What You Say?

As much as Taz can grate on my nerves with his constant need to move, shake, and be entertained, he often says some of the most wonderful things. The title refers to a question he often asks after I’ve said something he either hasn’t heard or is choosing to misunderstand in the hopes that when I repeat it I will change the message. Such as:

Me: “Taz, have you brushed your teeth and put on your pyjamas?”

Taz:”What you say?”

Me: “Have you eaten all the sugar in the house and shaved your sister’s head?”

He entered kindergarten this year and maybe it’s the time he’s spending with his peers, or perhaps it’s just another symptom of getting older, but he’s getting more snappy with his remarks. Last night I started working at 5:30 and the two little ones were playing in their room. I came in and sat down to watch them build a ship.

Me: “Little Bean, did you have a good day?”

LB: “Yesh.” (not sure where the sh sound at the end comes from)

Me: “Taz, how was your day?”

Taz: “Good.”

Me: “Great! Did you have fun at kindergarten?”

Taz: “Kristina, you don’t talk. Just watch us.”

So, apparently he’s not the conversationalist I was looking for. What’s the point of small talk, anyway? Don’t we all hate it? I guess he’s just being honest.

This morning, I was sitting downstairs with the little ones, surfing the web (a no-no, I realize) and Little Bean ambles over carrying a picture of an adorable blond boy. The small male model is a little fellow Taz went to Kiddie’s Kare with last year. At his birthday party, this boy gave out framed pictures of himself as a party favor—um, Narcissus called and he’d like his idea back!

In any event, the picture now sits in Taz’s room as a showpiece of true friendship. When Little Bean brought the picture to me this morning I asked, knowing full well who it was, “Oooo, is this your boyfriend?” She smiled coyly and said, “Nooooo.” Taz then chimed in, exclaiming, “No! He’s mine!” Oh, OK. Well, I suppose that settles that.


Who Did it Better?

I was on a walk this morning with Little Bean when one of my favorite Band of Horses songs came on, “No One’s Gonna Love You.” This was one of the first songs of theirs I heard and I instantly took a shine to it (how’s that for that-there Kansas speak?). The title is slightly misleading, believing you to think it’s a song about ostracism and perhaps a severe case of bad breath. It’s a song about losing someone you care deeply about, however, with the lyrics that follow being: “…more than I do.” While not the most hopeful and uplifting song, as the couple has broken up and one partner is reassuring the other that no one will love him/her like s/he does, I still like the sentiment and easy “listenability”– yes, I did just coin that word. Theirs is a love that will last.

This afternoon, I stumbled upon another version of the song by Cee Lo Green, who is currently popular for his expletive-heavy tune, “F*** You.” So maybe he’s not the most kid-friendly of recording artists. Still, the man has talent, in his own unique and special way. I was pleasantly surprised to find how much I enjoyed his cover of a band with such an intensely different sound. It need not be said that I prefer the Band of Horses version to Cee Lo Green’s, but still, I commend the good Gentle-sir for his valiant effort. Give the two versions a listen and let me know what you think.

Home is Where You Make It

Warning: This one gets about as heavy as one of Nonna’s cream-based sauces.

Last night as I was reading A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving I came across an interesting passage. To be honest, I’m having a difficult time finding enthusiasm for this book. A Prayer is interesting and has an inspiring plot-line (the movie “Simon Burch” is based on it), but it just doesn’t excite me. Therefore, I feel like I’m muscling through it and not enjoying it as much as I’d like. But, I really don’t like to leave a book unfinished, so I must persevere.

Back to the passage. The narrator, John, moved to Canada to avoid the Vietnam War, became a citizen, and has yet to return to America. His ardent interest in American politics has never wavered, however, and he finds himself constantly engaging others in a one-sided debate on the state of our country. In the midst of a tirade about breaking the arms agreement with the Soviet Union John remarks,

“Every American should be forced to live outside the United States for a year or two. Americans should be forced to see how ridiculous they appear to the rest of the world! They should listen to someone else’s version of themselves– to anyone else’s version! Every country knows more about America than Americans know about themselves! And Americans know absolutely nothing about any other country!”

This thought-provoking passage, while a little extreme, has some truth in it. I believe Americans tend to lean toward the naive or ignorant. We often have an opinion about everything and facts about little. We believe it is our duty to go into other places and “fix things” as we see fit. Were we invited? Were our duties requested? It rarely matters. Yet, we perceive ourselves as the Greatest Nation on Earth. Our understandings of others are vague and limited. Living abroad I have gained some sense of how Americans are viewed and it’s not always rainbows and butterflies. My own host Dad says that whenever he thinks of America he pictures cowboys and the West. Slightly outdated perhaps…

Living overseas has opened my eyes and exposed me to new cultures. While Switzerland may not be the most diverse country (understatement of the year), being an expat has thrown me into a minority position I have rarely experienced. It has helped me appreciate the things I have and opportunities afforded to me. This experience has reminded me how big our world is, and that my home is such a small part of it. I do think it’s important for people to spend time outside of their comfort zone, outside of their residence, purely for the maturation process. I’m not renouncing my citizenship or even criticizing America. I love where I grew up and I’m proud of my country. But I think a little perspective has greatly enhanced my appreciation for my upbringing, as well as realize there are countless other amazing places to live, experience, and learn from.

Growing Up is Hard To Do

Wherever you fly, you’ll be the best of the best.

Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.

Except when you don’t,

Because, sometimes, you won’t.

I’m so sorry to say so

but, sadly, it’s true

that Bang-ups

and Hang-ups

can happen to you.

You can get all hung up

in a prickle-y perch.

And your gang will fly on.

You’ll be left in a lurch.

-Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss

Forget breaking up, it’s the growing up that’s really hard to do. Why didn’t anyone tell me it would be like this? People speak of graduation being the beginning of “the rest of my life.” Well, to steal sentiments from my own graduation speech, what the heck have I been doing for the last 23 years? It may be the start of a new chapter in my life, but it certainly doesn’t come with a manual like everyone promised. And this whole making decisions thing? Yeah, well, it should only be done with serious supervision and a seat belt. Puh-lease! I can barely decide what I want to wear in the morning, and who sees me? A two year old! How in tarnation am I supposed to make “major life choices” that could (read: definitely will) set me on a path toward my elusive future?

This all probably sounds a little drama. It is. I will be the first to admit it. I sat on my high horse last year at this time, thanking my lucky stars that I was not one of the millions of people looking for a job in an economy that looked about as pleasant as a jug of sour milk. I thought, I’m so glad that’s not me. Cut to one calender year later when I have to figure out what comes after this year of adventure and general slacking off. So far I’ve made one major step in my walk toward What I Want to Be When I Grow Up. I’ve scheduled myself to take the GRE in Geneva in November. Yes, I’m not going to go into teaching after all. At least not yet. Oddly enough, in fact, I want to go back to being a student.

What to do with these test scores, you ask? A mighty fine question indeed! I don’t know. I’ve begun the painful (literally, my eyeballs were starting to twitch and burn from looking at my computer screen this morning) search for a school. How does one decide? There are so many considerations, one can’t help but feel battered by them. Are you my school? Are you my school? I feel like that little bird, hopping around, hoping someone will claim me. The process is ridiculous. It’s hard to be removed from the school scene, not to mention the country. I wish I would have begun this process whilst still in college. But hindsight is 20/20. At this point all I can do is throw on my suit of armor and head into the fight. You want my transcript(s)? Fine. Letters of recommendation? OK, then. A writing sample (or two)? Well, I’ll see what I can do. $50. Now you’re just getting greedy.

I’m trying to take baby steps. There’s no sense in trying to tackle it all at once. Today I was just feeling hypersensitive. At one point I yelled at Little Bean for crying because her food was too hot. I was the one who put it in the microwave! It was completely my fault. What is my malfunction?

Tonight the kiddos asked for a story before bed and Oh, the Places You’ll Go! was the book Taz chose. The little guy can’t even read English, yet this was the old piece of wisdom his paws landed on. I kid you not, when I got to the middle about times getting tough, I actually started crying. Right there on the sofa, little tears just cruising down my face. I pulled it together to finish the story and send them to bed. I think what hit me was this: Yes, this is tough. It’s hard work, but it’s meant to be that way. If it was easy, then would it really be worth it? Isn’t all the hard stuff at the beginning part of the reward at the end?

But on you will go

though the weather be foul.

On you will go

though your enemies prowl.

On you will go

though the Hakken-Kraks howl.

Onward up many

a frightening creek,

though your arms may get sore

and your sneakers may leak.

On and on you will hike.

And I know you’ll hike far

and face up to your problems

whatever they are.

You’ll get mixed up, of course,

as you already know.

You’ll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go.

So be sure when you step.

Step with care and great tact

and remember that Life’s

a Great Balancing Act.

And will you succeed?

Yes! Yes, you will indeed!

(98 and 3/4 per cent guaranteed.)


This Just Happened

It took me a while to adjust to living in the house for a couple different reasons, one namely being new housemates. I have never lived with young kids without being a little critter myself. It’s definitely a shock when the cries, laughter, yells, and general noise of children fill the house from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. You can’t escape the sound. You also can’t escape the little intrusions. I think I mentioned before that I have had a couple of issues with Taz about defining personal boundaries. Well, it appears that Rapunzel and I will be having a similar discussion in the morning. Allow me to explain.

The parents are out for a dinner party and I am babysitting. I was scheduled to start working at 6:45 and managed to roll in the door at 6:30. I had time to quickly check my email and empty my day bag before heading downstairs to help the kiddos get into jammies before a night of watching TV. As soon as I put them to bed I did a running leap for the shower. I laid by the lake this afternoon and followed my vitamin-D session with a trip to the gym. It’s safe to say I needed a hose-down.

Now, here I am, in the shower, doing my shower thing, when I hear the unmistakable sound of a child outside the door. Next thing I know the door is being opened and Rapunzel is standing there with a mask of concern on her face. I should point out now that the shower is just one big glass vestibule, and not even the frosted kind. “Umm, yes. Can I help you?” She says that she needs water before she can sleep. I remind her that she can get this for herself and to go downstairs and do it. Tears are about to spring from her eyes when she says she would but she can’t open the lid to her sippy-cup.

So, I open the door, remove said lid and send her on her way. She leaves the bathroom and fails to shut the door behind her. I should now point out that the bathroom opens up to the office which has a convenient row of windows facing right into the bathroom. The houses here are ridiculously close together and we all have intrusive views into one another’s lives. At this point I am looking into the dining room of the kind folks behind us. I am operating under the “I can see you so you can see me” mentality and assume the neighbors are getting a little more than they bargained for when they bought the place. “Hey, Rapunzel, could you maybe grab that door? Yeah, OK. Cool.” She shuts the door and I am left scratching my soapy head in wonder at the lackadaisical attitude of children.

It couldn’t be more than 4 minutes later and I see the sliver of light begin to expand at the doorway. Apparently, she has such weak muscles that she is unable to screw the lid of the cup back on. Once more I open the shower door and assist her. She says thank you and begins to close the door. Just as I feel I will be left in peace she whips it open again and asks me if I’m coming with them to Laax tomorrow. I assure her that I will be there, bid her goodnight and ask her to shut the door on her way out. She then inquires if I will be going to Portalban (the other holiday home) with them in two weeks. Seriously? Is this the time to have this conversation? “Yes. As a matter of fact, I will.” “OK, good!” It isn’t without a couple of tschüsses that she’s finally out of the bathroom and on her way to slumberdom. Obviously she’s not fazed, but I think we might have a little girl talk about occasions when it’s not OK to bust in on someone.

At a Loss for Words

Yesterday I was presented with a question that I was not prepared to handle. I like to think I have pretty good response time and if I don’t exactly know the answer, I will either admit that or make something up (only with the kids, you see). But in this instance the question directly related to the recreational habits of cows. Let me explain…

I took Taz and Little Bean to pick up Rapunzel from school. As I have mentioned before there are cows everywhere. I think it is kind of ironic that I’ve spent my entire 23 years living in a predominantly farm/livestock-friendly state and managed to have little or no contact with either one. Yet, I move on the other side of the world and if the alarm clock doesn’t wake me up the sweet sound of a cowbell surely will. There are cows, horses, sheep, and goats all within a stone’s throw.

So, yesterday we are all walking home from school and Rapunzel, who was lingering behind as usual, comes running up to me. “Kristina, Kristina! I just saw two cows and one was behind the other and it had it’s arms around it like so (mimes a hug from behind). What were they doing?” Oh, golly. Hmm, let’s see…I guess they were…well, it’s just that…great that you brought that up…maybe, uh…when a bull and a heifer love each other–no, no, that’s not right*. “Well, Rapunzel, cows are silly just like people and they really like to play games too. I bet they looked pretty funny then.” She looked at me thoughtfully and then started to giggle, “Yes, they did look funny. (Pause for effect) I love cows.” Ok, good, that’s nice. I was spared having to explain more because Taz fell into a it’s-100-degrees-and-I’m-eating-ice-cream meltdown. I’m not prepared to have that kind of talk with the kids, especially when so much seems to get lost in translation. As far as I’m concerned babies still arrive via stork. Until I have little critters of my own, I think I will attempt to deflect all similar questions with my side-splitting humor and penchant for breaking into song.

*Thank you for the joke, Adam.

Deutsch Lernen in der Schweiz

I was enrolled in an intensive German course during the first couple weeks I was here. It was two hours and for two weeks I would sit among my fellow students and practice rolling this new language around in my mouth like a hot piece of food. The most interesting thing about this course was that everyone came from a different country. Nations represented included: Greece, Russia, Chile, Argentina, Turkey, and Romania. I was not only the single American in the room, I was also the youngest, by about 12 years. I only know this due to the day we learned numbers and how to say how old we are. The only common language in the class was German, therefore that’s primarily all that was spoken. English floated around every once in a while when someone who spoke it asked for clarification. One such student was Ba’bis from Greece. I don’t want to get cocky but I have small suspicion he had a crush on me. A couple times I saw him making eyes at me and I quickly averted mine. He also was always asking me questions during the “interview” portions of class and volunteered to be my partner. I told the Mom about this thinking it was funny and she replied, “Stay away from the Greeks,” looked up toward the sky for a minute, turned and walked away. I guess I won’t ask about that one. And anyway, I learned he is vierundfunfzig jahre alt (54 years old) so I don’t think I’ll be getting his number any time soon. Another interesting character in this class happened to come from Turkey. She sat next to me in our “U” shaped arrangement and was constantly talking over people to answer questions and correct others’ mistakes. She had a tendency to scowl at students and direct her nose just a tad too high in the air. I’m sure it’s the teacher in me, but I had a hard time sitting next to this gal who constantly had to make her presence as “Best Student in the Beginner Level” known. Come on, girl, we are all amateurs. Besides, people learn when they make mistakes; give them a chance to do it wrong so they can understand how to fix it in the future. Man, just talking about it is getting me worked up.

The reason I bring this up is because I had my placement test for my next German class today. I hiked over to Oerlikon to take a multiple choice exam so they could determine to which subset of “Novice” I should go. The proctor instructed me to stop whenever I felt I couldn’t go on and that I had 30 minutes to finish.  The first couple of questions were great: which sentence of “My name is _______and I come from _______” was correct; filling in the blank with the correct form of “you.” For the briefest of moments I thought I was going to do pretty well. Then I got to question 8. Things got a little hairy from there. I really had to think about the questions and use the tiny pictures by the questions to derive context clues. By question 20 my brain was exhausted and I swear a small sweat-stache was forming on my upper lip from concentrating so hard. I returned to the teacher and let her grade my paper. I earned a startling 10/20. I’m a little impressed given that it’s been 7 weeks since my last formal class. She made a tsking sound as she finished grading and consulted the class-assignment card. “Did you try the last ones at all?” she asked. “Hm, no, I thought I was going to pass out. But I could try them if you want.” “Well, really you need 11 correct to go to the next level but you seem like a quick learner so I’m going to go ahead and bump you up.” How could she tell I was a devoted scholar? Perhaps she is a clairvoyant? Or maybe she imagined me plucking my eyebrows out as I sat through yet another entry level class. In any case, I should hopefully be starting more German classes soon. I can’t wait to regale you with my tales from schule, probably with the enthusiasm of a first grader getting off the bus in the afternoon. As for me now I have a free weekend ahead of me and haven’t quite determined how I’m going to spend it.