Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Clarity at Twenty-two Plus

I'm not sure exactly what happened recently, but suddenly, after about 3 weeks of feeling confused and frustrated, Geoff and I can finally understand more of what Kaya is saying more of the time.

Really scientific, I know.
That's the way I like to measure things around here.

I've been wanting to write about how challenging it's been for us, about how she's been saying all these things that make no sense, putting sounds together that are surely words, but none that we recognize. Naturally, it's left all of us a bit on edge, and made life feel a good bit more challenging.

But, we're in the clear now!
At least until the next phase hits.

She seems to have mastered a bunch of little words, like 'this' and 'that' and 'new' and 'up' and 'it', in both English as well as German. When we're getting ready for bed and she's sitting on my lap in the rocker next to her book shelf, she'll say, "Buch waayzen, Buch waayzen" (Buch lesen = read a book). When I ask her which book she wants to read, she'll point at a book that she has in mind, saying "diese", or "nein, diese," meaning 'this one' or 'that one' or 'no, this one.' Technically, she's missing the S on the end of 'diese', since 'Buch' is officially neuter and should be preceded by 'dieses'...but we'll love her nonetheless, despite her erring ways. (For the record, she actually started changing her ending to an 'n' yesterday, asking for "diesen" instead of "diese")

The other night at dinner, she was eager for the salad dressing, pointing at the one she wanted. Initially, she was giving us our oh-so-favorite "eh...eh...eh"--parents out there surely know the sound. When I asked her in German which dressing she wanted, she quickly replied with the sweetest sounding, clearly enunciated, "diese. Sosse." We love the spaces that she puts between her newly combined words.

Soon thereafter, she'd noticed that her left boot was falling off her foot--her new Thomas the Train rain boots that I scored at Swapnplay. When I asked her if she wanted me to take her boot off, she said "ja", and quickly kicked her other foot out with a "diese auch, Mama" (this one too, Mama).

These little words really help all of us communicate so much better, and leave us smiling when we hear her use them. Last week, as Geoff was getting Kaya ready for bed, she saw him getting her milk out of the fridge. Lately, we've been heating it up so that her hands don't get so cold while she's holding her metal sippy. Kaya apparently likes warm hands, and made sure to tell him to "heat. it. up" before he had the chance to consider otherwise.

A few days ago, after she'd been playing in the bathroom with Daddy during shower time, they ascertained that her pants and socks got wet from the puddles on the floor. Once Geoff got her undressed, she waddled quickly to her room, saying "new panz, new panz" the whole way there.

And as I wrote about a few weeks ago, Kaya continues to be meticulous in her tendency to clean up messes. This morning, she was letting me know that she had yogurt on her arms and hands (as if I wouldn't notice the white coating spread over her entire appendage). After telling me "yogurt, Arm," and "Hand auch", she told me to go get the "Lappen, Mama" (rag) and to wipe "hier" on the table in front of her. She pointed out three different spots that I'd missed, telling me each time, "Hier, auch." (here, too) And I thought I was meticulous! Oops. I just pigeon-holed my child.... When she's not sitting in her seat, she'll usually head to the kitchen cupboard herself to grab a towel as soon as she sees anything that needs a clean-up job. Now, in addition to that awesome tendency, she will pick up the towel that she has used and walk it to where it belongs, saying "towel away" on her journey to the hamper.

One of the most helpful words that she now uses accurately is 'Schnulli', which for those non-German speakers out there, means 'binky' or 'pacifier'. Technically, 'Schnuller' is pacifier, and 'Schnulli' is binky, or passi, or whatever term you choose to call that thing that our babies suck on when life is just too tough to deal with. On the one hand, I'm excited that she has been saying this a lot lately because up until a week ago or so, she would motion to her binky with another (add sarcastic tone here) favorite: the 'lawn-mower sound'. You parents out there may know this one, too: "aeaeaaeaeahhhhhhhhhhh". Not so bad, really, until you turn it up, add most annoying whine-tone that you can muster, as well as a little confusion as to what the communication even means. Try it out loud right now. I dare you. It can be your experiential learning opportunity for the day...

So, because of that lovely tone that we've been hearing for FAR too many months, I get giddy to hear the word pass through her lips. It's also perhaps the cutest sounding word that she's ever created, leaving the N out and replacing the L's with a W for the sweetest sounding, "Schooohhhhwee". I took a video in the car today so you could join in the love, but the car noise, together with her whining, made for a clear absence of that sentiment. I'll have to work on capturing it in a quieter setting.

The bummer here is that as much as I 'know' that I'm supposed to take her Schnulli away in a few months (our doctor told me to take it by age 2), I can tell you that her sweet Schooooohhhwee rendition has me wanting to ward off the Schnulli-fairy as long as I possibly can. I just cringe, however, to see her bottom two teeth out of line with the 2 around it...that must be Schnulli-related, right?!

I feel like there are SO many things happening in her language acquisition process, I have multiple stories a day that I find myself wanting to share. Most of them are like those little anecdotes above...short and unassuming, but cuter than hell. They leave me wishing that I had a video camera in my back pocket at every moment. But there are a few more stories I want to share that might make you smile as they do us.

Last Sunday, while we were at the Wild Animal Park in San Diego, my sister busted out her Kirkland bag o' nuts to share with her family of famished beasts. Nothing like peanuts, almonds, raisins and chocolate to satisfy (I swear, I'm not endorsed by Snickers...though that's an idea...). Kaya was quick to notice our indulgence, "eh'd" for her share, and was successful in getting her Mama to share the love. Naturally, I removed all the M&Ms, eating what I could before my Dad gobbled the rest. I'm not completely opposed to Kaya having chocolate or sugar, but when I can avoid it, I do.

So, this afternoon, as she and I were driving away from Fred Meyer, Kaya held her hand out to me from her car seat and said, "Mama essen" (Mama, eat). When I reached back to grab what was in her hand, I noticed that my daughter was handing me the chocolate that I'd missed when I dished out her portion of the remaining Kirkland snack.

Clearly, our daughter has come to understand the true cocoa power in my world, and recognizes the value in giving Mama ALL the chocolate that she possibly can!

She also knows good entertainment when she sees it. While we were driving from LA to San Diego, she was offered her own personal puppet show by Geoff in the front seat:

After the initial show, Kaya would make it clear that she wanted further entertainment by requesting both "Baby auf," as well as "Baby up" and "Baby dance". Clearly, she wanted to cover all language bases to see that her needs would be met.

Brilliant child, indeed.

They do know that I'm kidding right?
I mean, not that I don't think Kaya is wonderful, or even smart.
I just don't want them to get the impression that I think she's smarter, or more brilliant, than any other kid out there.

Life is so complicated when trying to please others.
It's easier to just worry about what I want.
Now, there's a selfish-sounding statement, for sure...

Thanks for reading, and for joining me in this most recent part of the journey.
Your presence, and your comments as well, mean the world!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Fear Only Fear

Last night, we went to a concert. Not just any concert, I want to say, because without the follow-up description, it feels lifeless, like it was just some guy standing on stage strumming the strings. Willy Porter is definitely NOT 'just some guy'. He is amazing, truly amazing, and BY FAR my favorite live musician. Trying to summarize the experience that I have when I watch him on stage, however, feels completely overwhelming to me. There is really SO much I want to say, and feel, surprise, surprise, afraid that I won't be able to capture him completely. He's from Wisconsin, which matters to me only because it was on a trip in Idaho, with a group of kids from a wilderness camp in Wisconsin, that I first heard his honest, powerful sound echo through our van. At the time, nearly 15 years ago, he was playing local gigs for my friends in Madison. Now, he travels around the country playing to audiences that I think might admire the guy as much as I do.

In the past, I've written about how there are times when I feel like I've "got it", when I feel so connected to me and the world, and alive with possibility. Listening to Willy Porter in person was always one of those times. I'd always leave his shows, inspired to be ME, and make the changes in my life I wanted to make. 'Breathe' reminded me of the importance of slowing down in life, living in the moment, and the power of relaxation. 'Unconditional' brought about thoughts and feelings of being with my mom and loving my baby.

Last night, however, I really connected with Willy's song about fear. The overwhelming emotion has been my focus all afternoon, too. I added this video so you can experience a bit of what I'm talking about--it doesn't come anywhere close to how I feel when I listen to him at the Aladdin, but it can give you an impression. His fingers, what he can do with them...amazing. Check 'em out. I wanna tell you to turn it up as loud as your speakers will allow, because I think that's how Willy sounds best...but the sound quality on the following video isn't all that great, so listener beware. I also wrote down the lyrics below (tried as I might to find them online, I couldn't, and the process of writing them out allowed me to appreciate them even MORE). I find that when I can read along, they sink in deeper...

Fear only Fear

If a wild woman of wisdom gave up her way for a safe path,
I would ask the question, what wisdom is there in that?
Fear only fear, wanna keep her on her knees

If a man tells a bad joke, one against God or race,
and another man laughs, but laughs only with his face,
Fear only fear, wanna keep him on his knees,

There's a line between war and peace.
Fear only fear,
I fear my fears

When I walk in that dark place,
I don't know what is there.
Ehen I find what I will find,
I'm gonna try and face it in the mirror.

If a heart says to go, but your mind is so afraid,
I let my heart take control over all the decisions that I make.

Fear only fear, wanna keep us on our knees, fear only fear,
Is the line between war and peace.
I fear my fear, only fear...

The wall is so tall, no one can see in,
It's keeping you out, it's holding me in
It's keeping you out, it's holding me in
It's keeping you out, it's holding me down.

I hear those lyrics above and feel so connected, not just to Willy, but really to all of humanity, because when I can really accept what is true for me, I can accept that it is true for many others as well.

For me, fear doesn't necessarily keep me on my knees, but at times, it keeps me from being nice. It keeps me stuck in anger and blame, and unable to appreciate what might otherwise be sweet and full of wonder.

This afternoon, we went to the Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Market) at the German American School. We were planning to leave at about nap time so that Kaya would fall asleep in the car. Well, "the best laid plans...". We went in to the food vendors first, quickly realizing, however, that the cash was back in the car. The German pretzels were overly temping, though, so we quickly left to grab the dough. We had to go through the room of books first, however, which proved another big temptation for my pocketbook. After pushing Kaya to the outer limits of her patience, while riding on my back in the Ergo, I saw the exit and finally headed for the cash.

As it turned out, our wallets were empty, so I walked up the street to find an ATM. The decision plagued me, as I stood there needing to make a choice: $20 or $40? Geoff and I just decided that we were going to save money for our Germany trip next year that we're planning (and just bought the tickets for!!). Thus, I figured I should only take out 20. But we have to eat. And there's some books in there that I want for Kaya. I pulled out $40.

As we're eating our Weisswurst and Kartoffelsalat, Kaya starts rubbing her eyes and fussing for Mama. Uh oh. Tired toddler. Time to go. Eager to get a few books before a scream-fest ensues, I quickly come up with a plan, download on it on Geoff, and run back to the book room. I spend longer in there than I intend to, buy 3 books instead of one, and spend the rest of our cash. The guilt sinks in quickly, and I rush back to the two of them. I could see Kaya, in my mind's eye, screaming and kicking while the oompa band played songs of Jesus and Hallelujah.

Much to my relief, I find Kaya and Geoff playing on the benches next to the band, quietly. Seems that the meltdown has 'yet' to happen. Geoff has a look of concern in his eye. Uh-oh. He's mad that I took so long. It was really hard with her while I was gone. Instead of hearing answers to any of my concerns, I hear him ask me if he can have a few bucks. Um. Oops. Guilt actualized. I spent all our cash on more books than I said I'd buy. There was none left to tip the beer guy. Kaya started whining, "Essen, Essen," eagerly pointing all the food around us. More guilt. I spent all the money on more books than we need and now my daughter is hungry. I tell Kaya that I hear her, that I understand that she wants to eat, but that we're going to leave and head to the car so that she can go to sleep. "Missccch...Missscch!" she replies, with vengeance. Clearly, my mention of sleep cued her to want some milk, none of which we brought with us. I suck. I spent all the cash we had and now my daughter can't eat. My husband can't tip the beer guy. I bought too many books. Guilt piled on guilt. Covered up with the "need to keep it together while we're in public" (because I'm afraid of what they'll think of me, or what I'll do, if I don't...). Before her pleas grow any louder, and I look like the awful mother that I feel like, I scoop her off the ground, throw her on my hip (do they really think I threw her?), and head for the exit. I notice the beer guy looking my direction, hearing myself wonder if he's judging me or my husband for being so stingy. Move along, I tell myself. No time for authenticity right now.

We make it to the car, decide that Geoff and I are impressive enough to win a diaper-changing contest, and strap the lass into her seat. She's no longer yelling about wanting to jump off the curb one more time, but has started in once again on her request for milk. It becomes incessant, and is so loud that it's hard to converse with Geoff. I look at the clock. 12:45pm. About an hour past normal nap time, but not too bad. She can fall asleep in the car, and all will be well, I figure. Her cries for milk cease to subside, however, and suddenly I find myself running into McDonalds to buy a plastic pint of milk. I hate McDonalds. What am I supporting? More guilt. More meaning. I've become like the "rest of America", who will do anything to get their kids to sleep. Judgment upon judgment. It's everywhere, and never-ending, it seems.

I get back to the car, milk in hand, smile on my face, eager to soothe and be on our way. 5 minutes later, however, we're still in the parking lot, fussing over straws and spilled milk. Clearly, my patience is far too thin to be able to deal with her pulling the straw in and out of the pint, tossing milk all over the car. I guess right now I'm gonna make it mean that I'm irresponsible. I wish I could pull away from that right now, but I can't! It's too much. I grab the straw and return to the driver's seat, ready to let Daddy deal with this one. You want me to drive, he asks. No way. I need the 'escape' of the driver's wheel for a bit.

I could continue the play by play for the next hour before nap, including the continued screams for 'Milch,'; the spilled milk pint on the floor of the car; the puddle of dog pee on the carpet at home; the urine-covered bedding in Kaya's crib; the ripped-up dirty diapers on the bathroom floor; and the deafening silence between me and Geoff throughout the entire afternoon. But I think you see where I'm heading...

Fear, only fear, is the line between war and peace.

When I was standing at the money machine, I was afraid of what it would mean if I spent that money after we'd talked about saving it.
I was afraid of what it would mean if I didn't have enough money for us to have a good time.
What did it mean that I had spent all the money that I took out, especially when I didn't really want to take out that much in the first place?

Inside, the fears continued. The wall was so tall, no one could see in.

Am I spending too much money on German books that I could get for less?
'Should' I have asked Geoff if I could buy as many books as I did? Is he upset with me for not asking? Does it even matter? (What is he going to think of me? Do I look bad? Do I look like a selfish *^&%$#@?)

Beneath that fear was one that surfaced again a few days ago as I was driving in the car, that I'd been wanting to write about once again (despite the fact that I keep writing about it):
I'm afraid that Kaya's tendency to speak more English than German means something 'bad' about me. A lot of somethings, in fact, that lead me to feel sad, shameful, guilty and powerless:

It means Geoff reads to her more.
It means that, maybe, she likes to read with him more.
It means he's more available to her.
It means I'm gonna have to try harder.
It means that he takes longer on each book when he reads to her, pointing out the things on each page. Clearly, his method is more 'effective'.I like the sound of the words, the story. But maybe I "should" be pointing out the things so that her vocabulary will be as big in German as it seems to be in English.

Maybe Kaya has been speaking "more" English to me lately. Maybe she's been speaking more German with Geoff. Who knows, really. We've both heard our share of words that we think she says regularly in the "opposite" language, though:

Down. Rabbit. Fork. Color. Red. Pink...

Auch. Zahnbuerste. Zahnpasta. Wagen. Auto. ...

The other day, for example, she was lying on the changing table, looking up at the photo on the wall.
"Monkey," she said to me.
"Yeah, Daddy sagt Monkey, was sagt Mama?" I asked her. (Daddy says Monkey, what does mama say?)
She pauses for a moment, and then says, "Affe."

Apparently, she's getting something.

Is there really a need for all of this fear?

It hit me the other day that Kaya hears Geoff and I speak English with each other. Seems so obvious when I lay it out here. Of course she does. That's the language we have in common.

But I'd been forgetting that.
More precisely, my fears had been obscuring that significant concept in this whole process.

She hears English from her community, from all of her Grandparents, from her neighbors, from her Daddy. Essentially, from everyone she loves, including me sometimes.

She hears German from me, from strangers in a couple playgroups that we sometimes go to every week, and from CDs that I play on occasion. One, maybe two, emotional connections in German.

Duh, Tamara.

Fear, only fear.

After a long, stressful Sunday in my life as a human, Geoff and I finally stood face to face, arm in arm, ready, once again, to let down our walls. He'd written me a beautiful, meaningful letter full of honesty and insight. I'd read it with tears in my eyes, eager to move past the fear and start again.

I wish we could start this day ALL over again, he told me.
We can, I said. We sure can.

And with that, my "Good Morning!" became our good night, and a powerful reminder of the possibilities that lie in letting go of our fears.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Reflections on a Goose

A few days ago, I was running through the park, Kaya in the jogger, Kahlua at my side. He was tied to my stroller on a leash, despite my having been advised otherwise. Now what will they really think of me, ignoring sound advice? His leash was naturally taut from his eagerness for life and passion for all things moving. I was directly under the beautiful green bridge, admiring it's magnificence, while simultaneously thinking about me and my dog and how I can't wish away my impatience. The other day, I wrote a lot about how I, how we as humans, make so much meaning out of things. I have to admit, I wrote that from a very excited place, coming from a place of "Now that I've got this, I won't make meaning anymore or feel plagued by my tendency to do that."

Well, perhaps I'd rather say...not so. Just not so at all.

As I was running with them, I didn't LIKE that Kahlua was pulling. In fact, it still bothered me. Not to the point of angering me or leaving me overwhelmed, but bothered me regardless. I REALLY wanted it to stop. I didn't like that I wanted it to stop. I really wanted to be OK with it, just to be able to let it roll. But, like it or not, I was annoyed. In fact, I realized, the fact that I couldn't stop it when I wanted to bothered me most of all. It was like I had no power over my reality. I can't stop my dog from pulling. I can't stop my dog from barking. I can't stop my baby from whining or banging the door or throwing her spoon. Or so I believe in those really hard moments...

Pretty clear as I lay it out like that...I feel bothered, even overwhelmed at times, when I can't control others.

That sounds awful.
And there I go, judging once again...making meaning out of what I do.

It doesn't stop, I realize.
We are always practicing. Always.

As human beings, I think we have this tendency to believe that someday, somehow, we will get to a point, a place in life, where we've really figured it all out and will be plagued by nothing at all. Granted, there are many who say they don't believe that at all. But I wonder if they have simply covered up this hope with a fear that it will never happen...?

Easier than speaking for all of humanity, I do know what I've always believed--that there would be a day when I'd have it all figured out. A day when I'd be less angry, have no concerns for screwing up my child, and would be completely happy with my relationships. Admittedly, I've thought that a lot in the past few weeks, too. My life feels so much "better" (another judgment...) than it used to. I see things in a way that I never did. I don't get 'triggered' in the way that I used to by not getting my way, being misunderstood, or being unable to stop my baby from crying or speaking German.

But now that I can fully accept that we're never gonna 'get it' fully, to the point of not having slip-ups and break downs, I don't have to beat myself up or get afraid anymore when it doesn't happen.

What a relief.

And it just hit me...
maybe that is "getting it?"

So, there I was, running along the path through the park when I noticed a man and his dog walking towards us. Good looking guy, nice beard. I like his hoody. Cute dog. We made eye contact and smiled at one another. Do they think I shoudn't be having thoughts like this when I'm married? I was listening to my ipod, buds in my ears, ipod in the pocket of the stroller. Suddenly, before I could grab his leash, or even call his name in vein, Kahlua pulls off and heads straight for the man's black dog. Oh jeeze. Oh my god. It's like it was happening in slow motion with the sound turned on high. Kahlua growling, barking, hovering over the black dog who was cowering. My mind started racing. He's gonna bite him. I gotta do something. I start to run to the scene, about 5 feet away, but quickly realize my headphones won't reach. For about half a second, I attempt to deal with the situation, tethered to my jogger. It didn't take long for me to realize, however, that this wasn't a tethered-type situation. I un-clip and run to the dogs, having noticed that the man has squatted down and is speaking softly to both dogs. I have no idea what he's saying, mostly because I'm too focused on my own inner dialogue. I get to Kahlua, and as much as I want to explain what I did to separate the dogs,my memory of how I get him off the other dog is fuzzy. Sounds strange, like I did something crazy drastic and awful to get him off. But that much I do know about what I didn't do. Whatever I did was completely different from anything I'd ever done before, and I was so focused on this newness that I can't remember the minutia. For the first time in LONG time, in a situation where my "aggressive" (read: judgment) dog is "intimidating" some other being, I didn't feel overcome with wanting to yell and scream and kick my dog. I didn't feel overcome at all, actually, but completely at peace and empowered.

Once the dogs were separated, the man pointed behind me and motioned to the stroller (and Kaya!) that had rolled down the path about 10 feet. Ooops. Maybe that's why I wanted to stay tethered. As I started interacting with the guy, I noticed the embarrassment come up as it always used to. But, surprisingly, it melted away as quickly as it came up. I apologized for what happened, recognizing quickly that it was my responsibility for not having had him more secured. I felt so freed from my defensiveness, from any guilt I'd normally have, and was simply filled with honest regret that I might have caused this dog and his owner any problem. It felt really empowering to apologize out of authenticity rather than shame. And, hard as this is to describe, I also noticed, as I was walking back to the stroller, than I didn't NOT yell at my dog out of fear of embarrassment or shame, either...I really felt no anger towards Kahlua, but instead complete acceptance that what he did was run towards a dog, bark and growl and stand over him, and respond to me when I got to him.

As I continued on my walk, I felt in awe. No longer of just the bridge, but of life itself, once again. This man could have responded in SO many ways. I recognize that his response made it easier for me to respond in the way that I did. His calm energy allowed me to call on mine and put into practice all that I've been holding as a possibility: patience, compassion and acceptance.

I rounded the bend and noticed a gaggle of geese flying overhead. Inspired by what just happened, as well as Buckley's Hallelujah blaring in my ears, I watched them take form, fly further, and take another. I noticed this one goose that became separated from the others and started wondering if the other geese were bothered by his separation. Were they hoping to control him and get him to fly back? Was he worried about getting separated, about not being able to find his way back or get so tired he'd never be able to reach them?

I don't think so.
I think geese, and trees, and dogs and fish just accept things for what they are and live life from there.

That's what I want.

But I got a human brain, so I get to deal with the territory that comes with it:
I get to remind myself of what I want.
I get to notice when I don't get it.
I get to reflect on the foundations of my human response, and then choose to act differently when it comes up again.

Lucky me.
Lucky us.

I was told recently that once we truly look at and REALLY accept that something IS, it disappears.

I didn't believe it.
How can my anger go away just by looking at it, recognizing its presence and force in my life, and accepting that it just is?

Despite my disbelief, I just watched it happen, in my life AND the goose's, and clearly see the possibility that it can happen again.

With you.
With me.
With all of us.

Thanks for being here.
You are helping my possibilities take shape.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

She Knows Whose Ice Cream It Is

Last night, Geoff ran to the store with Kaya and Kahlua, in part to grab a few things, in part to to give me a much-needed break after a long day with whiny beings.

Naturally, I asked him to get me some ice cream.

I know, I know--according to Geneen Roth (an author that I love!), eating ice cream at the end of a long day when I'm NOT hungry but REALLY just want ice cream, would be eating emotionally. But, I figure, at least I know that I'd be eating emotionally. Everybody eats emotionally, she says. Some of us just can't move on from it when we do. (So, clearly I'm working on being able to "move on" so I can keep on enjoying that delicious creamy goodness. I'm sure there's some aspect of this reasoning that falls under the eating disorder category, but alas...one step at a time, I figure...)

So, Geoff and Kaya come home, having allowed me enough time to have a good conversation with my sister and play some mind-numbing Tetris. Kaya, having surely sensed my curiosity about my request-command, says "Mama, Eis" (Mama, ice cream) as she climbs up into my lap. Could it get any better, any sweeter than that? (well, maybe in the next story...)

So, after I force myself to eat some real food so I can have ice cream for desert (another questionable food tactic!), I sit down on the stool in the kitchen. The thought runs through my head that it might be better for me to sit at the table to eat this dairy delight. Better because, according to the emotional eating guru, if I truly accept that I'm eating what I am, then I can enjoy it, and it can leave me feeling satisfied instead of wanting more. Yeah, I get that. But it's 7 o'clock. Later than I want Kaya to have sugar. I'm staying on the stool.

So there I sit, enjoying the hell out of the chocolate chip ice cream atop the cookie that Geoff brought me from work. Ahhh. Hard day. Yum. Big chunks of chocolate, vanilla ice cream, cookie underneath. Yum!!! And then I hear her, voice getting nearer, and soon, there she stands at my feet, pointing at my cookie goodness. Uh-oh. She saw it! It's late! Can I still hide it? No, don't hide it. But it's late! She looks right at me, at the cookie and ice cream in my hand. It's over, I think. Her low energy evening has come to a close. She stands there, staring, mouth open, pointing at the counter now, and says, "Brot!" (bread!). What?!! Really?!? Does she think I'm eating bread? What does she think the white stuff is? Butter??! Yikes. Regardless, I act quickly, trying to get the bread out of the bag before she changes her mind and comes to her senses. "Brot," she says again, pointing eagerly. Done. Bread it is...

Then, she comes closer, and I think, for sure, it's ice cream-time for Kaya now. "Butter," she says in German, pointing to the cupboard. Once again, I breathe a sigh of relief and disbelief, as I spread peanut butter on her bread. She heads into the family room to enjoy her snack, and I dive back into the pint of heaven. Minutes later, she returns, covered in peanut slime. "Up," she says, indicating that she wants to sit in my lap. It's definitely over now, I think, as she looks straight at the pint of Haagen Daaz. But once again, her words impress me as she says, like never before, "Mama's."

That's right, it IS my ice cream. And I couldn't be happier that my family is clear about that. But the concept isn't what impresses me so much--it's the grammar.

Using possessive adjectives is a big step in language development. !!!!
Pause. Pause. Pause.

But we can't stay here and ogle forever, as much as she is our sweet kid--
so I'll add another anecdote about s's on the end of her words...

As Geoff was reading to Kaya tonight, she identified "flowers" and "frogs" and "cars" like she's never done before. When he pointed this out to me, I had trouble believing that she was really using plurals, as opposed to just repeating what she'd heard Geoff say. So, we conducted a little 'test':
"What's this," he'd ask, pointing to ONE car.
"Auto," she said, in German. (out-oh)
"Yeah, Mama says Auto. What does Daddy say?" Geoff replied.
After a few seconds, clearly working it through her head, Kaya says, "Car."
Returning to our official grammar testing after the code-switch 'glitch', he continues to ask her to identify all sorts of single items that she has identified in the past: car, bird, ball, tree. No problem. He then does the same, with the the identification-request changed to the plurals:
"What are these, Kaya?" "How 'bout these?"
Cars. Birds. Balls. Trees.
I'm trying hard to refrain from passing positive judgment on my kid...(but I can hear my mom's voice now: "She's a genius, Tams! A genius!"

The other night, as we were sitting at the dinner table, we hear Kaya counting, "One spoon...two spoons!" I guess, I when I think about it now, tonight WASN'T her first night of plural usage, was it? =)

Possessive AND plurals in sort of two evenings.
Wow. Cool.

Well, Geoff and I are eager to go watch a movie after a long day of nursing Kaya's tummy (she nabbed a stomach flu somewhere and was throwing up all evening, poor thing!). I'll save my "And I didn't even have puke phobia like I used to!"-story for another day, but I'll add this one in here as the cherry.

For the past many nights, Kaya has been saying what sounds like "Socken" (pronounced zoh-kin...meaning socks) right after I tuck her in. I ask her if she wants them on or off, but her replies are random and unclear, leaving me feeling confused and bewildered. Maybe she's like my mom, I think, wanting her socks off so she can rub her feet together while she sleeps. Excited at the personality similarity, I take her socks off, at which point, she protests a bit. Socks back on. Tonight was a similar charade, though I refrained from the stocking removal part. Once again, when I ask her "an oder aus", she replies with both, "an" then "aus," confusing me once again. After a few seconds, she starts fussing and kicking at the covers. Thinking she must be too warm, I pull back one of the blankets and watch.
And then, once again, "Schocken," this time with a slightly different sound in front.
"Schocken," she says again, as I'm stroking her hair (hoping upon hope that the puking is behind us).
And then it hits me: Schaukeln!! Schaukeln! She wants to rock in her rocking chair!
"Willst du schaukeln? Will Kaya schaukeln," I ask her, excited at my discovery.
(Do you wanna rock? Does Kaya wanna rock?)
"Nein," she says, definitively. "Mama." she adds, as my heart melts to the floor.

My sick baby just asked me to sit and rock next to her while she falls asleep in her bed.

How wonderful is this life...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

St.Martins Day Musings

Nearly every morning, Geoff gets up with Kaya at 7 and gets ready for work. He goes into her room, greets her excitedly, and invites her into the bathroom. As strange of an invitation as it is, he always gets an excited little "yeah" in response, and off they go.

They head into the bathroom and do their thing, Geoff in the shower and Kaya out about and around it, playing with various bath toys. Often I'll hear Geoff asking Kaya to put the "blue cup into the yellow one" or to put the "yellow duck on the green turtle." She follows his commands eagerly, often repeating various words back to him in English, "turdoh" being one of her favorites of late. Yesterday, after the common cup command, I heard Kaya say, "bik." And then there was a brief silence, until Geoff finally caught on. "Oh, right, it's too big! The yellow cup is too big for the blue one."

After they leave the bathroom, it's time to see Mama. Sometimes, Geoff can buy me a few extra minutes of sleep, when he's successful at distracting Kaya from her pleas for Mama. But generally, following a few "mama"s, I hear the door open and see Kaya come sauntering along the bed looking for me under the down fluff. Despite my desire to continue sleeping, I greet her with excitement, often a "morgen, Mein Baby! Wie hast du geschlafen?" (morning, my baby! How'd you sleep?) Immediately thereafter, Kaya starts in with her "Milch" request, and Dada heads out like a champ to bring the white gold.

But really, none of this is my focus.
It's all lead-in to what happened a few days prior.

Kaya had her milk in hand as she came waddling towards me in bed. As soon as she saw me, she said, "Milch, uh-oh," and quickly turned around to leave the room. Too tired to feed my curiosity, I rolled over to enjoy a few more moments of warmth. A few minutes later, she returned, eager as ever to snuggle with mama and her milk. Geoff soon follows with the details of the uh-oh. Apparently, Kaya had spilled two drops of milk on the carpet before she came into our room. When she left our room, she went to the kitchen to grab a towel from the oven door. She brought the rag to the two spots to wipe them up.

Wow, I thought. What I have I done? I've created an OCD-monster! Until a few weeks ago, I used to "freak out" when milk would spill. Not on the table, not on the floor or on the counter, but on my clothes. I know. I know. I wasn't following the golden rule. It wasn't every time--usually when I was tired, she was tired, and life felt just too overwhelming to add spilled milk to the mix--but it was a heck of a lot more often than I wanted it to be. And I hated myself for it.

When I think about it now, I recognize that underneath that freak-out was a fear. A fear about what it meant to have a stain on my clothes. Kaya drinks whole milk, full of fat. Fat stains. If I had a stain on my clothes, it clearly meant one thing that I came to believe in my childhood: if I don't take care of my clothes, I am irresponsible.

Clearly there was a lot at stake when Geoff brought me a leaky cup.
It was easier to snap at him than take responsibility for creating that fear.

With this realization, I certainly don't encourage Kaya to shake her sippy all over our bed, as she's been doing the past few days. I stop her, as I did before, but now, with a level of respect and understanding that it's just milk, she's just experimenting, and I'm not 'irresponsible' because of it.

And once again, I feel freed from the entrapments of my fears.

This morning, I heard a big bang coming from the office. I listened for a Kaya-cry and heard nothing, so I figured all was well enough for me stay put and let the bang work itself out. Will they think that I'm irresponsible since I didn't go rushing to my kid when something clearly happened? Maybe. But it means nothing about me, right? Right. Right. Keep writing and move on. So, I continue putting in my lenses and then walk out into the living room. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch a glimmer. Something shiny on the hardwoods in front of the office. Look a little closer and I see that it's a big puddle of water, with a white towel in the middle of it. Kaya looks at me, saying "uh-oh. Towel" (one of the words she's still learning in German, so she uses the English term with both of us). Kaya often brings the water dish to us in the kitchen so we can fill it. This morning, she noticed alone that the dish was nearly empty and took it upon herself to complete the chore (will it be this easy when she's 11?!) But, she must have tripped on the dog gate, spilling the water in the process. I just now realized that the dog bowl was back in its place (on the frisbee) before she went to get a second towel from the kitchen. Make no meaning, make no meaning...

Maybe this tendency of hers is because of my prior reactions. Maybe not. Either way, I love that I now 'get' to make whatever meaning, or none, that I want out of the events that took place.


As I was walking to Swapnplay yesterday evening, it hit me that, from the outside, to most people, my life looks the same.
I didn't yell at my dogs, or at my kid, in front of other people. It was too risky. What if people saw me and realized what I really am?
From the outside, I look the same as I did before. I have a cute little house, a husband whom everybody thinks is wonderful, and a sweet little girl with blond curls who speaks two languages. What could be wrong in the life of that woman? She's clearly got a good life.

I find myself, still, wondering if reality is based on what most people think. Telling myself it's not, but wondering if it is...because that's who I've been for most of my life.
Is my life the same, am I the same, just in some sort of pretend bubble that will burst once reality hits again?

I recognize now that I was really good at keeping it together for those on the outside. And underneath it all, I was driven by my fear that I don't matter and that if people knew how really weak I am, they won't want to be with me. Because that's how I thought I felt about other 'weak' people. It was too much of a reminder of my weaknesses to hang out with others who didn't cover it up as well as I did.

So last night, as I was vacuuming at Swapnplay after our Laternenumzug (Lantern Parade), I was thinking about this. For the first time in a LONG time, I was really vacuuming. I vacuum every day at our house, but I'm not usually vacuuming. I'm usually somewhere else, thinking or worrying about something else, vacuuming in this numbed trance of action. Last night, though, I was aware of everything and everyone around me in a completely different way. It hit me that I've been going around in world afraid of everyone. Completely conscious of what I'm wearing and how I look and what others will think of whatever I'm doing. ALL. THE. TIME.

I was aware, as I was moving the vacuum, that I look like the same woman vacuuming that never vacuums at swap (I always had an internal story that I was too busy or overwhelmed to do my part, so I didn't have to if I couldn't get to it). But on the inside, I see the carpet. I notice its colors. I think about how thick it is and about how the vacuum slows as it rolls over the thicker threads. I notice people playing with their kids, around me as I vacuum, and I feel freed from the thought that I'm working and they aren't. I am vacuuming. They are playing. That's it.

A hummingbird just fluttered at my window to suck on a purple flower on our rosemary bush. A helpful reminder that I am sitting here, at my desk, listening to music that I love, writing to people that care, about things that, for me, are the current crux of my being.

I am ecstatic that I can lead again, like I could when I was 18, without the distractions of my fears. I can take a group of 50 around the block in the rain, singing German songs I've never led before, to a group of singers who've never sung them. And love it. And get tired as I sing, and be aware that my voice is flailing. And not worry about what that means. Or what others are making it mean.

It's just my voice.
And my purple striped hat.
Singing German lantern songs on St.Martinstag.

And while Mama has all these musings on life, Kaya is...

Liebe ist....

I've just been dancing around the internet, seeking and discovering a wealth of information and passion around this multilingual journey. SO many others are in it along with us, it's really very exciting for me! I feel SO thankful for the internet right now, that it allows me to connect with others on this path, to learn from them, to read about their anecdotes, to smile about their lives and loves.

And about love (that's crazy because I really didn't plan that segue at all!)...I just bumped into this little video in which a number of German-speaking kids speak about love and what it is. I wish there were English subtitles, or that I knew how to do that...because for those of you non-German speakers out there, I'd LOVE for you to be able to understand the sweet details of these kids' musings...!

But in the meantime, I'll post it here, and if nothing else, you can enjoy the cute drawings and the sweet voices of these kids speaking German in a way that Kaya soon will (a thought that excites the HECK out of me!!!).

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Mama's New Freedom

I can so clearly remember sitting on our garden bench in our front yard, coming to the distinct realization that Kaya would, in fact, be OK. OK in the world. OK in her language. OK overall. The sun was shining. It was beautiful outside. Our weeds were tall and primed for picking. Suddenly, in that moment on the bench, I realized that I didn't have to worry so much about everything that I was worrying about in regards to "screwing her up", because I'd recently seen clear signs of 'secure attachment'. The proof was in the pudding, in other words, and for a while--a few moments, or days or possibly even weeks I think--I could let go of my fears and quit worrying so much.


That ride was really wonderful, feeling that temporary freedom from my worries.

But then, I bumped into something else. Something else that was clear cause for concern. At one point, it was her yelling at the dogs right after we did. Another day, it was her tendency to say "no" more than I was hoping she would.

Always something.

I'm not going to go anywhere close to the notion that I am beyond freedom from my fears. But, I am going to say that I feel this overwhelming freedom from the fears that have been driving me for many, many years.

I know. I know.
It seems like I just contradicted myself.

Suddenly, similar to my bench epiphany, I truly grasp the concept that something can be this, AND that, and simply BE this and that. I get that Kaya can cry and shout and laugh and giggle, and that's just what she does. She can speak 400 words of German and 200 words in English and that's simply what she does. There doesn't have to be a reason behind everything. Or anything, for that matter. In fact, I now believe, and would even be so bold as to say that I 'recognize', that there isn't a reason behind anything...until we give it the meaning that we give it.

Something happens.
We assess the happening and attempt to make meaning out of the occurrence. That's what our brains are designed to do, right? Figure stuff out. "We are meaning-making machines," said someone to me recently.

My mom was sick when I was a kid. I heard her say, on many days, on many shopping trips, "I have to find a bathroom." Over time, I came to tell myself that "no matter what I do, she'll still be sick. It doesn't matter what I do."
Later in life, I moved in with my dad. At the end of the day, right before my dad got home, I would run around the house cleaning-up, afraid that if I didn't, I'd get yelled at. Sometimes, he'd come in to the family room and yell at me. "It doesn't matter what I do, I still get yelled at," I told myself.
My dogs pull on their leashes sometimes. In those rough moments when Kaya is crying, when I'm tired, when she's hungry, and I'm hot from my run, it's easy for me to sink into the belief that, once again, "It doesn't matter what I do. My dogs will still pull." Or even a step further, "I haven't trained them well enough." Or even, "We wasted the money that we spent on training because we didn't practice the skills that we learned. I suck, and clearly don't make the best use of my money."

My mom got sick.
My dad yelled.
My dogs pulled.

I can now see that three things happened. And from those three things, I created a hell of a lot of meaning that led to a number of feelings that affected me AND everyone around me in a variety of ways.

My sister probably made different meaning out of my mom's being sick. I bet my Aunt Sue made even different meaning than either my sister or I did.
I would imagine that my dad's friends, especially those with teenage kids, made much different meaning than I did out of his yelling at me. I know my dad made different meaning, too.
Do my dogs make meaning? That's a topic for a completely different post (maybe even a different blog altogether), but I bet that my friend Lena wouldn't jump to the conclusion that I wasted my money on the dog trainer that we hired.

Here's where that freedom part comes in that I was talking about earlier...

If everybody makes different meaning out of different events, it makes sense then that we have the power to make whatever meaning we want to. Even NONE.
If I want to, I can just recognize that things happen and that's it. That's all. It doesn't have to MEAN anything.

With that understanding, I am now truly free. Truly.
My dad can yell at me, or even disagree with my opinion, and it means nothing about me.
Geoff can think that I'm 'nagging' him, and it doesn't mean that I'm a nag. Or even that I'm nagging at all.
I can speak English with Kaya when I'm upset, and it doesn't have to mean that she will revert to English with me when she's 5. Or when she's mad. Or that she'll even speak German, or English for that matter, when she's 4.

There's no guarantee of anything.
All we have is right now.

Yesterday is memory.
Tomorrow is a projection.
Today is happening. Right now.

I read what I wrote right there and am immediately reminded of MULTIPLE books and authors that I've read, whose concepts I yearned to apply, really apply, to my life...not just to those moments right after I read the book, or right after I got back from my camping trip in the desert, but really to my life and the relationships that I am in RIGHT now. When it's hard.

Again, I won't go anywhere close to the idea that I've "got" it forever. Or that I won't slip up like I have in the past. But I also recognize that I won't go there partly because I'm afraid of what others will think, and of how I might not be able to trust myself, if I'm wrong later...

"Remember, Tamara, when you said that you "got" it, and now you're yelling at your dog and worrying about your kid?!"

I also recognize that part of "getting it" is the realization that it won't be permanent...that life will be hard, and it will be hard to remember, and I will naturally attempt to make meaning because that's what our brains our designed to do. And it's what I've been doing for 36 years (Ok, maybe 33...).

This morning, Kaya was crying through screams at the breakfast table. She was pointing at the cereal I had, indicating to me that she wanted some of what I had, with cries of "du auch, du auch" (you too...[she hears me ask her "du auch?" but doesn't yet understand that "du" is you, and "ich" is I...]). She had a full bowl of yogurt and cereal in front of her, complete with cereal like mine.

I didn't want to give her any more. I wanted her to finish what she had before giving her more.

But my patience was thin. I was feeling fearful of being able to "deal with" more screaming and crying, on top of the whining and begging dogs.

So I gave her more.
And I yelled.

My mind unraveled into a tailspin of doubt and regret. I need more therapy. I thought I was done for a while, but maybe I'm not. I thought I "got" this concept, and now look at me.

I hear my internal dialogue louder than I want to. I try hard to turn it off, but it hides itself behind the whining and crying.

Then she giggles. And smiles. And the voice takes a turn.
I can do this. Look how cute she is?! How can I deal with these ups and downs? That wasn't so bad. I didn't yell that loudly. I can apologize and make a difference. I read it in a book. It's based on brain research. If I apologize, I won't screw her up.

10 days ago, I felt completely trapped by the "voice" inside my head. Are they thinking that I'm schizophrenic or have multiple personalities now that I just said 'voices'? Should I reword that? Now, however, I feel empowered by my ability to recognize that the dialogues are going to come and go, and that I can release myself from its grasp with the help of those who understand.

I feel SO excited about what this new freedom is going to open up for our lives with Kaya, and for Kaya's outlook on the world. I feel so excited about the possibility of empowering our daughter with the same freedom that I've finally found from the entrapments of my personal stories.

And this freedom feels SO amazing...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Monkey Bench Switch

This post is for you, Mom.

The other night, as I lay restless in bed, I had this vision of moving the 'the monk's bench' into Kaya's room from our living room. The monk's bench, for those of you who didn't grow up with my me and my sister, is a cherished antique piece of furniture that, as my mom always explained to us, the monks used to use as one of their few pieces of furniture. In one form, it is a table, with a storage bench underneath the top. In its other form, it is a bench, with arms. We grew up with this beautiful piece of dark walnut next to our front door, where we would sit and put our shoes on before leaving the house. We'd have all sorts of odds and ends stored in the bench, though I mostly remember it being full of yellow plastic bags and metal lunch boxes.

When my mom passed away, my sister was supposed to get the monk's bench...but I told her how excited I was about the idea of having it at our house, and she was generous enough to trade us for the 'treasure chest' (another story for another day). When we brought the monk's bench home, however, we realized that it didn't fit next to our front door nearly as well as I'd hoped...although we've had it there for the past many months, not knowing exactly where else to put it. Hence, my random thought process as I was lying sleepless in bed.

So, the following morning, I awoke early, eager to start the moving process. Forcing myself to wait until I had enough time to do it right (mom would be SO proud!), I was finally able to dive in once Kaya was at her grandparents' in the afternoon. I moved a bookshelf out, and another one over, and the monk's bench into her room next to her crib. Eager about my inspiration, I was disappointed when it didn't look, or rather feel, quite right. It felt too heavy and foreboding in her sweet little room full of bunnies and bears and babies. But then I saw it...the monkey quilt that I made her, draped over the end of her crib. I grabbed it and draped it over the bench, quickly realizing the irony:

The monk's bench.
The monkey bench.
The Monkey Wrench Gang.

Mom would LOVE it. She would stay up sleepless just beaming about the whole situation, so proud of me for having the thought, for acting on my inspiration, and for wanting to have her furniture in the first place. She would go on and on about how wonderful the whole thing is, and about how she can't wait to see it. She might even tell me that she could come over this weekend, if we were going to be around, knowing full well that she'd be too sick to get out of bed to even be able to call. But she'd still be beaming with pride from that bed, happy to know that her monk's bench was being used by her granddaughter and beloved son-in-law to read and connect and learn all sorts of fun things in life...

At this point, I could probably end this blog post, and you might not even notice that I didn't mention anything about Kaya's language--nothing like a few smiles or tears to distract an audience. However, my point in starting this post was to share a little anecdote about what happened tonight leading up to Geoff and Kaya's story time on the bench.

I was lying on our bed after having just played with Kaya and Geoff. Geoff left to get Kaya some milk since she'd just made her official request of the evening. Daddy is the milk-getter in our family...Mama, if she's home, is the Milch-giver. Geoff had been gone for about a minute, when Kaya took my hand to slide off the bed, stomach down, feet-first. She quickly started walking towards the door, clearly demanding her German cocktail, over and over and over. As she got about half-way through the hallway, within earshot of Geoff and clearly away from me, she switched her request to English, with no pause whatsoever. Though we've seen similar language switches with her in the past, I still feel shocked when I think about her saying, "Milch, Milch, Milch, Milch, Milch, milk, milk, milk, milk, milk...".

These days, she continues to be very selective with us, very rarely mixing her languages unless she only knows the terms in one particular language. She still prefers to use the term "A-a" and "lu-lu" over "poop" and "pee", but wouldn't you? She struggles to make the quick switch with "an" and "aus" (on/off), but she will make it if we're both there. Tonight, with easy access to the light switches on her new monkey bench, she was having fun playing with the words, as well as "dark" and her newest word, "dunkel". Couldn't get her to say it's opposite, "hell"...though maybe that's for the best, as far as the public is concerned. She's already got a few obscenities under her belt: her 'frog' sounds like a very clear "Fok", and her 'sit' is marked by a very strong "sh" at its front. Tonight, as she was playing with Tante Jules (her English speaking aunt her liked the term "Tante"), Kaya told me "Hilfe" as soon as I walked in the door. Apparently, she had just asked Julie for help buckling the "Henna's" life jacket.

If I were to let myself, I could come up with all sorts of fun examples of how Kaya impresses us with her bilingualism...but it's nearing midnight, and I meant to be in bed an hour ago...but now, maybe I'll be able to sleep instead of dreaming up fancy furniture configurations with our futon.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Last weekend, despite the heavy rain predictions, or actually because of them, we got outta dodge and headed for drier country in Central Oregon. Now that I'm getting older and have proven to myself that I can tough it out in the elements, I feel OK, and even somewhat reluctanctly excited, about the fact that we have become 'car campers'. Not exactly true to form--we still loathe state-park-type campgrounds with 150 driveways, affording no privacy, much less any remote feeling of getting away into the wilds. But slowly, we're carving out our latest outdoor recreation niche since backpacking with a toddler just isn't going to cut it...at least until the rainy season subsides.

Last week, we had this amazing opportunity fall into our lap: our neighbor offered us first dibs on her VW Eurovan. (!!!!!!!) It's a 'weekender', so there's a pop-up top AND a pop-up table. Complete with a small cooler and curtains, as well as a queen-size fold-out bed down below, it makes for the perfect little family camper. We are so excited to have a way to get out into the elements without having to stay in them if we don't want to. As much as I wish I were up for that 'bad-ass' lifestyle of living tentless under the stars for weeks on end as I was in 1999, I recognize that I'm currently in a phase of life where I just need things to be easy. And I'm more and more okay with that as the months go by.

So, Saturday night, as it had just begun to rain, I was sitting around our roaring fire, waiting for Geoff to put the finishing touches on his 'buffalo delight': a shepherd's pie type dish, complete with chopped potatoes, carrots, onions and ground buffalo, wrapped in foil and tossed in the coals of the fire. Kaya had been put to sleep in her little tent-bed inside the van, and we were eager to eat. She must have sensed that desire, however, and started to cry. As we sometimes do, we let her fuss for a bit, hoping, as she often does, that she'd work it out and fall asleep on her own. This time, however, it wasn't happening. She began to scream, clearly desiring some buffalo-yum as well. Geoff, being closer to the van, went to soothe her. He was speaking so softly to her that I couldn't hear what he was saying...Kaya, on the other hand, who hasn't quite mastered her "inside voice" (though we were outside...!), had loud, yet oh-so-sweet responses that rang crisply through the darkness.

As I sat there watching the flames dance, I listened intently to their exchange. As soon as Geoff started speaking to Kaya, her screams subsided, and were replaced with a long, yearning, "Yeeeaaah." He would speak again, for about 15 seconds, and she would, once again, reply with a "yeeaah," each time in a different tone. Early in his interactions with her, her "yeah"s sounded sad and hopeless, more long and drawn-out. But as the story-telling session continued (as I guessed he was doing), her "yeah"s grew more and more excited and shorter in length--kind of like the variances I just discovered in Chinese, actually. I wondered to myself, as I sat there in my crazy-creek, what was he saying to her to cause her to respond with such excitement. I knew he had to be telling her a story of sorts, as she has come to love, but about what I couldn't be sure. But every 15-30 seconds, without fail, her sweet little "yeah" would come floating across the night to flash a smile across my face. There she was, sad as can be, crying out for help, when all of a sudden, her Daddy (as she has come to call him) comes to the rescue with a story full of all sorts of characters that she is oh-so-happy to encounter. Bears and dogs and birds on the beach, as well as the balls and the sticks and the trees they were climbing. Their adventures of digging in the sand, running along the trails, pushing their babies in their strollers, and sitting by their campfire in the night. He didn't like the story, he reported to me once she fell asleep--it lacked a plot. But clearly, plot isn't what she's after--she's plenty happy to just hear about all sorts of things in life that bring her joy, that take her to the parts of her mind that conjure up feelings of satisfaction and understanding and recognition. And that's what life is all about, right? Being satisfied and understanding our surroundings and recognizing what's important? That's why I go to the desert...that's why getting out is so important to me because it brings me to that place in my mind where I can remember to go back to the basics, to be a kid again, and dream and smile and watch the flames dance.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Windows of Opportunity

Recently, I started reading a book called Multilingual Children. When I saw it at the library, I was hesitant to grab it off the shelf, thinking that it wouldn't apply to our situation. However, in reading parts of this book, I have this renewed excitement at starting Kaya on a 3rd language in Kindergarten.

I know, I know...it's a bit early to be thinking about that, since she's not even two. But it's good to have goals and dreams, right? Lately, I'd been feeling so excited about the possibility of an Environmental School in our area that I'd put our ideas of early trilingualism aside. But in reading this chapter on Windows of Opportunity, I remembered how excited I get at the idea of her being trilingual by 8.

Three and a Half Windows

According to the author, there are 3 Windows of Opportunity for language learning. The first one is between birth to 9 months of age. During that time, they are simply sponges, and they more input they can get in whatever languages are available to them, the better, as they are forming neural pathways faster then than at any other time in their lives.

There is another window between the 1st and the 2nd, which falls between 9 months and 2 years...which is really only a window for children who have an aptitude for language. She says that for those children, any exposure to any languages that they get in this time can severely affect how easily they are able to pick up the languages later. When I read this, I got very excited about the idea of "using" the next 3 months to foster communication between my step mom (Ecuadorian, native Spanish speaker) and Kaya. I recognize that I could speak to her in Spanish, too, but I don't want to confuse her with adding another language that I speak to her. She has been so stellar at selecting which language to use with me and which to use with everyone else, that I don't want to confuse her with a 3rd from me. Apparently, introducing a third from someone else shouldn't be a problem, but rather a possible benefit for later (especially if we go with a Spanish immersion program in the neighborhood!).

The 2nd Window of Opportunity is between age 4 and 6. From what people say, teachers especially, there is a general stagnation in language between 2 and 4, where they aren't making nearly the progress that they were before, and will later. So, during this 2 year period is an optimal time to introduce a language (first, second, or third). The more I consider the Spanish idea, the more excited I get about it. Not only would it be wonderful for Kaya to be able to speak with Rosa (her grandma) in her native language, but it would be really nice for Geoff to be able to learn along with her. He was excited for us to raise her bilingually in Spanish until I pulled the rug out and told him I didn't have it in me to foster a relationship with her in Spanish. If we introduce her to Spanish in an immersion program in Kindergarten (Beech Elementary), maybe that could make up for that minor disappointment.

Apparently there is another lag between 6 and 8, but then at 8 starts the 3rd Window of Language Learning Opportunity. From what I read, there is no neurological difference between how an 8 year old's brain learns language, and how an adult's does. The differences lie in everything else that affects language learning success: windows of opportunity; aptitude; motivation; strategy; consistency; opportunity and support; linguistic relationship between the 1st and 2nd languages; siblings; gender; and hand use. I was pretty shocked to hear that there is no neurological difference there. But in reality, all those other things are huge differences between adults and children, especially when taking strategy into account.


So, in addition to being completely inspired about Kaya becoming an early trilingual, I decided that I REALLY want to be a polyglot. I love knowing 3 languages, but there's something so fascinating to me about that change from 'trilingual' to 'polyglot'. So, for a few days, the debate was between Italian and Chinese. Actually, it's been a debate for at least a year or two, as I've been thinking about and wanting to learn another language for a LONG time. But every time I checked in with myself about 'why', it didn't seem like "because I want to" was enough of a reason.

But then, Geoff and I were standing in the backyard the other day, and I was feeling completely overwhelmed at the state of our surroundings. We'd done all this beautiful planting in the spring after removing an entire ground-covering of 'Lords and Ladies (a poisonous non-native).

We'd also built and planted a beautiful eco-roof on our shed, which is now a weed-roof. He took my head to his shoulder, wrapped his arm around me, and said,
"It's the journey that counts."

So I started learning Chinese on Monday, and I LOVE it. On Sunday, when I hopped on to LiveMocha, a free language learning site on the web, I felt pretty overwhelmed at the idea of learning Chinese. I did ok on the first two activities, but by the 3rd, when they were already wanting me to produce language after only minimal exposure to each word, I gave up...partly on the program, partly on the language. But on Monday, once I decided that Chinese makes a whole lot more sense for me to learn than Italian, I started looking for a Chinese teacher on Craigslist. In the process of searching, I found this GREAT link to an online business college that offers the opportunity to purchase increments of time on the online Rosetta Stone website. For years, my mom tried to get me to try Rosetta Stone. She'd heard SO much advertising that she thought, for sure, it must be good. I poo-pooed the idea for years, thinking that it must be a gimmick...there's no REAL good language learning software out there.

But I was wrong.
Rosetta Stone gets my endorsement as a language teacher.

Admittedly, I had my doubts on Wednesday evening as I was on my 3rd day of Chinese study. I'd hit this point where I had absolutely NO idea what they were trying to teach me, or rather, what I was supposed to be learning. I began to wonder whether Rosetta Stone was up to the challenge of teaching a language that doesn't share the Roman alphabet.

But last night, my worries were put to rest as things started clicking into place and I can listen to these Chinese sentences being spoken and identify the picture they are describing. I can figure out which characters belong where, and even figure out what many of them mean, just by looking at these pictures and listening to the narrator describe them (Rosetta Stone uses NO English, or native language...the target language is taught through repetitive identification and well-placed pictures.

So, I'm on Day 5 and eager as a beaver to quit writing and start studying. Geoff is away for a bit, and I'm excited to have the place to myself to dive in and 'play' as long as I want.

Oh, and that link, should you also want to start learning (or pick up again) another language:


Basically, you can purchase 3, 6, 9, or 12 months of online access to Rosetta Stone, Version 3, for a fraction of the cost that you'd pay to purchase the program. I paid $50, for example, for 3 months. So far, after 4 days and about 4 hours, I've made it 3/4 through Unit 1, and there are 4 Units per level...on Rosetta Stone website, each level costs $249 (there are 3-5, depending upon the language). So, if I maintain this rate, I will make it through Level 1 in 3-4 weeks? Which means, if I stayed on it, I COULD do a Level a Month--SO, I'd be paying only $50 for 3 levels, saving $400 over purchasing the actual program. (ok, so maybe that might be rushing things...but even if I do 2 levels in 3 months, that's still $300 or so...). Clearly, if you're dedicated, this is the WAY to go! It's the older version, so you don't get the online native speaker access...but it's a good savings, and a great way to see if you are going to stick with it...which was my initial reasoning for going this route.

Thanks again for joining me in this journey...not any cute Kaya anecdotes this time, but suffice it to say, she's as cute as EVER, and saying multiple new words a day in both languages. YAY to that!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Code-switching at 20.5 months? Or just differentiating?...

Last night, soon after I walked in the door from tutoring, Geoff told me that Kaya was communicating on a totally different level. "What do you mean," I asked him. And then, as soon as I sat down on the couch next to them, I heard for myself as quickly as he'd delivered his message...

Kaya was sitting in Dada's lap, snuggling into his shoulder with her sippy cup of milk. They were looking through the photo album of our summer camping trips. After a few moments initial shyness, Kaya started crawling and falling all over the couch, giggling between a variety of words in both English and German. The first thing she said that left me speechless was in reference to her banana-eating friends. She came home with 2 monkeys that usually live at her grandparents'...(apparently she was much more 'into' her toys yesterday than they noticed she was last week, so they sent her primate friends home with her). When I asked her about these stuffed playmates, "Was ist das? Ist das ein Affe?" (What is that? Is that a monkey?), she answered, "Affe.....Monkey". That was the first time I'd EVER heard her use both labels in the same comment...it was as if she'd been saying the word, 'monkey' for the past day (which she had, according to her grandparents) and wanted to make sure that 'Affe' was, indeed, the same as 'Monkey'. Usually, instead of switching her comment to English with me, she switches it to German, like she did at dinner a bit later in the evening.

The three of us were sitting at the table when I asked her whether she wanted some water. "No. Nein," she said, quickly, with nary a pause between the two words. This time, instead of seemingly wanting to verify the meanings, it seemed very clear to me that she was correcting the language that she chose to use with me. From this single experience at the table, it may not seem very clear that she is code-switching. However, there are a variety of other little stories that illustrate how clearly and consistently she is doing this.

Earlier this week, as I was heading out for a run, I heard Kaya come toddling out of her room towards the fridge, eagerly requesting (demanding?!) "milk, milk," from her Dada. She'd been talking to Geoff for a few minutes before I heard this, so it's clear that she was directing this request to him--I was also nearly out the door and out of her sight. I knew that she uses the word 'milk', as well as the term 'Milch', but didn't know that she knew to differentiate the terms from one another in regards to which one to use with each of us. While she was at her English-speaking grandparents' place last week, she used the term 'help' as opposed to 'Hilfe' in German, as she uses regularly with me. My theory was, that when she's prompted to use one term or another, like when her Gramms asks her if she wants help, then she simply continues to use that word until prompted, in context, to use the term 'Hilfe'. Maybe that IS how her brain was working up until a few days later when I was coming home from that run. Apparently, Kaya had gotten distracted from her initial English milk-request, and started playing with her toys instead. Geoff was rushed that morning, and therefore, didn't respond immediately to her plea (hence the distraction...). As soon as she saw me, however, she was reminded of her lingering desire for dairy, and made that clear to me with a very adamant, "Milch...Milch." It took me a second to process what had just occurred, but once I did, I pointed it out excitedly to Geoff:

Kaya clearly differentiated her language with us for the first time ever!
Or is it simple association?
Or code-switching?

Whatever it is, it's a heck of a lot more advanced than I ever thought she'd be at this age...and a HECK of a lot more excitement than I EVER expected to experience as I returned from my jaunt.

The question was burning such a hole in my mind that I came home yesterday from the library with 4 books on language development. As soon as the opportunity presented itself, I dove into the books, looking eagerly for an answer to my question:

Is it possible that Kaya can differentiate languages already?
Would it be considered code-switching?

Code-switching and Triggers

I found at least part of my answer in Raising a Bilingual Child by Barbara Zurer Pearson:
"In bilingual mode, [which is when bilinguals don't use their languages separately from each other, but instead use both languages together], speakers often switch between languages, or 'code-switch.' This seamless switching between languages (here called 'codes') can happen either between sentences or within sentences at permissible points in the grammatical structure..." (p.98)

There is lexical code-switching, that refers to switching single words into the other language, and grammatical code-switching, which is when more of a sentence is switched. Grammatical code-switching happens "in response to an internal or external 'trigger.' A trigger is a word or grammatical element that is represented mentally in both languages, so it facilitates, or 'triggers,' the move from one language to the other." (p.98)

Pearson continues on to say that "all bilingual speakers have the choice to switch or not to switch. It is as if they have a meter that they can set at either one language or the other--or in between. Generally, a child's setting--closer to bilingual or closer to one of the monolingual poles--reflects the way his environment is set. Children under age two appear sensitive to signals from other speakers, although they may not be very skilled at staying in one language..."

These last few sentences felt really promising to me, as if I'd found my answer. However, I'm still not confident that what Kaya is doing would be considered code-switching. It seems that there must be another term that relates to the fact that Kaya is becoming aware that two different languages are being spoken to or around her, and that the words that she knows fit in these different languages in a certain way. It seems that it would be called 'differentiation', but I have yet to find this term or a recognition of the concept in the reading that I've been doing.

To those of you multi-lingual parents out there, raising bilingual or multilingual children, can you speak to this at all? Is there a term for this? Do you remember when your kids started differentiating, or associating one person with one language? Are you willing to share any stories?

Kaya, pointing out (in!) Zoe's "Ohr" (ear)

In addition to the words above (no/nein, milk/Milch, book/Buch), Kaya has a few more words that we've noted over the past week that she consistently differentiates (the German with me and its English counterpart with everyone else):

"hungy"-"Hummer" (hungry/Hunger)

Additional Language Developments

In addition to this whole differentiation/code-switching concept, Kaya's language has been exploding in other ways, too.

--3 days ago, she said her first 4 syllable word: Edamame.

--She now identifies colors when she sees them, specifically "ink" (pink) and "lellow."

--She's been using more two-word phrases in the past few days than we've ever heard her use:
aya's house
hello dog
baby tomato
baby monkey

--And the cutest thing: Even though she's nailed the "k" at the end of many words, like "Cock" (clock!) and "book", she can't seem to figure out how to put the sound at the beginning of words. Same goes for "w/v" in German. So, she says cute things like:
"aya" (Kaya)
"henna" (Kenna)
"ua" (Kahlua)
"iss" (Kiss)
"assah" (Wasser/water)

Excited to be able to put a diaper on a REAL baby!

It's hard for me to express how excited I am about this new stage in Kaya's development--not sure if I've succeeded in sharing this excitement through my writing already, but if not, then I just have to say, "I LOVE THIS!!!!!!" Laying her down on her changing table and hearing her say, "A, Baby, C," while her tongue sticks out past her bottom teeth on her "Cs" and she giggles constantly while recycling a joke from more than week ago...amazing. And beautiful. And amazing.

I just can't seem to get over the fact that she's only been alive for 20 months and she can communicate to get (most) of her needs met; can walk to where she wants to go; and can put my underwear on her head. I thought I had some experience with children, but after spending nearly every day with Kaya for the past many months, it's become clear to me that I had NO idea how amazing it is to watch babies grow up, much less to hear them turn into little people!

Button, Button, Who's got the Button?

Last week Friday morning, after Kaya had been at her grandparents the day before, I discovered that she'd learned a new word while she was away (surely she'd learned more, too!). She and I were upstairs--I was sewing, and she was playing with various toys. Suddenly, I heard her say, clear as day, "Button!" When I looked at her, with half amazement and half curiousity, I saw her pointing at the jar of buttons on my sewing desk. A big smile drew across my face. Buttons. Of course.

So, giving her the jar, I quickly grabbed my phone so I could capture a little video for you to share in my smiles! Initially, I made a video where I spoke both languages to her, so that the non-German speakers could understand it more easily. But, since that's not how I speak to her regularly, and I wanted this video to be realistic, I made another one, figuring I could just provide a script for you:

Me: Was ist das, Kaya? (What is that?)
Kaya: Button....button...!
Me: Ja, Dada sagt 'button'. (Yeah, Dada says, 'button'.)
Me: Wo ist Dada? (Where is Dada?)
Kaya: Arbeit. (work)--This is also a new word as of last week...I started telling her that "Dada ist in der Arbeit", and then started asking her where he is...to which she quickly started answering as she did in this video.
Me: Ja. Hast du Hunger? (Are you hungry?) --In the last video, Kaya randomly said, "Hummer", which is her version of "Hunger"...I wanted to see if I could get her to say it in this video too, but she simply answered my question as opposed to repeating my word, which is pretty normal these days)
Kaya: Ja.......button.
Me: Ja. Dada sagt button, genau. (Dada says button, exactly.) Ok. Bye-bye...sagst du mal 'bye-bye'? (say bye-bye?)
Kaya: Bye-bye.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Bilingual Blogging Carnival

Hear ye, hear ye, the carnival is "in town!"

I recently learned about something called a Bilingual Blogging Carnival, where bloggers submit postings about various topics related to bilingual child-rearing, including joys, challenges, fascinations and discoveries. Each month it is hosted by a different blogger, which is great because it gives others a chance to check out different blogs each month, as well as connect with other parents in a similar boat.

This month it's being hosted by Fab Mum. I'm hoping to take part in these carnivals in the future...just gotta get on my horse and ride into the wind...

Until then, have a looksie if you're curiosity is piqued!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Her FIRST of MANY tests in life: The Oxford University CDI

I felt this pang of guilt as soon as I finished tallying the numbers. Wow. I just finished scoring Kaya's first of surely millions of tests she'll be scored and ultimately judged on in her life. Did I really have to start it so early? Ouch.

I'll chock it up to that wascally analytical brain of mine that I keep mentioning. Sorry Kaya. I'm trying hard, VERY hard, not to screw you up in other ways...

In the meantime...

Last week, I read the book Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merriman, and was fascinated to learn a bunch of little things about language development. Naturally, I can remember none of them as I sit to write this entry...except one: in this book, they referenced a test called the Communicative Development Inventory that they use to assess, yup you got it, communicative development. I jumped on the internet as soon as possible to get my hands on a copy of this test. Unfortunately, that was much easier said than done, unless I wanted 25 copies for $120, or something ridiculous like that. Monday rolled around, and not even my sweet little voice and jedi mind tricks could persuade this company to sell or even GIVE me just one:

"Sorry," was their reply, "we only sell them to people with purple hair, seven gold teeth, and over five feet tall in stature--and to those people, we only sell 500 copies at a time for 856 dollars each. Good luck, Shorty."


So, I turned to my good friend, the internet, for some moral support. After a few searches, two to be exact, I found a CDI knock-off. Yes!! I knew one HAD to be out there! Of course, I still really want the original, and still have irons in the fire to get me one (two, actually--one in German and one in English), but in the meantime, I couldn't help but download a copy of the CDI that was created by the Oxford University Babylab. From what I've heard, that's a pretty reputable place...seems like they oughta be able to create a test, COPY a test even, nearly as good (if not better!) than the original, right? (Siting my source as requested: Hamilton, A., Plunkett, K., & Schafer, G., (2000). Infant vocabulary development assessed with a British Communicative Development Inventory: Lower scores in the UK than the USA. Journal of Child Language, 27, 689-705. )

Ok, ok, ok, Tamara, get to the good part already, wouldja?!

So, the Oxford CDI is a checklist of 416 words that are typical in children's vocabularies, and serves as a tool for assessing the development of receptive and productive vocabulary through parental report. It is typically used for children aged from about 11 to 26 months. From my understanding, they are generally testing monolingual children. I thought I might go out on a limb and test her in both languages, though I can't be sure that there's any REAL science to that...

I was VERY curious to see how she would fare, not so much in the English or German tests by themselves, since I haven't even looked at the results of other toddlers yet from their data, but particularly in the two tests that Geoff and I each scored for her in English and German, respectively (I translated their English version into German). So, here are the results of the first test that Kaya never took but will be surely judged by for the REST OF HER LIFE!:

at 20 months, 4 days
Understands 244 of 416 words
Understands and speaks 73
Understands or speaks a total of 317 of 416

at 20 months, 4 days
Understands 249 of 416
Understands and speaks 72
Understands or speaks a total of 321 of 416 words

For those of you who hate to analyze data, let me help a bit...
It seems that Kaya is TRULY BILINGUAL at this point in her life. She currently understands about 5 more words in German than she does in English, and says MAYBE one more word in English (though I am aware of a few repeat words on the German test and a few words that each of us were unsure about).

Wow. I'm SO excited. =)

So excited that I went so far as to create Google documents of the scanned tests in each language so that those of you who are as excited as I am about this stuff can actually see the words that she can speak and understand today (she must be learning at least 5-10 new words a day, while speaking at least 2-3 of them!).

Kaya's English CDI:
Page 1: CDI Overview
Page 2: Animals and Vehicles
Page 3: Food and Drink, Body Parts, and Clothes
Page 4: Furniture and Rooms, Outside and Household Items
Page 5: People, Games and Routines
Page 6: Action and Descriptive Words
Page 7: Question Words, Time, Pronouns, Prepositions
Page 8: Quantifiers and Extra Words

Kaya's CDI in German:
Page 2: Tier Gerauesche, Tiere, Autos
Page 3: Spielsachen, Essen und Trinken, Koerperteile, Kleidung
Page 4: Moebel und Zimmer, Draussen, Haushaltsgeraete
Page 5: Leute, Spiele und Routine
Page 6: Tuwoerter, Adjektive
Page 7: Fragewoerter, Zeit, Pronomen, Praepositionen
Page 8: "Quantifiers", Extrawoerter

Well, I'd really like to be able to take a look at the other data that exists on these tests, but the server over in England must be down...or sleeping...so, I'll simply add the link, as I was planning on doing anyway, so that all of us who are so inclined (ok, so maybe that will only be me!) can check out the data and see what it means in regards to our little Kaya. Her language is progressing so quickly now, though, that I want to 'publish' this blog entry on the same day that we completed the test for her. I'll have to get around to analyzing other data on another day, perhaps when I haven't just spent 2 hours preparing and analyzing hers.

The Oxford CDI can be found at the following link:

If you prefer the original, I found it at San Diego State University as the MacArthur Bates Communicative Development Inventory:

I will also post these as links on the right, under Multilingual Links.

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