Thursday, April 28, 2011

Can I do this?! Do I want to?

This post was written for the Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism, hosted this month by Multilingual Mania. Thank you so much to everyone involved...your posts and readership make a massive difference for us all!

I was doing an interview with a friend on Thursday, when one of her answers left me pondering:

"What can you count on me for?" I asked her, curious to hear her perspective.
"To speak German with your daughter," I heard, suddenly smiling at the irony. Just two days earlier, I was making plans to back off.

To speak German...,
the non-native language that has been plaguing me for weeks, leaving me feeling trapped and restricted in how I say what, and when...

With my daughter...,
the incredibly endearing two-year-old who is adamant about what she wants with whom and where...

If we'd had more time, I would have told my friend all about how close I'd been. She probably would have said, You've been there before, right?, and I would have said, Yeah, but this time I was really close. And I woulda been right--I was really close.

As you may know, if you've followed my blog at all, I've continued to struggle with this whole non-native endeavor. Am I good enough? Can I do it? Will our relationship suffer? Is it really what I want now that I have a feel for the sacrifices involved?

The past few weeks have been especially tumultuous for me, in regards to these dilemmas. I could think of little else other than changing my method and breaking free of my entrapment. Not throwing in the towel altogether, but allowing myself some opportunities to speak English with my daughter. However, being as strict as I have been about OPOL, I felt like I was about to give up. Though I've gone through a few brief phases in the past two years, I've generally spoken to our daughter in only German since day one, and requested that my husband do the same in English. It's been a roller coaster of emotions, to say the least, watching the ebb and flow of Kaya's English and German. One week, tons of German. The next, seemingly none.

When Kaya was a baby, other mom-friends would give me crap because we had such an "easy" baby. She slept well, ate well, and cried when most people expect babies to cry. I knew I had it good, and soaked it up for as long as I could. During this time, as I implied above, I continued to speak German to her, despite the awkward challenge of monologue in my non-native language. As tempted as I was at times to give up, I told myself I'd wait for dialogue before making my decision.

Well, here it is. The dialogue. Full sentences. Narrations her life as she lives it:
Kaya's hungy.
Kaya's done.
Kaya do dat.
Kaya will staubsaugen [Kaya wants to vacuum].

The day has come, I've reached my goal, and as I've been doing all week, it's time to re-assess. Is this what I want? Can I handle it? Is it as much of a priority as it used to be?

No. I don't think so. Not really.
The answers were pretty obvious to me, and their negativity was what had me truly questioning whether my method reflects where I want to be going. I'd talked to three very important people in my life--my neighbor, my Dad, and my 'surrogate' mom--all of whom supported me immensely in doing what I felt was best: backing off the stricture and doing what felt more comfortable and easy.

My concern, I told them, was that as much of a gift as bilingualism is, I'm not sure that Kaya isn't losing out in some other way, at the expense of our attempt to raise her in two languages. It's the classic argument, right? Can a non-native speaker really foster the essential connection in their non-native language? A month ago or so, I had no doubts. A blogger friend even asked me, "What's changed? What happened to cause the doubts that didn't seem to exist before?"

Kaya is two.
That's the difference.
At least that's how I make sense of it.

I tell myself it's harder because I'm not only trying to parent in my non-native language, but because I'm constantly faced with being tested in it, too. It's one thing to be the parent I want to be in English...that, as many of you know, is challenging in itself. But in German?! While we were taking a parenting class last year, I remember the struggle that I had, attempting to process all of the info in German--What would that sound like? How would you say that? And how am I going to get it to come out in German when it isn't even natural in English?

And that's what I doesn't come out naturally at times, especially in those moments when all I want is to get my message across as quickly as possible, and to feel confident in my role as a mom. Not lame and stupid and awkward, speaking my third language.

Between those uninspiring feelings, and my sense that I haven't been speaking to Kaya as much as I might if I spoke to her in English, I feared that she might be losing out on a big part of her mom. And as much as I know that there are no truths, no guarantees, my understanding of neurology had me confident that those foundations are not worth sacrificing for anything, including multilingualism.

I still believe that, I have to say.
But what's changed is my strategy.

After talking to my Dad on the phone, and hearing him tell me that, according to my concerns, I should change my method "forthright" (I kid you not, he used that word!!), I began to wonder if I might not regret my decision later. Of course, this wonder wasn't new...I've been kicking it around for weeks, frozen by fear of the consequences of "giving up" on something that I might not be able to get back. It's had me feeling trapped, this fear, and is exactly what I've been trying to shake for the past 6 months. Kaya may speak 'a lot' of English right now, far more than I continue to expect under the circumstances (another topic for another day), but what I do know is that she's not speaking English because she hears me speaking it to her--and that, for me in my current position, is incredibly relieving.

In the past, I've talked about creating possibility, about the power of seeing what you want and going for it, even if it seems completely out of reach. I decided, while sitting on the couch with my husband, that it's time, once again, to employ that tool. Instead of feeling stuck in strategy, trapped by my own rules and regulations...despite being tested and awkward and tired and tempted...I can focus on the possibility and follow through with my initial dream of active bilingualism for Kaya.

It really came down to this: If I give up now, at what could be the most challenging parental phase of our lives (adolescence aside!), how will I feel later?

Of course, there's no way to know until I'm there, but my sense is that I'd rather not make any rash decisions, about anything if I can avoid it, when I'm being tested by a toddler. We really should use this excuse far more often than we do, fellow parents. I can't pay the bills, honey...I'm being tested...

The other thing that had me holding on was this awesome piece of advice by another blogger-friend: "...we have created this environment which is really remarkable, yet we feel, in weaker moments, that we are doing something artificial. Maybe we are, but it's all our little angels know, so for them, it is their reality...I just think that its easy to forget that actually, for Kaya, it is as normal to hear you speak German as it is for her to hear her dad speak English." This is so true. The last few days, as I was mulling all of this over, I spoke a few sentences to Kaya on different occasions. Each time, she'd been simply focusing on whatever object was in front of her, as she often does. As soon as I spoke English, though, she quickly turned to look at me, and paused, as if she were clearly processing that something wasn't quite 'right'. She notices, I have no doubt of that now. And as this friend continued to remind me, "inside her brain, Kaya understands German whether she chooses to respond using her German words or not." This, too, was a great reminder. I'd been telling myself that all my efforts were for naught, that the challenge isn't worth it if she's not even learning how to speak 'my' language. But what I forget in those moments of high expectation is that there's a lot I don't know, and making a decision based on those feelings can leave me, leave us, with oodles of lost opportunities.

So, at this point, I've decided to stick it out: I'll stick with OPOL for six months, which will just about see us through our 3 1/2 week trip to Germany in October. At that point, Kaya will be closer to 3, in a different language phase altogether, and hopefully, fingers crossed, won't be testing us as severely. I know, I know...testing continues. But I'd rather 'risk it' and see, than be driven by fear and overwhelm....the conclusion I seem to land on every time.

Thanks, once again, for joining us on our journey...

P.S. I know that there are many of you out there, bloggers and parents who I value and respect, who don't use OPOL as your method. You may bounce between methods, and might utilize the inconsistencies that leave me feeling so fearful. I just want you to know that, in no way, does my fear nor my dialogue here, reflect my attitude towards you and what you do. I recognize that we each do the best job we can, with everything we do, and we each have our own set of expectations and concerns. As much as I know that I share concerns with many of you, I also recognize that my concerns may feel eons away for those of you employing different strategies that work better for your life. I applaud you for whatever you do, it all makes a difference--I'm just not very good at extending the compassion and appreciation I have for you, to me (working on it though, and one day, SOON, I'll be a master!).

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Bilingual Snapshot @ 27 Months

Don't tell anyone, but I'm secretly wishing for raindrops to fall right now so I can feel "justified" for being inside in front of my computer. I have the whole afternoon to myself, with Kaya at my in-laws', and I've been wanting to get my garden going for weeks. Thus, I feel a bit silly here. I love writing so much that it ends up feeling like dessert, something I am supposed to save until all my work is done.

Here's to eating brownies for breakfast.

As I was talking with my sister on the phone this morning, she overheard Kaya saying, "Kaya put dat da-ow." [Kaya put that there.] Her response reminded me that I haven't really written much lately about Kaya's basic language progress, especially since a few weeks ago when she started speaking in full sentences, narrating nearly every move she makes. So, I'll dedicate this post to a snapshot of stories, and move on to my bigger life quandaries after...

Kaya can often be heard saying...

Dis goes dare. (this goes there)
Kaya do dat.
Kaya put dat dare. (that there)
Kaya read dat again.

Kaya wa'a read a book. (wanna)
Kaya wanna snuggle, Mama.

Kaya's hungy.
Kaya wan wader. (want water)
Kaya go dare.

Baby need a new diaper.
Baby wa'a snuggle, Mommy.
Two minutes.
See, Mommy.
Kaya wanna get up.
Kaya's awayke.
Kaya's done.
Kaya wa'a pay. (wants to play)
Kaya make a monster car.
Kaya make a snake.
One, two, five (early April)
One, two, swee, five (mid-April)
One, two, five, six, eight...(now: starts with 1, 2 then jumps all over between 3 and 8)
ah, bay, tsay, day, eh, eff, geh...(singing German alphabet beginning, abcdefg)
Aweinah [alone = alleine]
Kaya wan...Kaya wan...Kaya wan a go to the store (repeating the first two words of longer sentences...last few weeks)

Mostly English
You may notice a few things. First of all, nearly all the statements I shared are in English. Primarily because Kaya has been speaking mostly English lately, with both of us. (It's raining...justification accomplished) When I say mostly, my best estimate is 80-90%. Granted, we've already 'discussed', in other posts, my tendency to be subjective about this...but I have to say, despite my tendency towards emotion, I think I'm relatively...never mind. I'm still biased. It's possible that she's speaking less English than that with me, maybe 70%...but I can say with confidence that she's speaking far more English, with both of us, than she is German. Like I said above, I'll save my angsty-emotions for another post, and do my best to share 'just the facts, m'am', as skewed as they often are coming from mama.

From Mama to Mommy
The other thing you may have noticed is the "Mommy" at the end of her sentences. I'm not sure where she learned this term, but she's been calling me this like that, at the end of many of her sentences, for a few weeks. She still uses the term, 'mama', at times, but Mommy is winning out over time. As much as I prefer the former, who can't love a two-year old narrating her actions with a sweet little "Mahhmee" stuck on the end?!

So, now for a few language snapshots from the past month:

That means...
On our way home from the store, on April 7, my conversation with Kaya sounded somewhat like this:

Kaya: Kaya will zu Hause. [Kaya wants to go home. (grammatically:Kaya wants at home)]
Mama: Ja? Willst du da essen? [Yeah? Do you want to eat?]
Kaya: Ja. [Yeah]
Mama: Willst du da Obst und Birne essen? [Do you want to eat fruit and pears?]
Kaya: Ja. [yeah]
Mama: Willst du sie auf dem Haus essen? [Do you want to eat on top of the house?]
Kaya: In dem Haus...zu Hause means da house. [In the home means 'the house']

Kaya doesn't usually interpret for us, telling what things are in the other language. And when we ask her about words in the other language, we do it with "What does Mama/Dada say for ____?" So, I'm not sure where she got this, but I thought this was pretty significant (of what, I'm not sure!), despite the inaccuracy of the statement (zu Hause means 'at home')...

Kaya's Church
Later that day, as we were driving through downtown, we drove past the Unitarian church. I didn't really think much of it until we were a few blocks away and Kaya proclaims, "Kaya's Kirche!" [Kaya's church] She continued to tell me that it is "Mama's Kirche und Dada's Kirche," too. I guess if I have any remaining issues about going to church, I better get over them real quick, now that our kid is proclaiming ownership...

Fire Truck
That evening, Geoff and Kaya were reading First Thousand Words in German. When I say read, what I really mean is this: Geoff asks Kaya where something is, and she delights in finding it, either in the margin or in the middle picture. It's symbiosis at it's best, with Kaya highly entertained, and Geoff with a great opportunity to expand his German vocabulary and pronunciation. So, this particular evening, as Geoff and Kaya were looking at Die Strasse [the street], Geoff pointed to a fire engine and asked, "What does Mama call this?" Kaya didn't respond. After waiting a bit, Geoff looked at the German and asked,"Feuerwehr?" [fire department?]
"Feuerwehrwagen," [fire truck] she replied, quickly.
She knows her trucks, fire and all, and even chooses trucks over bunnies, as evidenced at the Newberg Easter event. Instead of going to look at the guinea pigs and other fluffy friends, Kaya wanted to sit on the bumper of the truck, and ring the bell when her turn came along. I've only heard stories of this event, actually, and am eager to see the photo when it comes my way!

After I'd gotten her dressed one morning, early in April, Kaya is standing in the middle of the living room. She looks at me and says, definitively, "Kaya's kyooot." (cute) A few mornings later, getting her dressed in her crib, I heard it again. Nana would certainly be proud of this one!

That same day, as we were sitting in the car, she says to me, "Kaya's doin' good, Kaya's doin' good." She follows her self-assessment up with, "Kaya got slime on her finger."

Zum Cabin
On the weekend of the 13th, we went to our cabin for the first time since Kaya could walk alone. We were very excited, not only to have a walking toddler in the woods, but to share our love of the cabin with the biggest love of our lives. As soon as I told Kaya about our upcoming adventure, she couldn't stop talking about it, and had we not taken a side trip up to Jamie's farm, it's all I would have heard about all day: Kaya go to cabin. Kaya wanna go to cabin. Kaya will zum Cabin gehen. [Kaya wants to go to the cabin]. On the drive out there, she continued to talk about it, making sure we knew who all was going: Kaya go to cabin. Dada go to cabin. Mama go to cabin...Kaya geht zum Cabin. [Kaya goes to the cabin]. Kua geht zum Cabin [Kahlua goes to the cabin].

An Adverb in Context
While were at the cabin, Geoff was very impressed one morning as Kaya busted out the word "though". Early in the morning, while they were letting me sleep, Geoff said to Kaya, "Let's go get your shoes on." Looking up from her book, Kaya responded, "Kaya's reading a book, though." I haven't been doing my 'research' on where our 27-month old should be (as much as I know there are no shoulds), but I, too, was impressed by this grammatical accomplishment!

Kisses for Kaya
A couple weeks ago, on April 17th, I was home alone with Kaya for the weekend. On one hand, I was a bit concerned at the daunting task of 24hr single parenting for 3 days straight (all hail single parents out there!!). On the other hand, however, I was excited at the prospect of Kaya speaking so much German because she'd only have ME and my German at her disposal (assuming I lock us in a vacuum!). Friday rolled by, and alas, mostly English slipped from her tongue. Saturday morning, more as well. By Saturday evening, I was doing all I could to keep myself emotionally afloat ("It means nothing, Tamara, nothing at all that Kaya is speaking mostly English despite the fact that you speak to her all day in German!"). And then, after an entire day, not to mention others during that week, of mostly English, Kaya plays her German card at the perfect moment. She's crying, in her bed, eager for me to rock, to sing, to simply be by her side, when all I want is my evening to escape. After repeated trips to her door, attempting to assuage her from afar, she finally removed her Schnulli from her mouth so I could understand her through tears and sniffles: Kaya will Bussi...[Kaya wants kisses]. And, of course, after that sweet request, I could do nothing else but cover her in kisses.

You and You and You
And last, but perhaps most significant of all, Geoff just told me that Kaya used the word "you" yesterday. Up until then, she'd been speaking in the third person, referring to herself as Kaya, and to us, as Mama, Mommy, Dada, Daddy, Gramma, Granpa, etc. It was bedtime, and Kaya was loading Geoff up all of Kaya's favorite friends: Frida (the baby); RiggidyAnna (the Kaya-created seemingly-German-derivative of Raggedy Ann); little Kaya (Kaya's name for Raggedy Andy); and Max (Mama's one-eyed bear from San Francisco). Alas, there was no more room for Kaya on Daddy's lap. No problem, implies, as she's climbing up on the couch talking to Geoff--"Kaya sit next to you."

There's clearly a lot more that I could 'document'...but as it is, this post grew long, and I'm lucky if you're still here. For now, this will do. If you've got it in you, you can watch this sweet little video entitled How to Fold a Cloth Diaper and Sit on it Just Right.

Enjoy, and as always, thanks for joining us in on our journey!

p.s. Today, as she got home from her grandparents, Kaya walked up two steps by herself, holding on to nothing and no one! She also LOVES cottage cheese, yogurt, and raisins, to name a few!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Lights, Tamara, ACTION...3 months later

Tomorrow, Kaya will be 27 months. Not a very significant number at all, except as it relates to a post that I wrote around Kaya's 2nd birthday this year. The Unconventional Birthday Gift was one that I was very excited to give: instead of giving her a boat-load of unnecessary things that would pile up and take their toll, I wanted to give her something that would make a real difference in her world...and in ours as well. I ultimately decided that I wanted to inspire others to do something, to take on an action to be completed within 3 months, that would make some sort of difference for our planet, for her world.

Some people jumped on the idea right away, sharing within days, their excitement, intentions, and in some cases, the completion, of the action they had in mind. Their comments are there and I encourage you to check them out for some great ideas and inspirations.

Others of you mentioned to me that you had something in mind, and would be working on it over the months. This post is partly for you, to provide you that place, and my follow-through, so you can share your action with the rest of us.

And for the rest of you, who either didn't see the post, made no promises, or had no intentions of taking action, I write this for you, too. Let me explain.

You may have seen my post about the movie, HOME (which, by the way, can be watched in other languages, too--in my quick search, I found it in Italian, Spanish, German, and Russian). I'm still feeling VERY motivated and inspired from that movie, and wanted to share a conversation that ensued with my neighbor about this whole bilingual child-rearing thing.

She was telling me about a conversation she'd had with her Austrian mother-in-law a month before she died, in which her mother-in-law shared with her some of her regret at how she'd raised her kids. "I'd throw them in the car on the weekends and we'd head out on various camping trips to different countries," she shared, in so many words. "I wanted to teach them that the world was their playground, that they could go anywhere, and do anything, where ever they wanted to do it... And now," she lamented, "they are gone or soon-to-be-going." By instilling in her children this perspective that the world is their oyster (as well as by speaking to them in Danish), she ended up spending her aging days alone, with two children in Denmark and the other in the States. Naturally, they'd come visit from time to time, and were with her in her last 10 days, but that's no clearly substitute for relations built in the same vicinity.

I know that I can't guarantee that Kaya will stay close as we grow older. In fact, as our culture dictates, she will probably leave, and may not return. 'If you love them, set them free...', of course. I am in now way opposed to doing that. But what this conversation had me realize is the tendency that we have these days, that we've had in the past 50 years, to be off, to go, to fly away, to drive into the sunset just for the sake of driving, just for the sake of visiting...because we can. Planes are so affordable now, and despite the rising oil prices, so is gas. What is there to keep (most of) us from flying to Germany to visit relatives, or to do an exchange program in Spain? Money aside, nothing really. It's the way it is these days. It's just what you do. At least in my circle. Traveling internationally felt like a badge, road trips were something to brag about. They still are, actually. And my point is this: what am I doing? Why? Do I really want to instill in my daughter the importance of flying all over the world, to possibly fall in love and live 4500 lbs of CO2 away (in Germany)?

Not really, now that I think about it.
Not really, at all.
And not just because I want her close.

It's that movie. It's the reality.
Changes have to happen or we'll be living under conditions that we've never encountered before.
And what could that mean for Kaya? For all of our kids? And theirs?

I hate saying stuff like that, especially in that way. I know that there are many people who hear it and turn their cheek. For good reason. It's f-ing overwhelming. What I'm supposed to do about it? What can I do? What is little old me really going to be able to do to reverse the trends of 50 years? I'm sure it isn't as dire as they say. The Great (insert term of choice) won't let that happen.

And that's exactly why I write, publicly now. Because I'm confident that each one of us, and thus all of us together, can make a difference, can un-do some of what has been done to this earth. It's just a matter of keeping our heads in the game (i.e. looking at it head-on, sans overwhelm, sans guilt...), sharing our efforts with others, and remembering that everyone has choice. No one likes to be "should" upon.

I have plans. Many of us do.
I've taken actions, as most of have.
And in due time, I will share more of them.

But for now, I'm hoping that you will write about it the one/s you were inspired to take 3 months ago on Kaya's birthday, or the ones that you just take because you, too, recognize the importance of loving our planet and inspiring others to do the same.

Sharing inspires others.
Hope you'll consider it.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The HOME Connection

"It's time to come together.
What's important is not what's gone, but what remains."

-Glenn Close, as the narrator of HOME.

Until 5 minutes ago, I'd never cried while watching a movie about the earth.
There's a first for everything, I suppose.

It's not that this movie was necessarily so different from the other movies I've seen about the need to save the was spectacular, for sure. The cinematography was unlike any I'd ever seen, the images so beautiful, so graphic, so intense....the score, Glenn's voice, fit so perfectly to the images and the messages being delivered. It left me hurting, and overwhelmed, and a bit scared, like many...yet ultimately, re-inspired to be the change, to inspire the change, that this earth, that our species, that nearly all living beings in the world, need for survival.

Admittedly, I was reluctant to watch it. I saw it posted on my friend's Facebook wall and thought, "Huh...another environmental movie that will probably leave me feeling hopeless, overwhelmed, and wondering what my efforts are really going to be able to do to make a difference." For some reason, though, I clicked on it, and started watching. I had no intention of watching the whole thing, much less more than just a few was 11:30pm and I had to get some sleep to be ready for Kaya, bright and early. Yet the music drew me in...relaxing, mesmerizing, and somehow curious--I was on the edge of my seat for a good long while, wondering about the direction, and ultimately fascinated by the story of life.

And it got me thinking a lot about this challenge I've chosen to speak to Kaya in German.

When I first decided to raise Kaya bilingually, my intention was to inspire in her an understanding for the world's cultures, an insight into the fact that we, as U.S. citizens, aren't the center of the universe. This is still my goal, and has been for the past two years.

But after watching this movie, I'm reminded of the shift I'd like to take in the presentation of my aspiration.

My tears fell because, for the first time, I was less overcome with fear and more in touch with the connection that I am to the rest of life. The initial realization didn't come from this movie--I took a course last December that helped me realize how unified we are, as humans, as living things. Once I realized that I didn't need to be better than everyone else, and that I wasn't better than everyone else, I suddenly felt the amazing connection to the people that I had, before, shut out with judgment and criticism. It was pervasive, really. This way of being didn't allow me very much connection at all, with the rampage of my judgments. Now that I recognize the severe interconnectedness between all of us, however--especially between those of us that have never met as well as those beings that don't use language to communicate--I can now feel the challenges and the triumphs of creatures that I'd previously been alienating.

Thus, in watching a movie where I'm reminded of how many people will be affected if the water levels rise around the globe, it no longer works to tell myself, I live an hour and a half from the coast--I don't really need to worry so much. In the past, that was my way around the fear. It was my way of disconnecting from the reality of what could be if I don't do something, if all of us don't do a lot of somethings.

This is what I hope to inspire in Kaya.
And naturally, in the rest of humanity, too.
We are ALL connected.
What I do, affects you. And you, me.

If I can keep this connection alive, then I can stay afloat above the fear that causes the overwhelm, and thus, help others do the same. And from there, action can follow.

I know I will continue to worry at times, and focus on the minutia of German vs. English. But maybe, just maybe, this movie can continue remind me of what really matters in life right now: assuring that Kaya has a beautiful earth upon which to raise her children bilingually, should she choose such a path.

HOME: On YouTube

I hope you watch it as soon as you can make the time.
And then send it all over the world!

(of ALL of the topics that could have been addressed at our Unitarian service this morning, The Web of Life was the focus, and thus the inspiration for me to add the following poem by Chief Seattle...)

Teach your children what we have taught our children--
That the earth is our mother.
Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons and daughters of the earth.

This we know.
The earth does not belong to the earth;
We belong to the earth.

This we know.
All things are connected, like the blood that unites one family.
All things are connected.

We did not weave the web of life;
We are merely a strand within it.
That which we do to the web of life,
That same we do to ourselves.

-Chief Seattle

Thursday, April 14, 2011

I pledge allegiance...

I think I just found my German twin!

Ok, so maybe I don't know what she looks like, when she was born, what city she lives in, or where her birthmark hides...but I DO know that she's raising her baby bilingually in German and English, living in Germany, speaking English as her non-native language!!

How cool is the world, really?
Because of this woman's excitement in finding my blog, and her willingness to share and comment, I now have a source IN German that I can immerse myself in for the exact subject matter that consumes my daily life. !!!!

I'm floored. So excited.
Now if only I could understand this exciting new source.

I just went to her blog (called 'Bilingual', in German) to check it out, and in the first paragraph alone, I had to look up 3 words and 2 phrases, one of which I even had to look up in English! (ostensibly) This woman can write. Or I can't read. One of the two. Or both. Either way, it's certainly a wake-up call to me about the importance of reading in the target language, from sources that actually challenge me...Hallo Lola doesn't exactly count!

Granted, in offering a bit of compassion to my little old self, if I were try to read my writing in a German or Spanish, I would have a hard time of it. I make a point of using fun language, of saying things in ways that aren't often (or ever!) said, of playing with words as much as I can because it feels so FREEING sometimes after being stuck in my non-native language speaking toddler all day long (I've often wondered, actually, how some non-native beginners of English handle my random rants of language play). Now, I've just struck a gold mine that could be as hard as gold to read, yet I'm determined to see it as Just That: a gold mine. Repeat. It is a gold mine.

I pledge allegiance to her blog in the European nation of Germany, I will use it from which to learn, this woman, next to Buddha, indivisible, with confidence and compassion for all (including me!).

In other words, with the exciting discovery of this German blog, I am determined to avoid the tendency berate my ability to converse and communicate in the language I use to raise our daughter. Instead, I make this promise to you, my reader, that in this one source (start small, go BIG), I create the possibility of compassion, love, and what the heck, some ease and understanding, too!

p.s. Since having written this last night, I've since gone back through her older blog posts and am doing just fine--a few words pop up here and there that I don't know, but all in all, it's definitely easier to get through than that first paragraph I read yesterday. Must be inventing that possibility....!! =)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

'Sup Nana? (Nanaphone Footage)

In my eagerness to share of our new-found communication with those gone before, I completely forgot that Geoff had captured some footage of another 'phone call' with Nana like those that I described in The Nanaphone post. Before you eagerly dive in to enjoy it, let me explain a bit about this chunk of the conversation.

Kaya had picked up the handset that was sitting on the phone on the shelf and started talking 'to Nana'. We couldn't figure out what the heck what she was talking about and were wracking our brains in an attempt to do so. Was it English? Was it German?! Jibberish? And then it hit us like a Mack: she was clearly asking Nana, "what's up," but a helluva lot less formally.

We were both shocked, not only because it sounded cute and funny as hell, but also because we honestly couldn't imagine Geoff's parents teaching her ebonics! Nor anyone else in her life (yeah, we just outed ourselves as white-foke who hang with white-foke)!

So, you'll come into the video where we are thrilled with our discovery and are asking her, like all proud parents do, to repeat it like a parrot and perform for the camera: say it again, say it again, say it again, Polly! She's lovin' it, eatin' it up, probably confused as hell as to why we're so overjoyed, but clearly un-phased by her confusion in her eagerness to make us laugh!

And then, the real truth comes out, raining on our Polly-parade a bit: once I ask her (in German, of course!) to share with Nana what she'd done today, it hit me: she's not asking Nana "w'ssup", but telling her, instead, that she'd gone to "sahp", a.k.a Swap(nPlay), our community space for playing and trading...

Ah well. It's a worth a few laughs and a good story nonetheless...!

p.s: lustig = funny (Kaya calls the telephone lustig after I respond in German to her English comment)...

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Nanaphone

Some of you may remember this big plastic beast of a device called a rotary phone. You know, the kind of phone with a clear plastic circular piece over a roundabout of numbers and letters, that you stick your finger in and rotate around until it hits the stopper piece on the right hand side and noisily rotates back into place. I can distinctly remember the rotary phones in our house. We had a green one downstairs, a white one in the kitchen for a while, and a beige-colored one in my mom's room. I can also remember how much of a pain in the butt it was to dial our own number because we had not one but two zeros in it: 356-4004. It took forever for that rotary to make it around both ways from that zero. I was trying to remember why we would even call our own number from inside our house on those rotary phones, when I was reminded of the trick my mom discovered which served us well: when you call your own number, your phone would ring. No. Wait. That can't be right. That makes no sense. Wouldn't you get a busy signal? I can't believe I can't remember. What number was that?! We called it so many times, on so many days, to wake up my mom from her bear-like slumber. We'd let it ring and ring and ring, and even then it would take multiple poundings on her door or nudges on her shoulder.

Well, whatever that number was, I somehow ended up with one cracked rotary phone in my house. I must have decided, when I saw it at my mom's collecting dust, that it would be a fun thing for Kaya to play with one day.

For the past year or so, it's been exactly where I placed it when I first brought it home: on her shelf, in her room, collecting dust as a book end. One day, though, a few months ago, it was clearly ready for resurrection.

"Hey, Kaya," I said, rocking in the rocker next to the shelf, "willst du Nana anrufen?" [Want to call Nana?]
Many of you may be aware that my mom died last June.
"Yeah," she said, seemingly eager at the opportunity.
So, reaching my arm down to the bottom shelf, I pulled the handset off the base and put it up to my ear.
"Hi, Mom. Wie geht's? Ja? Wirklich? Super. Was machst du? ...uh-huh...yeah...toll. Willst du mit der Kaya sprechen?" [Hi, Mom. How are you? Really? Sweet. What are you doing? uh-huh...yeah...great. Do you want to speak to Kaya?]
Kaya was looking at me the whole time, eager to have the phone herself. When I handed her the handset, she got a huge smile on her face.
"Willst du hallo zu Nana sagen?" [Do you want to say hi to Nana?] I asked her.
"Ha..ll...o," she said, quietly, with trepidation.
"Willst du ihr sagen, was du heute machst?" [Do you want to tell her what you're doing today?]
Silence. Smile. More silence. And then, she handed the phone back to me with a "Mama...!" and went sauntering off, quickly. Clearly, the Nanaphone was still a bit too much (and all phone conversations in general, for that matter).

A few days ago, however, Kaya dragged the burly beast off the shelf and laid it on stool.
"Willst du Nana anrufen," [Do you want to call Nana?] I asked her.
"Ja," she replied, picking up the handset.
"Sag mal, 'Hi, Nana'," [Say 'hi, Nana'] I told her gently.
"Hi, Nana," she quickly responded.
"Willst du Nana sagen, was du heute gemacht hast," [Do you want to tell Nana what you did today?] I asked her.
"Rutschen," [slide] she said, following my lead.
I smiled. How could I not. My daughter was speaking German with my English-speaking mother who exists only in our imaginations.
"Sagst du der Nana, was du jetzt machst?" [Tell Nana what you are doing now?] I continued.
"Buch wesen," [read book] Kaya replied.
"Was noch erzaehlst du der Nana?" [What else can you tell Nana?] I asked her.
Unfortunately, the details are too fuzzy for me to remember all of what Kaya said, but I clearly remember her going on a bit about some activity that she'd done, staying in German the whole time. After a while, she'd turn the receiver around, talking into the ear-piece, where one, on a functioning rotary, would normally listen.
"Sag mal, 'ich vermisse dich, Nana'," [Say, "I miss you, Nana"] I continued, hoping we could play this amazing game all. day. long.
"Ich vermisse dich, Nana," [I miss you, Nana] she said, slowly and quietly, in the sweetest tone you can ever imagine.
"Sag mal, 'Tschuess, Nana'," [Say 'bye, Nana'] I added, knowing our Nana-time was nearing an end.
"Tschuess, Nana," [Bye, Nana] she said, after the cue, and quickly handed the phone back to me with a, "Mama!"
"Tschuess, Mom," I told her, holding the handset up to my ear. "Ich hab dich lieb. Ich vermisse dich viel. Es war so schoen mit dir zu reden." [Bye, Mom. I love you. I miss you tons. It was so nice talking to you!]

Who knew that this cracked piece of plastic could create a bilingual Nana who was merely monolingual as we knew her? Who would have guessed that this relic from my childhood would follow me into adulthood, carrying both dreams and nostalgia of all that was and ever could be in regards to connection and love?

I certainly didn't. I definitely didn't plan on resurrecting my mom in our old, classic phone. But after writing this, and giving it as much thought as I have, it's obvious that there's no better place, no better way to enliven my mom for my me and my daughter. We lived on the phone in our house. We had them growing out of our ears, was the running joke for years. We'd be on the phone for hours, all of us, with friends, with each was just our way. So, had I been 'on it' that day, watching the dust collect on that rotary, I would have known that this was the natural destiny for that aging piece of history that was our phone.

The photos above are of Tamara, at age 2 (Kaya's current age), and of Karen (Nana) on the phone with her late brother, Roy.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Madam Mix-a-lot: Interpreter Extraordinaire

For the past week, I've been riding this roller coaster of challenge and triumph, as I watch the flip-flopping language pattern that so clearly defines Kaya right now. Just when I think I'm ready to give up (like Saturday night), Kaya flips the switch and starts speaking mass amounts of German (like Sunday at Gramm's birthday dinner). The high carries me for a few days, until I begin to wonder, once again, how long I can maintain this strange relationship of bilingual communication.

At my lowest point this week, a friend of mine helped me recognize that I was making all sorts of meaning out of the language that Kaya uses at any particular moment. Naturally, I wasn't aware of this in those moments...I was just frustrated and impatient and overwhelmed. When I'd hear her speak English, I made it mean all sorts of things:
  • despite all my efforts, my daughter still isn't learning
  • surely this pattern will only continue--if I can't deal with this now, how will I deal with it for years to come?!
  • she's not going to be an active bilingual
  • I'm not doing enough--I need to do more
It's possible that some of these things may be so, now or in the future. But what I was reminded of this week, is that coming from a place of overwhelm and defeat is completely disempowering (at least for the person feeling it). None of us really knows the truth, even the experts. We can do our best to interpret the research, and then, as a fellow bilingual parent responded, we're left with common sense and love to guide us on our parenting path.

When I come from this place, I feel excited. I feel at peace with whatever language comes out of Kaya's mouth, and can trust in the process, whatever it is. This is exactly how I was feeling last night as we were driving to Gramm's for dinner. I began to notice that I was unaware of what language Kaya was speaking, because I was more focused on being with her than that on what or how we were communicating.

This must sound so strange for some of you.
How can this woman be so focused on language that she's ultimately disconnected from her daughter
I wonder the same thing, sometimes.

It's all a process, though. A serious roller coaster, as I mentioned above. Every time I 'see the light', I tell myself that I'm going to remember how this ride feels; I'm going to remember that riding it is just part of the process of the gift I've chosen to give our daughter. And then I forget again. And again. And go seeking solace from my family, my friends, and my growing community of multilingual parents.

Which is exactly why I share my fears and doubts, because as strange as the above experience may sound to some of you, I'm confident that, to others of you, it hits very close to home. I've been told by a couple people lately that I worry too much. Six months ago, I would have been in complete agreement with that statement. Now, however, I believe that I don't worry more than the average Joe on Main Street--I just publicize my concerns more than most, airing my doubts for the purpose of connection and consolation. I think that most of us, as humans, worry. I think, however, that we live in a society where it's safer to keep to oneself, safer to hide the doubts, safer to be perceived as strong and confident.

I'm learning that our perception of safe isn't always spot on. And when I'm inaccurate, I pay the price in self-worth and in my connection to humanity.

As I often do, I got off on a tangent. Initially, I was attempting to share the story of Kaya's tendency to interpret over the past few days. At this point, because I didn't write it down, it's hard for me to remember the details, but I'll see what I can do to dig some up...

Yesterday, Kaya told me, in German, that she needed a new diaper ["Kaya braucht eine neue Windel"]. Thinking that she was just wet, I told her that we'd wait a bit until she was done drinking her milk. When I checked her pants, however, it was obvious that Kaya knew best: she definitely needed a new diaper. Jokingly, I told Kaya to go tell Dada, who was standing just outside the door, that she needed a new diaper, that he could help her. She climbed off my lap, sauntered over to Daddy, and proclaimed, in English, "Kaya need a new diaper." I was shocked. Even though I clearly remember her doing this many months ago (telling Geoff she wanted milk after she'd told me she wanted "Milch"), it seemed really different this time. Perhaps because it was a longer statement, and was in direct response to me telling her in one language to tell him something that she then communicated in a different one. It happened a couple more times that day, unfortunately with statements I can't recall, but each time, left me smiling and amazed. Screw the child-labor laws...she's around the corner from a paid salary!

This morning, on a slightly different note, as I was reading her a book before nap time, Kaya conjugated a verb into the present tense that I had just read to her in the past tense. For those non-grammar types out there, the example should help clarify. The book, called Gross und Klein, Wer Passt Rein [Big and Small, Who Fits in There?], is about a badger who brings a pile of pants for his friends (what else is there to bring to one's friends?!). The raven grabs the whole pile for himself, naturally, and begins to try them all on. Successively, they are either too big or too small, as announced by the various animals who are better suited for the particular pair of pants. As I was reading the page about the badger having brought pants with him to all of his friends [Der Dachs hat seinen Freunden Hosen mitgebracht], Kaya repeated what happened, but changed the verb, gebracht [brought], from the past tense into the present: Er bringt Hose [He brings pants]. This happened all in German, which not only made me happy, but impressed me a bit as well. I suppose she took something complicated and simplified it into something she knows well, the present tense, but I was surprised because the past tense form of the verb, mitgebracht, is irregular and doesn't sound at all like the present tense, bringen.

All in all, I'm feeling more at peace with Kaya's tendency to mix. I decided last week that, instead of feeling so angst-y and full of doubt, I want to feel trust in the process, in whatever stage she is at in whatever moment she is in it. So, after sending my desire out into the universe, I am continuing to feel more relaxed about the words that leave her mouth in whatever language they leave it. So, instead of responding constantly with, "Hast du _____ gesagt?" [Did you say ____?] or repeating back, inquisitively in German, whether she did this or that, I'm just allowing myself to respond with love, however I feel like responding. Admittedly, I was getting pretty sick of hearing myself ask her all these questions all the time (as I think I blogged about a few weeks ago). And feeling very taxed by the process! As a fellow bilingual wrote from Italy, "none can tell what [response] is best and in which respect. One approach could be better at promoting bilingualism, another at promoting the child's self esteem, another at promoting parent-child relationship, just to name a few." When I remember this, I feel freed from having to do it any particular way. It seems so obvious, not to put all my strategy eggs in the hands of one expert...but it's so amazingly tempting and easy to look outside ourselves for the answer. Not to mention, believing that there is 'an answer' at all.

I know, I know, I'm still riding that high from the excessive amount of German last night at dinner. That fear and doubt will certainly be back, and I'm sure you'll hear about it from me again! But I swear: it's going to get easier and easier to get back on my horse of peace and love, and ride into the sunset anew, smiles a plenty.

I swear.