August 21st, 2010

Wow. The change-over from Small Boy waking up around 8 and being dressed at some time in the general neighborhood of 9 to Small Boy waking up at 7:25 and being out the door for Kindergarten at 8 kicked our asses last week. Fortunately the transition to Kindergarten itself has gone smoothly. It’s his second year, he’s in the same room with the same teachers, and about half the kids in the class are his classmates from last year so all of that is familiar. But getting out the door on time? That’s been quite the transition after our lazy summer mornings. 

If you’ve got kids going back to school, how’s that going? And whether you’ve got kids or not, what’s the hardest part about summer drawing to a close for you? And what’s the best part? (Yes, I dread the grey days of winter here in the flatlands, but winter vacation skiing and sledding in the Swiss Alps? Bring it on!)

The same, but different

August 17th, 2010

Small Boy started his second year of Kindergarten yesterday; he’s excited to be a Hirte this year. His Kindergarten class is mixed between five/will turn five year olds in the optional first year of Kindergarten and six/will turn six year olds in the required second year. The older kids in the group act as Hirte – “shepherds” who help the new kids learn the ropes, help enforce classroom rules, and sometimes separate kids whose playing is spilling over into fighting. Last year, as one of the new, young kids, Small Boy was a Schaf (a sheep – yeah, don’t get me started) but now he’s one of the Big Kids.

The first day was a breeze yesterday; he’s an old hand at this Kindergarten thing. When I think back to last year and the tears that were involved in my parting, to the fact that I had to stay nearly an hour that first morning and was the second-to-last parent allowed to say goodbye and leave the room, I see how much he’s grown up in the past year. Yesterday I stayed through the standard introduction and parent information session, then Small Boy ran off to the art table and started drawing pictures of butterflies and I said I could go. (His drawing has developed by leaps and bounds over the past year as well and he often dashes off to the “art project table” we have at home to draw a picture. Have I shared his pictures of Fabian Cancellara that he drew during this year’s Tour de France? No? Well, here’s one:

It may seem childish for a five and a half year old, but I never really did much drawing with him before he started kindy, so he went from literally scribbling like a toddler to drawing people on bicycles in the course of the Kindergarten year and I am very proud of him and his pictures. And that he comes up with the ideas himself, and just runs off to draw them.)

This morning I dropped Small Boy at Kindergarten – I’ve gone through the whole how-long-do-I-keep-bringing-him-all-the-way-to-the-school-house-door drama here, and for now I’m still going all the way to the building with him and picking him up at the door – and saw the clutch of new moms going into the building with their kids or peeking through the window into the changing room. The new moms are so cute; that was me last year, hovering outside the window making sure he got out of the changing room and into the classroom. This morning I simply kissed Small Boy goodbye in the school yard and called out “Tschuss!” (bye-bye) as he went running off to the building. He likes Kindergarten. He’s good at it. He’s not the most popular boy in the class, but he’s not the outsider and that’s all I could wish for. He knows how to try to play with other kids and he’s got his best buddy who he has regular out-of-school play dates with. He has even, clearly, learned a lot.

I’m curious to see what this second year brings. He is in the same classroom with the same teachers, but now that he is one of the older kids I’m curious to see how the teachers change what they expect of him. They must slowly expect more of the six year olds; these are the kids who will go to school next year. I would think they will expect ever longer periods of attention, even greater pencil control, closer attention to detail, more precise following of instructions. This year will be the same, but different, and I wonder what that will look like.

Still life with thresher

August 2nd, 2010

Agricultural workers are exempt from the fairly strict Sunday work and noise regulations in Switzerland. If the crop is ready to come in, the crop is ready to come in; if the weather is fine for threshing, the weather is fine for threshing; and if somebody is threshing on a Sunday – a Sunday that is also the national day of Switzerland – complaints about it will go unanswered. In the farming village we lived in when I first moved to Switzerland, the people who bought the houses that had been newly constructed on the border of a farm had to sign a covenant stating that they were aware that they were buying a house in an active agricultural zone and they could not complain about the routine necessities of farming life: sheep and/or cow bells, the smell of manure, tractors driving on Sunday, the threshing going at all hours of the day when it’s time to get the wheat in. I wouldn’t be surprised if the owners of the houses that border J’s fields – houses built on farm land my in-laws sold as construction land – had to sign on to something similar.

Wheat is an extremely time-sensitive crop (one of the many things I’ve learned since marrying into a farm family): once the wheat is ripe there is a very short window – a few days – before the grains starts falling. And you need fine weather for threshing. Wet wheat stalks fall over and do not pass easily through the thresher. Wet wheat also brings a lower price if you are able to harvest in the rain. So when the wheat is ready and the weather is fine, it’s time to thresh no matter what day it is.

Which is how my father- and brother-in-law came to be threshing on not just any Sunday, but Sunday August first, which is Switzerland’s national day. Most small family farmers don’t own their own threshers (a combine harvester can run about $250,000) – they hire a thresher, and the farmer who owns the machine does the actual driving. The farmers who own the fields ferry the tractor-trailers into which the grains are emptied back and forth to the barn. So strictly speaking, my brother-in-law was not threshing; N, who owns the combine, was threshing. He let Boychen and Small Boy ride along for a few passes. 

I feel like such a kid when the big farm machines come out. I get as excited by them as the boys do.