Having a toddler that could argue that black is white and vice versa (and win) isn’t just annoying. It’s also a little bit true (stay with me). And living in Switzerland is another reminder that even if black is black and white is white, there’s this huge area in between that’s a bit of both. It’s here, in the in between spaces, the grey matter if you like, that I’m realising the juiciest bits of life, the real stuff, happens.
Let’s start with the easier of the two. Switzerland. Where you can’t do your washing after 10pm or mow your lawn on a Sunday, but you can buy weed in Aldi and the laws relating to assisted dying are some of the most liberal in the world. Where we walk home to the ancient sound of cowbells and the high-tech drone of self-driving lawn mowers. This place is as full of contradiction as it is chocolate and cheese. The national stereotype exists, of course it does, but so does it’s opposite. Scratch below the surface of this law-abiding country and between the red tape (and my god does it exist) you’ll find a much more liberal place than you were probably expecting.
And then there’s two and a half years of human to contend with who has so many questions that I am constantly reminded how life rarely has a simple answer. Here are a few corkers from the last few weeks. Write down your answers and let’s compare notes because a) I still owe her answers for some of them and b) I suspect that for those I haven’t dodged, our responses will be completely different and equally true:
- Why can’t I have honey on my pasta?
- Why don’t plasters make everything better?
- Why do boys have willies and girls have bottoms?
- Where does your nose live?
- Why do babies have to come out of that special tiny hole?
- Why have you got a beard mummy?
- What do cows do?
- Are you going to a lovely café or a naughty one mummy?
- Why is the moon broken?
All excellent questions. None of which Google can massively help with and I imagine they are all a bit much for Alexa too.
But the hardest one to answer and her current obsession? Are you happy mummy? Because the truth is that I’ve never felt so happy and so sad at the same time. I’m both, in almost equal measure at exactly the same time. Happy because we are on an incredible adventure as a family, setting up life in a new place, doing new stuff every single day, and it’s exciting and beautiful and life affirming. And I have so much more than I ever dreamt I would. And sad because I have a very sick mum who is brave and wonderful and who shouldn’t be having to deal with everything she is dealing with. And who I am reminded of every time I am mothering my own girls (which is all the time). It’s tough and achy and life affirming too.
So there it is again. That in between place that is somehow more intense and real than being one or the other.
You can be both living and dying, facing loss and appreciating just how much you do have, happy and sad, madly in love and mad at them (a schizophrenic truth that every parent knows). You can be firmly telling them off for the latest bedtime procrastination (‘I’ve just come to tell you I like / don’t like my mattress’ etc) or ridiculous demand (‘Mummy stop the car and help me get this bogie out of my nose’) while secretly laughing inside and feeling proud of their sass. You can be proud of and horrified by your post baby bod. You can be so busy that there aren’t enough hours in the day but the answer is to take on just one more thing because it’s just for you, and it reminds you of who you are and gives you the energy to find time to do all the things you weren’t finding time to do before.
It’s part of our job description as parents to teach our kids right from wrong, good from bad, yes from no but as any toddler will put to the test, these are elastic words. Should we make them say sorry or wait for them to actually mean it? Is playing with their food bad or is it all part of learning to enjoy it? God knows, but the answer’s in the grey area.
So in true toddler style, I’m going to put it out there that grey isn’t actually grey at all. It’s a pantone explosion. It’s the multicoloured, messy, complicated, beautiful bit where real life happens. Five months in Switzerland and two and a half years of toddler is my proof.