We moved to Lausanne three weeks ago to the day and here’s what I’ve learnt:
- Moving country with a 6-week-old baby and a toddler who, for example, refuses to walk and ninja rolls the entire length of the passport control queue on arrival, is quite (ok, a lot) shattering. But at least said toddler didn’t tell the customs officer that daddy wasn’t her daddy this time (true story)
- You can never have enough snacks, stickers, downloads of Peppa Pig etc and patience when flying with kids (regardless of length of flight)
- You can achieve a lot in three weeks
- You can pack nine bags and still only have 1.5 appropriate things to wear (it’s boiling here and we only have winter threads)
- Kids are way more resilient to change than you think they’re going to be. Watch and learn adult humans
- A level French (if you can remember any of it) is pretty much useless for real life
- Google translate is my new best bud (but you do still need to sense check to avoid sending your child to a garden centre rather than a ‘nursery’ of the kinder garden type)
- It only takes two days of driving on the right-hand side of the road for it to feel totally normal (even if you’ve been driving on the left since you were 17). There’s another lesson in there about change…
- Recycling in the UK is actually pretty good. We shouldn’t moan. It’s a bit of a ball ache here (remember bottle banks?!)
- Going to the supermarket with two kids is a nightmare wherever you are in the world
- Switzerland really is expensive – you have to stop thinking in ££ or you wouldn’t buy anything
- Fondues are still awesome (‘Fondue Friday’ is going to be a thing)
- Finding a ‘connector’ is the key to integration. She’ll pull you under the touristy skin of a place a million times faster than any google search engine. Mine is called Emma and she’s been great. Even found us our house
- The minute you arrive you forget how you thought it was going to be. It just is.
A pal told me recently that you need to feel fresh to write and I have no doubt she’s right.
I’ve never been more shattered.
But I’m here anyway because I fear that moving (especially the international sort and any migration that includes kids) is like childbirth. We’re programmed to forget it so If I don’t write about it now, you’d just get a work of fiction.
So…we landed in Geneva airport on Easter Saturday having moved house within the UK five days before (why?!), bang smack in the middle of ski changeover day. Nine bags, two kids, two car seats, two trollies, a pushchair and only two pairs of responsible hands. It was carnage and the dude who picked us up from the airport looked petrified. But we managed to cram everything in and made it to our pad in Pully which is just outside Lausanne (and pronounced Poo-ey) which is, of course hilarious to anyone under seven.
Thankfully, our Swiss landlord had gone off-piste with the small grocery list we gave him (nothing is open here over holiday weekends and Sundays so we’d asked for some ‘basics’). ‘Basics’ included smoked salmon, multiple balls of mozzarella, a bottle of Chablis, mangoes, blood oranges, fresh coffee, salt and vinegar crisps and some of Switzerland’s finest dark chocolate. Things were looking up.
We sat in our little kitchen that night, ate like kings and could hardly believe that this was our actual life now. It felt surreal and very, very real at the same time.
The first week was taken up with life admin; bank accounts, the countless insurance policies you have to take out here; navigating the supermarket; learning how to drive on the right hand side of the road; trying to dust off the French A level and then realising classroom French isn’t fit for real life anyway, finding snacks the toddler would approve and visiting approximately 43 parks in the first three days (ok this is a mild exaggeration but we have been to LOTS of play parks and zero bars yet so it feels disproportionately high.)
The day hubby disappeared off to work was a little bit petrifying. Not only was I home alone with two kids for the first time ever, but it was in a completely foreign environment where nothing feels automatic – it’s all manual. The simplest things, like posting a letter, doing the recycling – life’s minutia that you barely think about at home – become mammoth tasks. Chuck the language hurdle in too and it’s a bit like wading through treacle. And then hubby disappears off to Asia for a week and the stabilisers are properly off.
I have flown completely solo with the girls for over a week now and it has been a rollercoaster. Mentally and physically shattering but also, in a funny way, GOOD. I’ve just had to get on with it – be brave, speak French, make mistakes (one which nearly involved having to pour a bottle of breast milk on the toddler’s cereal as quite literally everything is closed on a Sunday) and find our new normal. It’s also been a really intense bonding time as we’ve spent so much time just us – no nursery, no structure, none of our pals, no daddy – just us figuring stuff out. The toddler has been telling me ‘Well done mummy, we did it!’ a lot when we arrive at new places. Similarly, she has been telling me I’m ‘too fat’ to go on things at the park so it’s swings and roundabouts literally, but I’ll take that.
In the last week I’ve found a nursery place for the toddler, survived the baby’s first immunisations and the aftermath, moved the toddler into a big bed (what’s one more change?!), got the baby into some semblance of a routine, taught myself how to build a blog site (with a bit of help from across the pond – thanks @mama.of.daughters), created a logo and got this little idea you’re reading now off the ground, not run anyone over, kept two little people alive (and dare I even say it, happy) and all on only one glass of wine a night (and quite a bit of chocolate and cheese). I am not bragging. I am just genuinely amazed that this much has changed in a week.
Don’t get me wrong, there have been some low points; being kicked in the (full) boob, poos in the bath (not mine), immunisation induced sleep deprivation (which is personality-altering), toddler falling backwards off a wall onto her head whilst I was feeding the baby etc. And did I say I was exhausted? But I would do it all again in a heartbeat. Because what’s life if it isn’t about experience? Packing in as much of it in as you can bear. And I don’t just mean good stuff. Or easy stuff. You need to feel the bad stuff, the moments of free-fall, the fear, the doubt, to appreciate when you’ve got it good. It’s true that things feel better if you’ve worked for them.
So as I sit here, on a balmy April eve in Pully, watching the twinkly lights of Evian do their thing across Lake Geneva, I know all of the stresses of the last few weeks, the embarrassing mistakes, the ‘what the hell are we doing?’ dark patches of the night, have been absolutely worth it and that I / we are right where we are meant to be even if it is still very, very unfamiliar.
These last few weeks have forced me to become more comfortable outside of my comfort zone. And I stumbled across a quote during a night feed this week that reminded me why the fear of not doing it should be greater than the fear of doing it. It was this:
“Oh my God, what if you wake up some day, and you’re 65 or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written; or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggling and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a BIG JUICY CREATIVE LIFE…It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen.” – Anne Lamott.
This woman knows her shit. So I will be swimming in Lac Laman (as the locals call it) this summer, despite my very broken post baby body. And I might not be writing a novel (never say never) but I am going to bloody well find time to write this blog. Life should be big and juicy. That’s why I am a massive advocate of making lemonade.