We survived another first week. 

It is the phase in our life when time slows to a crawl. Each day feels like a month with the weight of worry, fear and anticipation. And yet as the days turned into night and we gathered around the dinner table to reconnect the weight slowly lifted.

I learned the hard way last year that a “smooth” first day is not an indication of calm waters ahead.

The gulp of the first day. Mouths closed lest a bit of puke escapes.
Diego’s new teacher. Reminded us a bit of cousin Ian which made us feel a little more comfortable.
Off Helena goes to her classroom with her English teacher. Being greeted in English does marvels for the nerves.
A smiley girl at the end of day 1. “You did it!!”
The artwork that adorns the front door of the school. Is it more than a little bit alarming that they got the alphabet wrong? Do you think they know? Should I tell them? I think I have to tell them…

Instead I now know that the kids are so stunned on day one that they are merely going through the motions like a robot. It is in the stillness after tuck-in, after we’ve done our best to pile on love, admiration and “you’ve got this” energy, that the enormity of it settles into their sweet little beings.

As with last year, day two began with a fresh set of fears, worries and tears. “I think I’m going to puke” has become a phrase I’ve grown so accustomed to hearing that I’m going to be completely unprepared for an actual flu bug. 

But this year no one came flying out of the school, wailing, insisting “I can’t do this!!! PPLLEEAASSEE don’t make me do this!” Thank heavens,  because there is no faster route to a stiff morning cocktail than that scene!

We arrived the morning of day two to a pack of sweet little girls waiting for Helena. I love each and every one of them!

D had a few “Hoi Diego”‘s too which also makes me want to force hugs on stranger’s children. D has reminded me how totally mortifying that would be for everyone involved and so I’ve restrained myself. The kids in grade 6 play it cool so there hasn’t been a pack of kids anxiously awaiting him each morning. But already by day two he was joining in the recess (Pause as it is called here – pronounced “pow-sa”) soccer match. The ease of friendships through sports with little boys is a beautiful thing to behold.

Budding friendship…the boy in the middle is in D’s class and made a point of coming to sit beside D. In response D went awkwardly silent which I am hoping he’ll be able to recover in a soccer match. 

And as days turned into night and the week wound to a close I realized that everyone had exhaled. It happened at different times for each of us I think. Contrary to last year, we didn’t all arrive at Friday afternoon feeling as though we had just finished our very first Iron-man. Friday still felt like a victory but not quite as much of a miracle, which in and of itself is a miracle!

This scene is what we encountered on our way home from school on day 1. I mean really, do we live in a story book or what!?
I was a hard fought battle to get to this place. I have lost many a night of sleep over the battle for where we are today. You see way back in early Spring, when we knew we were going to do another year, we started to think about what that new school year would look like. Having successfully completed a year of German Integration the kids were ready for the mainstream, community based school. We knew that if/when we moved to a new apartment, this would impact where the kids would go to school. And our biggest hope was to finally find the connection within a community when your kids can walk out your front door at any time and see their buddies on the street.

We secured a new apartment (oh the blog post to come for that saga! It’s a gooder.) up the hill from where we are living now and in close proximity to the school that the cousins go to. Setting the kids up with a few familiar faces in the school was a big priority to help ease the transition of once again starting from scratch at a new school.

Having the cousins as classmates would be such fun!
Jaro and D – good buddies.

So we mailed in our notice of the change of address, notified the kids’ teachers and began telling the kids about their new school just down the road. No more busses! No more separate schools! Life would be easy, at long last.

Or would it?

Very quickly cousin Jaro heard from his teacher that a new kid would be joining their class in August by the name of Diego. He would even be seated right beside his cousin. Perfect!

And then we got the letters in the mail to confirm their class registration. Diego, up the road at the school we had assumed. Helena, not so much…

Wait, what?

The notice said that Helena would be going to a different school in the opposite direction. D would walk to school along with his two cousins, merrily on their way while she was sent alone, into an abyss of loneliness and terror. (Ok, the letter didn’t say the “abyss of loneliness and terror” part but it might as well have!)

HELL NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This notice came in the mail the very same week that she became unhinged in June. That very same week when she threw-up on the bus because of pure nerves. An acute case of separation anxiety that seems to now be a part of who she is. (My bad, I went through the exact same phase as a kid and know all to well the awful feeling that takes over your body when something doesn’t feel quite right. Poor little bug.)

Enter Mama Bear, again.

I responded immediately in my most strongly worded German I could muster. “Das ist nicht gut!!” “Grosses Problem!!” I did my best to explain that there must be a mistake. Our children needed to be together. Clearly Helena would need to be shifted to the other school.

And then I waited.

Correspondence happens in Switzerland by mail. As in snail-mail. And while the mail does travel here exceptionally fast (the benefits of a wee tiny geographical space) snail mail is still devastatingly slow compared to email. We have all become conditioned to the immediate response email allows. Not here. You must wait for the letter to arrive in the mail.

It was torture. Once it finally did arrive it stated “the other school is too full. It is no problem for them to be separate.”

Oh but it is a problem. A really, really big problem.

Once again I responded, pleading my case. I even enlisted friends and family who have a far better grasp of the language to plead our case. I poured my heart out and painted the picture of a child gripped with worry and fear. Her capacity to learn would be greatly reduced by her fear of blowing-chunks at any moment. Surely we could make an exception. For the well being of the child!

Again a response. This one detailed the walking distance to both schools from our house. Approximately 11 minute walk for D, 14 minute walk for Helena. Again, it is no problem for them to be separate.

Seriously!? After I poured my heart out about poor Helena. Even her teacher from last year who watched her weep with fear for a whole week weighed in on her behalf. But I’m supposed to understand that the walking distance is ok so no big deal?

Again I responded. “This is about the well being of a child. How can the well being of a child not be our number one concern here?”

For those of you reading this who are in the teaching profession or are even administrators, I can appreciate the complexities that go into forming classes. I know it isn’t just an easy matter of putting kids anywhere. But I knew in my gut that I had to fight for this. The kids remained blissfully unaware, confident that they would be together like we had promised them.

A meeting was scheduled. I had “help” arranged to come to the meeting with us. Not only would my German skills have failed me, speaking in general was going to be nearly impossible as I was brought to tears every time I tried to speak about it.

And then a phone call happened. It was confirmed that the children could be together. No meeting necessary. Diego would be removed from the school he had been placed in and would join Helena at the other school. Not the solution we had been hoping for but a compromise which is a rare thing in Switzerland. For us, a victory.

It meant that Diego wouldn’t get to be with his cousin which is such a shame. But having my two together, being a source of comfort to each other in this scary new world was worth the fight.

And so our mornings now have a delightful routine. We set out together on foot at 7:50 to walk the “14 minutes” to the school. There is a train crossing to consider but we seem to have perfected our routine to not be held up there too often.

If we do indeed get stuck at the train tracks it’s not all bad. Someone has posted poetry on the fence. Even a few in English! This one seemed fitting for day 1. Is the expectation of gladness forever unrealistic? I do know that it can be fleeting which I think is the way it is meant to be – that way we are able to recognize gladness when it has gripped our hearts.
This one was fitting too considering our upcoming move. Some of our current neighbours have been a bit more tricky to love but I whole heartedly agree that we must!

I asked the kids “Did this first week feel as long as the first week last year?”

“Not even close.” was the response.

By part way through the week they didn’t even need me there to pick them up when the bell rang, happy to walk home on their own.

Thank heavens. We just might be getting the hang of this.



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