Friday, December 21, 2012

Apocalyptic Apprehensions

A Solstice Sky in the Southwest
As close as we are to Weihnachten, and as we sit perched on the eve of what was deemed to be yet another Apocalypse, I've got all these "shoulds" going on in my mind about the topic of this post. But other than the overwhelm that I often feel after taking such a writing hiatus, the topic most heavy on my heart right now is my I feel like it's lacking, sucking, and how I, therefore, so sorely want to 'give up' on this whole bilingual venture.

I just read (in my latest favorite, Radical Acceptance, by Tara Brach) about how the true courage of a person lies in their power to not give up, specifically on themselves, and to see the good that we each possess. Apparently, reading is just the beginning, and I've still got some progress to make in this arena...maybe that's part of why I write.

Lately--what feels like weeks to me, though who really knows, as my inner critic is clearly going strong--it seems like I'm fumbling over my words when I try to speak to Kaya about certain topics. Granted, they are often the prepositional phrases--the 'on top of that's', the 'with it's and 'about which'es (darauf...damit...darein...drinnen...darin?!!!)--though, there have certainly been plenty of moments of wondering what the hell word to use to describe a situation or offer a thorough, educated answer to her curious inquisition (Warum ist der Mond in dem Himmel, wenn die Sonne scheint, Mama? [Why is the moon is the sky when the sun is shining, mama?]. In some ways, it's wonderful to have a walking dictionary who is our German host daughter--when she doesn't know how to say something, she's quick to look it up in her iPod. And on the other hand, I find myself second-guessing my abilities and criticizing myself when I might otherwise let it slide.

Sometimes, it feels like a lot of internal work to humble yourself to a 16-year-old who speaks your daughter's native language better than you do.

I'm trying to think of a specific example from today to paint a better picture of what I'm really experiencing here. I was so frustrated this afternoon, however, that I think my amygdala blocked my ability to access what I otherwise might have access to in my frontal cortex. Oh, little brain, you--trying so hard to protect us from danger--when really, the danger is just inside of us, in the thoughts we think and the stories we create. 

But what I can remember doing, at one point, is actually inserting an English phrase smack dab in the middle of a German one when I couldn't figure out how to say it--and didn't want to slow myself down to ask Estella. This may not seem like that big of a deal to many of you, especially for the many families who mix as a matter of habit. For me, however, it felt like a pretty big deal--a dabble with devil, in certain respects: it felt so easy, so natural, so relaxing, actually, to just throw that phrase in there like that, as opposed to stalling to wonder how to phrase it, to get stuck on feeling like I suck, to have the moment frozen in time while I get it together to attempt to express myself in this non-native language of mine.

What was a big deal to me, however, seemed like nothing to Kaya. She didn't flinch. But the last time I did something novel like this, it didn't take her too long to start in on the habit herself.  It was a couple of weeks ago, as we were sitting at the kitchen table. She was struggling and frustrated because she couldn't figure out how to say what she was wanting to say in German. "Es ist schwer zu sagen!" [It's hard to say!] she told me. "Schaffst du das auf English?" [Can you say it in English?] I asked her. She looked at me, and sort of nodded. Pausing, I looked at her intently, and followed through on this crazy idea that I had: "Maybe you could whisper to me what you have to say in English?" I said to her, whispering, as if being quiet might somehow diminish the fact that I was dipping into this new world of 'mixing with mama'. I thought, for a moment, that maybe we could have this 'rule' where we could speak in whispers to express those things that we just can't seem to say in German. She just stared at me, as if she liked the idea, but like the words wouldn't come out. She's been speaking exclusively German with me for so long now (1.5 yrs) that the idea of speaking to me in English is still completely foreign to her. But then, the other night while staying at our friend Amanda's house, she stormed into the bathroom, proclaiming, in English, "I don't want to brush my teeth!" It's not so strange that she speaks English in my that's the language she speaks with everyone else, including Estella, when we're not at home (at home, she and Estella speak only German). But that night, in the bathroom, it was only she and I, and it was obvious that she was aware of our solitude. "I don't want to brush my teeth!" she said again, clearly waiting for my response to her attempt to mix. Very aware of her test, I ignored the statement, and continued to speak to her in German, validating her in lack of excitement for dental care, while making my meager attempts to inspire her despite.

Loves her Chocolate as Much as her Mama!
In some ways, I really want to start mixing. I want to be able to fall back on English in those moments when German just doesn't do it--for one or the other of us. What I really want is to know that, no matter what, my relationship with my daughter won't be sacrificed because of a language. The whole point of this bilingual adventure was to increase her options for communication (among other things), not to create limits. At times, lately, it feels that we're hitting those walls, bumping into those limits, and they are causing me a bit of anxiety in regards to what might, or might not, be possible with my daughter. 

And at the same time, I expect that, with time, Kaya's German input will decrease--as she enters school (unless we home school), as her English-speaking community grows, as she's with me less, she will have fewer hours of German per week, which could naturally contribute to a decrease in her ability to use her German (as I believe is beginning to happen already, now that she's in pre-school 3 mornings a week and at her grandparents' one night a week). So, with that thought, the last thing that I want to do is decrease the amount of time, and opportunity, that she and I communicate in her mother tongue. To think that, after 2 1/2 years of busting my butt because Kaya would mix and even tend towards English with me, I'm now considering re-introducing English into our relationship--it's crazy for me to think about.

So, we'll see. At this point, with this language and in the rest of my life, I'm practicing Being, practicing an awareness of what Is, without having to judge it or change it or figure out what's next. Granted, as you can see with the judgment piece, it goes against my (our) nature to just Be, and just sit with what Is.  But it is working, slowly, so for now, I don't know what I plan to do with this language of ours--except to keep on keeping on, communicating with her as I've done since day 1. To put things in perspective, and provide a little update, she's fluent in German, with hang ups now and again when it comes to expressing herself in very complicated, new topics (in both English and German, actually). But all in all, she and I have a ton of fun--and it's all happening in German (and body language). I feel more in love with her than I've felt EVER (though that doesn't feel possible!), and SO enjoy listening to the words just fall out her mouth, especially when she's happy and excited! She, like I, seems to have those 'good language days', and what flows out on those days is really quite impressive.

Laughing about Papa with Auntie Sara in Cave Creek, AZ 
After spending a week in the company of friends and family who don't understand German (with the exception of Estella), I'm noticing that I'm more sensitive to the fact that we speak a language that sets us apart. I so believe that it takes a village--but it's heck of a lot harder when the village members don't speak the same language.

As I move along in this process--in life and otherwise--I grow less attached. And more committed. Less attached to my need for her to speak German, less attached to her bilingualism. Less attached to how we do it, and more committed to her well-being. Less attached to the details, and more committed to the peace in the moment. Less attached to the language, and more committed to the sweet girl that I love more than I ever thought possible...

Once again, thanks for being a part of our journey.
I'm glad to be back...I've missed this. I've missed you.
Look forward to hearing from you out there...and to connecting again soon!



  1. Hi Tamara,
    Thanks a lot for sharing your story with us. I go through so much of what you´ve mentioned everyday. It seems funny though while you´re raising your LO in German in the US, I´m doing exactly the opposite of it which is raising my LO in English in Germany.
    I´m working on my blog right now so I will soon be able to publish my story as a non-native mom on the net. Till then feel free to pm me to chat.
    Happy holidays!

    1. Hi Nina! And thanks, to you, for dropping in to say thanks. It's SO great to hear from you guys out there, to know how supported I am, how I'm far from alone in this crazy journey. I LOVE that we're doing the same thing, from opposite ends...somehow, more and more of you guys in Germany are finding my blog, and it excites me like I can't believe!! I can't WAIT until your blog is up...DO share!! And drop by again soon...will be eager to hear from you again!
      All the best,

  2. Hi Tamara,
    I completely related to this post, as I had the very same struggle when my kids were younger. I persevered to the point where it sometimes felt unbearable to be speaking French with them, a language I could never express myself in 100%. I think being a real word lover didn't help, as in English I can nail down the subtlest nuance of meaning, something I'll probably never realise in any other language. I started to feel as though any time I got frustrated with the kids was down to this language issue! I was very lucky in that once they got into the immersion school I knew I could switch back to English, but this was literally the only thing that kept me going some days. As soon as both kids were settled into the immersion system I very happily moved to English.

    I think a lot depends on your own level of fluency and my French wasn't up to the challenge without outside help. I have an MA in French, but have only spent about 1 year living in France.

    Whatever you decide, you have your daughter's best interests at heart and she will feel this. I do think an amazing amount is communicated through body language, and I cheered myself with this on many an occasion!

    It's wonderful that you have a native German speaker in the house with you and one solution might be to hand over to a tutor now that your daughter is already bilingual. You could still speak some German with her, it doesn't have to be 'either/or', and could certainly read all her bedtime stories in German, for example. The one thing I would say is, be very sure before you commit, as it's tough to switch back and forth (though I have done this!).

    1. Hi again! SO nice to hear from you again...I've been out of the blogging circle for too long, and it's nice to have one toe back in again--looking forward to reading blogs soon, too! But in the meantime, thank you SO much for your long and supportive response to my post. When I reflect on the fact that your blog was one of the first, if not THE first blog that I found that got me going on this process, it's really wonderful to read your comments and know that you're out there, too, experiencing, or having experienced, so much of what I am now. I, too, am that word lover, and find myself so frustrated, like you, when I can't find the word that fits. As we grow more comfortable with each other (which seems to be happening at lightning pace now), Estella is incredibly supportive, and it's really great to be able to just ask her to how to say things like "a lid that seals", or "one of my least favorite things"...
      I def. find myself wondering, too, if perhaps some of my frustrations would be less if I weren't so steadfast about this. But then even that thought seems silly...because it IS what I'm doing...I suppose it's my way brain's way of looking for a way out. =)
      In regards to my fluency, it seems like it's so dependent upon my emotional well-being...and hers--as well as the topic at hand. Some days, it seems to flow just fine--I spent two years living and working in Munich, as well as 5 years teaching German, and running an exchange program every other year in Germany...but trying to spend an hour in the train museum, pointing out things to her like ferris wheels and wires and drive throughs...didn't happen smoothly at all!
      I really appreciate what you said about her being able to feel my best interest. That feels great. That's why I've been focusing so much lately on being committed vs.'s so much better that way for our family when I don't get so stuck on a certain way or a certain expectation. While still letting myself want something or some how--if that makes sense.

      And yes, I agree, and even shared this with Estella the other day...I know I need to have a plan in mind before I just get sloppy with it--i'm clear on that much, which is why I plan to just stick this through and see what comes with time and patience.

      Thanks again, so much!
      Look forward to connecting on the other end soon!

  3. Hallo Tamara, nach 16 Jahren in Neuseeland find ich es manchmal einfacher mich auf Englisch auszudruecken! Ich bewundere Deine Energie Deiner Tochter Deutsch beizubringen in einer Englisch sprechenden Umgebung und mit Englisch als Fremdsprache fuer Dich! Als zwei Muttersprachler ziehen wir unsere 3 Soehne zweisprachig auf, und das ist nicht immer einfach. Zwar hatten wir uns urspruenglich vorgenommen nur Deutsch mit ihnen zu sprechen, aber auch bei uns wechseln wir von einer Sprache zur anderen. Mein Aeltester, 12 Jahre alt, spricht Deutsch am Besten, der 10 jaehrige bemueht sich wenn Oma in Deutschland am Telefon ist, aber der 8 jaehrige spricht am wenigsten Deutsch. Untereinander sprechen sie Englisch, und vorallem der Grosse antwortet uns am meinsten auf Englisch. Trotzallem glaube ich dass wir ihnen eine Basis gegeben haben, auf der sie mehr Deutsch - und andere Fremdsprachen - lernen koennen wenn sie wollen (unser Grosser war erstaunlich gut in Franzoesisch in der Schule, vielleicht weil er daheim schon eine andere Sprache hat?). Im Juli werden wir sie zum ersten Mal nach Deutschland nehmen, da werden wir sehen wie sie zurechtkommen mit den Deutschen Kindern - Kinder sind meistens die strengsten Lehrmeister.
    Was ich damit sagen will ist dass Du schon jetzt mehr Energie aufgewendet und Erfolg hast als wir in 12 Jahren. Mach Dich nicht selber fertig wenn vielleicht im Moment Dein Ideal vom nur Deutsch sprechen nicht erreichbar ist. Natuerlich ist es toll einen Muttersprachler mit im Haus zu haben, aber kann das sein, dass Dich das mehr zum Zweifeln gebracht hat weil E eben besser Deutsch spricht als Du? Denk dran, keiner ist perfekt, und was Du bisher schon getan hast kann man nicht messen.
    Hin und herspringen kann anstrengend sein und evt. auf Dauer zu mehr und mehr Englisch sprechen fuehren. Nur Deutsch sprechen kann zu viel Frust fuehren wenn Ihr beide nicht sagen koennt was Ihr wollt. Denke ueber einen guten Mittelweg nach, z.B. am Tisch wird nur Deutsch gesprochen, oder sobald wir ueber die Grundstuecksgrenze kommen, oder wir sprechen immer Deutsch aber fluestern wenn wir ein Englisches Wort fuer ein Deutsches, das wir nicht wissen, benutzen.
    Wir machen viele Entscheidungen als Eltern ueber die wir immer wieder nachgruebeln - war das richtig? Wenn es in dem Moment die richtige Entscheidung war, dann war es die richtige Entscheidung weil keiner von uns Die Zukunft vorhersagen kann.
    Frohe Weinachten aus dem sommerlichen (aber bedeckten) Neuseeland!!! xoxoxo Moni

    1. Monika, if I were to write you back in German right now, it would be to prove to myself (and the world) that I CAN write in German. =) But I'm trying hard to overcome moments like this, with grace, and authenticity, so, because it's so much easier and faster for me to write back to you in English, I will. =) My solo time these days is slim (and at the same time, I know that I get so much more than many moms!), so I want to be able to just peck away and not worry about how it sounds, or mistakes I make, etc. =) I'm sure you understand...esp. since you chose to write in German.
      So, my delay in writing has nothing to do with how impressed and supported I felt by your response--if I could have, I would have written you back right away in the parking lot of the Train Museum where I read the initial part of your comment. Thank you doesn't begin to express how connected and supported and appreciative I feel of the words and sentiments you shared. The reason we bloggers do this, from what I understand from many others as well, is to find this connection, this connectedness, to know that, even hard the hardest days (especially on those days, in fact), that we are not alone. Knowing that you, on the other side of the world, in a land where my step-dad lived and died, in the infamous "Middle Earth" now, =) you are experiencing, and in many cases, have experienced, what I am now. And have. Funny how our brain seeks out validation like that, and how it makes such a difference in moving forward. Starting with your first line, pointing out the fact that I am raising Kaya in German an English-speaking serves as a helpful reminder that what I've taken on here is big. As used to it as we are, as much a normal part of our day as it has become, it is a challenging feat, and I appreciate your reminder about that, thank you! And your reminder about how 'the best laid plans' often go awry, and life turns out ok despite, that's also very helpful. I've been feeling lately that, even though we like to make plans in the present based on the future, or what we think it will be like, we really don't know. Thus, our plans can't really be ALL that important to stick to, as important as we once thought they were. (and now that I read the end of your note again, maybe you are the one that planted that seed again for me..!!!)
      And your point about having a native speaker in the house...and how that's perhaps brought me more doubt about my abilities. YES. In fact, there's a blog post on the tip of my tongue about that point exactly, in response to what I wrote last week. So, thank you, once again. That's a wonderful point. More on that if I get that post off the ground in the next 30 minutes...!
      I SO appreciate your thoughts, your advice, your support and validation...def. on the same page, here, spec. regarding the 'rule', about not wanting to just mix here and there willy-nilly. Another reader mentioned a similar thing, and I very much appreciate that reminder.

      Thank you, once again, Moni...we dream of getting (back) to Neuseeland one day...who knows how the future will unfold, but if we do get there, you're on the list of people to visit!

      xo Tamara

  4. Tamara,

    You're so much more eloquent than I. This post describes so much of what I've been feeling lately, except that my kids are *not* yet fluent in German. My son even asked me the exact same question about the moon in the sky during the day recently (in German, even!), and I floundered to answer it...

    Like you, I think it's best to focus on what's really best for our kids. I know that for me, as much as I HATE to admit it, it means not being 100% German at this point... Or even 80% German at this point. I've come to the conclusion that, with my German being where it's at, my relationship with my 3 year old would suffer too much if I insisted on 100% German. One area where this conflict is most evident is when it comes to moral/spiritual issues. I know that I am completely unable to communicate (at this point) what I want to with respect to those issues, and I'd rather my kids understand 100% of what I'm saying and learn the moral lesson at those times. But other times, it's much harder for me to feel ok (i.e., guilt-free) with mixing.

    It's great to hear what's happening with you and Kaya. You're always an encouragement, and I'm sure you'll find what's right for you, whether it is sticking to your guns and speaking only German (I'm so impressed that you've made it this far, when I struggle to make it 5 hours at a time without mixing a little!), or whether it is deciding to mix some.

    1. Hi Deanna, my hugest apologies for the long delay in responding to you here! As you know, things have been crazy, and as much as I don't want to let the blog slide, something has to give, so...

      But I really appreciate your sharing your thoughts. It's always so nice, and so helpful, to know that we're not alone in this crazy journey of ours!!

      And by the way, when I was in washington DC last week, my first lobby appointment was with the staff of YOUR Jr. Senator, Deb Fischer!! It was eye opening to speak with her about climate change, and hear her (and her constituents') viewpoints on coal and renewable energy and the like. I felt a little connected to you as I sat in that fancy office in the halls of the Senate building!!

  5. Hallo Tamara!
    Erst einmal "Hut ab!" vor Deinen Ambitionen! Ich finde es schon als Muttersprachlerin schwierig genug, das Deutsche täglich gegen das Englische durchzuboxen. Ich lebe mit meinem Freund in Irland, und wir haben eine fast dreijährige Tochter.
    Ich bin, abgesehen davon, daß wir es seit knapp drei Jahren leben, wirklich keine Expertin auf dem Gebiet der mehrsprachigen Erziehung, aber ich finde, daß Du das ganz toll machst! Ich bin gestern erst auf Deinen blog gestoßen und muß also noch ganz viel lesen - freu mich schon :)
    Zu der Sache mit der Vermischung Eurer beiden Sprachen: Ich sehe das ehrlich gesagt relativ entspannt. Es gibt doch einfach manchmal Situationen, in denen einem das passende Wort fehlt. Ich spreche zwar eigentlich konsequent nur Deutsch mit unserer Tochter, aber manchmal sage ich schon mal etwas auf Englisch, gestern z. B. sagte sie "silly dog" zu unserem Hund, und das habe ich dann einfach wiederholt. Dann habe ich noch "Na, die macht aber wieder Quatsch" gesagt, und somit nochmal das Deutsche hinterhergeschoben.

    Ich habe eine Freundin, die von zuhause aus perfekt Deutsch und Spanisch spricht und fast nur auf Deutsch liest, Tagebuch schreibt etc. Umgebungssprache ist für sie Spanisch, in der Familie Deutsch (aber lustigerweise spricht sie mit einem ihrer drei Brüder wiederum nur Spanisch). Sie hat in beiden Sprachen studiert und denkt laut eigener Aussage in beiden Sprachen - JE NACHDEM, WORUM ES GEHT. Alltag mit ihrem Mann: Spanisch, Einkaufsliste: Deutsch, Arbeit: Spanisch, Kochen: Deutsch, Kino mit Freunden: Spanisch, reiten und Pferd: Deutsch, etc. Wie gesagt, sie spricht beides vollkommen perfekt.
    So gibt es vielleicht einfach Bereiche, in denen man sich besser in der einen Sprache ausdrücken kann als in der anderen, und das hat nicht notwendigerweise etwas mit fehlendem Vokabular zu tun.
    Wenn ich gegen das Sofa laufe, fluche ich auch auf Spanisch, das versteht hier wenigstens keiner! ;)

    Ich finde Eure "Flüstertaktik" übrigens super! Das nimmt Deiner Kleinen den Zwang, und sie kann ein eventuell fehlendes Wort überbrücken. Ich bekomme mittlerweile auch mit, wie schwierig es für meine Tochter ist, wenn ihr der jeweilige Begriff nicht einfallen will "Mama, wie heißt das Dingsda..." Und v. a. ihre Verzweiflung, wenn ihr Papa sie nicht versteht, weil er das eine deutsche Wort in ihrem Satz nicht kennt! Dann rufe ich manchmal dazwischen, um sie zu erlösen. Leider fruchten meine Versuche, seine Sprachkenntnisse zu erweitern, nämlich gar nicht...

    Sie findet es auch schön, wenn ich ihr bei neuen, englischen Liedern weiterhelfe, die sie aus dem Kindergarten mitbringt. Ich konnte einfach irgendwann "Rudolph very shiny nose" nicht mehr ertragen und mußte es etwas erweitern. Trotzdem singt sie mit mir lieber "unsere" deutschen Lieder und Verse.

    Allerbeste Grüße aus Irland und Frohes Neues Jahr,
    mach weiter so!

    1. Juliane, I'm so bummed that it's taken me so long to write back to you. Und, ich wuerde das so gerne auch auf D. machen, aber English fliesst einfach so viel schneller. Hmm. nicht so schlimm, ich werde weiter so, und sehen wie es weiter geht. So, vielen vielen herzlichen Dank fuer deine lange, nette, unterstuzliche (?! supportive) Kommentar. Ich habe mich so sehr gefreut, als ich es gelesen habe, wollte gleich schreiben, und dann ist alles plotzlich schneller und voller geworden. Aber hier bin ich, und wollte zumindest DANKE sagen, und mich entschuldigen. Deine Woerter helfen so viel, besonders jetzt, wenn meine Zweifel fliessen. Ich finde, ich mache mich Sorgen um ihre Kenntnisse, und wie langsam sie spricht, mache Sorgen um die Zukunft zwischen uns--obwohl ich weiss, in meinem Herzen, es wird alles in Ordnung (und sogar besser). Von deiner Freundin zu hoeren hilft wirklich viel. Obwohl ich so 'was gelesen habe, es hilft immer, das immer wieder zu hoeren.
      Ich wuerde so gerne wieder von dir zu hoeren...I swear I'll write back before 6 months goes by next time! How did that happen. Ugh.
      So, bitte, stop by again, und ich werde mich darauf freuen. Vielen Dank, nochmal,


I LOVE reading your comments, they make such a difference! Thanks for sharing!