The Times They are A-Changing

One of my least favorite things about living here is actually turning out to be really good for me. I feel like that sentence might sum up my whole time in Geneva. Things that I think are terrible or stupid or backwards actually end up helping me or improving me or keeping me from doing something bad. Case in point: the time difference. It is my very least favorite part about living in Europe while our family and closest friends live in the States. It means that when we travel back to visit them, we are jetlagged. Not just us but our children who are too young to understand what time is let alone why we have time zones. I mean, Forest thinks two minutes is longer than five minutes. All they know is that they slept in until 9 am their time which unfortunately translates to 3 am East Coast time and I spend the next four hours trying to keep them quiet despite it feeling like lunchtime to their little confused internal clocks.

But this morning, I decided I should actually be grateful for the time difference. I got upset about something petty that someone had done. I said something to Josh but then wanted to keep griping about it to a friend or two (or three). I went to find someone to call or text or send a g-chat message to and realized “They’re all asleep.” That was the first step in gaining a little perspective. This perceived slight was not worth waking up my close friends or family members to whine about it. But I really wanted to. I wanted to get everyone to validate how I was feeling. I wanted to say, “Can you believe this?” and have someone say, “No, I cannot believe it. You are exactly right to feel as you do.” But my closest friends were fast asleep. I pictured how angry they would be if I woke them at 3 am. Instead, I had to sit on this grumbling for six hours.

I recently read a book about envy and it talked a lot about how we treat one another. One pattern the book identified is that envy always involves taking something even it is just taking from someone’s reputation by speaking poorly of them. When I envy someone’s busy life and make comments about how she should probably take more time for herself it is a small but appealing way to cut her down. Or if I see someone prioritizing his time differently than I do and I judge him. That was exactly what I wanted to do this morning. But I did not just read the book on envy and say, “I want to keep this whole envy thing up” but rather, “Wow, I should probably try to change my ways a bit.” And that is when I recognized that maybe this whole time difference thing is a blessing in disguise. Instead of sitting in front of my computer or on my phone and spewing meanness, I went for a walk with our dog. I thought about why I was reacting so strongly and recognized envy and malice (my most prevalent character flaw- just ask Josh who sometimes affectionately calls me Captain Malice). I had six hours to decide how to react and ended up choosing to not say anything else. And honestly, it did not take all six. It probably took one. I even made a productive game plan for how to address the issue with the proper person and did not mention it to anyone else.

I am not anywhere close to where I would like to be with regard to envy and malice. I don’t want to struggle with them. But I do and maybe that’s just another reason we moved to Geneva. God’s got to make sure I have six hours to think through anything mean or dumb I might say or do. They say you should count to ten before saying anything you might regret. Well, I just get to count to 21,600. And I might need all of those.

The dirtiest word

For the most part, I really like the medical system here in Switzerland. See my previous post about delivering a baby here. And when I had my gallbladder out five weeks after that, I thoroughly enjoyed my stay. My hospital even sent me a Christmas card. Josh says he thinks they are trying to drum up business. “Remember us if you have other extraneous organs to remove. And Merry Christmas too.” I think it’s more like the time we spent so much at Cabela’s that we qualified as a corporate client and were sent a ham. I am probably in the top ten percent of guests for the hospital- not the best but certainly a frequent visitor.

The one part of Swiss health care that I do not like? The pharmacy. Ahh, the Swiss pharmacy. It sounds amazing. Many people love it because they can get all sorts of cosmetics there that you cannot get in the States. I’ll admit it. I love some of their products. If it were simply a cosmetic store, I would give it an A+. But as a pharmacy, it is somewhere in the D range. What makes a good pharmacy? Well, the first qualification is a drive through but alas, that will not happen in Switzerland so I will forget about that. No, I like my pharmacy to be efficient, organized and helpful. Our neighborhood pharmacy is none of these things.

I have a prescription I need to get filled every month for a year. I went into the pharmacy to get a refill in July. The pharmacist asked for the paper prescription that my doctor had written. I gave her the benefit of the doubt. It was a little confusing because my mom had filled it for me in June while I was in the hospital. So maybe this lady needed to see the paper copy to verify the prescription. Sure. Then August came. I went back in to get my refill, presented my insurance card and ID to a different pharmacist and was told that she needed to see the paper copy. I said, “No, it’s in the system.”

She said, “No, our system does not keep track of prescriptions and refills.”

So I said, “But they typed it in the computer last time.”

She replied, “Yes, I see that you have gotten this filled twice here but I cannot give you a refill without the paper copy of the prescription”

To which I said, “In America, they keep that information in the computer.”

At which point she informed me that the Swiss system was completely different than the American one. I almost said, “Yes, obviously since you cannot even keep an Excel sheet of my refills.” But I bit my tongue and unfortunately I got a little teary. The nice pharmacist then informed me she would be happy to sell me these other medicines I had brought to the counter but could not refill my prescription. Please note, these other medicines? Baby shampoo.

Prescriptions in general are different here. I asked my doctor to write me a refill for my medication a week before I was leaving on a trip. She called me and said she had written it and would mail it to me. I offered to pick it up but she had already put it in the mail. Doctors do not call prescriptions into the pharmacy here. They write them on paper, then you take them to the pharmacy who may or may not keep the medicine in stock and then you can get it filled. And then you keep a tiny piece of paper somewhere safe so you remember where it is next month. As a doctor friend of mine said, American patients would never get their medications refilled if it required all this work.

The Swiss, ironically, seem to hate efficiency. It is a dirty word here. I know. I know. They basically invented clocks and their train systems are second to none in terms of timing. But everything here seems to require extra steps. For instance, there is no such thing as auto billing here. We get bills in the mail and have to pay them ourselves. Simple enough, right? But each bill has a twenty digit reference code and account number and we have to key in all of it in order for our bank to pay the bill. Like I’ve mentioned, there are no drive-throughs. Dry cleaning takes a week. To be fair, they do have grocery delivery. But refrigerators are small and thus, you have to do your shopping every day or every other day. Stores are closed on Sundays and from 12-2 every day for lunch. Even my Internet slows down between 12 and 2.

I’m torn about this. On one hand, I’d like someone to usher in the twenty-first century with our super fast cell phone banking and drive through everythings and double-wide refrigerators. But it is probably good for me to move a little slower. Don’t get me wrong. I love convenience. But I also appreciate quality– of food, of life. Yes, things are slow but they are also prettier. We might have to shop multiple times a week but our markets are gorgeous and the food is delicious. And while we tend to want to export all of our good ideas, the Genevois (and I) might not think all our ideas are good. I’ll admit, when I go back to the States, I question our noise level, our willingness to have phone conversations anywhere (anywhere!), our obsession with being connected, anything other than silence. I understand that each culture has its strengths and weaknesses. I go back and forth about efficiency but I do know that if I move back to the States, I will never take it for granted again.

My friend Cheryl, another Geneva resident, sent me this article when I was describing it to her. It’s by a man who lived in France. He describes better than anyone what I have experienced:

“Efficiency for the French is a poor measure of the good life, just as making a buck from the sale of a house pales before the expression of feeling about what a house may represent. Whether this is good or bad hardly matters. It is often bad for the French economy. It is also a fact of life.”

It is a fact of life and I’m almost used to it. Sundays used to stress me out because I would worry I wouldn’t have food for dinner. We discovered our local Thai food restaurant is open on Sundays and that gave me enough peace to actually enjoy Sundays. I still try to do my grocery shopping in advance but I know that if I can’t get to it or burn everything, we can always eat delicious Pad Thai.

To finish my story, I went home, found the paper prescription and filled it elsewhere. I still have to keep the paper copy. It was a small victory. It might be a minor amount and I may be more tolerant of the French/Swiss lifestyle now but I am not giving it to the pharmacy from the fifties. Maybe if they get Windows 4.

Bill Clinton and Madonna walk into a bar

sprockets

I got my hair cut last weekend. It’s not very exciting. It’s a lob (a long bob) and I like it. But like every experience here in Geneva, it was fraught with cultural and language differences. I had wanted to get my hair cut for awhile but was a little nervous about having it done here. To my credit, all of the pictures in the windows of the many coiffure shops around town look VERY European. And not classy European. More like punk rock meets Sprockets European. I just couldn’t trust a salon that advertised asymmetrical purple hair. So, I looked for a recommendation online. Apparently I am not alone. Many women (and some men) on the ex-pat websites expressed concern. We are very worried about our hair. But I found one that declared her undying love for an English speaking hair stylist. So I called the salon. I got through the first sentence “I would like to make an appointment” but then got lost. As the receptionist went to find an English speaker, I realized she was asking “with whom?” I feel like that is progress. I did not know what she was saying in the moment but it took me less time to translate than usual. I credit Duolingo, a great free app on my phone that is teaching me French. Anyway, I made an appointment with an English speaking stylist and waited until Saturday.

Armed with a picture from Pinterest, I showed up at the salon Saturday afternoon. Everyone looked pretty normal. They washed my hair like a normal salon and we spoke in French about what I wanted my hair to look like. I was even able to share that I would like it not quite as short as the picture. Thank you Duolingo. Then the stylist pulled out the clippers. Not scissors. The thing I saw my mother use to cut my brothers hair. I must have looked panicked because the stylist reassured me (at least I think that is what she was saying) and began to cut. For some reason, she used the clippers for the entire cut. And none of it is that short. Maybe she’s more comfortable with them. But I was terrified. I thought for sure I’d end up with my head shaved in parts. But I did not. 

I generally don’t like talking to my hair stylist. Usually I dread the questions about children or jobs or travel. But I was eager to use my French so I happily answered questions and even asked a few of my own. I’m sure I sounded terrible but we understood one another. I am grateful that early French lessons cover vocabulary like “I have a son. He is two.” I can also say “The man eats an apple” but that was not relevant to our conversation.

The male stylist next to us was cutting the hair of a Spanish woman. They spoke in English about her son and her husband. This was helpful when my stylist asked me a question I did not understand. He could translate. Then another man left the salon and he must have been the owner because the stylists changed the music after he left. “Now,” said the male stylist, “I turn on the best musical artist of all time.” Then he added “American!” for my benefit. I assumed Michael Jackson. I was wrong. “Like a Virgin” began playing over the speakers. “She is American, yes?” he asked. I assured him Madonna is American though I had to think about it. She does that fake British accent thing which made me second guess myself. Then he told me a Bill Clinton joke. I had heard it before but it was funnier coming from a Swiss man. It was almost like I was in America. Then he referenced the disco.

At least I like my haircut.

She’s Here (and I’m a little behind)

IMG_2160It’s been at least two months since I last wrote- made obvious by the fact that I’m typing this while sitting next to our two month old daughter, Anne. She was born here in Geneva and I cannot more highly recommend Swiss hospitals. I generally don’t like publicized birth stories so I will save you the details but the experience was fantastic. I mean, despite the physical discomfort and the complications that arose, this was the best hospital/medical experience I have ever had. If you get a chance to give birth here in Switzerland, do it. 

For instance, when we came to the hospital to check in, they handed us a card with our room number, our direct telephone line and the Wifi code*. Then they showed us our room. Words cannot do it justice so here’s a picture:

IMG_2090

Yes, those are whitewashed wood floors. Yes, that is a terrace. And yes, there are ashtrays out there. I guess it would be too much to ask people not to smoke at a hospital.

As we were waiting for our nurse, I flipped through the information booklet they put on the bedside table. I found information about the spa (not in the hospital but affiliated and willing to come to the hospital) and a wine list. In the hospital information booklet right next to visiting hours and nursery schedule. Because the wine list and spa menu are as important as your medical needs.

Prior to the delivery, I was nervous about the language gap. Mostly I worried that I would answer a question incorrectly and wind up with an amputated leg. I should not have been worried. Yes, my OR was full of French speaking people. But, rather than being scared by the different language and the diverse group of people in the OR, I was struck by what a neat introduction to the world our baby was going to have. She was born in a very international city in an operating room that absolutely reflected that. I had several nurses and doctors who could explain it all in English and I was able to use my French. In fact, when I woke up in the recovery room, I asked for a glass of water in French. Apparently my French was not as good as I thought because I did not get a glass of water. Instead I was immediately taken to the ICU. But I said it. I know I did. 

The rest of my stay went smoothly. The entire experience was beautiful and not just in a sentimental “a new life has begun” way. It was physically beautiful all around us. Annie was always wrapped up warmly in beautiful Swiss baby clothes and her little clear bassinet included a personal baby-size duvet with WHITE cover. They fed us baskets of pastries for breakfast with real butter and jam. They came by every afternoon at four with a cart of yogurts in sweet little glass jars and fresh fruit on platters. I miss my four-o-clock snack times. No one brings such a cart to my house. My dinners were plated and served with a cloche cover that they would remove before I ate. You know- the things from Beauty and the Beast. Like this:

CL50

The attention I received was incredible as well. My doctor came by to visit every day (including Saturday and Sunday) and my anesthesiologist came by every day as well. I have had a few surgeries in my life but I could not tell you the name of any of my anesthesiologists. This one I remember well and not just because he gave me an epidural. They sat down and talked with us for ten minutes each time, about our family or how I was feeling or what they were concerned about. At one point, we figured out we had mutual friends. It was almost weird. I wanted to say, are you sure you don’t have somewhere to be? Are you sure you want to be here? 

I’ve gone back to the hospital a few times (more on that later) and gaze wistfully at room 17 and it’s terrace. My house is not and will not ever be as clean or quiet. I miss the hospital. Can you tell? Who misses the hospital? 

*Have you read about how many Americans pronounce Wifi “wiffy”? I love that.

Reading 2014

Last year, I met my (revised) New Year’s resolution to read 52 books in a year. I decided not to attempt such a goal again this year. I loved many of the books I ended up reading but also found myself reading quickly just to get through a book and not choosing books based on their value but just to read them. So, this year, I changed my goal to read a classic every month. How do you determine a classic? If it’s been on reading lists or is frequently cited by other authors or professors, if it’s old? I just decided to choose books that would make me a more well-read, well-rounded person. And books that I wish I read so I could contribute more to conversations, recommendations, my children’s lives, etc. Or if it had the words “Classic” or “Literature” on the cover.

Since it is May, I have completed four. In January, I read The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. February was The Complete Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. March was Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf and April’s pick was The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. I was determined to read Bleak House in May but that might not be a good book to read when you’re waiting for a baby to arrive. What have I learned so far? That I somehow missed a lot of great books growing up. I never expected to enjoy Sherlock Holmes or Huck Finn as much as I did. I also learned I am not a Woolf fan. Several times I wanted to throw the book against the wall but kept reading because I wanted to tell people I finished it.

I’ve read a number of other books so far this year and won’t list all of them but here are a few favorites:

1. The Garden of Burning Sand by Corban Addison- Much like his first book, this one tackles a major global issue, namely violence against the poor. Set in Zambia, the story was very compelling and the topic broke my heart. Read it and see recommendation 3.

2. Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver- Beautiful picture of Southwest Virginia and incredible questions about the meaning of faith, science and the relationship between them.

3. The Locust Effect by Gary Haugen- The title of this book comes from the American Midwest. Haugen describes how no matter how much work people put into their farms, how well they managed their assets and used their knowledge, a single swarm of locusts could randomly appear and wipe out an entire year’s crop, causing the family to lose their income for the year and often spiral into debt. Haugen argues this is the same effect that violence has on the poor. Until we figure out how to address the incredibly unequal rates of violent incidents against the poor, all aid and charity work will be hampered. My only frustration with the book was that I walked away feeling helpless to do anything about it since I am neither a lawyer nor enforcement officer.

4. Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson- Several people recommended this to me after I shared my love of The Hotel Between Bitter and Sweet. I loved the story, the imagery of the Northwest, the history and the characters. I was very sad to finish this book.

5. The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett- The story of a woman who goes to a home run by nuns to assist women who are pregnant and unmarried. Each character was a richly developed individual with their own motives. I found the story compelling though the ending was not my favorite.

Currently I am reading: Bleak House, Strange Glory (Charles Marsh’s in-depth, extensive biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer) and Dancing in the Glory of Monsters (about the wars in the Congo since 1996). The last one is on pause though because I am having enough trouble sleeping.

Down to the Wire

I am 37 weeks pregnant and am really hoping to not have to be pregnant too much longer. I am just not a good pregnant person. Our friend recently shared how nice his wife was while she was with child. Josh and I laughed out loud. I’ll admit, I’m a little scared to give birth in a hospital here. Mostly I’m worried I’ll end up in an operating room with people yelling things in French and German and I will not know what is going on and they will amputate a leg or something. The hospitals are really not bad. In fact they are so nice that people want to stay in them for as long as possible. They are like hotels. I know this because their websites have sections about room service and pictures of the gardens you can stroll through while recovering from childbirth. A friend’s son had his adenoids removed at our hospital and she swears that the dinner was the best meal she’s ever had in Geneva.

My doctor has been nothing but wonderful. She was very excited when I came in to see her the first time. When I saw our little one on the ultrasound screen, I said, “Wow. There’s the heart. That is amazing.” And she, in her Swiss German/French/English accent said, “Yes, it is amazing” and paused for a moment to enjoy the miracle with me. She has been very low key about everything. In the States, I think I saw my obstetrician every 2-4 weeks depending on how far along I was. Here I have seen her roughly every 6 weeks and even in the last two months of my pregnancy, I will see her once or twice. The only supplement I have been given is Iron and Folic Acid, a change from the US prenatal horse pills (that I still take) that cover every vitamin and mineral ever deemed to have a positive effect on a human.

Support from others has been positive as well. I was relieved to find that women in France (and therefore Switzerland) don’t discuss their deliveries. This is dramatically different from the U.S. where every woman (or many women) shares her story. I’ve also found that my other European/British friends don’t feel a need to share how their children arrived in the world, simply that they did. I’m not sure if it is discretion on the part of the Brits and Europeans or more of a disclosure problem in the U.S. As someone who had a caesarean, I found myself regularly wanting to jump into conversations about births and explain why I required a c-section. I became defensive and frustrated with myself for somehow not having the perfect birth. But here, no one ever asks me how Forest was born. They just know he’s here and that is that.

And the larger medical system has been nothing but good to us here. After Christmas, I had a scare with this pregnancy. Being a discrete person, I will just say I needed to go to the emergency room to be checked out. I thought to myself, “This will be the worst experience ever. This will be another reason to hate this place.” But everyone was wonderful. I called my doctor who answered her phone on the night after Christmas. She told me to go to the large University hospital and gave me her personal cell phone number to keep her informed. We went and they directed us to their special very nice maternity emergency room. There we were met by nurses who could speak some English and between that and my French, we filled out the necessary forms. Within ten minutes, they had the ultrasound out and found the heartbeat. Josh texted my dad to tell him the relieving news and my dad, a physician in the states, reminded us, “In the U.S. you’d still be filling out paperwork.” Twenty minutes later, we walked out the door having seen a doctor and been issued a clear bill of health and not paying anything. In fairness, they did send us a bill later but it was much lower than what I expected. When I woke up at 8 am the next morning, I saw I had missed two calls from my doctor. She had called to check on me twice, two days after Christmas. I ended up putting “Medical System” in the pro column for Geneva.

So I probably have no reason to be afraid of delivering this little one here. It is different to not feel so monitored but there’s also an empowering side to that. I will be able to say I gave birth on two continents and in two very different systems. That’s a pretty cool thing. And I’m confident there will be some cultural miscommunication which will give me something else to blog about. Looking forward to it for so many reasons.

Bad Boys, Bad Boys…

Ahh the intro to Cops. Who can forget it? I had my first non-canine-related encounter with the police today. While it was a nice study in cultural differences, I could have done without it. Today was my blood glucose screening test. For those of you who have never endured such a test, let me describe it. The doctor takes some blood, makes you drink a bottle of the most sugary substance you can think of excluding actual maple syrup. It’s sort of like drinking orange Kool Aid mixed with two extra cups of sugar. (Side note- the Kool Aid man has received multiple mentions on popular television lately. I smell a comeback). But, back to the test. After you drink this substance, you stumble down the hallway to the waiting room and try not to vomit or pass out while the baby kicks you like crazy because he or she has just received the most sugar he or she has ever had in his or her life. I tried to read news on my phone but had trouble focusing on longer stories. I got that Russia is annexing Crimea, the plane is still missing and more people have signed up for health insurance. Pretty good for a blood sugar high reading of the news. Then after an hour, they draw your blood again. At this point, I was also give an iron profusion (that’s what the doctor called it but I think something may have been lost in translation). Then I was escorted back to the waiting room where I read my Real Simple (which I have to bring with me because the French magazines are tough to read and are all about parties or what to wear to work if you are a female politician). After two hours and another blood draw, I was permitted to leave. I love my doctor but I left with multiple bandaids on each arm because of all the various treatments and tests. I was also late to get home to let the babysitter leave. 

All of this meant I was ready to go. I got in my car, paid for my two hours of parking and left the garage. Now, the lanes are confusing coming out of this particular garage and I thought I had my own lane. Apparently I did not. I cut off an unmarked van, resulting in loud honking and angry gestures from a man wearing what I thought was a security guard uniform. I am getting used to the angry drivers here so I kept driving. He pulled up next to me and yelled but I was focused on driving and thought he was just trying to get my attention so he could tell me what a terrible female driver I am. At the next intersection, he was next to me and I finally looked over, ready to hit the gas if this guy was actually dangerous. Then I saw the police patch on his shoulder. So I pulled over.

At this point, he had called back up to help with this crazy driver. So four or five cops got out of their marked cars to back up their colleague. Even as he walked up, I thought, certainly cutting someone off is not a crime. I apologized as I handed over my Swiss drivers license (glad I got that thing in time). Now, maybe this is a ridiculous idea but I figured a very nice, friendly, apologetic six-month-pregnant woman would get a little bit of compassion or understanding. No. He gave instructions to the other officers who then stood around my car and watched me while he radioed something on his shoulder walkie talkie. All I could think was “I have a babysitter at home who I need to call but if I reach for my phone, I’m pretty sure one of you will shoot me (yes, police officers are armed here too).” Ten minutes later, after several people had walked by and shaken their heads at me (what did you do!?! shame! and you’re pregnant! One mother even sort of turned her child away), I was allowed to leave. When I asked what I had done, the English-speaking officer told me that I had been a very, very dangerous driver and almost collided with the police officer’s van. And I did not stop. “There will be a report. You will pay.” I was sort of hoping it would be automatic deportation just because that would make for a great story. But instead I’m left with some sort of report being filed about my very very dangerous driving and some unnamed amount of money due to Switzerland. As we like to semi-joke, it could be ten francs, could be one thousand. I’ll keep you posted. Note: I did have a small amount of blood on my face, I assume from one of my many bandaid applications. I might have called back up after seeing that. But he called it before. Ridiculous.

Hiddenness

ImageThis post may veer slightly from my generally irreverent observational accounts of life in Geneva. But yesterday, I found a Bible verse that meant so much to me. It’s from the story of Hagar, the servant Sarai sent to Abram to bear his child (that’s probably the simplest version of her biography). Hagar got pregnant and began to despise Sarai and then got sent away by Sarai. An angel found her in the desert and told her to return to Sarai. Then he gave her a great blessing for her soon to be born son Ishmael. Hagar said, You are the God who sees me. 

I have been very moved by the idea of hiddenness. As a mom of a toddler in a country that is not my own, I feel hidden. In Houston, I had a number of friends who I could call up and meet for lunch on a regular basis. Now lunchtime is spent with Forest. In the States, I could go to the grocery store and ask questions or just talk to the cashier. Here I speak much less in public, self-conscious of my French accent (or serious lack thereof). I have made friends but we are all on kid schedules. Nap from 11-1 means meeting for lunch is out. School and activities fight for space on a calendar and coordinating even two toddler schedules can be difficult. And calling my friends in the States must wait until at least 2 pm because of the time change. All this means I spend more time alone or with someone who speaks one word expecting me to understand all that “bird” implies: “A bird flew to the bird feeder and ate and flew away.” Duh. Of course that’s what “bird” means.

But I’m not as bitter about this as I used to be. First of all, Forest is developing more vocabulary every day and it is exciting to hear him try to form sentences. “Nyo (pronoun he uses for himself) fly house Mimi.” But more than that, I have really come to believe that hiddenness is a phase that I am in right now. I used to want to be the Press Secretary of the United States (nerd alert). But many days, I actually learn and do more in silence than in front of others. And because I am in silence as I work and live, it makes me remember why I chose to stay home with Forest and build our little life. And I think that is a gift that is unique to moving to Geneva. I did not spend nearly as much time in silence or solitude in Houston. There was always something to do or someone to spend time with. I can’t explain it and I do not feel this benevolent towards silence most days. But to read that He is the God who sees me, on days when I feel somewhat invisible to the adult world around me, settled my heart. 

I know this post is different than my usual babbling about life in Switzerland. But when I discovered Genesis 16:13, I could not stop thinking about it. And it ties in with one of my favorite Henri Nouwen quotes: “One of the reasons that hiddenness is such an important aspect of spiritual life is that it keeps us focused on God. In hiddenness we must go to God with our sorrows and joy and trust that God will give us what we need… we are inclined to avoid hiddenness. We want to be useful to others and influence the course of events. But as we become visible and popular, we grow dependent on people and their responses and easily lose touch with God, the true source of our being.”

An Ode to the Drive Through

ImageAwhile ago, I decided to change the title of my list. Rather than “Things I Miss about the US,” I have started calling it, “Things I Will Never Take for Granted Again.” It’s a subtle difference but slightly less mournful. Today’s addition to the list? The Drive Through.  In Geneva, there are no drive-throughs. There is one in Annemasse which is just across the border in France. It opens at 10:30 and closes at 6 or something. And it is a McDonald’s, not my favorite. I drove through once or twice when I got really homesick but for the most part, I park and go in to every store.

Houston was the opposite. When we lived in Houston, I drove through at least one every day and not just for food- Starbucks, the pharmacy, dry cleaning, the bank, etc. I could basically do everything from the air-conditioned comfort of my car. Once, when we had first moved down from New York, I noticed the line for the drive up ATM was really long so I parked and went into the bank. They did not even have an ATM inside. That is how many people chose to walk in- zero. In New York, no one drives but everything is so dense, you can walk to all these places leaving your toddler in the stroller. I guess parts of Geneva are like New York but it’s a smaller city and things are farther apart. And you have to go to lots of places to get everything you’re looking for- peppers at one, corn chips at another, etc. They just don’t seem to prioritize convenience.

And while I know this driving has led to rises in unhealthy lifestyles and pollution, it is just so easy. I could put Forest in his car seat and get everything done. Each store seems to be separated from one another here and I have to drive to, park, get out, retrieve a cart, get Forest from his car seat, corral him into said cart, go in, run the actual errand, return the shopping cart (because you get your two franc deposit back), put Forest in the car and then leave. I have to allot double or triple the amount of time for errands now. I’ve started ordering groceries online which is helpful because it’s one less store to go to and go through the procedure. And I know this makes me sound like a lazy American (I wish I were not so typical) and I promise that if I get to live in the land of drive throughs again, I will not use this luxury every time. But, maybe like half the time. It would be a lifesaver to just have a drive through ATM. There are many times I’m grateful for the way Geneva has made us slow down and enjoy life at a proper speed- live in the moment, if you will. Unfortunately, I do not really want to live in the moment of getting cash from a machine. Add one to my list of things we should all be grateful for.

School Days

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Forest was recently accepted at our neighborhood “jardin d’enfants” which is basically a preschool. I was informed of this via a message in French on my voicemail. My voicemail is funny though and I didn’t realize I even had a message until thirteen days later. I recognized the name and days of the week and was thrilled that they had an opening for Forest. Unfortunately, I got the message over Christmas break which meant an agonizing two weeks of waiting to make sure they had held the spot for him. They had. The director of the school called me back and mercifully spoke to me in English.

“You will bring a deposit of fifty francs, slippers for the feet, pampers and clothes. You will come for a visit on Tuesday and then he can stay by himself for fifteen minutes on Thursday. Then thirty, then forty-five and so on,” the teacher said. I was unsure about the slippers but had heard the Swiss were particular about cleanliness. The deal with the slippers is this: every child must keep a pair of soft soled slippers at the school. They enter the building and immediately change from their outdoor shoes to the slippers. Outdoor shoes do not come in contact with the indoor spaces. This continues into elementary school. Our friends’ ten-year-old son has three pairs of shoes at school on any given day- the shoes he wore to school, slippers for the classroom and sneakers for gym. I have even heard of adult gyms that require different shoes be worn after entering the gym. This is remarkably different from America. I just read a post from Nole on Oh So Beautiful Paper about how her daughter has to wear hard-soled shoes for day care. I think Americans are more concerned about the safety of the children’s feet (and liability for an injury) than the cleanliness of the floors. The Swiss appear to be the opposite. I thought it was another fascinating cultural difference.

Also in contrast to some American preschools, Forest’s preschool requires a gradual entry. The director told me that several parents have complained because they want their children to do the full three hours right away. I was relieved when she told me everyone had to do this gradual entry program- fifteen minutes alone the first time building up to the full three hours. Every child does this schedule and it can be tailored to each child. If separation is an issue, the entry is even more gradual. It’s much more focused on the child’s comfort at the school than the parent’s three hour break. I can’t lie, the first few days I was disappointed that I had to sit in the car and read a book. What else would I do for fifteen or thirty minutes? It was a nice quiet reading break but I was hoping for a little longer. Even as I write this I am watching the clock because Forest is staying an hour and forty-five minutes today and I can’t be late getting him.

The first day (thirty minute visit while I stayed), we went inside and Forest ignored the very nice teacher who was kneeling down to greet him, walked directly into the classroom and began to play with a car. It took some effort to get him to take his shoes and jacket off and say hello to the teachers. As we left our visit, the children were headed outside to play which only made Forest sadder to leave. I had to carry my crying boy back to the car. The next day (fifteen minutes while I waited outside) was worse… for me. I said goodbye three times, kept hoping for at least a little sadness to mark my departure and even went in to give him a kiss. Nothing. He was off doing puzzles with his friends already. I’m pretty sure I was sadder to leave him than he was to be left. I came back in fifteen minutes only to be told no, he was not leaving until his puzzle was done. Fair enough.

Forest going to school has actually really changed my outlook on Geneva. Prior to this, everything I did could be done anywhere in the world- cook, play with Forest, laundry, etc. I was frustrated by how inconvenient things are (have I mentioned there are no drive-throughs in this town?) and felt like my life was made much more difficult by our location. But now that Forest is in preschool and is exposed to French on a regular basis, it has given me something to really appreciate about Geneva. We probably couldn’t find a French preschool in Houston- though we could find a drive-through ATM. But Forest’s exposure to French makes living here more valuable to me. And that is worth a lot more than convenience. Seriously though- no drive up ATMs? You could do everything in a drive through in Houston- banking, dry cleaning, pharmacy, etc. I’m sure I’ll rant more on that later.