.

I'm so glad for those two minutes. In those two minutes I saw my child as it is and I fell into a pure uncomplicated love. And only then, only then when I was so far hopelessly gone that it didn't even matter, did R. say "We have a Small Boy."

I'll always treasure those two minutes.

It's a boy.


The stuff of his daily life

Small Boy has memories. I don't know why this surprises and delights me, but it does. Perhaps if I spent more time reading my baby books I would have been looking for this, waiting for it, but these days I'm spending less time reading my baby books and more time reading my baby.

Small Boy remembers things. Not just faces of the people he knows, not just what comes next when we put him in his high chair, not just that objects continue to exist when we move them out of his field of vision. He remembers events, good and bad, and realizes that events can happen again.

I often take off Small Boy's socks by grabbing a bit of sock down by his toe and pulling and tugging, gently yanking his leg this way and that. This sends him into waves of Small Boy laughter. If I want to send him over the edge, to transport him to the very heights of Small Boy ecstacy, I pull off his socks with my teeth, shaking my head and making little growling noises. I did this the other night, then with a toss of my head flung the sock into his lap. He picked it up. I picked up the other end in my teeth and played tug-of-war with him. The apartment echoed with sqeals and shrieks of uncontrolled Small Boy delight. It's possible that no human being was ever so happy as Small Boy was just then. Every time I released the sock, he lifted it high in his little hand, like the Olympic torch, and pushed it towards my face. Do it again, Mama! Do it again! We finally settled him down again and put him to bed. The next night I was all business, no sock games. The night after that I tugged off his sock with my hands and he grabbed it, held it high, and all but shoved it in my mouth. Do that thing you do with the sock, Mama, do that thing you do with the sock! He remembers the game, and he asks for it. Developmentally, I don't think this is a big deal at nine months, but I'm astounded. He has preferences. He makes requests. He remembers the silly games I play with him, if only for days, all the silly games that make him so unbelievably happy now and that he will not remember when he is fifteen.

He also remembers the bad thing that happened to him. He has a sign with his name on it in wooden letters, the kind that have animals and objects winding around the letters, apple for A, book for B, like little puzzle pieces. My father-in-law made it after Small Boy was born, and it was hanging on the front door of our house when we got home from the hospital. It is very heavy. The wood the letters are fixed to is a piece of two-by-four, the real deal. It is in his room, on the floor at Boy level, tilted against the wall. He likes to play with the letters and try to take the little animal shapes off. You can see where this is going. The other night it tipped forward and pinned his little hand between two-by-four and floor. He cried and screamed and wailed and I was worried something had been seriously damaged, but we were lucky. Some scraped skin, a lot of tears. Surprisingly, he's still drawn to it, and last night crawled over to it to try to pull the animals off. I sat right next to him and kept a hand lightly on the wood to keep it from falling. Once it rocked forward, though, and if I had not been there (this is an adult supervision only toy, but obviously even when I'm there things happen) it would have fallen. When the board moved, Small Boy stiffened and his eyes went wide and he started to cry. He remembered - after it tips, it falls. When it falls, it hurts. He has a small fear - though not enough fear, I noticed, to keep him from fingering the letters.

He is building his world, piece by piece, out of the seemingly silly cotton candy fluff of our days. These things we do, the socks and the animals and the walks in the park, they are the building blocks of his life, and he is busy building. The other day, I saw that he has already poured the foundation. He's got plans, this little boy, he's building his life, and he looks to me to keep the material coming.

Do that thing you do with the sock, Mama, do that thing you do with the sock!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

He's come a long way, baby

Small Boy's morning nap just passed the magic 65-minute mark: he can wake up now and not be a total Howler Monkey for the rest of the day. His nap is noteworthy because they're renovating the unit below ours. By "renovating," of course, I mean somebody gave power tools to all the Hounds of Hell and set them loose right below our apartment.

When I think back to this, it's a wonder he's napping at all, power tools or not.

He's come a long way, baby.

Library Thing

Raising WEG and PhantomScribbler have convinced me, and I'm starting to put our books into LibraryThing. Cataloging will be slow, because

  • I'm behind on two deadlines for a Writer's Workshop (and yet I'm writing this post!), and

  • I have ten days to weave a baby blanket for my friend P's surprise baby shower, and I have not even finished dressing the loom for the sample. The sample is not even done. Unless you weave that is all probably meaningless, so let's just say I'm in deep doo-doo in the baby blanket department.

  • The final catalog will be far from complete, because many of our books, including all of my academic books, are in boxes in storage, where I think they shall remain. Certainly there is no need for the political science books to ever darken my doorstep again. As for all the fiction that's boxed up somewhere, I think that too will probably remain boxed up. (You can see why this post struck a chord with me.) Although I love my books to the point of fetishizing them, I really really like the asthetic of a leaner, cleaner bookshelf. What that means is that my LibraryThing library will tilt towards newly published works - mostly books I've bought since moving to Switzerland. Since English language books are quite teuer (expensive) here, and because international shipping from Amazon is never free, I haven't bought as many books as I used to in the old days. So the library, she is lean. But, I like to think, healthy.

    Sunday, November 06, 2005

    Friendship can be bought

    I may have mentioned that Small Boy's goal in life is to touch Cat. I may also have mentioned that Cat's goal in life is to never ever ever be touched by Small Boy. In fact, in a perfect world Cat would not even share a home room with Small Boy.

    However, if accidently Small Boy should get some Kalbfleisch-Kartoffeln on his hand and by pure chance dangle his hand towards the floor - by pure coincidence, mind you - Cat will lick Small Boy's hand!

    Cat. She's prideful. But she can be bought.

    Thursday, November 03, 2005

    Tower of Babel

    Small Boy has a doctor's appointment tomorrow, so I've been trying to put together a food log of what solids he's been eating the past few days. I wrote Kalbfleisch-Kartoffeln (veal-potato, which, by the way, the Small Boy would eat twice a day every day if we let him) for yesterday and potato-pumpkin-zucchini for Tuesday. His apple-pear mixed with grains came out as apple-pear-Getreide. Strange. My list, made only for myself, is half in German and half in English. Okay, Getreide is just a good word - that's what it is, after all, but using two words for potatoes on the same list? What's that all about? It would seem that when they are paired with Kalbfleisch, potatoes are not potatoes, they are Kartoffeln; and when they are paired with zucchini and/or pumpkin, they are potatoes. Huh.


    Wednesday, November 02, 2005

    When babies attack!

    Winterizing the stroller


    Tuesday, November 01, 2005

    Cat, your days are numbered...

    ...for the Small Boy, he crawls. And he's coming your way.