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McCord Family History Update

It’s been crazy-go-nuts since we moved to Zug in January, and we’ve had no time for blogging. Now a new wind is blowing—a wind that smells like blog. Switzerland is weird and wonderful, and I have much to share on that topic. However, for the sake of posterity, we should get the family history recap out of the way.

We moved into a small house in the town of Zug, Switzerland, in January. AT’s employer gave her an opportunity to take up a key role at the headquarters of their global cellulose sales organization.1 We visited Switzerland (albeit a different part) just a few months before AT received the offer, and we felt that it would be a good adventure. We also thought that you were an excellent age to make the most of it (five years when we started talking about moving; six years when we got on the plane). I still believe that, and I believe that the benefits for you will far outweigh the costs. But my confidence that the transition would be easy for you is among my greatest misconceptions about this adventure.

1.AT has assured me many times that there are myriad uses for cellulose. But it seems that the only one I can ever remember is diapers. It goes in diapers to absorb the other, grosser things that go in diapers.

Our house is on the side of a small mountain in an agricultural area that is being overtaken by the city’s growth. According to Swiss Post, we are in a town called Oberwil bei Zug, but we would need an all-terrain vehicle to reach the town of Oberwil without crossing into Zug, which lies to the North across a growing cluster of apartment blocks. The Zugerberg slopes up to the East toward your school, which is in several buildings at the top of the mountain. To the South are fields and farmhouses and, usually, some grazing sheep. The lake, the Zugersee, is to the West.

You, Sg, are in a combined first and second grade class at Institut Montana. The school can be reached by car, but this is discouraged. And the shortest road is closed by snow for half of the school year. The children meet at a station operated by the local transit authority and ride an inclined train to the top.2

2.AT and I call the inclined train a ‘funicular.’ You have started using the German word, seilbahn. I thought this meant “cable car” (literally, “ropeway”) but if I had to trust one of us on this matter, it would be you.

The new school was a big transition for you. You had completed the first semester of kindergarten at Mary Lin Elementary in Candler Park before we moved. We spent most of January in the States, and by your first day of class at Montana you had been out of school altogether for about a month. We believed that the differences between the Swiss and U.S. educational systems meant that you could move from kindergarten to first grade. But it was tough going for a while.

Of course you didn’t know anyone in your new class. Accustomed to being among the oldest in your peer group in the States, you were now among the youngest. Many of the students in your class can speak multiple languages. And 50% of your instruction takes place in German. These would be challenges enough, but the cosmos took this opportunity to teach you that older kids can be mean.

I hesitate to use the volatile word “bully,” which has lately come to be associated with lasting physical or mental harm and death. Two of the older boys in your class started picking on you not long after we got here. People rarely change, and it will probably be true when you read this as it is today: you tend to go big on emotional expression.3 That failing (if it even is a failing) does not make you deserving of abuse. But it is one of the key things that purveyors of basic thuggery look for in a target.

3.You were three the first time that you told me I was ruining your life. The occasion was something like my not letting you play with markers unsupervised, or whatever. I was most assuredly not ruining your life (at that particular moment, anyway). You have likewise had an unusual number of “best days ever” for such a young girl. If superlatives were a limited natural resource, you would need to be gagged for the greater good.

You have been quizzed on the details, directly and more subtly, more times than you realize. The boys’ methods sound more like typical elementary school taunting than budding sociopathy. So AT and I have mostly limited our intervention to letting you talk about the day’s events and giving you advice about when to ask a grownup for help. Sometimes, you seem kind of stressed out after school, but you seem to be working through it. I hate to put too much weight on this one measure, but I usually don’t get a chance for a second goodbye when I drop you off at the seilbahn—you are always in a hurry to get inside to see your friends.

The situation was less clear during February and March. You had too much on your plate, and you didn’t know what to do about it. You began to wake up at night, and you responded to any frustration by dissolving into an teary, emotional mess. You’ve always been articulate and outgoing, but you reverted to baby talk and became very shy. It was a rough time. To complicate matters, you were slow to start eating the unusual foods that they served at lunch. Our household has never revolved around breakfast. In Atlanta, a hot breakfast was something that only happened on the occasional weekend. But we started having eggs and bacon every morning just so that AT and I knew you were getting some protein.

4.Your sense of humor has grown up some as well. You interrupted a conversation the other day by saying “I’m sorry, I have to take this,” and pulling out a toy cell phone. After a brief conversation between you and your squeaky-mumbly approximation of what your interlocutor would sound like to a bystander, you covered the mouthpiece, rolled your eyes, and said: “It’s my boss. I guess my boss is a hamster or something.” That cracked us both up.

But things have smoothed out, and sometime in April we noticed that you not only had regained your confidence, but seemed even more mature than we’d gotten used to at the end of 2012.4 Through all of it you have said that you like Switzerland and that you like your school. You don’t have the large number of friends here that you had back in Atlanta, but you do have friendships that are growing with time. You have had two nannies since we’ve been here, and your current nanny seems to be very good for you.5 I still worry about aspects of your life as dads are wont to do. But I’m no longer staying up nights fretting about whether I am, in fact, finally ruining your life.

5.Your first nanny (let’s call her “Margit”) was a very friendly woman who you liked very much and who let you do absolutely anything that you wanted. (Could those things be related?) One day, I came down from the office during a break to refill my drink and to say hello. You were watching a movie. I asked Margit whether you’d completed your homework. Margit gives a ‘whatyougonnado?’ shrug and says: “I asked her to do her homework, but she wanted to watch some movies instead.” Another time AT came home to find you watching movies with an open (and nearly empty) bag of Nestle chocolate chips in your lap because, per Margit, that is what you wanted to do. Eventually you started appealing to AT and I by saying “Margit said that I don’t have to [take a bath/do my homework/go to bed],” and we knew that we needed to make a change before you went completely feral.

Then there were the dogs, who did fine for three or four weeks and then started fighting with one another. The fights went beyond noisy squabbles, leading eventually to punctured lips and ripped ears. We’ll post more about this later. The short version is that we have largely learned to manage whatever imbalance in the doggy force that caused Daisy and Olive, after nearly five years of living together in peace, to become mortal enemies. But for a while we felt pretty helpless, and we thought we might need to find another home for at least one of the dogs.

The move put pressure on the adults in the family, too. As you frequently remind me, my thinking can be disorganized. The people who excel at my job exhibit very organized thinking. So my job requires me to exercise as much focus as I can while I’m working. And I frequently work a lot. And focus costs mental credits, my bank of which is frequently exhausted by the time I turn to non-professional tasks. AT’s thinking is more organized, and her job in Atlanta required very few of her nights and weekends. So many (OK, most) of the family’s domestic responsibilities in Atlanta were handled by AT.6

6.I’m resisting an urge to do more to justify this arrangement. It was not as unfair as it sounds, but it was still unfair. Part of what AT has going against her is some twisted cousin of comparative advantage theory, where her standards for what constitutes “clean” or “finished” or “OK to eat from” are less flexible than mine. So if we both waited until the laundry pile is unacceptably high before doing laundry, I would never do laundry. The pile would always reach AT’s threshold of unacceptability before it hit mine. Lesson: Marry someone less slobby than you. But also don’t be an asshole about it.

That doesn’t work here. I’ll leave it to AT to explain what she does, but her job here in Switzerland is more demanding and involves more travel. I was still working as much as ever. Neither of us had mental credits enough in the bank (or time enough in the day) to deal with household management. And the quantity of household management to be done was high because we’d just moved. So starting this month, I became a half time employee. I’m not sure exactly what that means yet, but in practice it has let me take on some of the tasks that weren’t getting done. And both AT and I are starting to experience occasional non-work hours that are not spent in a bleary, exhausted stupor.

Which brings us pretty much up to date. As I said at the top, this post is intended to clear the underbrush of recent family history as a prelude to some other things. The move and concomitant hardships have been a big part of our lives in recent months; as a result, they play a big part of this post. But I want to be clear: I love it here. I love the cold, rainy weather, the country’s natural beauty,7 our bucolic setting, and the chance to explore new places. And nothing we have experienced so far comes close to overwhelming my excitement about this adventure.

7.Holy crap, y’all.

I must admit to a single regret: we chose to sell my sporty convertible rather than pay transport and conversion costs. Mistake! Our new wagon is cool and all.8 And I’m among the minority of people my age who think that station wagons are cool. But I miss the convertible. I miss having my ass close to the street and the way the road felt through the suspension and steering. The new car’s horsepower is not nearly far enough above reasonable for my liking. This regret is not notable on its own—it’s pretty minor, in fact. What is notable is that, when I consider whether I have regrets about the move, this is all I can come up with.9

8.Its cruise control will use gas and brake to keep you a fixed distance behind the car in front of you, its emergency braking feature will hit the brakes if you are racing toward disaster, and a lane-assist feature keeps you in your lane if you start to drift. So one can pretty much take up macramé from the driver’s seat on the interstate
9.To friends and family in the U.S., you may have noticed that I do not list leaving you behind among my regrets. I try only to regret decisions, not consequences. Although I do miss people from back home, I don’t miss anyone so much that I wish I could scrub back to the start of winter and prevent the move to Switzerland. Anyway, you’re coming to visit soon, right?


  1. Mom

    What a great update. I do hope that you all find ways to float on the water of challenging opportunities.

    Much love!


  2. Mark McCord


  3. Our 8yo regularly tells us she’s had the WORST/BEST day ever, and that she hates her life. Admittedly she’s a lot closer to being a teenager than a 3yo, but still.
    And the hamster phone call cracked me up too.

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