Back in the States, little Red, our trusty VW Passat, pretty much drove itself to the airport. It’s transported too many people to and from Denver International Airport to count. Mostly, though, it was stuffed three carseats deep, sending papa off or picking him up from a work trip. Those trips were usually preceded by the realization that we were late and the subsequent militaristic drill to get all the little limbs into the car. Oh dear.
Life isn’t terribly different these days. We’re still surprised when it’s already time to leave to the airport or the train station, and all those limbs still have to get into the car. However, we now drive to another country for the drop offs. And, big Champagne doesn’t know its way terribly well in downtown Geneva yet. At this point, I still rely on GPS to find my way, and nerves are a bit frayed looking for street parking that won’t cost a fortune.
Last night, I let the kids bring all the toys. Sometimes it’s easier to get little bodies in the car that way. We had a rabbit and a teddy bear. A doll diaper bag. All the doll accessories. A rattle and a teether and a pacifier. Markers and a book. And a backpack stuffed with wooden chopping fruit.
Can we all get in the car now?
I ran back for all the snacks, the water bottles, the coats, the hats. I needed all the bargaining tools to swing by the Nespresso store to get some coffee capsules on our way to the train station. We were in dire need of coffee, you see.
It was going to be tight to make it before closing with three kids armed with toy bags that would put Father Christmas to shame. We survived the terrible rush hour traffic and after reversing on the main road to dive bomb into a perfect parking spot, I gave my progeny the familiar pep talk. Ok, here’s the plan! We have three minutes to park a car, walk across that street, and make it to that store with the N on it. You see it? No tantrums, no lagging behind. Understand?
After answering all the questions like which store I meant and how yes, three minutes have become two, I strapped a child to me (poor third-born) and we flew across the busy Place des Florentins. We were the store’s terribly unwelcome surprise, puffing and panting with small children in tow, as the security guard was walking to the door to close the blinds. Hello! *pant, pant* We want *pant* to buy coffee!
The kids giggled from all the adrenaline and raced around the store as I quickly placed an order. We couldn’t take advantage of their discount for using a Swiss address. And, we couldn’t get the freebies for ordering from the French website since we don’t have a French credit card. A typical international family’s dilemma. I bit the bullet and made a big order in Swiss Francs and the kids were paid off with a little chocolate for not wrecking the store. We thanked them for their kindness and left.
At this point, I did make a questionable U-turn pulling out of our parking spot.
We might or might not do those kinds of things in France to save time – you know, when there isn’t a car in sight. Despite my sweet time saver, Swiss rush hour traffic screeched along. I bit my nails, concentrating on not missing the left turn toward the station and wondering if I could avoid paying for parking. We were going to be on time for pick up at the train station!
Of course, all the minute parking spots near Geneva station ended up being taken. I needed to make my way to the entrance of the underground parking garage directly behind me. I looked both ways. And both ways again. No cars. Super safe. And so, this frazzled mama pulled another crazy U-ey on Place Cornavin. Perfect! But, this time, three cops were walking towards my car.
They were so calm that, for a split second, I thought they were moving in on some fierce drug lords in the street behind me. And then, I realized they were coming for me. Ohhh shoot. I should never have done that in Switzerland! I muttered under my breath. What’s wrong, mama? Are you in trouble with the police! squeaked a little voice in the back of the car with way too much excitement.
The closest policeman told me to turn off the motor and hand over some paperwork. Proud of myself for having the papers on hand, I dug for my French car registration paper and gave him an American driver’s license. “Wow, crazy to have the parking garage positioned there. I bet people do that all the time, eh?“ I said, not realizing how quite how crazy I sounded. “Actually, they try to avoid doing what you just did” he responded.
“Oh that’s true. Such a terrible move. I am so so so so so sorry! I will never do that again in my life, I promise! I’m just a busy mama, trying to pick my husband up from a work trip and I am so sorry!” I begged and I thought I saw the tiniest baby smile appear on the corner of his face. I must have looked like a right mess. He continued taking photos of my papers.
By this time, I remembered that so many of these legal papers are in one’s maiden name in France, so, to follow suit, I whipped out my British license. I shouldn’t have done that. It was in my maiden name but expired because, classic us, I don’t have a current British address to renew it. I was just hoping he didn’t look too closely.
“What? How long have you been here and not have a local driver’s license?“ he asked.
“We’ve just been here four months, sir. We’re in transition.” I responded
“Another ID!” he ordered.
I opened up the hatchback to rummage through a messy bag of snacks and diapers to locate the pile of passports we usually have on hand for these constant border crossings. I was hoping mine was in the stack. I saw four blue ones and not my red one. Oh, well, American it was today. He watched closely as I found each kid’s passport before mine. “Oh, that’s the baby’s! Ah, yes, that’s the other baby’s! Hehe, the other baby’s!” By this time, the second cop wanted a better look inside the car. “Holy cow” [replace with French equivalent] “you have so many little people in there!” she said. I saw it as my olive branch “Yeah! Ya see!?” I sheepishly pleaded.
First police officer now wanted to make sure he got the full story right. “So, you are driving a French car on a British license, living in France, with American passports and pulled over here in Switzerland?” “Pretty much” I said with a closed mouth smile.
I really deserved to be ticketed then, as well as a couple times before, but somehow, the officer found empathy in his heart to let us go pick papa up. Such a relief. We collected our favorite traveler and the kids ratted me out right away: “Maman got in HUGE huge trouble by the PO-LICE, papa!” Yes, yes.
The drive home found me so frazzled. Lighting was poor and my adrenaline was pumping fast. There was the kid running out in front of my car. The swerving to avoid someone backing up from an alley onto the mainstreet. A tram sounding a bell as it was about to barrel into my car…
We go in and out of Switzerland all the time. But this time, I couldn’t wait to get to the other side of the border. Just goes to show how much more France feels like home these days.
Featured courtesy of Roman Schmitz
Geneva pic courtesy of my friend Vicki Chen
This post was part of the #Write31Days challenge, on the topic: Our family in global transition.
You can read the other posts written this month, by clicking on the links below!
1 – French Preschool
2 – Making friends in a new land
3 – ‘Yes’ people in a ‘No’ culture
4 – How language affects transition
5 – Not all French people are foodies
6 – The apple juice party
7 – I’m the third-born
8 – French-Mex ridiculous
9 – Busted by the Swiss police
10 – Educational field trip
11 – Visitors: the good and the bad
12 – Christmas in October
13 – A good place to get sick
14 – C’est les vacances!
15 – Playdate anguish
16 – The five year plan
17 – The Q&A edition!
18 – Holidays are for world-schooling
19 – The Granny I want to be.