[Note: We’ve been home several months now, but had written a few draft blogs before we left. This is one of them.]
“Honey, let me wipe them off. They are all over your face.”
I wipe her face.
“MOM!!!!! Put them back! I didn’t want you to take them!! PUT MY BOOGERS BACK!!”
This meltdown, while particularly quote-worthy, was not unusual as we stood at the overlook to the Matterhorn near Zermatt, Switzerland with a train-load of tourists. A very nice couple from Korea gave me a smile and kind words of support, as I tried to put the wet tissue to H’s face in an effort to give her ‘her boogers back.’
There were so many memorable meltdowns: the one in the pouring rain during a trip to St. Ursanne refusing to go into a (dry) church until lightening struck convincingly overhead; the time-out next to the Nutella crepe stand under the ‘awful’ tower in Paris; an I-will-not-walk-one-more-step-even-if-a-little-girl-did-write-a-book meltdown on the way to the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam; and my personal favorite, the day of the I-hate-you-mom yelling and door-slamming that left everyone crying in our attic apartment bathroom, otherwise known as my 40th birthday. Ah…the memories.
Maybe these weren’t quite all the memories we had planned to make, but we did learn some things. Kids take time. And gummy bears. They also require gummy bears.
When you’re out and about and desire cooperation immediately, I’ve found there is no substitute for gummy bears. They are so effective I’m surprised this feature is not part of Haribo’s global marketing campaign. But in the long-term, there are really no short cuts or ‘hacks’ when it comes to relationships, the attention and time is the investment. This year we had more time together than ever before, and while meltdowns are perhaps inevitable if a four year old is simply pushed too far, we also learned that putting some attention and time in early really helped us prepare for the hard stuff ahead.
H arguably had the most difficult situation ahead of her when we moved to Basel. After just six weeks in a new country, she was expected to walk into a Swiss-German speaking kindergarten and follow directions she didn’t understand, play with kids she didn’t know and adapt to a new social culture even her parents kept messing up. Several weeks out, I was anticipating some (well-deserved) resistance from H to the idea of kindergarten. We started several weeks ahead mimicking what it might be like waking up early, getting dressed, walking the route, finding something fun along the way (swings!), and talking through what the day might look like and a few strategies for what she could do if she got confused or lost. In the end, I additionally had to promise something she desperately wanted that I had not yet allowed: makeup. I said if she made it through the entire first week we could get eye shadow, the second week would be lip gloss, and if she made it to the first school holiday six weeks in and still didn’t like it, we’d consider home-schooling.
Even the teachers seemed a bit suspect of how it was all going to go. More than once they asked me, “Did you mean to sign up for this school? There are other schools that speak English.”
“Yes, this is what we wanted,” I would reply, again, with a smile. Thinking of how incredibly difficult it was to find and fill out all of the forms by mail in German and get them in months before we’d even left the U.S. How could someone ever do all that by accident?
H got her eye shadow and her lip gloss, and after the first school holidays she was excited to go back and see her new friends and play with their better toys. She had found a few kids who spoke English at home and could help her in class. Her Swiss-German only started to really take off many months later, after she got a boyfriend. J, an older boy of 6, who only spoke Swiss-German, her new language of love. In the end, she really liked the school, the teachers and her new friends. I went to her class the last day of the year and watched as each student gave her a picture they had drawn and said what they wished for her on her trip back to the US. Even the teachers said how much they would miss our spunky girl.
C had a very different set up for school, while she was also in a local Swiss grade school, they took everyone who didn’t yet speak German and put them together to learn the language first. So her class was a mix of kids from six to thirteen years old, from Russia, Eritrea, Spain, Cuba, Turkey, Algeria, Dominican Republic, and Italy. Her teacher, Frau R, reminded me of an adult Pipi Longstalking, taking the kids for adventure after adventure auf Deutsch and turning them into a family responsible for helping each other—she was truly amazing! Every day I would ask C what they did for school, expecting to hear some German lesson, but instead hearing, “we went to the store and bought snacks,” “we made our costumes for the play Frau R is writing for us,” and “we went on a bus, train, and tractor to a farm where we got to make snake bread over a fire.” They did it all in German and C quickly progressed beyond all of us in her fluency, and made several close friends in the process.
By the end of the year, both girls were walking to or back from school by themselves. H only had a short walk, but across three streets. C’s walk was a little over half a mile across eight streets, but she could usually go with a friend. They were so proud to be able to do this on their own, and it was only terrifying for me for the first few weeks, then I got myself some eye shadow and lip gloss as a reward.
And, we did have some fun times too 🙂