For the move.
Someone asked me yesterday how the move to Switzerland is going. Innocent enough question. But it took an hour to answer. Poor friend, she was just showing interest — maybe like you are, showing up here, reading this blogpost, peeking in with your soft smile — and I left her quivering.
I promise not to do that here.
Although, take a look at the length of this post. Nowhere under an hour.
Before I explain in relatively measured terms “how the move to Switzerland is going”, I want to be clear about one very important thing. Full disclosure, flat disclaimer: I come from Mormon pioneer stock. With that history ever present in my consciousness, I, more than anyone, twinge at wimpy whiners. My ancestors on both sides, paternal and maternal, were X-treme survivors. The Daltons, Glaziers, Huntingtons, Jacobsens, Johnsons, Leavitts, Abbots, Woodruffs— they all left their homes in central Europe, Scandinavia and Great Britain to cross the globe at the price of unspeakable sacrifice for their religion and a new (but still brutally demanding) life in the American west.
My husband’s ancestors, come to think of it, were X-treme pioneers, too. Pilgrims, actually. In fact, if you know the name of William Bradford, (passenger on the Mayflower, governor of Plymouth colony, founder of Thanksgiving), you’ve met our Grandpa sixteen generations back.
All this blood tramps stoically through my family’s veins.
These are family, and they left family, home, health, belongings, safety, beautiful Danish coasts and French valleys and English countrysides, languages, loves, and lost their own lives along the agonizing trail leading to the wild blue yonder. Mothers never saw their sons again after kissing them on the cheek on a damp Welsh harbor. Fathers buried their daughters under the desert’s sagebrush. Children lost their little limbs when they froze in the brittle bed of a hand-hewn wagon.
I’ve read many of their journals. I’ve marveled and wept at their conviction and heroism. (And can anyone call it anything less than heroism?) I’ve read in one sitting Of Plymouth Plantation with my brows furrowed, wondering, “Were these folks even human?”
And I’ve cheered Wallace Stegner, who in his introduction to The Gathering of Zion: The Story of the Mormon Trail, writes:
I should prefer to deal with the Mormon pioneers, if I can, as human beings of their time and place, the earlier ones westward-moving Americans, the later ones European converts gripped by the double promise of economic betterment and eternal life. Suffering endurance, discipline, faith, brotherly and sisterly charity, the qualities so thoroughly celebrated by Mormon writers, were surely well distributed among them, but there also was a normal amount of human cussedness, vengefulness, masochism, selfishness, and gullibility. So far as it is possible, I shall try to follow George Bancroft’s rule for historians: I shall try to present them in their terms and judge them in mine. That I do not accept the faith that possessed them does not mean I doubt their frequent devotion and heroism in its service. Especially their women. Their women were incredible. (Emphasis added. Shout-out mine.)
All this preamble to say that, as I tell you about our move from Singapore to Switzerland, I’m the first one to wag a firm finger at my pettiness. Believe me. Under my kind of family tree, any and all hardships shrink in the shadow.
But you might be curious anyway. After all, this blog is intended as a breeding ground for my book about living internationally for over two decades, and I can’t write about that without writing about The Moves.
This Move came at us a bit out of the blue. When Randall and I accepted the new post in Singapore, we had been in Munich for three years. The understanding was that this job in Asia would last for several years, long enough, at least, to get our then 14-year-old, Dalton, who had already attended five different schools in three different mixes of languages, safely through his high school years. To make matters worse (or better), both our boys had established important friendships with teachers and students here in Singapore—had gotten traction, let’s say—which for one son especially, was a tender, vital miracle. Safe to say they were thriving and remarkably, steadily happy. A parent’s dream.
But what we’d dreamed would continue for our children’s sake did not, alas, happen. Thus is life. The news that we were going to move at least two years sooner than promised hit our boys hard. To give them a chance to catch their breath and let the swelling go down in their red eyes by school on Monday, we told them on a Saturday.
Luc called it a Sadder Day.
Almost immediately, Randall began doing two jobs at once, the one on this side of the planet, and the other one way over there. This meant he was doing that 18 time-zones thing, a marathon he has long since mastered, though it does wear him down. My man is King o’ the Red Eye, of leading meetings on 3 hours sleep spent on his side next to a stranger whose snoring he breathes in along with the germ-infested-cabin-pressured-recycled-air. He’s the type who walks in the door at 6:00 a.m. on Sunday morning, the dirt of Moscow or Prague or Buenos Aires still in the tread of his shoes, then spends the day loving his family, and, nine hours later, repacks his carry-on with his blood shot eyes closed and in half the time it takes to check for his passport while taxi’s waiting, he blowin’ his horn.
I write this to underscore that, just as the tectonic plates start shifting beneath our feet and when it would help for us all to be on the same one, we are, instead, doing it by Skype, 3:00 a.m. phone calls, texting. My ancestors had none of this. Parchment and the pony express were the very best they could hope for. Think how SMS might have saved the martyrs of the Mayflower and the Mormon trail.
So here we are, texting our lists, negotiating our concerns and packing boxes throughout the three-month interim since Sadder Day. There have been micro-bursts of deadline-driven activities, all pulled by The Move, and they are getting closer together. Like contractions. So here’s a quick-down of how labor’s going:
CLOCK IT BACKWARDS: This means we start planning logistics from the end and work backward. We’ve researched and found that most Swiss or international schools begin end of August/beginning of September, and so we hope to be settled into a place by that date, which means we can function on a daily basis, even though it might mean out of cardboard boxes and which box, by the way, has all our shoes?
Getting there from zero takes one to two weeks, since I usually work maniacally, day and night, and often the kids work alongside me which makes for a party. So we want to be on Swiss ground with our goods delivered by the second week of August. This means sending off our goods 6-8 weeks before that date.
Which means the movers show up next week.
Which means everything must be sorted or sold or cleaned by then, and every last thing we own (down to the forks, extension cords and paper clips) must be itemized and, in some cases, measured and weighed.
Measured and weighed, you ask? I learned this on one move where I estimated (instead of tape measured) the length of our beds and they were three centimeters too long for the only space meant for beds in the leeetle Versailles house we moved into. As a result, we were never able to fully close those bedroom doors. For three years, our feet poked out into the hallway.
You weigh things in case you have to employ a monts-meuble, (literally: furniture hoist, but it looks like an escalator without handrails) as we did in the heart of Paris, to get your things from street level up to the floor of your apartment. The movers need to know if your dresser requires the GRAND MONTS-MEUBLE, or the petit monts-meuble. Handy stats help expedite that kink in the move.
In order to have your things delivered to your future home, you need to have found and signed on that home. And to have that home, you need to determine where you will be living, the general geographic radius. To determine that radius, you need your children to be accepted in a school. So you get busy. . .
FINDING A SCHOOL: For us, the school, as much as any other entity, has been the geographic/gravitational center for our family’s life in each international setting. Our children spend five days a week there, their circle of friends come largely (though not exclusively nor even primarily) from that community, and with the exception of the French school Dalton and Luc attended in Paris where parental involvement was not encouraged, I have spent a lot of time on those campuses as an active volunteer.
So finding a school is important.
It is also where we are sitting in a stalemate this time around.
Explanation: Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) is shaped a bit like a squashed croissant with Geneva at the far left end, Lausanne at about the half-way point, Montreux at the far right. The drive (without traffic) from Geneva to Montreux is 1 ½ hours. Randall’s office (when he’s not in the air) is halfway between Geneva and Lausanne.
Before visiting Switzerland, and based on the best practical reasoning we could come up with, we targeted three schools; one close to Geneva, another close to Lausanne, another close to Montreux. We then used our trip of three weeks ago to visit each of them, talk with administrators and students, drive the roads and get a feeling for the areas. We applied to all three schools.
This means filling out applications, getting multiple letters of recommendation for each child, getting medical releases and detailed physician forms, having the kids write extended introductory essays by hand, getting photos taken, gathering school records for the last three years of school (which means requesting them from Munich), and finally having parent tours and interviews.
And we are still waiting to get acceptances. Acceptances are rather capricious, I am learning, and hinge on classroom availability, not academic ability or private donations. When a space opens up in a given class, the next person on the waiting list is slipped in, first come first sere, as tidy as a Rubik’s cube. Clickety-clickety-click.
Things aren’t quite as clickety as we’d hoped, because it could be that one son will be accepted, another not. Will we put the boys in two different schools? Is that logistically possible? All three schools are at least a 45-minute drive from one another. What does that mean for transportation? How much do I love driving, (even if it is driving along the French Alps?)
Should I home school, if one or the other is not accepted in one of these schools? Or should we enroll one or both of the boys in local Swiss schools? It has been five years since they attended French school, and they’ve studied German and Mandarin in the meantime. Will their tongues be tied or even loosely knotted? Or will a bit of scrambling to get back up to speed in academic French be, in the end, a great thing? Knowing the tightly-coiled French system as I do, is it unwise to just drop a non-native teenager into its machinery? One that doesn’t have that certain DNA needed to fit into le gymnase? One thing is sure, that at Dalton’s stage with college applications looming, derailing him right now doesn’t seem prudent. So I have been surfing home-schooling sites, and am now well-versed in all the Swiss public schooling options lining the long and lovely Lac Léman.
No one can accuse me of not doing my due diligence.
Back to the issue: getting the boys accepted to one school. This precedes another weighty factor, and that is. . .
FINDING A HOUSE: Did I mention the movers come next week? And when they do, it is not only customary but it is preferable—even necessary—to know what your belongings will be dumped into on the receiving end. Why?
Let me take you back to the Goldilocks story of beds three centimeters too long. Or taller tales, like, will there be a garage? A basement? A yard? Equipped bathrooms? Closets? Will there be a ventilation pipe coming through the wall just where the armoire must stand (since, holy schmoley, there are no closets)?
Will there be walls (for bookshelves or pictures) and not just windows? Windows (for the curtains I had to get for this home) and not just walls? Will there be a staircase so narrow, my child’s desk will not make the corner? Can I take the ping-pong table, last year’s Christmas surprise for the boys? Or must I take it, but only because it can double as dining table and master bed? Will there be a kitchen? (I have moved into two places where there was not one. Just a water spigot and a lone light bulb dangling from a wire. We had to build).
Will there be room for a piano, or do I have to sell that family heirloom and pull out the electronic keyboard for the next five years? Will there be floors that need rugs, rugs that need cleaning, cleaning machines already on hand (washer, dryer, a mop), handy commerce, or a commercial dearth with the nearest loaf of bread a 20-minute funicular ride down a mountain? Will the ceilings be too low for bunk beds, unless you can train your top-bunk child to slide in sideways and always sleep with his head turned sharply to the left?
Things like this. Details.
While in Switzerland three weeks ago, we visited as many homes as possible to get a feeling for all of the above. There’s a place for us, somewhere a place for us, and with my list of measurements and weights in hand, I am convinced we’ll be able to settle in just fine. But the one place that will fit for one school won’t be available after next week. The other place that fits for the other school will be gone after mid-month. And the home that fits for the third school will go to another party if we cannot finalize by the first of July.
Which we cannot do until, uh-huh, we know about a school. And if the schools grant an acceptance, they won’t hold that place indefinitely. They’ll want a commitment within a week of said acceptance.
Did I mention the movers?
My pioneer ancestors home schooled, which is looking really appealing right about now. They also ate viper meat and slept under buffalo hides. They also carried everything they owned in a rickety wooden wagon pulled by sickly oxen. Or sicklier parents.
Poor, poor petty-full me.
Between now and a week from today, I am doing all I can to be ready. Listing. Selling. Giving. Sorting. Cleaning. Measuring. Weighing. Waiting. Listing. Writing about listing. And Listing.
All my fan palms and blade trees are going to friends.
Books not touched in 20 years, going.
VHS’s, finally hucking.
(I am quite sentimental, and my original Chitty Chitty Bang Bang had to go, but not without a solitary, sniffly bang.)
And finally, here is where being a Virgo really kicks in. I put colored stickers on just about everything. Slap me, but even pretending you have a system wards off the krazees when chaos overtakes your landscape. So I’ll share:
CONCOCT A SYSTEM:
Blue sticker: Air shipment To live off of for the interval between your arrival and the arrival of your sea shipment, if it does indeed arrive, since it might end up at the bottom of the Panama Canal. Which happens.
Green sticker: Sea shipment Remind me to tell you about our arrival in Rue du Colonel Combes and how the container had indeed made it across the ocean, but not without the ocean making it inside of the container. What luck that all the movers were former fishermen from the coastal towns of Brittany, and for some reason some were actually wearing hip waders. Because when they opened the big metal door at the back of the truck, a briny cascade gushed out and turned our little street into a tributary of the Seine. More descriptions to come.
Red sticker: Suitcases for two months Before flying on to Geneva, we will move into temporary housing then fly from Singapore to the States, where we will spend two weeks preparing our daughter, Claire, for her entrance on August 1st into two months of intensive language training in preparation for her departure to Rome, Italy, where she’ll spend a year and a half as a volunteer representative for our church. She will be packing strategically, for 18 months of hard work. The rest of us will be packing Kleenex.
Black sticker: Sell or give away It has been unfortunate when the movers have mistakenly wrapped up and loaded for shipment the tacky Oktoberfest beer stein with deer-antler handles, or the pressboard side tables purchased at Osco Bargain Barn when we were in college and $20 was a splurge, or the microwave so old and leaky, it could make hair sprout on your eyeballs. The same movers left behind in a pile of “unclaimed junk” the irreplaceable framed photograph of grandpa Reed shaking hands with the Ayatollah, the wedding dress in an unmarked box, and all the bed linens. Don’t let the dross fraternize with your valuables. For this one and only moment in your life, believe that segregation works. Mark ‘em.
Orange sticker: storage Keep a detailed list of what you put here. Take measurements. Take pictures. From all angles. Be persnickety. Think CSI. And keep them on file. You’ll thank me one day.
But I do not want your tacky beer stein as payment. Have one.
Still, if someday in a flea market in Duluth or Doylestown you should find a picture of a bald man with glasses shaking hands with the Ayatollah, you know how to find me.
AND KEEP IT ON FILE
AGAIN, KEEP EVERYTHING ON FILE
AND BACK UP YOUR FILES
Remember that you will simplify life by cataloguing the dimensions (and value and weight and condition) of your belongings. You can avoid sawing off the end of your kitchen table legs (so it will fit under that pesky window ledge), as I had to do once.
Actually, it was only a darned centimeter, but I had to make it work, so I didn’t really saw them off. I just filed them off. So when people say to me, “Wow, you’ve managed all these moves. You must have so many files!”, I narrow my eyes and say, “You have no idea.”
So . . .off to managing the adventure of this life-on-the-move. This week our children are in final exams, Randall is in a neighboring hemisphere, and I am saying farewell to this fabulous city and to friends who have settled so deeply and broadly into my right ventricle, I feel the pressure, and it’s stretching my heart. While we’re at it, the house is on the market again, so there are strangers visiting regularly with real estate agents. A miniscule inconvenience, I know. My ancestors were being visiting by violated tribes of Apaches and herds of bison, just to keep things in perspective. It means, though, that I have to be on hand in the house. And we’ve determined it is perhaps best I am clothed in something a bit more presentable than a bathrobe.
Oh, the demands.
© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. This work (text and images) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. . . which means, as long you’re not selling it, you’re welcome to share, but please remember to give me a link and mention my name.