Friday, August 31, 2007

We'll talk pretty one day

I seem to have been unclear in my post below about Small Boy's current preference for Swiss over English; I think this sentence is the culprit: "Usually we just go through our day bantering back and forth in this Swiss-English combo; I'm used to it; it's just the thing we do."

R and I do take a one-parent/one-language approach; we're quite strict about it, actually*. I speak exclusively English with Small Boy in private and in public, among English speakers and in front of people - including my in-laws - who don't understand English; R speaks Dialekt with him in Switzerland, Spain, and when we visit my family in the US. But Small Boy really only started speaking in April, and started using sentences only in June. If he speaks to me in Swiss I respond - but in English. That's what I meant by a Swiss-English combo. When he says "Mama! Look! Enteli!" I say, "Ducks? Really? Wow!" If he asks me for Brot, I'll say "You want a piece of bread? Okay. Here's some bread" but I am not prepared, at this point, to insist that he address me in English in the first place, nor do I think it's a good idea to pretend I don't understand him and wait for the word "bread." He knows perfectly well I understand Dialket and German and that I speak German with other people.

I've always assumed that we would have a "speak to Mom in English and Dad in Swiss" rule, and certainly a "respond to people in the language in which you're addressed" rule (that's just common courtesy, really), but I don't think it's fair to insist on that yet, not during this delicate stage when Small Boy is still naming his world, still getting his first taste of the wonder and power of words. His comprehension of both languages is astounding; speaking more English will come (I have to believe that). When he's older, when I think he's ready, I'll start insisting, but I don't think he's there yet. If there is one thing I understand about my son - and some days it feels like there is only one thing I understand about my son- it's that he's got his own sense of timing about these things.

I won't say it's not, as Jody remarked in comments, bittersweet. Not a bit odd to hear the utter Swissness with which he pronouces Milch. But it's a delicate thing. To take a language to heart - that's a profoundly intimate choice. It says something meaningful about how Small Boy sees himself and his place in the world and I need to respect that even while finding a way to pass on my gift to him, my mother-tongue. And not just any mother-tongue but the mother-tongue of Shakespeare and of Steinbeck and of Styron. The language of Martin Luther King's dreams. Of Willa Cather's pioneers and of Rebecca West's lambs and falcolns. I carry lightly in my hands the airy pleasure and the grave burden of passing on this heritage to my Small Boy. It's like handing him soap bubbles. If I push them on him, they pop. But if I pass them on gently, one day he'll float away on these words, words, words.

* I do use a handful of Swiss and/or German words for food. There doesn't seem to be a point to translating Spätzli, for example, even if a good translation were available (I don't consider Spätzli noodle-like); and to insist on croissant over Gipfeli strikes me as a bit absurd.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Swiss Boy

Small Boy shows a marked preference for speaking Dialekt over English. (Yes, we've gone from "is this child ever going to talk" to having a distinct language preference over the course of a summer. Oh, and people coment on what a total chatterbox he is.) I've got a few different theories on this, ranging from gender identification (Dada speaks Dialekt, Mama speaks English) to picking the easier language. I think Dialekt is a very forgiving language; the grammar is more basic than English or High German and the pronunciation is round and muffled and the endings of words are commonly lopped off. For example in English to say "man" you really need to pronounce the final N; the German "Mann" also ends with a hard N; in Dialekt one just says "Ma." "Shopping" in German is "einkaufen" (pronounced sort of like "eye-n-cow-fen") but in Dialekt you can just say "iekaufe" (pronounced sort of like "ee-cow-fa"). (I have no idea how to spell in Dialekt - and anyway, the rules there are kind of loosey-goosey.) He hears a lot of Dialekt, from R and the grandparents and the Tagesmütter, but given the total number of hours he spends with me, I'm sometimes surprised that he doesn't show a bias for English. They call it the mother-tongue for a reason, you know.

And yet he appears to identify with Dialket. Even when we're home alone, just the two of us, he might ask me for something in Dialekt. The other day I made him chicken nuggets for lunch, and I asked him - in English, I only speak to Small Boy in English* - if he would like a honey-mustard sauce for dipping,** and he looked up and said "Oooh, ja, merci! Das ist ganz liebe!" ("Oh, yes thanks! That's really nice!"). I almost always understand him, so there's rarely a situation where I can't answer his question or grant (or deny) his request or respond to his excitement over the latest doggie, bird or tractor to cross his path. (And that's really my ultimate theory on why he speaks so much Dialekt: everybody in his life understands Dialekt, but his grandparents don't understand English. If he asks for oppis zum esse no matter where he is, he'll get something to eat; if he asks for something to eat at The Farm he'll get confusion.) Usually we just go through our day bantering back and forth in this Swiss-English combo; I'm used to it; it's just the thing we do.

But every now and then I can taste the beginning of something Mausi wrote about in the context of expat parenting - I can't seem to find the post now, so I think it might have been in a comments thread, and I'm going to paraphrase here and my apologies if I got the sense wrong. Mausi once said that for her the big negative to expat parenting was that no matter how much English she spoke with her boys and now matter how many vacations to Canada they took, her kids would never be Canadian the way she's Canadian, the way you're Canadian if you grow up there. Culturally, you really have to be there to get it, to really get it. I think that's true, that you only really get the culture if you absorb it day in and out in your daily life, through growing up and sharing country-specific events and news and ways of looking at the world, though the movies and your friends and the pop-culture all around you. Take this post: every US-American of a certain age totally gets it, the rest of you are probably like "Huh?" If you grow up in Germany your touchstones are more likely to be German than Canadian no matter how many Canada Days you celebrate with your mom. And if you grow up in Switzerland...

Small Boy is probably going to be more Swiss than American. Certainly once he starts going to school - the way things stand now we plan on sending him to Swiss public school - the Swiss influences will really kick in. Don't get me wrong, I don't have a problem with that (I married the Swiss guy, after all) but it's odd sometimes to have this face - this face that so strongly resembles my side of the family - look up at me at night and beg "Mama blieb do! Mama blieb do!" ("Mama stay here! Mama stay here!"). In the dark infertile days I hung on to what I thought it would feel like to hear my child say "I love you." It never occurred to me that he might say "I ha di gärn."

Love is love, but sometimes I want the words I grew up with. Sometimes I want the Small Boy to say the things I want to hear. I'll always let him choose, I would never force a language upon him or set one above the other. I'll always let him make that choice for himself.

But sometimes I want him to choose me.

* Although sometimes if I'm saying something to Small Boy that I think a non-English speaker also needs to understand (say, I want a parent at the playground to know that I'm addressing some behavior of Small Boy's) I'll say it in English and then repeat it briefly in German.

** Speaking of honey-mustard sauce, has anybody noticed that when you mix honey and mustard the resulting sauce is thinner than either of the individual ingredients? Any kitchen chemists want to explain how that works?

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Friday, August 24, 2007

The funny part of packing

I just found three months worth of birth control in my bathroom.



The good part of packing

So far I have found:
  1. My mother's Kennedy silver dollar. She always carried this in her wallet and said, "As long as I have a dollar I'll never be broke."
  2. My father's five year AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) chip. For years I thought the block-style 5 on this pendant my father wore around his neck was a block S (for his last name). I don't remember if it was before he died or after that I realized it was to commemorate five years of sobriety. (He ultimately stayed sober - so far as I know, and I have no reason to doubt it - from 1979 until the day he died.)

I kept them together in a little velvet pouch that had gone missing. It had slipped behind a drawer and I found it today when I pulled out the drawer to purge and pack summer clothes.

These are little things, but I have so little from my parents that they're precious to me.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Putting down roots, expat style

For the most part, our coming move is risk-free: we're staying in the same building, after all. I don't have to find new favorite places, new playgrounds, new routes to the train station, new good Small Boy walks; we're just going a few meters down the street. The one change the move will bring will be, of course, the actual apartment. We're going from a single floor layout to a two-floor unit, a change that will have its advantages (I won't hear R giving Small Boy breakfast anymore) and drawbacks (Small Boy is perfectly confident on stairs but it's been really nice not to have to worry about them in my daily life). We'll have the same number of rooms, but each room is a smidge smaller. We don't really need that extra smidge of space but I've grown used to the psychological openness of our spacious main room and I hope I won't miss it too much. You see, I couldn't agree more with what Mausi wrote here: "I think it's so important, especially as an expat, to have a peaceful oasis to come home to after a hard day of dealing with the natives." Especially if you are a non-employed expat, I think your home and environment is crucial to your well-being.

That's why I'm so pleased to have found a place with a little outdoor space in this neighborhood. I'm happy in this neighborhood, and so is R, and I'm not ready to leave here even if we are pretty much paying our maximum allowable rent. A more frugal couple would consider a different neighborhood, but moving to this neighborhood after four years in Small Village changed my life and I'm not ready to move on. The changes, taken one at a time, have been small but taken together they're far more than the sum of their parts. I didn't suddenly find a job - in fact I was employed (in the city, of course) when we lived in Small Village - but I feel closer to opportunities if I wanted them (and closer to child-care that would allow me to take advantage of them). I don't suddenly have more friends than I did two years ago - or, rather, I'm fairly certain I would have met most of these people anyway because I met them through pre-existing networks - but I have far more acquaintances and far more casual interactions with people than I used to. I think the few new opportunities that have come up, like writing for a local English-language magazine, could have been exploited anyway because they are language- and not place-dependent; I e-mail my contributions to the editor anyway. It's not as if moving to the city has solved all my problems. It's simply that I feel like I belong here in the city more than I ever belonged in Small Village.

I've grown terribly fond of this city; we're a good fit. Bern isn't for everyone - it's rather staid and slow to change even by Swiss standards and doesn't have much of a local "scene." Almost all of the exciting concerts or interesting art exhibits go to Zurich, the international organizations are located in Geneva, the bio-tech research firms (and the money they bring) to Basel. If you're a Manhattan kind of person, Bern would probably slowly bore you to death; if you think living in the national capital would be like living in Washington, DC, you'd be disappointed. But I'm happy here. It's a good fit. There's something about the city that has captured my heart. That makes me smile. That makes me feel, like Christina wrote here, grateful to have found this place.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007


We've started packing, slowly for now, boxing up the things that will least be missed by the Small Boy. Ultimately the bulk of the packing will be done on a few days when R takes off work and we ship Small Boy off to the grandparents. He doesn't like the sound of the tape as we seal up the boxes; "Hor üf! Hor üf !" he calls. ("Stop it! Stop it!") But I'm getting a little bit done here and there. It's daunting to see how much there is to do; it's daunting to look around and see just how much there is to pack.

Every time we move I realize how much stuff we've got. A lot of books and music and kitchen appliances. And paper, I've got lots of paper; old journals and childhood poetry and immature Chapters One of many many novels. English language magazines, which are like gold here and go from hand to hand to hand until I realize I'm borrowing a magazine that I brought back from the US in the first place! And because I don't have a parental house to store things in, I carry my childhood and college years with me from home to home - yearbooks and photo albums and keepsakes and college coursework and all my report cards dating back to kindergarden (which really came in handy when getting Small Boy's U.S. Passport). My baby blanket and tattered teddy bears and an old t-shirt of my father's that has been washed to paper thin. That's a weight I can live with; I'm not prepared to give those things away.

But the knicknacks. Figurines and glass bowls and hand-thrown pottery. And the candles and candle holders! Save me from the candles and candle holders! I think it's time to institute a gifting policy like Nadine's: no more knicknacks, please.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Dealing with stress the Swissmiss way

I'm feeling better about Friday's appointment. I over-reacted to the news, especially about the placenta, which is really not a big deal. That's what I do: I over-react, though generally for a short period of time. It's my stress coping mechanism: take a piece of news that could perfectly well be harmless and instead embrace the worst case scenario. That way I get the major worry out of the way up front. Once I get out of worst-case scenario land (a visit of two or three days ususally does it) I find I can face the facts as they are much more reasonably. Skipping over the harmless and going straight to worry level DEF-CON 1 also seems to keep me from living for weeks with low levels of white noise worry in the background.

I seem to respond better (or at least less badly) to a whopping dose of stress for a short period of time than to longer exposure to reduced stress, probably because my number one physical response to stress is insomnia. I do badly after a few days of four-hour nights. I am without a doubt the most unpleasant person on earth after a week of them. (Seriously. Ask R. And Small Boy. They'll agree whole-heartedly.) I had a housemate once who could go for months and months on five hours of sleep a night; she was just one of those people. I would love to be one of those people. I could live a whole extra lifetime if I were one of those people but I'm not. I am textbook non-functional on a lack of proper sleep. Because stress equals insomnia and for me insomnia equals living death, it's best to just freak completely out and get it out of my system.

Which I seem to have done. Get the major worry out of my system, I mean. I do not have preeclampsia. I had one errant urine dip. Dr. Fantabulous would never have sent me on my way without an observation plan if he had any reason to believe I needed one. And sure, all sorts of things can spring up very fast in a pregnancy but I could also get hit by a bus this afternoon, couldn't I? And yet I manage to live my life believing I won't. It's the same faith I wrote about here; or perhaps it is not faith but a willful naivete. But it's how I get through the day. I think it's how most people get through the day. We know in our heads all the horrible lightning bolts that could strike us but most of us in our hearts don't really believe that they will. Of course preeclampsia could strike me, but I don't honestly believe that it will. Even though I know these things happen to ordinary people - people do get preeclampsia, after all, people do lose babies and pregnanices do go south - to people like me who probably, like me, never believed that particular lightning bolt would strike, I chose to believe it's not going to happen to me.

And if it does, I'll do what any good daughter of a US Marine would do: improvise, adapt and overcome. But until then I'm done borrowing trouble.


Saturday, August 11, 2007

Whither pro cycling?

It's not looking good for professional cycling when the team that won eight of the last nine Tours de France can't find a new sponsor.

In the good new column, T-Mobile is staying in the game. And rumor has it that's where George Hincapie will wind up.


Friday, August 10, 2007

Thing one and thing two

I had a regular appointment with Dr. Fantabulous today (I'll be 23 weeks on Monday) and all in all things are going fine (well, kind of - keep reading). After all the nerves and uncertainties of the Small Boy pregnancy (what was that pull? what was that twinge? is that leukorrhea or an infection? is that normal?), I've been quite pleased that I've managed to make it to 23 weeks without finding something to worry about (aside from the whole this is going to change everything thing, that is) and haven't called for a single non-scheduled appointment. So I'm trying not to worry about two little Things that came up today.

Thing one was some protein in my urine. Protein in the urine may be one early indicator of preeclampsia (also called pregnancy induced hypertension), which in the short version, if you don't want to click the links, is something you really don't want to develop. And it is something you really really don't want to see progress. Really. Dr. Fantabulous is not concerned at this point; my weight gain has been slow and steady with no notable swelling, my blood pressure has never wavered, I have adequate amniotic fluid, and via ultrasound Dr. Fantabulous assures me that I have very good blood flow through the umbilical cord (or Nabelschnur, one of my preferred German pregnancy terms). He told me flat out that this is not preeclampsia, though I noticed he wants my next appointment in three weeks rather than the regular four. He gave me a list of symptoms to watch for, and then reassured me that this is not something to worry about. So I'm trying not to worry. But come on. Protein in the urine at 23 weeks? That's up there with blood on the toilet paper on the list of Things you don't want to see.

Thing two is that I appear to have a low-laying placenta. It is not covering any part of the cervix and at this point is not considered placenta previa. If the placenta stays where it is and everything looks like this at the time I'd be ready to deliver, vaginal delivery is completely possible. (I have a strong preference for vaginal delivery if everybody's health permits it.) But, of course, there will be continued monitoring, especially after 36 weeks (assuming thing one, aka protein in urine, doesn't turn into anything that makes getting to 36 weeks impossible or impractical). What I didn't think to ask Dr. Fantabulous until just now is whether he noticed this at the Level II ultrasound and didn't mention it, or didn't notice it (which I find impossible to believe, the man experience personified), or, the ugly possibility, my placenta actually moved downward in the past three weeks. It's not uncommon for a low-laying placenta to move up during the second and third trimesters; I don't know whether a previously well placed placenta can drop*. That would be troubling, I imagine.

Now if both of these Things were to turn into actual issues, I'd kind of be screwed. You see, ultimately the only treatment for serious preeclampsia or eclampsia is delivery right. now. or better yet five minutes ago; and the thinking on low-laying placenta is that since the placenta might shift up as the pregnancy progesses you want to try to go to term.

Um, yeah.

Oh, and I have a yeast infection. At least that's something we can treat.

* I could google that, I imagine, but I don't want to. Besides, my medical degree from Google University pales in comparison to Dr. Fantabulous's credentials.


Sunday, August 05, 2007

Es lebe die Liebe

In response to this political flyer (courtesy of the SVP, or the Swiss People's Party), somebody has been hanging up this poster:

It reads: "Im Jahre 2006 fanden 37.8% der Eheschliessungen zwischen Personen mit schweizerischer und Personen mit ausländischer Staatsangehörigkeit statt.* Es lebe die Liebe!
* Bundesamt für Statistik"

Which translates to: "In 2006, 37.8% of marriages were between people with Swiss citizenship and people with foreign citizenship.* Love lives!
* Federal Department of Statistics"

I wish I knew who to thank.


The fetus made me do it!

I just walked to McDonald's for an M&M McFlurry. It was really good.


Saturday, August 04, 2007

We're moving at the end of the month

I think of it more as changing apartments, since we're staying in the same building, but I guess it is actually moving since although we're only going 30 meters up the street we will be hiring - and paying - movers (because yes, we have that much stuff and you can be sure I won't be lifting any of it at almost 26 weeks pregnant). We will also be hiring - and paying - cleaners. When it comes to cleanliness standards at apartment-handover time the Swiss live up to the obsessive neatness and order stereotype; only the brave undertake cleaning themselves; only the optimistic hire cleaners who do not insure (yes, insure, as in financial insurance) that any apartment they clean will pass inspection.

Now I've never actually done this before, but I've heard stories. We left the house in Small Village nice and clean but since R's brother was the one moving into it we did not clean the electric outlets with a Q-Tip. Yes, that's one story I've heard. Cleaning every slat of every blind and shutter goes without saying. (Have I mentioned our windows go floor to ceiling in every room?) Decalcing the inside of the toilet water tank is expected (remind me to write a post about the calc in the water), though I know one woman who managed to worm her way out of that one somehow. I know people who were told they needed to take the windows out of the frames, clean all the glass, and clean the slots into which the windows fit. A friend of mine fought for six months to get their full deposit back over one cracked tile in the bathroom. Maybe they're all horror stories, maybe my friends just have really bad luck, maybe rental companies try to screw the foreigners (you think?),but I'm extremely curious as to just how exacting our move-out inspection is going to be. And I'm vaguely excited at having something so. very. Swiss. to blog about.

Oh, and why exactly are we going to all this trouble just to move 30 meters up the street? Because we have finally gotten into one of the long coveted garden units with five rooms!

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