Kaya with her Nana--3 weeks old, Feb. 2009
Wow. It's hard to believe that it's really been two months since I've been able to find the time and opportunity to write again here. There have been at least 3 moments when I was dying to sit down and pop out my thoughts on some profound experience I'd had with Kaya or with some friend in relation to this whole bilingual experience. But alas, life has clearly been crazy: my mom, Kaya's Nana, Karen Ann Lasnover, died on June 11 after an incredible nine-year "fight" against Non-hodgkins Lymphoma. And though that nine years was incredibly full and busy and emotionally draining, the past two months were even more so. Or maybe not more so...just different so. Watching and being a part of the dying process is so drastically different than knowing that it is going to come but not being sure about when.
Being that this is my language blog and not the first chapter of the book that I dream about writing, I'll get back to Kaya and how her Nana's death relates to her language development...cuz I swear, it does. =)
Back when I'd bring Kaya to her Nana's just about every Friday, Kaya would say "Nana" (rhymes with Banana in English) as we'd pull up to her apartment. I'd estimate that she started this about 4 months ago..., when she was about 14 months old? When she'd see my mom sleeping in her room, as she often did when we were there, Kaya would say, "Nana" and eagerly crawl over to her door. She'd get to the doorway, point, and say, "Nana" again and again, slowly, as if she was trying to process the problem: Why is she just lying there while I'm here?
After my mom passed away, we naturally started bringing more of her things into our house, many of them into Kaya's room. My mom always had a penchant for giraffes, which my sister created into an amazing collection of the long-necked mammal. Stuffed giraffes, wall hangings, prints, vases, frames, magnets, socks...by the end of her time, my mom had giraffes in EVERY corner of her life. So, when we brought a couple of the stuffed giraffes into Kaya's crib, she saw them and immediately said, "Nana". When we hung the giraffe and her baby on her wall, she uttered the same in the same sweet, loving voice. Recently, I learned that giraffes have the biggest heart of any land mammal on earth. It's no wonder...
The giraffe label was one thing, but when we brought one of my mom's chest of drawers into Kaya's room, and laid her on it the next day as her new changing table, she let us know, once again, that she knew it was Nana's. The same applied to the wardrobe that we brought into our room. Nana. Funny how they are so observant of so many things that we just take for granted, or don't even know they are recognizing...like furniture in one place moved then to another.
The most shocking "label" of all happened about two weeks ago, as my sister was up here for my mom's memorial that took place on July 24. Kaya was in my sister's arms, facing my sister. She looked at the necklace that my sister was wearing and quickly announced, "Nana", clearly recognizing that the same necklace had been on Nana's neck when she'd last seen it...the aspect that I find that craziest is that my mom didn't hold Kaya all that often, especially in the last few months...what Kaya was remembering were very selective observations of that silver charm.
Nana-labeling isn't just specific to my mom, though that impresses us and makes us smile the most. Kaya constantly points to things and announces their rightful owner. Whether this is her intention or not we can't say for sure: maybe she is saying the name of the person who she thinks of when she sees the item. Clearly hard to know. But, it's certainly something that she takes pleasure in doing these days (and for the past 3-4 months or so). For example, she'll point at my glasses and say, "Mama"; at Geoff's, and say, "Dada." She often points at my plate while we're eating and says definitively, "Mama!" At this point, my mom, Geoff and I are the only one's who's things she "labels", though that may change as she gets more comfortable with others' names. She has said "Tante", referring to her Auntie Jules; "Sah", referring to her Auntie Sara; "Bempa" for her Grandpa Ralph--and perhaps Papa for my Dad and "Gemms" for her Grandma Bev, though I'll have to check with the authorities on that one.
But, rather than post on and on about more progress "notes" here, I'm going to let this one be all about Nana--she certainly deserves her own post after the amazing life she lead. Before adding a couple videos and a tribute link, though, I want to add something that my mom said to me about 4 months ago while I was talking to her about my fears and frustrations in speaking non-native German to Kaya (I think I may have written about this already, but I really like keeping the silverware organized...). I was telling my mom about my tendency to narrate the world to Kaya, often asking her if she sees this or that or telling her what I see in front of us. One day, a squirrel ran across the trail in the park and I realized that I only had one word that I knew to use for "run". I felt frustrated that I didn't know more, that I couldn't be creative with my language and talk about how 'the squirrel had scurried into the underbrush', or 'the critter had clambered across the trail into the bushes'...or fled or scampered or bounded. I felt fearful that my lack of extensive vocabulary would hinder Kaya's development into an intelligent German speaker and US citizen. My mom's response: what's wrong with just saying to her what you know? The squirrel ran across the trail into the bushes. Ok, so in the moment I admittedly felt misunderstood by my mom, was hoping that she'd empathize a bit more and see my fears better. But even more importantly, I really appreciated the simple message that she was sending:
Bilingualism is powerful enough in it's own right,
it doesn't need fancy words to spice it up all the time.
I often think of her words when I'm feeling fearful and they help calm me down and focus on the facts: she is still growing up bilingually, despite my fears or my imperfections or my desire to know the word 'scamper'. (And then I'm validated further when I look up these words, only to come to find that they don't really exist in the same way in that language.)
Thanks, Mom. !! Your confidence has always made me strong.
I know how much this endeavor impressed my mom. She was always SO fascinated and curious by how I was doing this, and just the mere fact that I'm making it happen. I rode 200 miles on my bike for my mom in 1995, to raise some money for her...if I did that, I can certainly continue to raise her granddaughter bilingually, right? (momentary motivation used when necessary!)
I don't know how long this online tribute will be available, but until it's gone:
And for some sweet images of Kaya with her loving Nana:
November 13, 2009. Kaya was nearly 10 months old. My mom would always call this stool Kaya's because it was the perfect height for her to stand at and eat at when we'd go over there on Friday afternoons:
"Dai dai dai"