All I want for Christmas is a pink hand towel

It’s two sleeps until we leave for Australia, a fact the almost three year old has been capitalising on when negotiating her naps. In theory I should be ticking items off my to-do list, or at the very least writing a to-do list. Instead I type this with sticky fingers: apparently making cookie boxes for two dozen of Tim’s colleagues is the most important thing I have to do at the moment. My general person is covered in a seasonally delightful mix of peppermint, passionfruit and lebkuchengewürz, and I don’t mind in the slightest.

If you’ve ever so much as passed me in a corridor, you’ll know my thoughts on Christmas. Positive is an understatement. I’m doing the best I can to brainwash encourage my two Christmas babies to feel the same way and – based on the frequency of gaudy sweater wearing, Christmas light ooh-ing and ‘Jingle Bells’ requesting – things are progressing as planned. Happily, Switzerland has my back – the snow has been falling, the Christmas markets (sausages! carousels! ice skating! Glühwein!) are in full swing, and Samiclaus has made numerous appearances.

The local parish offers, in exchange for a donation, a personal visit from the man himself. A few weeks ago we received an application form on which we had to request a time and date of visit, advise who’d be home, give the kids’ names and ages and a list of both the things they had done well and the things that they need to improve. We did our best to fill it out in German, hoping – mainly because we’d been using the visit as a bribe – that it would work out. And sure enough, one wintery Sunday evening, there was a knock on the door and there he was.

He did not, however, come alone. There was not one but two creepy Schmutzlis lurking in his wake. Samiclaus-011We’d spent a fair bit of time discussing the visit – a bunch of Swiss German talking dudes showing up to your house and knowing all about your naughty and nice business is a bit full on for anyone, let alone a wee person. We talked a lot about treats and presents, and Ads knew that if she did the right thing, Samiclaus would bring her something she wanted. I was expecting her to ask for baby dolls, duplo, toy farm animals, cake…the things she generally requests if given a choice. But no. Emphatically and specifically my little miss wanted one thing and one thing only: a pink hand towel. Needless to say Samiclaus delivered, with a side of bemusement. (And creepiness.)

Although old enough to be excited by Samiclaus (and Santa and Father Christmas), my lass is not quite savvy enough to question thematic variations. So when her kita had a Samiclaus event – at night time, in a nearby forest – it was like it was the first time they’d met.

Motsy got hideously lost locating the forest site, only finding it due to the pity of passers by who figured where they were off to, possibly due to the crazed Samiclaus loving toddler. This resulted in a mosey through moonlit Swiss Christmas countryside which made it a total win.

Samiclaus-108I am, no question, dreaming of a brown Christmas this year. It’s been way too long since I’ve seen my sister and my bestie – the kids’  Godfather, Uncle Pip – and I greedily await the catch ups to be had. This year has passed so hastily, almost without pause. Although I don’t stop to think about it frequently, when I do it’s the easy familiar, the unspoken contentment of old friendship I ache for. Also at home, there’s wonderful family and friends, many of whom haven’t yet had the (dubious?) pleasure of meeting the screechiest Purler, who is about to be introduced to his technical homeland. And then there’s my best lady: Sydney. The parents of one of Addie’s kita teachers are flying down under the same day we are (I am praying it’s not on the same flight; those poor people) and I wrote them a list of Aussie must-dos. I admit it was primarily for me, and hoo boy it worked. I’m already salivating over her bounty.  Brash foreshores, broken Ozone, blazing beauty. That gaudy girl.

But when Switzerland throws this nonsense, it’s hard not to be torn. 1st Snow 2017-311Lest I sound flaky, let me be precise. Just like Little Miss I Want A Pink Hand Towel, I know exactly what I want for Christmas. And happily, unbelievably, here they both are. Samiclaus-016

 

Bring it

It may surprise you to know that I am quite a sentimental kind of person. I can’t let a festive season pass without viewing (preferably on multiple occasions) ‘It’s a Wonderful Life‘ and there’s a Dire Straits album that was oddly slotted into my teens that will reduce me to tears if heard unexpectedly. There’s a ridiculously large box of child-related paraphernalia that I cannot bring myself to cull and I live in genuine fear that Posh and Becks will break up. But nothing brings on self indulgent melancholy like good ol’ Autumn. I’ve been wandering around for the last few weeks fairly misty eyed over the turning leaves, the chill in the air, the darker nights and the mellowing of the light (although this morning, against my better judgement and for reasons I am unable to articulate, I tried a Pumpkin Spice Latte. I was almost cured of Autumn Love right there and then. Yikes).

Earlier this month was the two year annualversay of our move to Switzerland, further impetus for reflection. This year I celebrated by making good on my FOMO. A few months ago, at the start of summer, Tim had climbed Mt Pilatus with some colleagues. I was hideously (cough childishly) jealous and, on Motsy’s urging, decided to give it a go myself. Despite having nowhere near the level of fitness required to scale the 2,128m mountain, it turns out I’ll do anything to get a morning away from the brats. A friend and I took it on, and after almost four hours of solid upwards hit the peak. Although the nicest day of a bad bunch, the mountain was still covered in heavy fog as we climbed. It made for poor visibility but given the scrambley nature of the path we took and my fear of heights, it was possibly for the best. Tim and said brats met us afterwards for a grill, where we cheersed to two years well spent (and it’s lucky arms are used for cheers-ing, as lord knows my legs were not up for anything much after that hike).

The last two years have gone swiftly. Theodore – who of course wasn’t even remotely on our agenda at the time – is now the age that Addie was when we moved here. In those early days, we looked around at childcare options and found that a lot of the playgroups were only accessible for ‘older’ kids – starting at about three years. I didn’t think too much more of it until it hit me a few weeks ago that, completely obviously but also somehow impossibly, my little daughter is now almost three. The horror of this discovery was counterbalanced somewhat by the parallel realisation: I can offload her to spielgruppe! And to spielgruppe she went: Swiss style.

Waldspielgruppe is forest playgroup, where the kids toddle off to the woods for the afternoon. They forage for wood, build a fire and play with knives, cook and eat cervelat (a sausage that Tim and I liken to vegemite: divine if you grow up eating it but absolutely vile if introduced to it later in life), and generally have a fabulous mucky time. Addie had her induction last week so Teddles and went along for the ride, but she starts solo this Friday and could not be more excited. It’s both thrilling and heartbreaking to see how grown up she is, and to watch her chatting to the leader and the other children in a language I can barely understand made me grateful once again for the opportunity we’re getting here.

To capitalise on her new skills – and to marvel at the newly fallen snow and the gradually changing foliage – we took a wee family hike yesterday. We went to Elm, about an hour and a half from Luzern, took a quick cable car up the mountain and did the Giant’s Playground walk. Our surly looking little bear has RBF, like his sister before him, but was actually very happy to be out on his papa’s back.

It is ludicrously easy to get outdoors here. Swiss efficiency is astounding. Cable cars take you to seemingly inaccessible peaks, where there are nearly always comfortable places to sit and rest, family friendly walking tracks to follow, and fireplaces – stocked with fire wood – to grill your lunch. This walk was only just over 2ks, a perfect distance for the littlest walker, and had an activity site every few hundred metres which was just enough to bribe inspire little Addie along.

We stopped for lunch where Addie abandoned all waldspielgruppe learnings, leaving the fire-building duties to the lads in the family, instead joining her mama in a far superior pastime: salami and cheese consumption.

Lunch consumed, we continued the loop trail along – marvelling at mushrooms (and someone’s Sporty Suit) and as always the ridiculous view. We get out and hike a fair bit, but this was the first trip that we felt was well executed. Planning and timing went without a hitch, the walk was perfect for our family, and our grill game was strong. As we made our way back to the cable car (and the massive outdoor trampoline area that was a sure fire Addie approved activity) we were, I confess, fairly self congratulatory.

Although Tim’s contract here is permanent and has no formal end date, we’d always had in our heads that two years was the time we’d commit to staying. Almost as soon as we’d jumped off the plane we figured we’d be staying longer than that, given how much exploring there was to be done. We have a long and lovely trip to Australia planned over Christmas, so we’ll see how much good food, coffee and weather influences us, but it’s hard to imagine leaving here any time soon. I mean:

Besides, if we’ve only started to nail our hiking game after two years, imagine how we’ll bring it next summer.

For now

It is the great irony of my current situation that my move to the other side of the planet, giving me access to so many new and exciting countries and experiences, is actually the most insular and enclosed period of my life. I can’t be sure that it wouldn’t be the same if I had remained in Australia – young children play a significant part in this, as you can imagine – but despite the world on our doorstep I have never felt so encapsulated, been so contained.

A lot of the feminist literature I pretended to study at university (preferring instead to focus on happy hour) spoke about women being identified as the other, their domain being the home, their interests curtailed to that of the private, the domestic. I was born well after this awakening – that this had to be named and identified made little sense to me at the time. My understanding of and interest in feminism was more brutish: down with the patriarchy! equal pay please! my body is my own! While such sentiments remain legitimate (and still somewhat crude), it’s now the rumblings, the stirring, the collective uprising against the domicile as women’s domain that interests me more. Those generations of women before me, bubbling away until the quiet frustration and fury became no longer quiet.

A quick caveat: the situation in which I find of myself is, I think, largely of my own making. There are some external barriers – I’ve found it hard to find work here, and this combined with the costs of living here and social set up make it more practical for me to manage our family. However outside of that, I am well educated, I live in an age of amazing technology, and my partner is nothing but supportive of any action I wish to take.

Nonetheless, I find myself identifying with this image of the woman trapped within the home. It’s a big old tumble of frustration, boredom, exhaustion, isolation. I was going to liken it to a tangled ball of laundry but really, that’s just too terribly on point. Juxtaposed with this is how fortunate I am: a lovely happy and healthy family, plenty of time to spend with them, a beautiful and safe city in which to live, a continent we’re fortunate enough to be able to explore. Despite this admittedly ridiculously wonderful scenario, I find myself feeling at times trapped and at others defeated, and because of it I feel ungrateful and unwarranted in expressing any discontent.

It is in part the relentless – and only predictable in its unpredictability – lack of sleep. A tired old complaint, if you’ll excuse the pun, but one that is infiltrating everything at the moment. Then there’s the bubble of Hausfrauing – any available energy is spent inadequately attempting to stay on top of the never ending chore cycle (cook, eat, clean, repeat) (everything in my life is currently slightly sticky due to those two brats). There’s a distinct lack of contact with anything outside of families and children. My main relationships here have been forged through our children, and I am exceedingly grateful for them for numerous reasons. However, I frequently find the tedium of my own conversation (toilet training! room sharing! she calls them ‘rainbrellas’!) grating, formulaic, caricatured.

A friend asked me, fairly recently, whether I get time to myself. I do – quite a lot, really. I spend it sleeping when I can, reading (novels of the comforting and familiar variety; for me, trashy crime always), watching assorted television of an evening while slogging away at a lengthy and poorly considered craft project, drinking wine, absently flicking through social media. All of these extend the insular nature of my existence. They are also completely within my own control. What I failed to understand was that she was really asking about the quality of the alone time I have, how I use it. Does it nourish me, connect me to anything, build something?

The difference between my situation and that of my feminist predecessors is of course that there was little choice for them. Society unquestioningly and inflexibly enforced their capture within the home and the web of their families; that same society against which they chose to uprise and challenge. While it would be simple for me to use this narrative, I find the my truth a little more nuanced (although no doubt theirs was too, but that was perhaps part of the reason their oppression continued for centuries). To what extent is the time of my life the cause, or a significant contributor, to this? My personality, motivations and inclinations? The old school nature of Switzerland in particular, compounded by my inability – still – to speak the language? Or is this the nature of – I don’t want to use the word oppression, because I am anything but oppressed – containment, perhaps? But then who, if not me, is doing the containing?

I don’t have any resolution of these thoughts and frustrations currently flitting around in my head. And since my children are both asleep and there is a layer of lunch-related muck on the floor, a dinner to prepare that will in the near future be added to said floor muck, only a few chapters left in my crappy novel, and a slippery dip to visit, they will not be resolved any time soon. Thus my cycle continues for now.

(Also, I am really, really enjoying that crappy book.)

It’s flying by

I have spent the last week with the very best type of visitor: an old and dear friend (apologies to my parents who are due to arrive next week, but you know how it is). It’s been a week of walking, gossip and wine (not necessarily in that order. Actually, definitely not in that order). I’ve known Mel longer than I haven’t, which is generally my favourite description of my favourite people. I met her the first day of high school, and although she moved to Sydney we stayed in touch, fortunately going through similar phases (bad 90s grunge, anyone?) at the same time. We both lived in Ireland together and enjoyed our ‘fake lives’, the details of which can never be divulged (mainly due to fake life alcohol consumption and subsequent memory haze). On my return to Sydney we lived together in a few different houses, one which received the dubious compliment ‘this looks like a dude’s place’ (due no doubt to our stubby holder collection and gentleman calendar aka porn wall). It was through her that I met ‘Dr T’ as she called him, and in those first bleary months of having a new baby she’d swing by our house – happily around the corner from hers – to have a cheeky Friday night beverage, making me feel I’d maintained a footing, however precarious, in the Real World. Having her in our neck of the woods has been an absolute treat. It’s also been – for both of us, in our different ways – a chance to reflect on the [insert embarrassingly high number of] years that we’ve known each other, as well as the here and now.

My boy turned three months a few weeks ago. He’s one quarter, which is not really much of an age to be. He seems to be making the most of it though, with sodden smiles and under-the-chin giggles and unbelievably vile gas, which I assume is what having a son is all about for the next twenty years or so. Three months with my girl seemed an age. I’d just accepted a voluntary redundancy and signed off on a not especially illustrious public service career, and we were in the process of making the decision to move over here. Despite all the large scale change that was going on, I was stuck in a weird baby time warp. This time, it’s flying by.

The girl is finally talking fluently(ish) and it has been both a joy and a bewilderment to finally get some insight into what’s going on in that wee noggin of hers. She lives for slippery dips and cake (all flavours, but caramel slice cake – a mythical yet delicious sounding delicacy – is apparently her favourite) (I’m not so interested in the carrot stew cake, thanks all the same Ads). She is obsessed with the mild earthquake she completely slept through the other night, recounting where I was, the fact that her father saw his water ripple Jurassic-park style, and that she and Teddy were tucked up ‘niiiiiiice and tight’. She’s terribly bossy to her dolls, telling them she’s ‘too old’ to do certain tasks, and that ‘there are rules’ about others, clearly mimicking…um…some other unidentified bossy person. She continues to be a stellar older sister, joining in the clapping when the lad rolled for the first time, enthusiastically offering him toys, (unsuccessfully) soothing him and proudly saying ‘Addie and Teddy are best friends’ (which is equal parts adorable and loser-y). She thinks his full name is Teddy Bear and got two-year-old cranky – which is to say all hell broke loose – when I advised her otherwise.

These vignettes of daily life – my here and now – are simple and sweet (and at times horrendously dull, but the idea of caramel slice cake generally keeps me going). What’s harder is the reflection on the passage of time since we were those twelve? thirteen? year old selves, and maybe more pertinently those years in our twenties when everything was heady and full of promise (and, erm, beer). Mel and I spent a glorious spring day sans kids in a mineral spa on a nearby Alp – which I can assure you was every bit as heavenly as it sounds – mulling over all the things. A lot of it was reflective of where we’re both at respectively now, and where we’d like to be heading, but the easy nourishing nature of that conversation was only possible due to our patchwork of shared history. We know each others’ people, backstories, interests and (most fun of all) dislikes; we have also shared conversations like this more often than I could possibly recall, each one a building block. There’s a familiarity, a security, to this that allows for all manner of exploration and it is without question the thing I miss most about living away from her and my other ‘longer than I haven’t’ people.

There was nothing revolutionary discussed; in fact, a variation of the exact conversation was probably held in 1996. Still, days later – even with my return to the doldrums of screeching children, daily chores and no Mel – I feel refreshed and rejuvenated. Such is the power of a (horrifyingly close to thirty year strong) friendship, which seems to have flown just as quickly as the life of the wee lad of mine.

The first month

We’ve survived the first month. The little guy is currently snoozing in the weak snow-flickering light, although you wouldn’t know it from the sounds erupting from him. I’d forgotten how disproportionate to their size is the noise a baby makes (and how amusing. So much gas is never not funny). I’ve done a day and a half sans Tim – he went back to work yesterday – and thus far the casualty count is limited to burp cloths. There’s still another half day before he gets home, though, so please don’t consider me cocky.

As many people advised before our Teddly’s arrival, it’s easier the second time around. I’m not as nervous, edgy, scared I’ll break or ruin him (or if I do, he can moan about it with his sister on family holidays to come). Practically, things are working better: feeding, anti-Houdini swaddling techniques, knowing to tag team. We’re more confident as parents, and our nightly game plan sessions are much tighter and have been far more successful than the surreal, exhausting early weeks with Addie. It ain’t perfect (surely it’s not asking too much for a four week old to sleep for, say, twelve hours straight?), but it’s working.

We’re all dancing the newborn dance, of course. Ads has been wonderful. She chooses his clothes (she had them both adorably wearing owl-themed outfits yesterday), laughs hysterically at any and all of his bodily functions, and says ‘hey miiiiiiister’ in manner soothing when he cries. Naturally it’s not all easy sailing – her terrible twoness has escalated and her long suffering father is in her bad books far more than deserved, but generally it’s been lovely to watch her become the title of her second favourite book: a Big Sister (her first favourite? Everybody Poos. Fine literature is another joy I shall forever associate with parenthood).

Motsy’s holidays – four heavenly weeks! – were slow and cosy, but we managed to wander around snow covered Luzern nonetheless: to play in frosted-over parks, choose his baroque-themed Fasnacht costume, toboggan at the lake and, one glorious night, cycle to the Neustadt for a decadent dinner sans bambinis (with much thanks to their visiting Gra). For a moment, jumping on our bikes, dressed up and filled with anticipation for the evening ahead, felt like a return to the early days of our relationship where we’d cycle off to dinner or a drink, carefree and jubilant. (It then started snowing in time for the cycle home, and we started looking at our watches and counting the hours of precious sleep we’d get if we left immediately, and thus the spell was broken).

And I’m learning, clumsily, how to juggle our wee family of four. There was a fairly botched walk to kita this morning – when will I learn to check the weather, and thus avoid striding out into heavy snow thoroughly unprepared? – and a rather manic grocery store outing yesterday, but otherwise the feeding and sleeping and tea cup drawing routine is slowly becoming my new normal. That, and trying to keep our offspring alive and (largely) unharmed for five more hours until their father’s return.

And then, we were four

I write this on a foggy winter’s afternoon at my kitchen table. I’m not entirely sure, even when I stop to think, what day it is. I am wearing  – still, sadly – maternity jeans and shirt, not because I remain pregnant but because disappointingly I have not instantly lost the twenty odd kilos I gained over the last nine months. I am also, bizarrely and humiliatingly (and admittedly amusingly), wearing a pair of hospital issue stretchy white underpants with the crotch cut out of them, my arms thrust through the leg holes, as a crop top of sorts. Into this I’ve shoved two ice packs that are regularly swapped out – at my midwife’s instance – with cabbage leaves and this weird tigerbalm-scented paste called Pasta Boli (not the kind you eat, she helpfully advised). Birth itself is of course undignified, but it feels like it’s nothing on these early weeks of motherhood.

However! Our boy is here! Little Theodore Winton arrived precisely on his due date, endearing him forever to his prompt mother’s heart. His birth was almost the opposite of my experience with his sister; gory details aside, this time was far easier and much less traumatic. The most surprising aspect of the birthing procedure was the mingling of alternative medical practices with the more standard delivery process. At various times I was fed different homeopathic concoctions, assorted aromatherapy treatment was pumped through the room depending on my current state, and I was given acupuncture towards the end of labour itself. I’m finding the same with my midwife – there’s a surprising focus on alternate options and traditional practices; and to be fair, they appear to have worked. I had assumed that the seemingly clinical, straight-and-narrow Swiss would not be so into alternate treatment options, but on reflection maybe it makes more sense that a comprehensive and thorough approach to healthcare is taken rather than the more linear one we have at home.

We left the hospital six hours after little Teddy was born. I’d not even contemplated doing this prior, but in the absence of a family room and due to the smoothness of the birth we decided we’d be happier heading home. We were back in time for a patchy night’s sleep and to wake our little miss on her birthday, the highlight of which was hearing her say ‘niiiiiiice’ when she saw her new brother.

We hosted Swissmas again this year, with the life savers that are my bestie and Tim’s sister and bro-in-law, who kept us not only alive but alarmingly well fed and watered during our first week as parents of two. I’d thoroughly recommend recruiting them if you ever wish to extend your family and still feel like a human being. There was raclette, a life-threatening glühwein maker, a ridiculous amount of gifts (Ads went from not knowing what a present was to demanding to open all of them in about two minutes flat), lots of champagne, many tasty treats from home, and a few not-so-silent nights.

Now, we’re in that no-man’s-land between Christmas and New Year, which is only compounded with the haziness of a newborn (and the sick resident two year old, just to keep us on our toes). We’ve a week or so before Tim’s mum arrives, during which we’re tentatively feeling our way as a family of four (or eight, if you include Peppa Pig and her fambam, who I confess are making fairly regular visits to the Purler household), capitalising on the frozen meals I feverishly prepared prior to his arrival, and enjoying being wrapped in the newborn cocoon. Right now, though, both bambinis are asleep, so we’re indulging in a cheeky wine and leftover Christmas cheese platter (possibly with a mint slice chaser). And cabbage leaves.

Festive

It’s beginning, as they say, to feel a lot like Christmas. I’ve always loved this time of year – even more so now it’s special for my little Christmas kinder – and it’s definitely magical over in this neck of the woods. My wanderings / waddlings through the glittering streets of Luzern are currently limited, but happily neighbouring windows are filled with Advent candles, sparkling lights (or stars, as the little miss calls them) and an increasing number of Christmas trees. We’ve gotten in on the action as well, counting down the days of the season.

(Incidentally, I am not sure how I parented prior to Advent calendar related bribes; the girl lives for the crappy promotional calendar her father received from work, and our lives are far simpler when she stops to think of chocolate consequences. Advent year round, anyone?)

Every year, my mother-in-law’s close friend hosts ‘Pudding Day’, an event much anticipated during the festive season. Family and friends gather at her house, usually around a month prior to Christmas, to do exactly what the name implies: make puddings. I have never attended but have happily been on the eating side of the equation many times. Although Christmas Pudding is not a Swiss tradition, it’s definitely a Purler one (I think Tim is still slightly disappointed there was none at our table last year), and so this year – fortunately armed with the Official Pudding Day Recipe – the inaugural Swiss Pudding Day was implemented. Naturally, my wee helper was in the festive (gingerbread batter stealing) spirit.

A few friends swung by with their little ones to measure, mix and assemble the puddings (and imbibe festive prosecco, of course). I’m fairly sure the wish Addie made while stirring the pudding was to eat only icing and sprinkles for lunch which, happily for her, came true.

To carry on with the cheer – and in contradiction to the advice of the hospital to stay within about twenty minutes of Luzern until the bubba arrives – we rebelliously hit the road to visit the Christmas markets in Einsiedeln (a whole forty minutes away. Living on the edge, me). Touted as the best markets in our vicinity, we weren’t disappointed as we pulled in to the bustling town.

Centred around a Benedictine Abbey, the town also boasted the ‘largest nativity scene’ in the world. I was imagining a giant-sized cradle filled with a terrifyingly large Baby Jesus, but they meant largest in terms of scope. A panoramic scene, complete with models, the nativity took over six years to create and is a geographically accurate representation of the holy land; all figurine’s joints were fully moveable and all animals were carved from single pieces of wood. It was impressive, but having promised Adelaide enormous cows (with matching enormous ‘mooooooooos’) I am afraid I under delivered slightly.

The markets themselves were fab, though, and filled with exactly the right amount of Christmas fun times (by which I mean every third stand sold glühwein).

Like the enormous Baby Jesus, there was happily no sign of our own baby, and other than meat-on-stick sword fights the afternoon passed merrily. Tonight, we’re preparing for yet another Swiss Christmas tradition: Samiclaus is due to pay us a visit. He leaves good (cough heavily bribed) children peanuts, clementines, chocolate and gingerbread in their boots, which are left outside the door the night prior. Addie has nodded off to sleep saying ‘shoes, cake, shoes, cake’ so I rather think said bribes might have worked their magic.