Toddler Regression and Other Thoughts

My youngest, Margot, is about to turn three and just entered into what experts call a “toddler regression.” She has gone from being our most independent, capable, strong-willed child into our most independent, capable, strong-willed baby overnight. She refuses to use real words, (which she knows and used before this moment), she wants to be held all the time, she colors on walls, refuses to attempt potty training and a host of other issues. It is honestly as though she has woken up as an 18 month old at best. A few days ago, I was at my wits end for how to help her after my usual bag of tricks was not working. So I did what anyone would do, I turned to the internet. And in this case, unlike the time I needed to know why I had a headache and left thinking I had a brain tumor, the internet did not fail me.

Most children go through regressions throughout childhood. They mature, develop new skills and then realize they are growing up and their little brain gets overwhelmed and they act younger than they are. It’s sort of a two steps forward, one step back situation. Or in Margot’s case, beautifully drawn pictures one day, scribbles on the wall the next. Everything I’ve read says this is a stage and to be patient and hold her as much as I can and give her lots of affection because all of this is a reaction to stress. The article I read suggested that parents ask, “Has anything changed in the child’s life?” Um, yes. We left the only home she’s ever known, all of the friends that she can name, her car, her park, her babysitter, her best buddy. Someone came and packed up her stuff and her bed and put it in a container and that container is somewhere between Antwerp and the port of Houston. I think it’s fair to say some things have changed.

Sometimes I don’t give my kids enough credit and in this case, I really think Margot gets it. She feels the change and is acting on it. She can’t say she doesn’t want to move or that it’s upsetting her to not have her things or her house or be able to go to her best buddy’s house. (That’s her term for her friend Magnolia, not my words). So in her own way, Margot’s trying to go back to a time that felt really stable and easy and safe.

When I think about it that way, I want to regress. Moving, despite being a main feature of my life, is hard. I’m not sure it’s fully hit me because we often come to Virginia in the summer. It’s not out of the ordinary yet. Then I remember we are not going back to Geneva. Our house doesn’t belong to us anymore. My stuff is in a container on a boat somewhere in the Atlantic. When my kids ask when we can go to Reid and Chase’s house, I just pause and hope they forget the question because the answer is, “not for awhile because it involves international air travel.” In some ways, moving with three kids has been a less emotional move for me because there are so many more details to manage. There are other people crying or upset and I need to help them process their emotions. I don’t have a lot of time to dwell on all we’ve moved away from or even on all we get to do in Houston. Though, maybe I do regress in my own way. Like a lot of adults, I rewatch tv shows or reread a favorite book. I respond more emotionally than I normally would. I find myself falling into patterns I thought I’d addressed and moved past. Maybe I am going through a regression. Maybe I just need to be patient and kinder with myself and hope it passes.

I have an advantage over Margot. I do know a little of what is coming. I’ve moved before and started over and I know that Houston has so many good things for us- family, friends, a great school, church, house. But for now, you can find me rewatching Parks and Rec and reading Pride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time. Give me a break, it’s just a regression.

Lights, Camera, Christmas

It all started when my four year old daughter, Annie, was cast as Mary in the Nativity play at our church. I do not know if they intended to include the youngest children in the most important roles or if it was her long blond hair that made her such a natural fit for the part of Mary or if it was the only role they trusted her with as it was a non-speaking role. Regardless, when you provide the mother of Jesus for the nativity play, it is imperative you not be late.

We arrived early en masse, my son ready to play Joseph, another non-speaking part I might add, my youngest thrilled just to be invited “backstage” and Annie in a stubborn panic. She absolutely refused to even try on the costume. I offered nail polish, chocolate, anything. The people in charge came over a few times.

“Will we have a Mary?” one woman asked. I told her I was not sure and blamed stage fright, hoping for some empathy.

Five minutes later, the costume mistress approached.

“This is for her head.” She handed me a white gauzy veil with silver stars all over. I took the veil and tried to entice Annie with the glitter. No go.

Five minutes after that, she returned to tell me, “Well, if she won’t do it, you’ll have to.”

I shook my head and said, “Why don’t we find a child understudy?” The woman looked around the room. At least three girls were dressed as angels and last I checked there was not a requisite number of angels. One of them could just be Mary.

“I don’t think that’s going to work.” The woman said as she smiled and walked away.

There was no way I was going to play Mary in a children’s pageant. I couldn’t. I’m an adult. It would just be wrong. And my stage fright began to set in. Now I understood Annie. I didn’t want to get up in front of everyone either. At least she was age appropriate for a children’s nativity.

Christmas pageants and I have a long and sparkly history. I grew up being a part of two annual Christmas pageants- one at my Catholic school and one at our evangelical church. The nativities could not have been more different. Every year at school, we did the same play. If you were in second grade, you were a drummer boy and you walked in and sang, surprise, surprise, The Little Drummer Boy. The kindergarteners were the sheep. The fourth graders the shepherds. The script never changed and you knew exactly what role you would play for the eight years you were a student at Sacred Heart. Smart parents kept the costumes because they knew they would use them for younger children. Then came Mrs. Iwata who wrote a new script that somehow involved a violet in the snow. Nothing else about the show changed. But, it was quite the controversy to add some updated dialogue.

At our church, we never did the same play twice. That would be boring, which was the worst thing we could think of. The choir director wrote full scale musicals, two acts of singing and dancing and acting for the Christmas pageant. The sets were elaborate multilevel constructions of glitter and lights. One year, we did a show in which my younger brother and I played Dot and Toby, in a Wizard of Oz meets Christmas homage. There were three rapping wise guys instead of a Tin Man. At the end of the show, we realized there was no place like home… for the holidays.

Another year, I was dressed as a cabana dancer, swing dancing to “Feliz Navidad” at the front of the church. Yet another year, I twirled around with a wooden snowflake to “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas.” Every year was different and new and we began the rehearsals and preparation a year in advance. Christmas had to be flashy and bright to draw people in. Then there would be a five minute sermon to tell people the true meaning of Christmas and send them on their way.

Did I mention we did this ten nights in a row? With a break on Sunday and Monday of course. Two weeks of sold out Christmas shows in our church sanctuary with laser lights, smoke machines and kabuki cannons. All to make sure people understood the real meaning of Christmas. 

This is why I panicked when they asked me to be Mary this year. I do not do Christmas pageants anymore. I have put in more than my fair share of Christmas spirit. Ten times my share if you ask me. But, in the true spirit of Christmas, I was saved by a visitor.

Five minutes before our church service was to begin, a new family entered with a four year old daughter. They had been to the church once before and were just looking for the Sunday School room. I spotted my savior right away.

Bending down to be level with the daughter’s face, I asked, “Would you like to be Mary?”

The mom translated for me and the girl smiled. I happily handed over the veil and robe and that was that. Crisis averted. The little girl felt welcomed and involved and to be honest, she absolutely nailed the part. Annie sat in the pew coloring, Margot danced along from the back and Forest was perfectly imperfect on the choreography and timing. There were no laser lights, no explosions or cabana dancers. It was sweet and reminded us all of the angels message of Peace on Earth, Goodwill towards Men. And the saving grace of a visitor, a newcomer, arriving just in time.

Call Me Maybe

Recently I cancelled my US phone contract. I know. I know. I kept it because I did not want to lose my number and when I travelled to the States, I would use that phone. I suspended service when we were out of the country and assumed I would restart it when we moved back in 2015. But by July 2017, it was time to admit I did not need a US number anymore. So, on August 4, I gave up my US cell service contract with the help of Brian from Verizon. We spoke briefly about my moving to Switzerland. I was too embarrassed to admit I had kept an American contract while living abroad for such a long time so I told him I was moving to Switzerland that day. It was a white lie. Today- give or take four and a half years.

Brian was very helpful and asked all the right questions- Are you sure? Could someone else use this number while you’re gone? I can’t suspend service until August 9, is that okay? I assume this is because he was following a script but each question had a layer of finality and poignancy to it. I had that number for 15 years- as long as I have had a cell phone. It was a great phone number with some numbers repeated, easy to memorize. Was I sure?

After a brief pause, Brian said, “Mrs. Grizzle? I thought service would end on the ninth of August but I accidentally sent the request for termination for today so most likely this will be your last call on this number.”

My last call. On my lifelong number. Was spent speaking to Brian from Verizon.

All of this has led me to think about that number and my phone and how much meaning I attached to a ten digit number. When we lived in Houston, I got daily phone calls for two months from Ernie Cobb. He was an elderly man whose daughter had purchased a cell phone for him and he was convinced that my number was his number. So he called me regularly to check his voicemail. I thought at first that it was some kind of scam so I had Josh call him back. I sat next to Josh and listened as he spoke to Ernie for twenty minutes. Turns out Ernie had spent some time in Houston and now lived in Virginia. He and Josh had a lot in common. He kept calling after that but at least I knew it wasn’t a scam. For years I saved one of Ernie’s messages on MY voicemail, “Hi Jane. Guess we haven’t figured out this number thing yet. If you see this number calling just know it’s me, Ernie Cobb.” I don’t know what happened to Ernie but he stopped calling so I assume he figured out what his own number was.

I have a handful of numbers memorized. My mom and dad’s. My dad’s pager number. My brothers’ and my neighbors’ from growing up. When my water broke with Forest, I called my mom and found out she had the stomach flu and would not be able to be there for the birth. What did I do? I called the only number I could remember from childhood and got my mom’s neighbor to go down to the house to check on her. Thank God I had at some point memorized Dianna’s phone number.

We were with my brother and his wife recently and she told us that he had made a point to memorize her phone number because they had read a study that showed that couples who knew each other’s numbers were more likely to stay together. I thought that was sweet but in light of my conversation with Brian, the study had more weight to it. We don’t memorize many phone numbers anymore so it shows a level of commitment and intentionality to commit these ten digits to memory. I think about numbers I used to know and numbers I have kept in my brain. I do not think it shows that I lack care for those I have not memorized but there is something special about the numbers I do remember. It’s the same with birthdays I remember without looking at the calendar or Facebook. Those analog memories mean just a little more somehow.

So, you can call me on my Swiss number. Just don’t try the 434 number. You might get Ernie Cobb.

Welcome Stranger

My five year old suggested that I give up sleep for Lent, since “it has to be something you really love.” He is nothing if not observant, that kid. I promptly informed him I’ve been fasting from sleep for five years and two months and I am still waiting for Easter. All that to say, YES, I am exhausted and no amount of concealer can hide it. But it’s not just the normal “I have three kids under five” exhaustion. There is an intellectual exhaustion, a sheer depletion of brain power that comes with being an immigrant in a country where they do not speak your language.

I looked it up on Webster’s to be sure and yes, we qualify as immigrants. I am “1 : a person who comes to a country to live there.” The adult definition included the word “permanently” and as we have no current plans to move back, we meet the requirements. So when I woke up this morning to word that the Trump administration has rewritten their executive order restricting immigration, well, disappointment would be a weak word for what I felt.

Prior to moving to Switzerland, when I heard the word immigrant, I thought of Mexican neighbors I knew in California. I didn’t know them very well but I went to school with their children or grandchildren and knew that some of my friends in grade school spoke Spanish at home. We celebrated the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe which, outside of my tiny Catholic school, is celebrated mostly in Mexico. Other than that, I did not have any idea what life as an immigrant was like.

Please forgive my ignorance. I am embarrassed to say I never really thought much about immigration outside of these friends’ parents who had moved to the U.S. a long time ago and led very All-American lives. I deeply regret my lack of empathy and lack of attempt to understand what life as an immigrant to America is like. We lived in Houston, Texas for crying out loud and still I was able to stay happily unaware of the difficulties immigrants experience when they move to America.

So many different kinds of people immigrate to America. Some of them speak English fluently. Many of them do not. Some of them come for jobs. Some come for their family. I do not know all the statistics but I do have tremendous empathy for how hard it is to live in America if you are not from there because I live in another country and it is hard.

We moved here because of my husband’s job. He works for a company headquartered here and when we were asked to move, we knew it would be great for his career. We dreamed of our children learning French from birth and becoming fluent. We hoped they would develop skills and cultural awareness that cannot be taught in America. We were told it was a very international city and that we probably would find many English speakers. Someone even said “You don’t need French.” They were wrong. I speak French every day not just out of novelty but out of necessity. I have sat waiting for deliveries on the wrong day or at the wrong time because I could not understand what the driver said before he hung up. I have showed up for appointments at the wrong place. I have lost my spot on waiting lists for public preschool because I did not understand the system described mostly in French. I have offended people by not saying the proper greeting or adding the proper title. And that’s the entry level stuff.

I cannot communicate fluently with my son’s teachers. I speak basic French and can understand more than that but when I try to speak it back, I do not sound native. I stutter and stumble over conjugations and vocabulary. It takes time to learn another language. In English and in my home country, I am eloquent, well-read, informed and witty. But, in French and here in Geneva, I am not. I am halting, timid, embarrassed and anxious. I read 156 books last year but when someone on the playground asks me how my daughters are doing, I can only reply with the French equivalent of “They are good. They go to school. They are 2 years old and 7 months. They are girls.” I worry every day that I will embarrass my son by trying to speak to his friends or their parents. So far he is either unaware or very patient.

And that’s just the language. The cultural differences are numerous as well. You say hello to everyone. You greet everyone with their title, “Madame” or “Monsieur.” You may never meet your neighbors because they are very private. Parents are exceptionally hands off at the playground. You do not speak loudly in restaurants. You do not mind when people bring their dogs to the table next to you. Short emails are considered rude. No one uses voicemails. You do not wear work out apparel to the grocery store. Even if you just worked out. Athleisure is not a thing here. You cannot say “But that’s not how we normally do it” because you do not know how they normally do it. And any time we eat a lot or buy large pieces of meat or wear bulky white sneakers, I hear the slightly snobby, “Ahh, tres Americain!”

And that is nothing about the feelings. All the feelings. We do love living here. Everything we hoped for has come to pass. My kids speak French. My husband is doing well in his job. We have built a community here. But, with all the great things come the tough things. I wish I could more accurately describe how exhausting it is to do simple things like get a drivers license or sign up for a class when you don’t speak the language. How lonely it feels to be unable to speak to anyone in the grocery store or cafe. How embarrassed I feel of my lack of knowledge. The simultaneous pride and envy I feel about my kids assimilating. The sadness of missing home. The guilt I feel for not being there and for enjoying being here.

As an educated, privileged American, I have access to all the resources in the world. I have apps and tutors and guidebooks. I can hire a babysitter so I can study a third language. But being an immigrant to Switzerland is exhausting. I am weary and tired and my heart breaks for those immigrants in America who are struggling with similar feelings and obstacles and especially for those who do not have access to all the resources I do. I can’t change anything about this immigration plan (or lack thereof) but I hope that when you meet a person who has immigrated to the United States, if they are speaking another language at the grocery store or they seem rude or cold, you give them the benefit of the doubt that they are intelligent, talented and a human therefore worthy of knowing. This new order may not seem like a big deal to you but it creates an atmosphere of unwelcomeness. If immigrants to America are anything like me, they are acutely aware of it.

I am reminded of the important words of Jesus, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” I remember each person who welcomed me here, who smiled at the children or tried to help me fill out forms or find things in the stores. The people who ignored my ignorance and treated me politely. I was a welcomed stranger and hope that my words here can encourage you to be a welcomer of strangers too.


What is mine to do? It’s a question that’s been rattling around in my brain since I first heard it from my friend Suzanne Stabile on her podcast, The Road Back To You. I think that if we can answer that question, we will find a big clue to our purpose and calling here. And it seems so easy, “what is mine to do?”

The question can have a simple answer or a deep answer. Mine is the laundry and the cooking and the pick ups and drop offs and the reading to and singing to and tucking in. But mine is also the teaching, encouraging and affirming the three little selves that live with me. Mine is the caring for my husband who works in a bruising industry and comes home tired and worn out. Mine is the writing when I think of something and think it might be helpful. Mine is the welcoming of friends and family when they come to visit. 

I can usually answer what is mine to do but I get distracted by what I would like to be mine. I envy those whose things seem bigger than mine, those who preach the truth or fight injustice or write the songs or the books or the tv shows, who lead teams or change minds or create art. I can get so focused on what is yours to do that I lose sight of mine. I know I’m off track when I begin to feel discontent. I am never as satisfied or happy if I’m wishing mine was a different lot. If I find myself nostalgic for things that used to be mine to do in a different season of life. I know no one does it all at the same time and resting in the seasonality of life as my friend Jill reminds me helps me to patiently tend to what is mine to do in this season. 

Living in Geneva has simplified and distilled my answer to the question “What is mine to do?” See in the States, I would probably get involved in the PTA and the campaign to save my daughter’s preschool building and the local protests against construction and I would lose any chance I had of mindfully tending my own garden. Because I don’t speak enough French, my involvement in society is limited. I cannot crusade or argue but I do know enough to speak to another mom on the playground and politely ask how her son or daughter is doing. And that has to be enough for me. 

I consider myself a pretty smart person. I read a lot and listen to various podcasts, news programs, etc. I am a voracious consumer of information. But in this season of my life, I don’t have a lot of output. I don’t have a lot of opportunities to speak about these things and ideas because I cannot even really conjugate the past tense. So I am learning about being humble and not being a part of the smart or the active and just doing my things to do. It is hard to admit that my main tasks are menial at least in the here and now. But it is in the obedience in the small things that we learn obedience in the big things. Awhile ago I came across this quote from Helen Keller, “I long to accomplish a great and noble task but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.”

I would love to be more involved in things and maybe someday I will be but for now you will find me wiping noses, reading books, vacuuming up dog hair and putting kids to bed. That is mine to do. And I am learning to be grateful for the language barrier that makes it much easier to focus on my own patch of this earth, to do these small tasks with the greatest care and focus on what is mine. 

Bon Courage

I’m pregnant. Actually, I’m closer to not being pregnant. As in, due date is less than three weeks away. So you can imagine how large my belly is and how uncomfortable I must look walking around Geneva with my giant American-size baby bump. I have had several people ask me if it’s twins. And they started asking me that in May. I tell them “No, it’s just an American baby.” It usually shuts them up. It has been a little hard for me though if I am honest. I usually don’t struggle too much with body image except when I’m pregnant, which seems weird because my body is working hard for someone else and I should feel better about that. A few times this pregnancy, I’ve had friends remind me that I’m not “doing nothing” as I have said. My body is working all the time. These friends are good reminders.

It’s not all uncomfortable or frustrating. One thing I have enjoyed here is the encouragement people have been giving me. Instead of “good luck” like we Americans say to very pregnant women, the French phrase is “Bon Courage”- meaning “Good Courage.” Technically, Google Translate says it means good luck but there is a subtle difference that I appreciate. Instead of sort of leaving it to fate and saying, “Well, this next month is out of your hands,” even if it is, “Bon Courage” implies “You Can Do This! You’ve Got This! Be Strong!” And don’t we all need more of that message in our lives- nine months pregnant or not?

So, in a few weeks, we will meet Skipper who will not actually be named Skipper. Forest told me last summer (please note: before I was even pregnant) that he would have a brother named Skipper. We don’t know the gender though he remains pretty convinced. We remain convinced we will not be naming him or her Skipper. But even Annie, who has fewer than 100 words calls the baby Skipper. Anyway, we will meet him or her and until then, I am going to have Good Courage. I hope you do too.

My Messy House

It is probably no surprise to anyone who knows me well that I struggle with perfectionism. By “struggle” I mean swim in an ocean of it and occasionally keep my head above water. I might not come across as a perfectionist because I so rarely attain anything even close to perfection but it is a standard I use to judge myself more harshly than others. I think I’ve been this way since I was a kid but you can ask my parents or brothers for confirmation. I thought I’d really dealt with it through years of counseling but in reading The Enneagram by Richard Rohr, I realize it’s something that I will probably always have in my life no matter how much I try to ignore it.

I was thinking about this the other day when I found toys put away in the wrong bucket and a Fireman Sam figurine attached to my door with a pipe cleaner and muddy footprints everywhere. It was one of those days when the sun hits the floor at just the right angle and all the dust and dog hair and tiny pompoms from some craft are lit up and all I wanted to do was vacuum. I was reminded of the scene in Arrested Development where Buster throws the dust buster at the bus because he thinks it’s Lupe, the housekeeper’s favorite toy and she is leaving. I am confident if you asked my children what my favorite toy is they would say the dust buster. Having tiny humans is teaching me a lot about myself and it’s not always pretty. But it is beautiful.

For someone who has always been angry at herself for not measuring up, having a four year old boy is the best albeit painful medicine. He says things like “Mom, remember I’m perfect, just for me?” and makes me cry while he just sits there and looks at me like I’m crazy. Sometimes I find one of his many inventions (usually involving my stuff) and am able to marvel at the creativity held in his little brain. Nothing is ever what it was created to be for my oldest. He borrowed two combs one day to pretend they were planes despite the fact that he owns toy planes that came in boxes that read “Planes” on the side and were made to be planes. I always say we could just skip buying toys and hand him the recycling bin because it would make him happiest. Nothing is ever safe from his imagination.

I would not have described myself as a concrete thinker until Forest turned three. I would have, in fact, described myself as very creative. I like to do creative things- sew, draw, paint, knit. But I am positively rigid in my outlook compared to this kid. For each time I step back and marvel as his imagination, like a good mom would, there are at least four times when I yell “This is a tool! Not a toy!” because he has taken the hardware I needed to assemble an IKEA table and turned it into cars or taken my whisk to be some sort of sword. I wish every day was like an Ann Voskamp book about seeing the beauty all around but you know what? Some days it is hard for this perfectionist to find pipe cleaners entwined like a nest in her living room lamps.

All that to say, my son is teaching me a lot about myself. I finish vacuuming and find one last tiny animal left over from playing “Pirate Dinosaurs” and am reminded of the little boy in the Kathleen Norris essay “My Messy House.” He wrecks his house and his town and writes “Then I sit in my messy house and say to myself, ‘I shouldn’t have done all that.’” I never feel better after one of these angry cleaning sessions. I mean, superficially I do because come on, no more dog hair! But it is like someone is holding a mirror up to my ugliest side, especially when my son just looks at me like I’ve destroyed the Taj Mahal. I sit in my clean house and think, “I shouldn’t have done all that.”

It is so good for me to be his mom. I knew parenting meant I would influence the lives of my children but I hadn’t really considered that I would be more changed by them. When my daughter was born, I came across this quote that I try to remember when I look at my children and especially when I look at the mess.

“I’m writing this in part to tell you that if you ever wonder what you’ve done in your life, and everyone does wonder sooner or later, you have been God’s grace to me, a miracle, something more than a miracle. You may not remember me very well at all, and it may seem to you to be no great thing to have been the good child of an old man in a shabby little town you will no doubt leave behind. If only I had the words to tell you.”

― Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

Vote Early. Vote Often

I went to the furniture store yesterday because we need a tv stand. I had an ultrasound scheduled for forty-five minutes after I entered the store. I knew which stand I wanted to order and which colors we wanted so I assumed it would be fast. The order itself was fast by Swiss standards but the gentleman behind the counter really wanted to chat. He asked where I was from, how long we’d lived in Switzerland, why we moved, and if we liked it. I’ve gotten used to these questions and have standard answers. For example, I always say we moved from Texas because it is more well known than Virginia (Europeans can at least find it on a map) and makes for a good conversation starter. They generally say, “Oh yes, horses and cowboys.” But, a new question has started popping up and I’ve come to sort of dread it. “You’re an American. Tell me, what do you think about…” and I know what’s coming. It’s rare they ask about our response to the refugee crisis or why we are loud or why we have drive throughs for everything. Right now, this question is always about Donald Trump. What do you think about Donald Trump? This is what people think about when they think about America.

Now, without divulging my own politics, because that is not helpful, I will admit I enjoy following politics. I love to vote. I was once late to my own birthday party because I had to vote in a city council election. I find our election cycles interesting and this one has been more entertaining and puzzling than usual. I mean, who has ever even heard of a contested convention outside of an Introduction to Political Science class? The world is watching and like many of us, is absolutely bewildered.

American elections are unlike Swiss elections (or any elections). The Swiss vote often- four times a year. Generally they vote on referenda- some boring and some very exciting. Recently they voted on whether or not to deport non-citizens for committing minor crimes. I thought it probably wouldn’t pass but I was ready to pack my bags. I mean I get a speeding ticket every week here. I’d be at the top of the list for deportation, especially if you count all of my recycling sorting offenses. And losing my dog. Geez. By the way, the referendum did not pass- we are safe for now. They also vote for elected officials every four years and there’s always some kind of local election for city council or something. But, here’s the difference. The process is maybe a month long? There are some party representatives at the farmer’s market who pass out balloons to children and postcards to the adults. They are allowed to put out posters a few weeks in advance of voting. It’s very civilized and does not affect us much. Don’t even get me started on the difference in spending. I mean, how much could balloons and a few posters cost? I bet children’s birthday parties cost more.

This election in America has been going on forever- actually since this time last year. I had one friend point out it seemed to make sense to declare your candidacy in March were the election in November (of that year) but instead we’ve had people running for a year and we’re not even to the general election yet. I wish all you had to do was accept a balloon and a postcard. The rhetoric and advertising has pervaded American culture. I’m actually really grateful to not live in the US right now. I don’t know how you keep it from affecting your children.

Now, I understand that Switzerland has about as many people as New York City. Maybe less. It’s easier here to reach out to voters and spread the word about your candidacy or issue. But American elections are out of control. As my friend the furniture man said, “It’s much more entertaining than French politics or Swiss politics. I mean, our campaigns are so boring.” I’m not sure that electing the leader of the free world should be entertaining. It reminds me of American Idol and gladiators and other spectacles.

America does hold a special place in the world. Other countries look to us. Maybe we should go back to boring. Our elections have been interesting enough in the past. My buddy from the furniture store went on and on about how inspiring it was that we elected the first African-American president and might elect a female president. “France is still racist and sexist and we look to America and think, if they can do it, maybe we can do it too.” He even mentioned his daughters and how inspiring it is that a woman is running for President.

Say what you want about Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders or Ted Cruz. American elections are not reflecting well on us. Soplease, next time, make my life easier and don’t nominate anyone too out there. I really don’t have time to explain the American electorate to every Swiss and French person I meet. I’d rather explain the great state of Texas or teach them how to find Virginia on a map.

Reading 2016 Update #1

I don’t know that I would always have defined myself as a “reader” but in the past five years, it is quickly becoming one of the hats I wear and love. When people ask me my hobbies, reading is the first one I mention. My husband teases me that in my ideal future, I would be very content as an 80 year old woman who just rides the New York subway and reads books all day. He is not wrong.

Books and reading are one way I remember I’m an adult with a brain. Sometimes after the 89th reenactment of Fireman Sam saving the day or the 3rd poopy diaper, I forget that I like to think and like to learn. I get frustrated and feel a little trapped. Reading is my favorite way of learning. On a side note, Bill Gates agrees with me.

So, since I last posted about books, I have read another mystery series- The Gaslight Mysteries based in turn of the century New York City with a great female protagonist, Sarah Brandt. They are not too dark and not too challenging, which is good for someone who is just trying to get through morning sickness and pregnancy insomnia.

But I’ve also read some other books, four in particular that I loved. No two of which are alike, which may have added to my enjoyment of them.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson was recommended by a few friends and John Grisham (in a magazine article). I was so moved by the book that I gave it to all my family members for Christmas. This is an important book that looks at our criminal justice system, how it disadvantages entire communities and the very hard work that a small group of people are doing to change it. I wept at night while reading it and despite the tough topic, found myself hopeful at the end of it, as well as convicted about what I can do to help. I truly believe everyone should read this book.

The Tears of Dark Water by Corban Addison was another favorite. I always love his books- A Walk Across the Sun brought the issue of human trafficking to my attention and The Tears of Dark Water was similar. I could not put this book down and it made me look at the plot from lots of different perspectives. Detailed, compelling and beautiful, I was transported to a land halfway around the world that is radically different from where I live.

Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart was recommended by the NPR Book Concierge, an app I plan to use more often. I loved this story of Constance Kopp and her sisters, women who did not fit the mold in 1914, who rather than running and hiding from trouble face it head on. Each of the characters made me laugh and I found myself smiling at their antics and impressed with their courage.

And lastly, if there were such a thing as a reading hero, mine would be Kristen Robbins Warren, my former roommate and all-star middle school teacher in Brooklyn. I read her blog, A Kind of Library, regularly and love her reviews and recommendations. Recently, she recommended Hunting and Gathering by Anna Galvada, a French novel, translated into English (I’m not quite that good at French yet) about two lonely characters who find one another and gather a group of misfits to create their own place of belonging and home. The language is beautiful and I had a lot of fun recognizing many of the cultural references and general attitudes. The book is, as Kristin says, a micro-issue book, looking at how we find one another, connect with one another and create belonging.

Read them. Love them. Hate them. Let me know.

What to Read When You are Depressed

So my blog post about depression took a lot out of me. I don’t mind sharing about my depression and OCD and obviously I want people to read what I write but as soon as I published the post I thought, oh wow, now more people know my stuff. And I kind of didn’t know what to write about next. I did not intend to make this blog about mental illness and I don’t think it will permanently stay in that category. But, I heard back from my friend and she asked a really good question. And I realized I have more to say and really wish someone had written this blog post for me. So here it is.

My friend wrote me and asked about my faith. She said, “It’s as if [God’s] left me all alone but is relevant in so many other people’s lives. Any advice?” Ugh. Tough, right? And yes, I know that feeling well. I think even people who are not depressed struggle with this question. Why are other people so happy or so confident and I am not? Am I alone? And so I wanted to write another follow up post about being a Christian and being a depressed person. It is hard to deal with sometimes and not made easier by some of the things my fellow Christians said. Things like, “But the joy of the Lord is our strength” (apparently from somewhere in the Bible) “What unconfessed sin do you have in your life?” (yeah, for real someone asked me that) and another favorite, “Just pray more.”

Here are some things I have learned: My faith is not my feelings. Rather, God is not based on how I feel about him. I had to do a lot of work separating my beliefs from my feelings. I may have gone too far since I haven’t had a lot of emotional religious experiences since then but as someone who grew up in an evangelical church, I think I’ve had more than my share. 

I don’t really have a lot of the answers but I found a lot of comfort in books, especially books written by other people who have had these questions. I found three or four books to be particularly relevant and encouraging while I was depressed.

  1. Disappointment with God by Philip Yancey– The title is somewhat explanatory but the book deals with what to do when you feel let down by God. Yancey has had plenty of experience with this and addresses it in a gentle, easy, non-judgmental way. One of my favorite points of the book was about leprosy. Stay with me. People who have leprosy lose the ability to experience pain. Because of this they are at a higher risk of hurting themselves. Yancey’s point is this- pain is a gift because it means we can still feel. It might sound like a cop out but I found my depression to be a gift as I said before because it means I am still alive internally.

  2. Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott– This book was one that showed me how to reconcile some of my thoughts about the world with my faith. Lamott is funny and dry and real. Her understanding of God’s love for the whole world and particularly for broken people helped me as someone who felt she had it all together and then lost it. I mourned what I had lost (my perfect grades, achievements, etc) until I read this book and then began to see that maybe I should rejoice in what I found (a heart for other people, humility, sensitivity, vulnerability).

  3. The winner of all books for depressed people in my opinion- The Inner Voice of Love by Henri Nouwen. A Catholic priest who left his post at Harvard Divinity School to work with the developmentally and mentally disabled at L’Arche in Canada. He kept a journal of spiritual mandates for himself while he went through a major depressive period. He published this journal and I found it on the bookshelf at our church. It had a nice cover and so I picked it up. My mom actually read it in one night and then told me, “You have to read this. It’s written for you.” I have never before or since connected with a book on such a deep level. My favorite message in the world of “You alone are enough” or “You’re never enough,” is this: “God loves you and his love is enough.” Done. I think that sums it up for me.

And as a special bonus for people who struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or who love someone who struggles with OCD, I recommend The Imp of the Mind. I have trouble explaining what OCD is like. Yes, it can be a lot of compulsions, like washing hands, checking locks, repeating rituals. But there’s another insidious side to it that resides just internally. Like everyone, people with OCD have intrusive thoughts but unlike other people, we cannot ignore them. They play over and over in our minds and become obsessions. This book more than any other has given me words and metaphors for my OCD. It also helped me feel less alone once I realized there is a group of people (even if it is small) who also have these cycles.

I know depression and mental illness are unique to each person. You may have walked away from the church because of your illness. You may have joined the church because of yours. You may have started a church because of it. I know how personal it is. This is not meant to be a fix-all or some sort of solution. Just a couple of suggestions from someone who’s been there too. 

Depression and Me

This month is Suicide Prevention Month. I wrote this for a friend but realized that I had a slightly larger platform to share it on. I hope you don’t mind.

Just some background- when I was seventeen, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. I had suicidal thoughts and felt like I was going crazy. I left school for six weeks and sat at home on the sofa watching Law and Order and eating turkey sandwiches. I was later also diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I have found counseling and medication to help a lot. I am passionate about mental health and believe that sharing our stories can help one another. I am open about my own struggles for that reason. I’m also happy to hear from you and answer questions at any time.

Dear friend,

When I heard you were struggling with depression, I wanted to write you a letter. Then I realized other people might benefit from reading this so I wrote it as a blog post. I hope that is ok. I wish  depression was something only you and I had experience with. Or maybe I don’t wish that because part of what helped me a lot was realizing how many people struggle with mental illness of all kinds, not just depression. Did you know Mother Teresa was depressed at many points in her life? Martin Luther had some serious mental health issues. So did many US presidents, famous musicians and artists. A lot of us have this illness. My first point is you are not alone.

But that might not change how you feel. If you’re anything like me, you feel like you have an emotional tapeworm, something that is just sucking the life out of you. Things that used to make you happy and whole don’t bring those same feelings about. You feel empty. I know that feeling well. I know it so well that I pray regularly that my own daughter would be so very full of life. Which brings me to my second point: You are not your feelings. You are so much more than how you feel. You are bright and kind and valued and you are not the sum of your emotions. It feels like you cannot trust your own emotions right now. It feels like they are letting you down just by being there. You are more than that and at your center, you are a worthy human being who is very, very loved. You might not feel it now but be patient. As one of my very favorite lines from the Narnia series says, “Take courage Dear Heart.” It takes courage to hold on and believe in something that you cannot see or feel. Be brave.

I used to say I would not wish depression on my worst enemy. I probably still wouldn’t but I also wouldn’t trade my experience for the world. It may sound crazy but depression saved my life. How to explain this… I recently read the story of Jonah to my son. As I was reading it, a sentence jumped out at me from his little children’s Bible, “God sent the whale to rescue Jonah.” I had always seen the whale as the punishment. If only Jonah had obeyed, he would not have had to endure the whale. I hadn’t realized something worse than the whale was looming over Jonah- death. He was about to die and God sent a whale to rescue him. The whale was the rescuer. It’s the best analogy I’ve found for my depression. My depression saved me. Because of my depression, I made friends out of people I would have ignored. I discovered that I actually don’t want to be perfect and it’s exhausting to try. I want to be whole and happy and part of that is being creative. I learned how to take care of myself and know myself and not be swept away by the current mood or trends or events. Depression saved me from being not myself. Said another way, depression is one of the key things that made me who I am and showed me deep parts of my heart that I would have missed otherwise.

That’s not to say it’s fun. It’s terrible. It’s dark and you feel like no one notices you or hears you. You wonder who would show up to your funeral. You wonder if anyone would miss you. I know you think these things because I did. I sat in my room and wondered if life was worth living. When I heard you were sick, I was on a walk with my kids. My life is not perfect. I still struggle with my OCD and depression on a regular basis. But I looked at these two precious little lives and was overwhelmed with gratitude- for my children who would not exist if I had believed my own thoughts, for my family and counselors who did not believe the darkness that I was convinced was taking over my life, for my husband who was willing to love me and enter into a mess of emotions and ups and downs with me and for myself, for being brave and strong. You will find your people. And I am choosing to believe for you, since you cannot believe it for yourself right now, that you will look back in gratitude for those who helped you and for yourself, for your strength, your self-awareness and your faith.

I love you and am for you, so for you. Hang in there. You are a treasure, a unique, interesting person and this life would absolutely not be the same without you.


A Different Kind of Celebration

When we moved to Geneva, I kept January 2016 in the front of my mind. Three years, I thought. I can do this. I’ll move back with a four year old and maybe another child. I can live anywhere for three years. Three Christmases. Three Easters. Only three ski seasons so make it worth it.

Well, now we have arrived at January 2016. My deadline has arrived and it is just be another January. See, something happened between the first gray January week we arrived and now. We have really come to like Geneva. If you had asked me two years ago, or maybe even one year ago, I would have said I tolerated Geneva but would never love it. I would have been wrong. It’s a great city. My son and daughter are learning French. We can see the Alps every day (barring the fog which is bad November through January) and it’s the perfect mix of big city assets (great public transportation, museums and cultural activities) without the traffic and sprawl of Houston or London or New York. The Swiss are polite and reserved and I like that. They have good cheese, incredible chocolate and it’s safe. Our church is unbelievably diverse and we have made really good friends through a small group and through Forest’s school and Josh’s work.

In the past year, we have bought a house and a car. I was able to do some of those things in French. I got my hair cut- including bangs (or fringe)!- all in French. I can make reservations and chat with dog groomers and doctor’s assistants in French. Learning the language has been tough. I studied Spanish in high school and college and while the vocabulary is similar (thanks Latin), the accent could not be more different. But perhaps the most “a-ha” moment for me was selling our old car.  We had an old SUV and sold it to a friend of ours. Since we had purchased it three years earlier from another friend, I knew the process. We had to go to the DMV and switch the title to his name, prove he had insurance, change our address and register new plates. What a difference three years made. This time I was the one who was speaking and explaining the insurance complications. It wasn’t pretty but it got done. Making an effort to understand the language and culture of the place we live has proven invaluable. I’m sure that’s obvious to you but I wonder about places I have lived before this. What if I had taken more time to understand the culture of my neighborhood in New York or Houston? I assumed that America is America but maybe I could have enjoyed it more.

But I’ve been thinking about something bigger than that. What do you do when you reach your goal? When you set a date or some other goal ahead of you and you get there. It feels anticlimactic in a way. I did it. I lived in Geneva for three years and am on track to live here for a few more. Only one more and I will have lived here longer than anywhere else since I was in college. The very thought of January 2016 seemed so far away when we first moved and I anticipated the extreme relief I would feel when we reached our goal and then moved back. But instead of enduring it, I like it so much I want to keep going. It’s a strange when you don’t feel what you expected to feel. I’m almost disappointed- not that we are staying and enjoying it but January 2016 was held out as my great hope, my month of celebration and now… I don’t know. I don’t really have much of a point here but am processing as I write. That’s probably not a great writing method. I know there are trite answers like “Live in the moment and you won’t have this problem” or “Enjoy every day because if you’re waiting for tomorrow, you’ll miss what’s in front of you.” I understand those and don’t think I’ve been missing out on our life here because I had January 2016 as my goal. But as someone who loves lists and plans and the security they seem to bring (though I know they don’t actually bring any sort of safety), I think I struggle to not have an end goal or an end date.

At the same time, I do find a lot of comfort in the fact that we have made it longer than we thought we would. We’ve made a home here and I’m able to communicate. I’m proud of that. Maybe January 2016 will be a month of celebration- just of something different- of our desire to stay, our victories no matter how small and of our great friends who have made this place our home.

Kiss. Kiss. Headbutt.

Greeting someone from our own country is hard enough for Americans. Do you shake hands? Kiss on the cheek? Hug? Awkwardly side hug so you make zero contact with the other person’s chest? But when you add in other cultures there is just no chance at getting it right. People from France kiss on each cheek when they greet each other. People from the UK tend to kiss on just one cheek. The Swiss? Three times. And when you live in Geneva, a part of Switzerland surrounded by the French, greetings are fraught with danger.

Nowhere is this more evident than at a party. We recently went to a party with people from France, Switzerland, Ohio, Argentina and Australia to name a few (only in Geneva). I spent much of the party kissing cheeks and shaking hands and hoping to not actually kiss anyone’s mouth. Some people are able to carry off these greetings without even acknowledging the awkwardness. Others just own up to it. “I’m going for two kisses,” one guy announced as he greeted me. I was so relieved to find some Americans who were eager to just shake hands that we ended up talking for five minutes about how relieved we were to just shake hands.

Once at a grocery store I ran into an American woman I know. Since we are in Switzerland, we greeted each other with kisses on the cheek but since she’s an American, three felt excessive so I stopped at two.The other woman went for a third kiss. At that exact moment, Annie made a screeching noise so I looked down and to my right.  The result? I head butted the other woman. At the nice grocery store. I often assume two kisses is plenty and as a result have actually ended up kissing people on the mouth when they went for three kisses. It’s important to work on speed in ending the greetings: kiss, kiss and quickly pull your head back so they cannot make contact with lips.

Even the kids recognize there is something about greetings that is important. Forest has a friend named Max, the grandson of our former landlady. When Max would visit his grandmother, he and Forest would play in the garden. Once when Max came over, he and Forest ran to each other, arms wide open, shouting one another’s names. “Forest!” “Max!” But when they reached each other, they did not know what to do. Max went to greet Forest with two kisses and Forest just wanted a hug. I believe they ended up in a pile on the grass.

I appreciate the warmth of greeting here. It can make me feel very sophisticated when I greet someone with such a complicated gesture as three kisses. But at the same time, there is nothing more anxiety-producing than trying to read the situation before greeting. “Is this person Swiss? French? Just a Brit speaking French?” Perhaps we should all wear our preferences on nametags at parties. “Hello. My name is Jane and I like handshakes. Thanks.”

Reading 2015 Update #1

Maybe I just write these because I like to keep track of what I’ve read. Maybe it’s to show off. But I think the real reason is that I wish more people wrote lists of what they’ve been reading. I am regularly finishing books only to go to to find a suggestion. I click on any reading lists links I can find. So I’m trying to pay it forward I guess.

British Murder Mystery Series:

I have loved this genre since just after Annie is born. I tried to read classics and got utterly stuck. Bleak House is exactly as described- bleak. So I started reading a British murder mystery called A Test of Wills, the first in the Ian Rutledge series. Then after reading that series, I read the Bess Crawford series also by Charles Todd. Both are set in England in the years surrounding World War I. After those, I read the Maisie Dobbs series, set in the years after World War I. And then the Maggie Hope series, set during World War II. All that to say, I think I have exhausted my options in this genre but I really enjoyed them. If you’re a mystery fan, you should try one of these series.


I also got into non-fiction books recently. And not just history. I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and promptly followed at least the first step of Marie Kondo’s organization program. She is a little obsessive about tidying- she described a few incidents of angering her siblings by tidying their rooms and throwing their stuff away. But, I practiced holding each item of clothing and asking, “Does this bring me joy?” and I ended up giving away several large bags of clothes.

I also read The Road to Character by David Brooks. I really enjoy Brooks’ column in the New York Times and was intrigued by a review I read of this book. Brooks investigated historical figures and looked at the character traits that set each apart. He said that people with character have practiced a “long obedience in the same direction,” something that stands out from our rapidly changing culture. I really enjoyed the book though it did get a little long.

Beyond the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo is not exactly non-fiction, but it is based on Boo’s visits to Mumbai slums and is more non-fiction than not. The book was a very detailed picture of the slums of Mumbai and the issues of poverty on both local and global levels.

And I read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Words cannot begin to describe this book. The language is beautiful and moving and the book itself is just devastating. Written as a long letter to his son, Between the World and Me is Coates’ reflection on being black in America. I’d strongly encourage everyone to read it. I have never looked at race and differences as deeply as he does in this book.


I read three books that I somehow missed reading in school. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving was fantastic. Owen Meany is an unforgettable character and this book made me cry, laugh, swear and think. I was truly sad when I finished it as I had to leave behind an incredible cast of characters. That being sad, the book was one of the most complete I’ve ever read, if that makes sense.

At the beach this year, we shared our favorite books. All three of my brothers said East of Eden by John Steinbeck. So I read it. It is really good. You should read it too- family, humanity, fall, redemption, it’s all in there. I would put it in a list of my favorites- which I am compiling and will post here sometime soon.

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger was always on my parents shelf and I think at least two of my brothers had to read it for tenth grade English. A magical story of a boy and his dad and sister who travel through the US looking for his older brother who is on the run from the law. One part family drama, one part coming of age and one part beautiful poetic descriptions of America.

Miracle Food

I recently went out to dinner with a number of other American and British women. We are all moms who stay home full time so a night out was fun albeit full of talking about our children. But it was warm and we ate outside in a trendier part of Geneva- a nice break from hot dogs and chicken nuggets in my kitchen.

The food itself was great and fresh but it was not what stuck out to me at this dinner. I was surprised by the conversation. Not the main topics- of course we covered parenting issues, our upcoming summer trips, current events but the entire evening was laced with this narrative about food that seems to be specific to women. I rarely (if ever) hear this dialogue from men but cannot go out with women and not hear it.

“Someone take this bread basket away! I can’t stop myself.”

“I would love to get the caprese salad but I shouldn’t. I didn’t go to spin class today.”

“I guess I can let myself cheat just this once.”

One American woman told me that she has gained so much more weight in Switzerland because of all the fresh bread. I asked about her time in the States since Americans tend to be much heavier than Europeans. She said that the amount of carbs available here meant she ate way too much. So I explained that the French approach to this is much more measured. In the book French Women Don’t Get Fat (which is not an entirely true assertion but fairly accurate) the author, Mireille Guiliano, explains that women in France approach food as something to be enjoyed and savored. They eat smaller portions. They eat all kinds of food, mostly fresh. They would never cut out an entire food group or overdo it on any one. That chapter was my favorite section- the one where she addressed protein overloading: “Half a pound of anything in one sitting is probably not good for you.” When I explained this to my friend she whined, “Yes, but Swiss women walk everywhere and are always moving!” Only in America would we rather cut out an entire (miraculous*) food group than walk to the grocery store. My favorite suggestion from the book was the “pick two” idea. Instead of eating bread, drinking wine and ordering dessert, maybe just pick two. That is a healthier approach to life- maybe don’t overdo it in all areas. Don’t eat all the things, all the time. Wise woman.

Now, there is a deeper issue of course. Society has ridiculous standards for women that it does not have for men. Women talk about diet and appearance because we are told we are valued for that. I understand that. By no means am I trying to gloss over major issues with food. I have several friends who have had serious struggles with anorexia and bulimia. This is not meant to diminish those experiences. But my point is this- in general, we waste so much time talking about food and our relationship to it. We could accomplish, share, create so much more if we just gave up the script about food.

French and Swiss women don’t discuss food while they are eating except to say something is “Cela a un meilleur goût” (This tastes good). They don’t have this need to share their diet with one another. There is so much shame hovering around a table of American women eating. And we do not help each other out. If you don’t want to eat the bread, fine. But try to help your friends out by not disparaging them for eating bread. American women (maybe all Western women) see being anything less than skinny as a moral failure. Another woman here told me about her friend who adopted several children. “She’s a saint. I mean, she’s overweight but she’s a saint.” I almost spit out my food. Which would have been a tragedy because it was delicious.

I don’t know what the answer is. I am not a model of this. In fact, while I am writing this blog post, I am simultaneously ordering a lot of Indian food. But I hope we can figure it out. Ask more questions, worry less about people judging you for eating bread. Please see my note below. Help your fellow American women out and don’t mention carbs or protein. And quit talking about your diet. It’s the kind (and European) thing to do.

* On a side note, I think bread has gotten a really bum rap. I am currently reading At Home by Bill Bryson and one chapter is devoted to the development of city and community living. He wisely points out just how miraculous it is that we discovered that not only could we eat grain but at some point, we had to thresh it, grind it into flour, combine it with other ingredients, put it in a oven and hope it all worked out. Bread is an incredible feat of human persistence. I think it should be celebrated. We should all be dancing when the bread basket arrives not bemoaning its existence.

Wait and See

I neglected to share about Josh’s visit to his doctor. I suggested that he go in for a check up, just to make sure he was healthy and to meet his doctor. I found a nice male doctor named Jacques (who I assume looks like the Most Interesting Man in the World) and he went during work one day.

 Dr. Jacques asked Josh why he was there and Josh, not accustomed to going to doctors anyway, said, “A check up I guess.” To which Dr. Jacques replied, “OK- to check what?” Apparently the Swiss are a little less inclined to just go to the doctor for a well visit. At one point, the doctor asked if Josh had concerns. He answered that he takes Prilosec once a day and that there is a warning on the box about continuing treatment for more than two weeks at a time. Dr. Jacques did not recognize the brand name so Josh had to text me to get the proper name of the drug. As soon as Josh read the name aloud, the doctor said, “Oh that? Yeah, a lot of people take that twice a day. No problem.” Josh also reported that the doctor actually used a book to explain something. The leatherbound books were not just for show or smell- they were for actual use! Unbelievable.

I recently discovered the writings of David Sedaris, who as a part time French resident, gets my situation unlike anyone else. I tend to read his books at night before bed and have found it genuinely difficult to not laugh out loud and disturb my sleeping husband and son.  He writes about French doctors in the first chapter of Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls: 

“The last time I went, I had a red thunderbolt bisecting my left eyeball. The doctor looked at it for a moment and then took a  seat behind his desk. ‘I wouldn’t worry about it if I were you,’ he said. ‘A thing like that, it should be gone in a day or two.’

‘Well, where did it come from?’ I asked. ‘How did I get it?’

‘How do we get most things?’ he answered.

‘We buy them?'”

Perhaps it is only an American thing to go to your doctor when nothing is wrong, when you don’t have an emergency or a scheduled procedure. They do ask that you bring your children in every six months or so. But with problems, they tend to take more of a “wait and see” approach. I think I (and others) could really learn from that. It would probably save a lot of money and time and maybe cut down on those terrible waiting times in doctors offices. Even as I write this though, I am thinking, “But what about those stories you hear where the guy went to the doctor and that headache was actually the precursor to a major stroke and his hypochondria saved his life. Shouldn’t we assume we’re going to die to make sure that we don’t?”

The French are very patient. Their meals are long, no one sighs or protests when lines are long and their children are content to sit in a waiting room quietly. The only exception I have found is when waiting in traffic that no one can help. Then, they think honking will move the large number of cars in front of them. But, I am learning to be patient like them. My brother came to visit this week and was shocked to learn there was no food delivery (except for Dominos). You have to go to the restaurant and either eat there or take the food home. The idea of someone rushing your food to your house is not welcome to these people. And the most surprising thing was how I reacted. Despite having lived in two of the most delivery-happy cities in America, I have gotten used to the “no delivery/lunch only served between 12 and 2/restaurants that just close for the entire month of August” situation here. Progress has been made and I wasn’t even trying! Now I think that delivery and speedy meals at any time of the day are weird concepts. Don’t get me wrong, I will enjoy them again in the future but for now, the people who expect men to drop what they are doing to speed some chinese food to my house seem a little crazy to me.

To sum up, I return to my friend, Mr. Sedaris, “For my fifty dollars, I want to leave the doctor’s office in tears, but instead I walk out feeling like a hypochondriac, which is one of the few things I’m actually not.” Thank you, France and Switzerland for once again exposing a few crazy tendencies in me and my culture. I sincerely appreciate it.

Dogs? Fine. Children? Um...

When we were contemplating moving to Geneva, I had three concerns: 1. Could we bring our dog? 2. Could I watch American football? 3. Can I watch The Mindy Project? Obviously I am a very deep, complicated, intellectual person. So anyway, we moved our dog with us to Geneva. He flew on the same flight as us but a day later. He was taken to our temporary apartment while I was house hunting. My very brave (and allergic) mother in law received the dog while I was out and reported he did just fine with the transition. I’m so grateful that Crockett had not turned crazier on the flight over. He was just his normal two-year-old Lab crazy self.

Being a responsible dog owner, I thought we should get him set up with a doctor here. After some research (you can’t just go to a doctor or vet here because you have to make sure they speak English first), we ventured across town to an English speaking veterinarian, me, Forest and the dog. It was a particularly cold and gray day as we parked our car in the dim light of the evening (please note it was maybe 4 pm but the light was fading, nonetheless). Crockett, unaccustomed to the leash and collar, was excited to be in the vet’s office, sniffing around after dogs that had been there that morning or the cat in her carrier waiting for her owner to pay. I was just hoping desperately that we would avoid what I refer to as “the PetSmart move.” I call it that because PetSmart is where Crockett, anxious after seeing the groomer and probably smelling all sorts of things, lifted his leg next to the shoplifting detector and peed all over it as we last left the store in Houston. PetSmart has actually been the location of many of our favorite Crockett stories like the time we left him for dental work at the PetsMart in Roanoke and they informed us that it would be a six hour procedure. When Josh asked why, they explained he would be completely sedated and they would closely monitor his waking up process. We said we were not planning to stay around for six hours and could we pick him up earlier. We would somewhat closely monitor his waking up process. The vet assistant said no. Josh asked if they would like to keep the dog forever. She did not get the joke. Come to think of it, it might not have been a joke.

But, back to the Geneva vet. There we were, standing in her office, me silently willing Crockett to hold it and Forest trying to eat anything he could when the doctor came in. She was German and very efficient. She checked Crockett out and informed me that to register him in our canton, I would need to go to a dog theory course (three hours long) where the teacher would educate me about owning and caring for my dog who I had already owned for two years. Then, Crockett would need to complete obedience training with one of the state-approved training agencies. Nevermind that he had done hours of training in the States and can find a duck from 350 yards out. These are the same people who let me bring a human child into the country without a parenting theory course or even obedience training. Parenting humans? Yeah, they’re probably fine. Owning dogs? Gotta make sure they know their stuff. So true confession: I just never registered him. I was too scared and figured it was easier to ask for forgiveness than request permission.

Fast forward eight months. Crockett went out one morning and didn’t come home. He’d done this before and usually came back after a few minutes sniffing around the neighbor’s trash can. But soon ten minutes became two hours. We skipped church reasoning that we should be at the house in case he came back. We drove around the neighborhood calling “Crockett” which everyone things is actually “Croquette” meaning small potato. (No one here has heard of Davy Crockett, hero of the Alamo. As the mother of a Texan, I am embarrassed for them). Then I got a phone call.

“Madame Grizzle?”

“Yes, I mean, oui?”

It was the police. They responded to a call about Croquette and had him in their custody. They did not speak English but somehow we worked out that they would bring him to our house. They did and asked to see his medallion (translation: registration). I explained that we hadn’t done the necessary courses but that we would. Again, they didn’t speak English so that was not really understood. They left and said we would get something in the mail. We assume it will be a ticket. I’m pretty sure it will be for either ten francs or a thousand. Fines are rarely reasonable.

The next morning, I left Forest and Croquette with my brother, Charles, who happened to be visiting, and went to register the dog. I thought they would ask for the training paperwork and I would have to explain again all the work he’s done in Texas. And I figured it would all be in French. And I thought that if I failed, I would either be arrested or have my dog taken away immediately. So I took a deep breath and walked into city hall- which is in a beautiful converted home surrounded by parks. It did not look nearly as intimidating as I feared.

“Bonjour,” I said tentatively, “medallion pour un chien?” Translation: “medal for a dog?”

“Oui,” the petite woman with perfect hair behind a desk replied. Then she started speaking French very rapidly. I must have looked confused because she said, “Parle vous francais?” When I indicated a very small amount, she started in with English. She took my paperwork and handed me a small, orange plastic, triangular tag, roughly one inch wide. “I’ll send this off but you’re all set.” And that was it. Eight months of fear and anxiety for a one inch plastic tag. Eight months of feeling like a criminal, hoping the police would never come to our house and discover my unmedallioned dog.  At least now, when Crockett runs away again, I’ll be able to say “oui” when the cops ask for his medallion and avoid the ten to one thousand franc fine. I’m still waiting for bill in the mail.


“America, we need to talk. I’ve been away for awhile and though I miss certain aspects of you, I really don’t miss others.”

This is the thought I’ve had multiple times over the last few months. Like I could have this crazy, analytical conversation with a whole country, or really just the stereotype of a country. And yes, I probably shouldn’t listen to stereotypes and some of you may be saying, “Who cares about stereotypes? We’re America!” But let’s look at the progress here folks- I can find fault in my home country and even more than that, I can point out things I am wary to return to. Progress!

When my mom has some constructive criticism, she says “May I just say…” And America, may I just say, we have a cell phone problem. I mean, we use them ALL THE TIME. And we don’t just use them in our cars or our homes or offices. We use them everywhere. I really noticed it in New York. I lived in New York for three years without a smart phone- just an old brick phone. For the entire time Josh and I dated in New York, I was using good old SMS texting. I had to look up places on a map before I left the previous place. When we visited New York, I physically ran into people multiple times because we were on our phones looking up where to go. This is a good thing that cell phones have done for us. But a lot of people are missing out on an amazing city and the ridiculous things that only happen there because they are looking down into a phone screen to see a virtual picture of what is in front of them.

But, before I sound like a crazy old person talking about the good old days, here’s what I really want to talk about. We are so, so very loud. I come from a loud family. In the past, I have been described as a loud person. But I love that people are quiet here. People speaking on phones in public is rare. I feel rude when I do it. On subways, trams and buses, you cannot hear other conversations very well. Unless they are British or American. Then you can hear it. And yes, I did wonder if it was just that I only really heard English conversations and could ignore French ones. So I did an experiment. Long story short, it is not about the language. It is about the volume.

Once in church, a former pastor and his family came back to visit. They were thanking the congregation for the things they had learned during their time at the church. The pastor’s wife said, “Thank you for teaching us to speak more quietly.” After they shared, the woman sitting in front of me turned and asked, “Did that resonate with you? The loud part? As an American?” Taking a deep breath, I chose to not be personally offended and instead shared my own realization that America is a loud place. And then realized my voice and volume have decreased significantly since moving here.

Another example: An American friend came to visit and we were explaining the honor system for public transportation. You buy tickets but it is rare to be checked. . My friend, in her normal tone of voice, asked, “So you didn’t pay for your tickets? You NEVER pay for your tickets?” We got a few looks that time. And yes, we do pay for our tickets especially now that you can pay via text message. And because if you get caught forgetting to buy them three times, you can be deported

But don’t feel too badly. All English speakers tend to be loud. Case in point: a few friends went skiing with us and to get to the slopes, we had to take a very long telepherique ride to the base of the resort. It usually takes five minutes. Since it was early in the day, the cabin was very full. Something happened two minutes in and the cable car stopped, swinging above the trees and valley below. Everyone was fine for the first few minutes and then the car moved a little and everyone got very quiet. Except a British guy (full disclosure: he may have been Australian) who narrated the entire twenty minute adventure on his phone. “Oh, sorry love, the car just dropped again. Yeah, everyone’s pretty nervous. Oh yeah, I mean, this whole thing could fall. People are really scared.” Everyone hated that guy.

One of the reasons I can be so much quieter here is that everyone I would talk to is asleep for the first half of the day (see previous post here). And I think that has taught me a valuable lesson about filling my time and ears. I have found I like quiet. In college, I studied in coffee shops because silence was so foreign to the Anderson in me. When your brother has a band that practices in the basement every day, a lack of noise indicates something is very wrong. Yes, I leave my phone on silent and miss a few calls but I also get to remember that there is something good about not always being in the loop and not always being available to everyone. It’s humbling to realize not everyone wants to hear you. And more than that, it’s polite to be quiet.

I’m not perfect in this regard. Get me around other Americans or get me upset about something and I can get loud. But we are drowning in noise. I cannot begin to describe how jarring it is to land at Dulles and hear everyone’s personal conversations as soon as the seatbelt sign is off. I don’t particularly care to hear everyone’s opinions about their meals or their flights or the latest problems they are having with their moms. 

But, I wanted to make you aware of the not-so-far-off-base stereotype that is floating around out there. Maybe we can work on it. Until then, I am just enjoying the fact that there is another thing I like more about living in Europe. Progress!

The Times They are A-Changing

One of my least favorite things about living here is actually turning out to be really good for me. I feel like that sentence might sum up my whole time in Geneva. Things that I think are terrible or stupid or backwards actually end up helping me or improving me or keeping me from doing something bad. Case in point: the time difference. It is my very least favorite part about living in Europe while our family and closest friends live in the States. It means that when we travel back to visit them, we are jetlagged. Not just us but our children who are too young to understand what time is let alone why we have time zones. I mean, Forest thinks two minutes is longer than five minutes. All they know is that they slept in until 9 am their time which unfortunately translates to 3 am East Coast time and I spend the next four hours trying to keep them quiet despite it feeling like lunchtime to their little confused internal clocks.

But this morning, I decided I should actually be grateful for the time difference. I got upset about something petty that someone had done. I said something to Josh but then wanted to keep griping about it to a friend or two (or three). I went to find someone to call or text or send a g-chat message to and realized “They’re all asleep.” That was the first step in gaining a little perspective. This perceived slight was not worth waking up my close friends or family members to whine about it. But I really wanted to. I wanted to get everyone to validate how I was feeling. I wanted to say, “Can you believe this?” and have someone say, “No, I cannot believe it. You are exactly right to feel as you do.” But my closest friends were fast asleep. I pictured how angry they would be if I woke them at 3 am. Instead, I had to sit on this grumbling for six hours.

I recently read a book about envy and it talked a lot about how we treat one another. One pattern the book identified is that envy always involves taking something even it is just taking from someone’s reputation by speaking poorly of them. When I envy someone’s busy life and make comments about how she should probably take more time for herself it is a small but appealing way to cut her down. Or if I see someone prioritizing his time differently than I do and I judge him. That was exactly what I wanted to do this morning. But I did not just read the book on envy and say, “I want to keep this whole envy thing up” but rather, “Wow, I should probably try to change my ways a bit.” And that is when I recognized that maybe this whole time difference thing is a blessing in disguise. Instead of sitting in front of my computer or on my phone and spewing meanness, I went for a walk with our dog. I thought about why I was reacting so strongly and recognized envy and malice (my most prevalent character flaw- just ask Josh who sometimes affectionately calls me Captain Malice). I had six hours to decide how to react and ended up choosing to not say anything else. And honestly, it did not take all six. It probably took one. I even made a productive game plan for how to address the issue with the proper person and did not mention it to anyone else.

I am not anywhere close to where I would like to be with regard to envy and malice. I don’t want to struggle with them. But I do and maybe that’s just another reason we moved to Geneva. God’s got to make sure I have six hours to think through anything mean or dumb I might say or do. They say you should count to ten before saying anything you might regret. Well, I just get to count to 21,600. And I might need all of those.