Posts Tagged ‘playgroup’

The other day I attended a Swiss School information night for expat parents. There are many options for schooling here and Switzerland is known to have some of the finest International (i.e. English-speaking) schools in the world.  But unless you’re willing to fork out up to CHF 30,000 per child every year, the public system (“State School”) is a pretty attractive option from the get-go.

With over 50 parents jammed into a small meeting room, we heard a presentation from a School Superintendent on all the options and processes for entering your child into Swiss State school.  At the onset of the presentation, a middle-aged woman dressed in a grey pants suit with an…um…functional…blonde bob shot up her hand and blurted out a question for the speaker.

“Why does the Swiss school system start at 6 years old compared to 3 years of age in most other countries?” she said in a confrontational tone made even more aggressive by her strong American accent.

The speaker averted the question by saying it was a lengthy answer and perhaps they could speak after the presentation.  Thirty minutes later, as the presentation came to a close and the crowd applauded in thanks, Ms. Blonde Bob raised her voice once more.

“So you didn’t answer my question yet. Why is it that Swiss school starts at 6 years old and not 3?”

The speaker, having already avoided the question once, was cornered. She spent the next two minutes uncomfortably trying to explain to a crowd of foreigners that Swiss culture is a bit “traditional” and “some would believe that a woman should be home with her child until at least the age of six for the good of the family”.  As she carefully and politely gave us all a crash course in Swiss values, the Suits in the front row were heckling in disgust.

After a bit of banter and the speaker trying her best to be politically correct (for their sakes I’m sure) Ms. Blonde Bob finally pushed me over the edge with the comment of “Oh, and I guess these are the same ‘some’ that think women shouldn’t vote!”. That was it for me and without even knowing what I was about to say, blurted out from the back row:

“Actually, I have to say that the prominent Swiss ‘traditional values’ was one of the things that attracted me to Switzerland the most. To get away from the Westernized culture of having babies just to have someone else raise them in their most formative years.”

You think you know dagger-eyes but you don’t. Not until you could see the blazing dragon eyeballs that were shooting them at me from the grey blazer in the front row. No love lost. I ruled out her friendship the moment I saw the boring pearl earrings underneath the bad aforementioned bob.

For those of you who know me, you might be calling the pot a little bit black considering I had a nanny from the time the boys were 1.5 – 3 years old. But what got me so infuriated in this instance wasn’t the fact that these were working mothers but rather, the fact that they had made the choice to come to a foreign country and then proceeded to tell the residents of said country that they are doing things wrong. The audacity!  Regardless of what my opinion is on whether a mom should stay home, the point is that this woman can easily give up her high-paying Swiss job and take her ass back to America where they apparently do all things “right” (ahem).

A few days later, a disturbing thing happened at a kids activity centre and I couldn’t help but draw a line in my “if you don’t like it, go home” theory.  The boys were in a playroom while the parents were sitting at cafe tables just outside. I heard Jack doing his boisterous “RAAWWWRR!” noise where he pretends to be a scary monster and instantly looked to see who he was terrorizing. Before I could piece it all together, I heard the blood-curdling screams of a little girl. Running into the room, I saw the little girl in the corner wailing away.  The mother came marching in and bee-lined it for the boy who Jack was pointing at saying “No mommy, it was him! He did it first!”  As I tried to get the truth out of Jack, I couldn’t help but notice the mom grab her son’s shoulder while screaming in his face. Wow, she was really givin’ it to him…all the while his little sister is still screaming in the fetal position.  Then it happened. She slapped him across the face.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a good spanking when the kid needs it, but if there is one law we have when it comes to discipline, it is that we do NOT slap J&L across the face. There is just something so degrading about it and in all honesty, it does more for the angry parent than it ever does for the disobedient child. In my opinion (and drat, here you are reading my blog so I guess you have to hear it!), physical discipline should be an after-the-fact thing where the parent is in control of their emotions. Not in the heat of the moment but a contrived “event” where the lesson is clearly drawn for the child that their actions have resulted in this consequence.

But I digress. Back to the screaming disobedient children.

As I was contemplating whether I should cover my ears to shut out the still-wailing girl in the corner and now her older brother’s deafening screams, another mother came marching in. Like a final puzzle piece just clicked into place, I realized that this boy wasn’t her son at all! This woman just fully assaulted a complete stranger’s child and now the real mom was trying to piece together why her son was screaming and cradling his cheek.  The very thought of it boiled my blood and I nearly slapped her across the face. In fact, in telling Tim the story later that night, I asked him if our Swiss Personal Accident Insurance covers me for kicking another mom’s ass (it doesn’t) because I just know that things would have got ugly if Jack had been the one to take the fall for their boy behaviour.

I quickly did some charades to explain to the real mom why her child was screaming (funny that the abusive woman disappeared as soon as the mother responded to her son’s screams) and then I marched up to the offending woman. I don’t know if she spoke any English but I think my angry tone and “you are the scum of the earth” visage probably sufficed.

As we left to go home and I sat in disbelief at what I just saw, I was reminded of an expat forum post I read once that described how Swiss people think it’s socially acceptable to correct another person’s child. I know the post author was referring to verbal correction but it got me to thinking…was that just a normal Swiss occurrence?

Thankfully, I was able to reflect on the absolute shock of all the other mothers present (Swiss and English speaking alike) and deduce that it most likely isn’t a typical Swiss thing. Everyone was outraged by the whole ordeal.  So in this case, I can tell this woman to shove it, English accent and all. And of course, I can still go home if I don’t like it.


Read Full Post »

In our apartment building, we are on what they call “Erdgeschoss” or EG (ground level).  The “first floor” is actually one flight of stairs up — what North Americans would consider the second floor.  And basement floors are never considered “1” like they may be in North America. That’s called “Untergeschoss”, or UG.  I know, right? Try finding your way around a five floor department store when the directory is all in German and there are more letters than numbers on the elevator button panel. I think the boys and I spent twenty minutes just trying to find the bathroom…oh, and that’s called the WC, just to keep the acronym party hoppin’.

Living above us on the, yep…you got it, first floor, is a German-speaking widow named Silvia.  We’ve briefly passed in the hallway a few times and she seems very nice…although I presume anyone would appear nice when Charades is your primary mode of communication.  Earlier this week, we saw each other at the front gate outside and she spent some time playing with the boys.  In a conversation that resembled something between monkey sign-language and Piglatin, Silvia asked me how old the boys were, I said they just turned four this month and she commented that her birthday is also in October, the very next day in fact.  Before I could even think about how I was going to ask her what she was doing for her birthday, she explained that her husband died two years ago of a sudden heart failure during a routine operation after 40 years of marriage (yeah…you don’t even want to know how we got that out of charades), and that birthdays just aren’t the same without him.  She said they never had children and she has no family. I started getting teary just listening to her try and explain something so seriously painful in such basic English. Her eyes were watery when she went on to explain that that is why she was so happy to have us move in…because the boys bring “joy into her soul”. Wow. Something like that makes you feel really small and selfish.

The next day came and I knew we had to do something for her birthday. The boys made a German birthday card (with a little help from our good friend, Google Translator) and I baked a chocolate fudge cake.  With goodies in hand, we marched upstairs to have a party. Jack was a little disappointed at the lack of birthday hats and presents but still did a fantastic job of leading us in a loud and boisterous Happy Birthday as soon as the door opened. At least until the second line of the song, which is precisely when he realized that he was the only one really singing.

Silvia invited us in right away and the boys immediately snooped through every room on the hunt for toys. Imagine their surprise when they found a Nintendo Game Cube tucked under a coffee table in a livingroom full of tchotchkes. I was giggling at the thought of this 60-year-old lady playing a Nintendo Game Cube when my eyes caught a glimpse of a Super Nintendo beside it. And then a Nintendo 64 in behind that!  Just when I was trying to shut out thoughts of comparing this little old lady to a pre-pubescent video game addict, she caught the boys’ excitement over the game consoles and rushed out of the room. A moment later she was back with a Nintendo Wii in hand!  The boys were in gamer heaven.

As J&L maneuvered through a round of German Zelda, Silvia and I conversed over espresso, my wirelessly connected laptop acting as translator between us.  After one too many pieces of chocolate cake, the boys and I started to pack up while she started yammering away in German and looking around the room for something.  She eventually settled on a plastic bag and disappeared into the livingroom. You could have given me a hundred guesses and I’m not sure I would have even come close to figuring out what she was doing with that bag.  As it turns out, she came back with the Nintendo Wii bundled up and handed it to me while going on in German (apparently, 2 hours of struggling through Google Translate wasn’t enough to convince her that I don’t speak a lick of German).  Even now, I have absolutely no idea if she was lending it or giving it to us but we’re going to err on the side of caution and assume she’s lending it.

Although playdates with 60-year-old German widows is nothing short of riveting, the boys started showing some real signs of needing friends here in the “new country”. I thought they were handling it all very well until the other day when Jack suggested that we “go knock on some doors and see if there are any boys there”.  Then yesterday we were walking past a little boy around their age and Liam said “maybe that boy will be Jack & Liam’s friend!”.  I promptly scoured the internet for playgroups and kindergyms, finding an English-speaking support network with a playgroup for today.  We spent all afternoon running, dancing, playing and doing crafts with other English-speaking kids. The moms there were all extremely nice and it seemed too good to be true…is it that easy to meet new friends?

And then the bubble burst. While packing up to leave, I heard the most awful thing.

Coordinator to her husband: “his Crocs are inside your Crocs”.

Oh no you didn’t!!!  Can I really be friends with someone who not only wears those monstrosities but then subjects their innocent child to a pair, as well?

Read Full Post »