When I told my kids a year ago that we were going to embark on an adventure of a lifetime and stay for 2 months in Switzerland while I was on sabbatical, their reaction was not, as you would probably imagine, an excited leaping fist pumping affirmative – not even close. In fact, there were tears and recriminations and animalistic wailing and ritualistic rending of clothes and beating of chests – ok, not the last two so much, but that’s what it felt like! So, yeah, they didn’t warm to the idea of leaving behind their friends and all the comforts of home and one parent for a whole 2 months (or 1/60th and 1/42nd of their young lives) to live with me in a one-bedroom apartment in a foreign country – go figure!
Another stress-inducing fact was what to do for school. On the most normal of days I am unable to supervise their learning without yelling and screaming – that’s MY yelling and screaming by the way – how was I going to manage without Dave, the Patient One?! So, I called schools in Switzerland. The public schools were great but all the instruction was in German and Swiss German – so my kids wouldn’t be able to understand in two different languages – lovely. The international schools were an option even though their fees were heart-stoppingly high. So I called around to those, only to be informed that though they would very much love to help Frau Rhodes, they were simply unable to accept students for just 2 months.
But the kids’ school in the US was fantastic! The principal was on board for me to have the kids take a leave of absence for 8 weeks to jaunt through the Swiss countryside with me. The kids’ teachers put together academic packages with assignments for my kids. The idea was basically for them to practice math and language arts and to blog/journal every alternate day. And to soak in the culture – to use public transportation and go to the grocery store and to step outside their comfort zone a little – because being uncomfortable, and a foreigner in a foreign land is a good experience for everyone!
Now the next challenge was to hire a babysitter so that I could actually work on my sabbatical and not – as Dave put it – just “go on work-sanctioned vacation to Europe“! And Switzerland has a host of dizzying options. There are nannies and childminders and something ominously called a “day family” – sometimes I wish I could have opted for the “alternate-day family” for myself because pretty much every other day I want to give away my kids! There’s a whole host of websites that you can go to for hiring child care givers – but they’re mostly all in German where the only word I understood were “kinder” – and it wasn’t followed by “garten” so I was stumped! So I advertised on the English Forum site and found Yesica, a completely cool snowboard instructor originally from Argentina, and Carmela, a completely cool German teacher who bakes the most divine bread.
So for 5 hours a day during the week my kids spend time with two wonderful ladies who take them to the park and on hikes in the forest and to the farm to pick apples. This allows me to work at the university for the eyeball-melting price of $135/day – that’s right – EVERY DAY!!! At the end of this sabbatical I’m going to have to bid a fond farewell to one of my kidneys to pay for all this childcare!
We’ve been here for a week today and the kids are still ambivalent about the merits of this plan. My only hope is that one day, in the future, they will look back on this time they spent in Switzerland and not judge me too harshly for forcing them to come. I mean, just because I think this is a great idea doesn’t guarantee that it is – I thought Firefly would stay on the air for 10 years and look how that turned out!!
Note: This is a song I associate with my kids because the major refrain is “some things you do for money, and some you do for love, love, love” – which is beautiful I think – notwithstanding a deeply unsettling line about Kurt Cobain!