Saturday, December 31, 2011

Silly Sally with Daddy

One of Kaya's favorite books these days is 'Silly Sally'...she'd read it every night if we didn't gently nudge her at times to read others with us instead. She's read it so much, in fact, that she knows many pages, and nearly the whole book in fact, by heart.

As she was reading with Geoff tonight, I couldn't resist the temptation to capture them on film. I so rarely post videos of her speaking English, and I thought it would be not only fun to share, but fun to have here for later, too. I really like the part in the video where she interrupts her reading in English with Geoff to let me know, in German, that she needs her fingernail trimmed, and that, no, it can't wait until after they read. I also love how she gets under the blanket, which she does every time, to hide from 'the big Neddy' (Buttercup)! The video is a bit long, at 5-ish minutes, but it does a great job at showing where she's at these days. Enjoy!

Also, while I'm thinking of it, I wanted to point out, for those who may have not noticed, that I recently added a new page to the blog. It's called 'The Quotable Kaya', and is specifically for notable quotes and conversations that take place in our lives with Kaya. Some of them are simply cute, while others of them, especially the ones I've recorded recently, seem really telling of her language process at this stage. In general, her German is on par, if not maybe even a little stronger, than her English! Oh how I've dreamed of this stage!!!

p.s. For those of you who receive these posts emailed to you, the Quotable Kaya page doesn't get emailed, should you be interested in following along with little conversations here and there, check back every now and again!

Nikolausmorgen...25 Days Later...

It's only taken me 25 days to get my  s*#t  together and write a post about how our Nikolaus morning went...I found inspiration a week ago or so, as I was reading another blogger's post about their preparations for the day. And I even took a few videos on Nikolaus morning, in part for Geoff. He was at work when Kaya awoke to find her boots filled with goodies--I wanted him to be able to see how excited she'd been!

As you may recall, or know from experience, Nikolaus 'comes' on the evening of Dec. 5th and fills the children's boots with nuts, oranges and least for those children who have been 'good'. Krampus (or Ruprecht) takes the bad ones, or hits 'em with a switch. Fortunately, Kaya is still cute enough to avoid that nastiness...

So, in addition to filling her boots with a couple pieces of chocolate, mandarins and a fruit leather, Geoff and I 'indulged ourselves' in leaving a gift next to her boots, as well. I found this awesome dollhouse on Craigslist, completely furnished, to replace the smaller, unfurnished one she had before. I thought it would be fun for Nikolaus to furnish her bathroom, along with bringing her some chocolate--she'd been asking for a toilet for her dollhouse, and I was eager to replace Geoff's cardboard creation, as ingenious as it was.

Here's the second video I took, which shows how happy she was with the chocolate, as well as how clear it is to her who brought her these yummy gifts. You'll here me asking her to tell me who (Wer?) brought her this chocolate, and you'll hear her responding as if she doesn't know (wer?!). As I run through a long list of various people who may have brought her the goodies, it's clear to her that it was none of these people...until she hears Nikolaus' name. At the end, by the way, she gets up and says that she's going to put the trash in the garbage (that's our Kaya, for ya!) [Ich werde das in den Muell bringen.]

She was so enamored with the chocolate that it wasn't until I asked her what else he'd brought her that she noticed the gifts next to the boots. She dove in to unwrap them, savoring each piece of furniture for what it was and what it could do for her little dollies. She opened each one so carefully, and was so attentive. It was so sweet, so innocent...and honestly, much different than the experience at the end of December once she'd had a few days of opening one gift a day...

In addition to sharing about Nikolaus, I've been wanting to sum up our holiday season, specifically as a reminder for myself for next year as I'm perched on the edge of the season, trying to remember what worked and what didn't. I clearly remember thinking that this 'one gift a day' idea didn't turn out exactly as I'd hoped...

It's late, though, and we're on the eve of our New Year's cabin trip!
...So, until that post makes it into the cyber-waves, it looks like you'll just have to sit on the edge of your seat and wait...

2012, here we come!
Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Binky-Fairy

This post was originally written in December 2011 when the binky-fairy made her initial 'visit' to our house. It has been adapted for the January edition of the Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism, a blogging community of bilingual parents and families wanting to promote a larger discussion on bilingualism and create a wider community of bilingual parents. For more up-to-date posts regarding post-binky bedtime progress, see The Quotable Kaya.

Sometimes, it seems like starting a blog post is like eating another cookie: SO tempting, yet so full of consequences that don't exactly leave you feeling so satisfied. Sleep is overrated, right?

Last night, I got maybe 45 minutes. Maybe. As soon as I finished my big Christmas project at midnight, I headed to bed, eager to finally be prone. As I attempted to relax and calm my thoughts from the day, my mind started spinning with concerns about my missing purse. My checkbook, 5 client checks, my ID, credit and debit card, ski passes, book of stamps...all vanished into who knows where on Saturday night and I had yet to truly process all that was really missing. Not to mention all that could be happening out there with whomever may have my stuff.

I popped out of bed, wrote the necessary emails to the necessary people, and finally headed back to bed at about 1am. And then I heard her whimper.

We'd mentioned the coming of the Schnulli-fairy at least a few weeks ago. She knew the day would come. But it was really the visit to the dentist last week that had me finally settle on last night: "'s time for the pacifiers to go. Her lower jaw needs every possible opportunity to catch up to the upper one," Dr. Chavez told me. I knew the day would come, too...but I was 'giving myself' until age 3.

Her whimpers turned to soft cries, and I could no longer stay away. I thought I knew what I might be walking into. I really had no idea, however...

When I approached her bed, her blankets were disheveled, covering her only in part. Her sleeper was unzipped, completely, and her legs were bare. "Musst du pullern?" I asked her softly, thinking that she must have to pee. No answer. Just blank stares, through tears. "Musst du A-a machen?" I asked again, thinking that, perhaps, she had to poop. Again, she said nothing.  Shortly thereafter, however, she began to cry, grabbing her Schnulli [binky] which now had a hole where the nipple once was. "Ich hab' keinen Schnuwii," [I don't have a binky] she said, slowly and sadly, as her cries turned from whimpers to sobs. I quickly jumped in bed behind her, snuggling her with my heart as it slowly melted with her pain. Nearly three years of falling asleep with the comfort of a suckable piece of plastic, and now, no solace in the silicone. As I snuggled in behind her, and held her close, she slowly fondled the Schnulli in front of her, the green one that was always her favorite. I knew that she knew. She knew it was time, and that the Schnulli fairy had come, and that there was simply no turning back. She wasn't angry. She wasn't scared. She was simply sad, and there was no way around it. I held her tighter and stroked her head. "Aber hat dir die Schnulli-fee etwas gebracht?" [But did the binky fairy bring you anything?] I asked her, pointing slowly to the bear on her pillow. She slowly looked up, and noticed the bear. All of a sudden, there was a shift. She grabbed the bear, and brought it to her, dangling it by its hoop. She turned to me, grinning huge, and referenced the book we'd just read last night,"Ich bin jetzt wie Cawa." [I'm like Clara now.] "Ja, das stimmt," [Yes, you are.] I told her. "Du brauchst keinen Schnuller mehr, genau wie Clara!" [You don't need a pacifier anymore, just like Clara.]

While we were in Germany, I excitedly bumped into this book called, "Ein Baer von der Schnullerfee" [A Bear from the Binky Fairy] in which little Clara is visited by the binky fairy and told that she'll receive a gift when she's ready to add her binkies to the collection on the fairy's necklace. A few days later, after Clara is ready, the fairy returns, and brings her a bear in exchange for her binkies. Kaya was very excited about the bear idea, and had been for weeks. She clearly couldn't conceptualize how schnulli-less bedtimes would feel. After reading the book for the first time on Sunday night, I told Kaya that sometimes, the Schnulli fairy will leave the Schnulli, but will simply take the 'nose' of the Schnulli to add to her necklace. In that way, there's not a complete 'lack' of Schnulli, just a missing ability to suck. Geoff and I liked this concept, and thus attempted to prepare her for how some fairies operate.

So, there we were, on her bed, lying in the dim glow of her Santa Claus light. As she dangled the bear back and forth near our heads, she shared with me something that I never saw coming. "Mama, ich wiw awe meine Schnuwi der Schnuwifee geben," [I want to give all of my binkies to the binky fairy.] she told me, as I swallowed my surprise. "Ich wiw, dass du sie ihr gibst." [I want you to give them to her.] "OK," I told her. "Das kann ich machen." [I can do that.] Apparently, she likes the binky-fairy who takes the binkies, not the ones who cut holes in them. She'd just much rather have them gone. She then handed me all three pacifiers and told me, "Ich wiw, dass du wieder kommst, nachdem du sie ihr gibst." [I want you to come back after you give them to her.] Of course I conceded, and proceeded out the door, binkies in hand. When I returned, Schnulli free, Kaya's spirits stayed high, and we laid there a big longer. I was growing a bit excited at the idea of going to sleep soon, and thought we might be close. And then my hopes were crushed. "Ich bin nich muede" [I'm not tired] she declared, gently. "Ich wiw nicht schafen. Ich wiw nur scheeelen (ich will nicht schlafen, ich will nur spielen)." [I don't want to sleep. I only want to plaaayyyy.] Having learned the hard way, I knew there was no fighting it. Trying to force a 2 year old to sleep when they only want to play is like trying to fit your elbow into your mouth. It just doesn't work. So, I set her up with some light and some books, and told her she could read until she grew tired. I hesitated to leave her alone, concerned about her being warm enough if she fell asleep without a blanket. After talking her into wearing a sweater, and knowing that she'd call me if she needed me, I sauntered off to bed in hopes of some sleep.

A bit later, no more than an hour, I awoke to Kaya's voice. "Ich bin Hunnnger," [I am hunnnger] she told me, as I went into her room. "Ich wiw essen." [I wanna eat.] After having this incredibly helpful conversation that afternoon with a friend about the importance of validating children (and adults, too!), I knew, once again, that there was no fighting this one either. Granted, I tried for a few minutes, attempting to tell her that I knew how hungry she was, and that she could eat as soon as we got up in the morning. Not wanting Geoff to lose any sleep (as the full-time worker of the two of us), however, I chose the quiet route over the loud one.

Thus, at 3 am, I found myself cutting apples and serving miso soup to a very cheerful little girl who had no intention of falling asleep schnulli-less. At this point, after having tasted sleep, I was beginning to lose some patience and compassion, and had to keep my mind from wandering to how things would be the next day. I had a tutoring gig at 9:30am that I wondered if I'd be able to keep. 4am came and went, and with some tears and sadness, so did 5. Song after song, lullaby after lullaby, we rocked in the rocker and sang in her bed, while she cried at the challenge of the eve. "Ich kannnn nicht ohne Schnuwi schaafen," [I can't sleep without a binky] she cried, overwhelmed at the thought of going it solo. "Ich weiss," [I know] I told her, reflecting on Laura's advice. "Es ist schwer ohne Schnulli einzuschlafen. Ich wuenschte mir, du haettest tausende von Schullis, in dem du schwimmen koenntest, und womit du spielen koenntest. Das waere so schoen!" [It is hard to fall asleep without a binky. I wish you had a thousand binkies that you could swim in and play with.] It felt strange to be responding like this, I told her earlier on the phone. It's like I'm being so condescending, indulging the fact that she doesn't have what she wants, and that I'm not going to give it to her. "You're not two," she reminded me. "If your husband came home and told you that he wished you had all the millions in the world to swim in and run through and cover your house with, after you share with him your concern about your finances, you'd want to hit him!" True. That.

Her advice was a godsend, and at 6:30am, after a multitude of lullabies and more compassion and validation that I've demonstrated in ages, she finally fell asleep in my lap, being rocked in the rocker. When she awoke when I moved her, I feared a replay. But after walking out slowly, taking nary a breath, she did it by herself and fell asleep without Schnulli.

Mission accomplished.!
Only 5 hours later.

This afternoon, as Geoff walked through the door, Kaya went running to him, bringing with her the Schnulli-bear. "Look what I got," she told him, proudly, snuggling into his arms. "Wow!" he responded. "Where'd you get that?" "The Schnulli-fee brought it to me," she replied, looking at me, afterwards. I asked her then if she had to give the fairy anything in exchange for the bear. She looked at Geoff, knowing that my question in German was intended to be answered in English to him. "Mama gave my Schnullis...her." I smiled as she told him this, not only because she was clearly so at peace with the whole thing, but because of the sweetness of the structure of her English sentence. In German, there's no need to use the preposition 'to' before 'her' since the grammar makes it clear which case is intended.

Here it is, 12:30am, and I feel like a ticking time bomb. A kind of dumb one, putting writing before sleeping. I have no idea why I'm not tired, and am avoiding the fear of when it will catch up to me. I partly think I'm riding on this new wave of validation that's working wonders...and simultaneously excited at this new phase in our lives.

Kaya just woke up, crying, and as I approached the door, I feared a repeat of last night. Forward motion is happening, however. She not only fell back to sleep quickly, with just a blanket and some gentle rocking on her bed, but tonight, as Geoff was putting her to bed, he told her that she can fall asleep with her snuggle monkey and her dog, avoiding the whole binky conversation. In contrast to the "I can't" concern she voiced with me last night, tonight she simply told Geoff that "it's hard to sleep without a Schnulli, Daddy."

It sure is, Kaya. That I know.
Mama sucked her thumb until she was twelve...

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Lil' Bit of Lullaby--a la Kaya

Over the past week or so, Kaya has become quite the vocalist. She's enjoyed music for as long as I can remember her noticing it--she used to, and continues to, ask for certain songs to be repeated, and requests for music to be played, either on the radio or through Geoff's fingertips on his guitar. I can distinctly remember a post that I wrote about a year ago in which Kaya was picking up on the words in a particular song, referencing the topic in our conversation. I'll have to find that post one of these days...

But this week has really been a benchmark for her beginning to sing with us. Last night, for example, Geoff went into her room to serenade her to sleep, and she made a very clear request for him to play "Tinkuh Tinkuh wih Sar, an den Baa-baa back shee", as he often does before bed. As he began to play, she looked at him, wide eyed and bushy-tailed, and asked, "Keh we sing togeduh, Daddy?" After his heart melted, and he assured her that, of course they could, she began to tell him how it was going to work: "Firs time, we sing 'Baa-baa Back Shee, Haya any woh?', then we sing it woudah an woudah..." [Baa-baa black sheep, have you any wool, then we sing it louder and louder].

Tonight, as Kaya requested a couple songs from Mama, I grabbed our video-guy and saw to it that you could get a taste of our budding musician in action. We started the rendition off with one of our bedtime favorites, Schlafliedchen [Little Sleep Song]:

Schlaf, mein kleines Maeuschen  [Sleep, my little mouse,]
schlaf bis morgen frueh,               [Sleep, til early morn]
bis der Hahn im Haeuschen,         [Til the rooster in his house]
ruft sein Kikeriki,                          [calls his cockle-doodle-doo]
bis der Hahn im Haeuschen, 
ruft sein Kikeriki. 

Streckst du aus die Fuesschen,      [Stretch your little footsies]
deck dich richtig zu!                      [Cover yourself right up]
Schlaf mein Strampellieschen,      [Sleep my little cuddle bug]
schlaf mein Liebling du!               [Sleep my dear one, you]
Schlaf mein Strampellieschen, 
schlaf mein Liebling du!


We followed up that song with another classic, Schlaf, Kindchen, Schlaf [Sleep, Child, Sleep], but I can't seem to get two videos on here, so you'll have to imagine that one for yourself. It's similarly as entertaining as the first, and we'll surely be using it in Kaya's application to Juliard...

Schlaf, Kindlein, Schlaf,                    [Sleep, child, sleep]
Am Himmel ziehen die Schaf,           [in heaven run the sheep]
der Mond, der ist das Schaeferlein,    [the moon, it is the shepherd man]
die Sterne sind die Laemmerlein,       [the stars, they are the little sheep]
Schlaf, Kaya, Schlaf.

Schlaf, Kaya, Schlaf!
Der Vater huettet die Schaf,                [the father guards the sheep]
die Mutter schuettelt's Bauemelein,    [the mother shakes the little tree]
da faellt herab ein Traeumelein,         [from it falls the little dreams]
Schlaf, Kaya, Schlaf.

She uttered a pretty darn cute Santa quote tonight, too--I think I'll test out the new Quotable Kaya page and will post it there, should your curiosity be piqued!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Kaya's Clairvoyance about Christmas

Kaya keeps uttering the cutest things, and as awkward as it feels to me to just 'randomly' share them, I think I'm gonna...because, well...this blog is essentially all about her and our life surrounding her cute and crazy ways of being!

First of all, I've been looking at this post-it on my computer screen for, I'm embarrassed to say, nearly 3 months. It's dated 9/18, and it references this experience that Geoff had with Kaya while they were talking about polar bears. Naturally, the details have escaped me, because I only jotted down the quote itself with one extra word as a reminder (good one, Tamara!). But from what I can recall, Geoff and Kaya were reading a book when they came across a polar bear. Kaya used the German term, Eisbaer [polar bear], at which point, Geoff asked Kaya what it's called in English. From there, conversation moved to a point where it became clear to Kaya that Geoff didn't speak German, and couldn't understand many things that she could. It was around this point when Kaya, with excitement, told him, "I wanna teach you German, Dada!" (pronouncing the G as you would in 'good', as she still pronounces it today).

It's clear to me that Kaya has yet to fully process, even today, 3 months later, that Geoff does, in fact, understand a lot of German, and me, everything that's said in English. She still translates for us, from time to time, often letting me know, like she did the other day, what they're singing about in a particular song: "Sie tun einen Hut auf dem Elefant in dem Lied!" [They're putting a hat on the elefant in that song!]

Kaya was much more excited about Santa from afar...!
What I sat down to write about was actually something that Kaya said this morning, in reference to the visit that was going to happen at the German Saturday School where she's been attending since October. I'd just told her, in German, that Nikolaus would be coming to visit them at school, and she naturally grew very excited. For those of you who don't know, Nikolaus is the historical version of Santa Claus. Saint Nikolaus was actually a Greek bishop from the 4th century who was known as the patron saint of sailors, fishermen, students and children. He was known for his generosity, for helping those, in anonymity, that needed assistance. Anyway, in many parts of Europe, Nikolaus Day is it's own holiday, celebrated on December 6 (the feast day of St. Nikolaus), in which children put their boots out for Nikolaus on Dec. 5 and he comes that evening to fill them with delightful treats. Now I'm remembering that I addressed this a little bit the other day in my I'll jump back to the interesting translation that happened this morning before we went to school. Kaya has no idea, by the way, of any of this history of Santa Claus. She does know about Santa, from images and books that she's seen, both this year and last, but she has no idea that there might be any connection between him and the historical Sankt Nikolaus. So, after I tell her that Nikolaus will be coming to visit this morning, she runs to Dada in the other room and says to him, "Daddy....Santa Claus will be visiting our school today!" When I first heard this, I was under the impression that Kaya was simply attempting to make her own sense of this multicultural mish-mash that her Dada and I are creating for her with all of this holiday hub-bub. But in reflecting on the experience, and looking at the photo, it's clear that our child is actually psychic, and knew that, in fact, it wouldn't be Nikolaus, the bishop, who dresses in gold, carries a staff and sports a traditional catholic cap, but instead, our jolly old Santa, dressed from head to toe in red and white, just as Coca-cola created him back in 1931!

The 'true' Nikolaus, last year...
Forget ideas of outdoor programs or German schools--
we need to start researching accredited schools for psychics...

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Christmas, Krampus and Cookies for Chanukah

Last year at this time, I was making plans to get out of dodge. The last thing that I wanted to do was spend the holidays at home, missing my mom.

This year, it couldn't be more different.

We got our tree on the day after Thanksgiving. I've never done that before. We even succeeded in decorating it that weekend, which I had my doubts about on Sunday, as the boxes were still strewn around the house, amidst the clutter.

I've also been listening to Christmas music already, and pushing away my fears that I'll be so sick of it by the time Christmas actually rolls around that I'd better stop and listen to something else. I've been listening so much, in fact, that Pandora told me the other day that they're sorry, but they can't locate any other music on this station for me. I wonder if I'll get a similar message from Accuradio?

Mom, shaking her gift for a guess...1985
But the thing that had me jump to the computer to pop out this post was this feeling that I had on the floor just now, wrapping presents in Kaya's room. I feel just like my mom, eager for Kaya's wide eyes, excited to give her 'schuschkis' at every possible opportunity. It's a truly wonderful feeling. It's like she's here with me, everywhere, enjoying the holiday spirit wherever I can create it and let it in.

Enjoying my new books, 1985

Granted, it's not like I'm necessarily following in her footsteps, as many of you, who knew her, are well aware. She saved everything until the last minute. On Christmas Eve, she'd be out at Toys R Us, buying up the best of the sales rack, just before picking up a free tree at the local Gemco. She'd decorate and wrap and play the Santa until the wee hours of the morning, similarly eager for us to peek our heads around the stairs, asking if we could come down.

Man, I miss her.

Admiring the writing tablet I made her in wood shop, 1985

And at the same time, it really is like she's so much more present now than when she was alive and so sick.

So, maybe I'm enlivened for the holidays because it's a way to feel connected to my mom. And maybe it's because I know that Kaya is finally at an age where she'll notice, and it will make a difference for her and her life.

Whatever the reason, I'm definitely loving it, and very excited at the freedom I have to create whatever I want with and for my family. Last year, I felt pretty overwhelmed at the idea of creating new traditions. I did a few things, like planning an art project with the rest of our family while we were together to celebrate, but all in all, I felt pretty defeated. It was clear to me this commercial trend at the holidays isn't at all what I want, for any of us. But I was at a complete loss as to how and what to do to avoid it.

This year, however--like I said--it's all different. Geoff and I have actually had a few conversations already as to what we envision for our family traditions, and since tomorrow is the first, I thought I'd get them down in print. Nothing like a reference for when we get distracted by the fun of it all and forget what we had in mind!

So, just to put the foundation on our intentions, our goal is to create traditions that instill a feeling of warmth, wonder, love and giving. I believe that many of the traditions that exist in our culture exist through the intentions of all of those ideals, but that, over time, and with the tendency of our market economy, have been washed away. I have felt torn, because as much as I want to move away from the commercialism of Christmas, and get rid of gift-giving all together, there's an obvious emotional connection that exists for me (and for Geoff), and it's hard for me to let that go. I don't know that we necessarily need to; I don't think there's a right or a wrong way to do this, even from an environmental standpoint (which is usually the standpoint I operate from). It simply feels like a balancing game.

So, we want to create traditions that teach Kaya about the value of giving, and service, as well as offer her opportunities to receive, as it's partly through receiving that one can fully understand the benefits of giving. We'd like to avoid the immensity of Christmas day, however, with piles of gifts that do little other than get pushed to the side because she can't even come close to processing all that she just received. All those gifts, all at once, is simply too much--at least for a child--and often, the appreciation is lost, replaced by disappointment that it's all over so fast. After a month, or more, of so eagerly waiting, and it's all over.

The Jewish tradition has that piece nailed, I think. One gift a day, for 8 or 9 days (clearly, I have only slight awareness of Jewish traditions!)...spread it out. Give time for appreciation. I was raised with a taste of Judaism--my dad, now a self-proclaimed atheist, always felt more in touch with his mother's Jewish lineage at the holidays than he did with my mom's Catholic tendency towards Christmas. So, he'd usually forgo the tree, and we'd have Matzoh ball soup at some friend's house, and open our briefcase 'stockings' after being at our mom's. I appreciate that I was exposed to both cultures (thanks, Dad!), and I'd like to do the same for Kaya, even if our reasoning is different.

And naturally, I want to weave in traditional German cultural celebrations, as well as those of ancient and native peoples of the earth, too. With our passion for the outdoors and understanding for the need for sustainability, as well as our desire to create intercultural understanding from an early age, I can't imagine it any other way.

But I better get to laying out our plan before I lose you to all this theory!

Here are the major dates we are excited to celebrate:

Dec. 1: Start the season!
This will be the first day that we start reading a holiday/winter book a day. I've checked a bunch out from the library, and we'll put the names in a jar and will pick a new story each night. We've also got an advent calendar book from a German friend of mine, and an interactive calendar from our Aunt Connie that will help us mark the days of the month. I don't know if this will happen every year, but this year, 'ein kleines Weihnachtszwerg' [a little Christmas elf ] brought Kaya a gift, which she'll get tomorrow when she comes home from her grandparents.

Dec. 6: Nikolaus
Optimally, I'll write more about this after the fact, but Saint Nicholas was the historical precursor of our present day Santa Claus. He was actually a saint from the 4th century, who had a reputation for secret gift-giving and putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him. December 6 was his feast day. So, in Germany, as described by Wikipedia, "many children put a boot called Nikolaus-Stiefel (Nikolaus boot) outside the front door on the night of 5 December. St. Nicholas fills the boot with gifts and sweets overnight, and at the same time checks up on the children to see if they were good, polite and helpful the last year. If they were not, they will have a tree branch (Rute) in their boots instead. Sometimes a disguised Nikolaus also visits the children at school or in their homes and asks them if they have been good (sometimes ostensibly checking his golden book for their record), handing out presents on a per-behavior basis. This has become more lenient in recent decades.
But for some children, Nikolaus also elicited fear, as he was often accompanied by Knecht Ruprecht (Servant Ruprecht), who would threaten to beat the children for misbehavior as using this myth to 'bring up cheek children' for a better, good behavior. Any kind of punishment isn't really following and just an antic legend. Knecht Ruprecht was equipped with eight deer legs. In German speaking parts of Switzerland, where he is called Schmutzli [or Krampus] he threatens to put badly behaved children in a sack and bring them away to the dark forest. In other accounts he throws the sack into the river, drowning the naughty children!

Dec. 14: Light a Remembrance Candle
We started this tradition last year, in hopes of creating one hour in which anyone who was interested could light a candle and send out wishes and happy thoughts in remembrance of our mom who died last year of Non-hodgkins Lymphoma. I look forward to doing this again this year, and will be sending out invitations soon. For those of you who want to join us, I expect that I'll invite people to light a candle at 6pm, Pacific Standard Time, pass around mugs of cider, and enjoy some of their favorite music.

Dec. 21-28: Chanukah
I have a bit of reading to do for this one, but I expect we'll light a menorah, talk about what the holiday is, play some traditional games, and give Kaya a gift a day for each day of the celebration.
*Since having written this post, I've done some reading on Hanukkah, and as it turns out, we don't really stand behind the reason for the celebration (triumphing over the Greek Soldiers who took their table honor Zeus and sacrifice pigs, is the abridged version). We're currently seeking a way to incorporate the increasing daylight, as with the solstice which starts on the same day, as well as a way to spread out the gift giving over many days instead of one. Any ideas are VERY welcomed below!

Dec. 22: Winter Solstice
Similarly, I plan on doing more reading on this celebration, too, but I have in mind to make luminarias out of sand and paper bags; perhaps do some solstice caroling (I just found an ebook at Powell's); read some books about solstice; and do a ceremony, celebrating the advent of more light. Our neighbors, who only celebrate Solstice and not Christmas, are doing an afternoon of songs, games and activities, too, which I'm excited to participate in.

Dec. 24: Christmas Eve (with the coming of the Christkind and Santa)
I don't really have anything against celebrating Christmas on Christmas day, except that we've fallen in love with skiing on Christmas day because the mountain is so empty, esp. in the morning. In this way, however, we get to celebrate Christmas in the more traditional German way, where the gift-exchanges often happen on the 24th, when the Christkind delivers the gifts through the window before ringing his bell, and a big feast happens on the 25th.

Dec. 25: Ski!!
Like I said above, maybe we'll have a big dinner after we ski all day. I'm not sure yet. We'll work out the details with the other family members involved. =)
*Looks like we might opt to stay with family this year--there's little snow, my purse with the passes in it was lost, and my in-laws in laws will be in from out of town, too...nothing like a whole bunch of community on Christmas!!

Dec. 31: New Year's Eve
For the past few years, Geoff and I haven't really done much to celebrate New Year's Eve. I'm not attached to any particular celebration this year, either, though I do see it as a greater possibility that we'll attempt to do something with some people we enjoy.

Now that I've gone and laid out all our plans and our good intentions, I feel a little exposed. I have no idea if we'll stick to all these plans, or what we'll throw into the mix in addition. I know I want to bring cookies to the local fire department this year, as well as do some volunteering at the local family shelter, too. In fact, there's a number of other ideas that I want to do, interspersed between all the above celebrations we have in mind. But, it's dinner time, and I've got some wrapping to finish up...

Thanks, as always, for joining in my thoughts for the evening.
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts...would love to hear about any celebrations you have that you'd love to pass along for us to adopt!

Friday, November 25, 2011

From Third to First, Native to Non

I honestly can't believe that it's been 2 months plus since I last wrote. It'd be one thing if I didn't really want to write much. But when I've been giving SO much thought (and writing so many post-its!) to what I'd write if I would just make the's crazy.

Alas, though. Here I am.
Kaya is fighting something off in her little body and I've got a few minutes before heading off to tutor for bit, so I'm determined to get at least something down so I'll quit building it up as a big deal, worrying about how I can best make my re-entrance into the blogging world.

So, here's the nutshell of the latest. Kaya is still speaking German with me, and with other German-speakers (when she's not so shy that she turns her head into my leg)--and she's doing it like a Champ. Even I'm impressed, the generally hyper-critical-language-teacher-turned-mom. She creates these long, complicated sentences, formulated perfectly, verb at the end exactly when it belongs at the end. While we were in Germany, in fact, one of our friends commented on how impressed she was, as well, at Kaya's ability to speak German. YAY. YAY. All the 'sacrifice', the determination despite my strong desire to quit...I continue to get to listen to my daughter speak both English and German fluently, at nearly 3, and now only deal with my concerns and self-doubts as to whether I can keep up.

The thing that gets me the most is this: for me, German is my 3rd language. I chose to study it in college after growing so sick of Spanish that I never wanted to speak it again (thanks, Dad, for keeping me on track with Spanish, too, despite my desire to give up!). Even though I've been speaking German for about 15 years, it still lands for me as a very non-native language. What I mean by that is this: as we were in Germany for the past month (as I started this post a week ago!), I'd have these thoughts, fears almost, that I wasn't going to be able to understand what people were saying. I'd listen to my friends, intently, analyzing, and even wondering, doubting, that I'd be able to say the same phrase myself, under similar circumstances. I understood 98% of the German that I heard in Germany. I was able to express myself 85% of the time with ease and personal satisfaction as to how I'd said what I wanted to say (similar to how well I feel I can express myself in certain topics in English...). So, clearly, as experienced and fluent as I may be, there's still this ill-at-ease feeling for me in German. So, when I hear Kaya speak, when I think about her listening to me, listening to others, listening to CDs and tapes that I play for us, it's still shocking to me (and I find myself still doubting whether she does, even though I know she does!) that she understands nearly everything that is being said--and can express herself nearly as well. I wonder if time will leave me more accepting of the fact that my daughter is a native speaker of German...

Wow. What a strange concept.

In regards to her ability to communicate, like I said above, she seems to be able to say almost anything that she wants to express with little challenge. At times, she'll begin a sentence, like she did tonight, and will stop in the middle, apparently searching for the vocabulary or the best way to say what she wants to express. Tonight, we were reading before bed, and she wanted to read a book to Marvin, her newly-named Affe (thanks, Dad and Rosa for your help on that one!). I didn't make a mental note of exactly what she said, but I do remember noticing that she paused for a few moments in the middle, at which point I finished the sentence for her, whatever it was she was wanting to express.

I'd say that, overall, Kaya is speaking WAY more German now than she ever has. I notice a greater tendency on her part to speak with me, often as opposed to saying the same thing to others in English. In the past, it felt to me like she'd tend to choose the English, with both me and Geoff, using it as an easy way to express what she wanted to say. Now, however, she seems to choose German, or probably more likely, seems to choose me, as she goes through this intense mama-phase. She'll often want something from someone else, like she did this week as my family was here visiting, and she'll tell me in German: "Ich will mit Auntie Sara lesen," for example. [I want to read with Auntie Sara]. When I tell her, in German of course, to let her Auntie Sara know that she wants to read with her, her response 98% of the time is, "Du!" [You!].

In regards to her grammar, Geoff and I made an interesting observation last night as she was playing in her room before bed. She was putting undies on Marvin, the monkey, and as she was telling Geoff about the process, she said, "I'm putting them over his tail on," leaving the preposition at the end of the sentence as often happens in German. This has happened a few others times that I can remember, though it's pretty rare that she mixes the two.

In regards mixing in general, she doesn't--at least not that we can hear. Tonight, my stepmom, Rosa, noticed that she responded to me in English at one point, after we'd been conversing in German previously. "That's because she's upset, " I told her, pointing out that she was thrashing around on the ground, crying, upset that I wouldn't go upstairs to get her toy (classic tired toddler move). She consistently switches languages with me and Geoff, when she's upset and wants something to be different than it is--I get the "no!" and he gets the "nein!" From what I understand, she doesn't do this with her grandparents when she stays with them on Wednesdays, but she did start to do it a bit with my family as they were here with us from out of town for a week. I wonder if it's our house, and her learned behavior that has her trying it with my family?

There's so much more I could say, so many more theories I could wonder about, but I want to make sure this post actually gets published this year so I can get back into the swing of writing. I've missed it so.

Thanks for being here, waiting so patiently. =)
I look forward to hearing from you, and connecting with you and/or your blog, soon!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Effortless Inspiration and Peace

All of a sudden, my dream has come true: I get to stand up in front of possibly thousands of people and make a difference for both the planet and for those who depend upon its health for survival.

How. Cool. !!
And. Really. Scary.

I haven't always dreamed of public speaking, and though I'm jumping on the opportunity, I'm clearly not free of nervousness around the idea. As many of you know, I'm a language teacher. I'm a stay-at-home mom, a part time tutor, a small business owner. I'm far from a politician, nor someone who has ever felt at ease speaking in front of a room of adults. In fact, the one time that I taught a Spanish class to adults (only 4 of them!), I was SO nervous, focused more on what they might be thinking of me as a teacher than on what I was actually wanting them to learn.

Things have changed a good bit recently, however, and now, all of a sudden, I can't seem to pass up the opportunity to stand on the stage and speak my peace. Initially, when my co-program coordinator proposed the idea, I rejected it immediately, asking rhetorically how I'd ever succeed in overseeing the biggest event I've ever coordinated, while simultaneously dealing with my nervousness surrounding public speaking. A few days later, however, I realized that I'd been wishing for this opportunity all along--now that it was being served up to me, the last thing I need to be doing is turning it down.

So here I sit now, wondering what the heck I'm going to say to all these people in hopes of making a difference somehow.

It's not like I'm telling myself that this is my ONE opportunity to make a name for myself in climate change or anything. And that if I screw it up, I may as well plan on just teaching German for the rest of my life in some hole somewhere. Nope. Definitely not telling myself that.

No pressure or anything.

The moment I found out about this opportunity, I called one of my leadership teachers to share the exciting news. "Wow," she said. "What are you going to say?!" The words rolled off my tongue, and even I was impressed with what came out of my mouth. The same thing happened a few days later while talking with my coach, as well as with the emcee of our event. "I'm so inspired right now, just listening to you tell me your story on the phone," she told me.

So, what the hell is it about the idea of thousands of people that has me completely stopped in moving forward with this speech? Why can't I just sit down and peck out the same thoughts I shared with that one person on the other end of the line, as if it's just one of them?

Totally obvious question, I know. I don't really run in circles with people who feel fearless in front of thousands (or do you?! Is there something I don't know about my audience?!). The true question, however, is this: how can I wrap my mind around the idea that the audience, if I choose to perceive them that way, can be JUST like my coach or my teacher or that compassionate emcee?

Well, it just hit me that all three of those individuals in my life, not to mention many others (thank you, thank you!) will be at this event next Saturday. In fact, if PBS actually comes (as they said they will!) and stays for more than just the senator's speech, then more of you might be my audience than I can even imagine right now! Crazy. Which brings me back to what I'm slowly realizing in this writing process: it's not about the audience, but really about my perception of them, and of myself, that will allow me to feel empowered and excited about both writing and delivering this speech.

And it couldn't hurt to envision the possibility of effortless inspiration and peace.
Thank you, Johanna. What great advice.

So now, now I can get to the heart of the matter. What am I going to say to this one person standing in front of me, in hopes of inspiring action around stopping climate change and creating a more livable future for us all?!

Thank you for being my audience for my pre-speech process. I know this post doesn't really have all that much to do with to our bilingual parenting process, which has always been my intention for writing this blog. But in thinking about the indirect connection, I can say this: because Kaya continues to speak only German with me--and even carry on in German with Geoff sometimes when she's upset!--I have SO much energy now to put towards speech writing and coordinating events in what I hope will one day be my new career! =)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Tierbrot Communications

The past week or so, I've been using these plastic animal cookie cutter things to add more smiles to Kaya's sandwiches. Not knowing exactly what I'd even call one of these creations in English, I created the word "Tierbrot", [animal bread] clearly using my most advanced skills of the German language. Honestly, the name doesn't really matter so much (as fun as it is to hear Kaya say), except in regards to the following story about an interaction that took place the other night between Kaya, myself, and Geoff.

We were in the kitchen, soon after Geoff got home from work. Kaya was hungry, and Mama was eager to quell her whiny requests with some food. "Ich will ein Tierbrot," [I want an animal bread] Kaya told me, emphatically. Clearly, I was not going to have any luck convincing her that cucumber might be a better choice. "Tierbrot," she began to insist, in her typical two-and-a-half-year-old way. Sometimes, you just gotta pick your battles--so despite my concerns of "spoiling her dinner" (who the hell coined that phrase, anyway?!), I relented with the Tierbrot and started going through the manufacturing process.

"Welches Tier willst du?" I asked her. [Which animal do you want?]. "Bring mir eins." [Bring me one.]

She excitedly scurried over to her bucket of shapes, carefully picking out the dinosaur. "Ich will dieses," she told me, with confidence. [I want this one.]

So, choosing to avoid the toasting step this time (which apparently lowers the health factor of multi-grain bread!), I throw a piece of bread on the cutting board and line up the dinosaur inside the edges of the bread. It's clearly a fine science, this Tierbrot process.

While I'm busying myself with this arduous task, I hear Kaya behind me sharing her excitement with Geoff. "Mama's making me a...Tierbrot!"

And that's when it hit me. After all these articles about the benefits of bilingualism, I realized that, before my very eyes, I was tuning in to one of the skills that Kaya is mastering by growing up with two primary languages.  By explaining to Geoff in English what was happening with her snack, she was reminding me of this insight that she has regarding others' awareness of comprehension. In other words, it has become a part of Kaya's brain that she needs to make sure that Geoff understands what is happening when she and I are communicating. If we take out the second language here, and put her in a different situation where everyone is communicating in one language, her brain will still function like that--she will still be aware that others may not understand what is going on, and she will attempt to explain it to them so that they can be included and thus, interact with her.

It's fascinating, really.
Maybe only to this part-time stay-at-home-mom-language teacher.

And maybe only because I was giddy that evening, (and this one, too!) excited to have just gotten our Oregon senator to speak at our upcoming climate change event.

Whatever the reason, she's doin' it, and I'm ecstatic! I bet your bi- and multilingual kids are, too, whether it's obvious or not, as the benefits of our bilingual journeys lurk around every corner.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Two Primary Languages & One Fragile Planet

This post was written for the Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism, hosted this month by Tyeisha at Tongue Tales. Should you be new to the carnival idea, it is a way for those of us who are passionate about 'lingualism' to connect with and learn from others who are similarly eager to build community. For more information, or to participate in future carnivals yourself, check out Bilingue per Gioco.

I'm stuck.

6 weeks without writing.
More than a million things I could say.
And I can't seem to peck out the perfect opener.
Is this what writer's block looks like? After years of denying myself as a writer, I guess there was no room for this. Now that I can finally accept and label myself as such, here it is. Or maybe not? Maybe if I really had the block, you'd see nothing from me at all for another 6 weeks...

Whatever you call it, I'm glad to be back. As strange as it may sound, I've missed you, my little blogging community. I really have. And in a certain way, I feel a bit sad that I let so much time go by without making the effort to connect.

I bet there are some of you out there, reading this now, thinking that you aren't a part of that community of mine--thinking to yourselves that I must have some dedicated group of readers that I'm addressing, of which you aren't a part. Well, alas my doubting reader, I see you, too, as part of this important community in my life...if you are here, you're a part. I mean, assuming you're open to the invitation...!

I'm tempted to dive into reasons for my absence...after a sweet comment from a fellow blogger 'friend', I was reminded that many of you out there have no idea what's up over here...and actually might be wondering.

As much as I do love writing, I've finally been able to wrap my soul around another one of my passions and it's taken up nearly all of my extra time over the past few months. You may have heard, from me or otherwise, about an event called Moving Planet, sponsored by an organization called Essentially, Moving Planet is a global event aimed at demanding action around stopping climate change. In hundreds of locales, all over the world, people are organizing events that, this year, focus on moving away from from a carbon-based, fossil-fuel-based society and moving toward a more energy-efficient and sustainable future. In line with the goals of and the worldwide Moving Planet event, our aim is to inspire attendees to call upon political leaders, their communities, and themselves to move toward a sustainable way of life. We will take real action on issues of the environment, climate justice, transit equity, and cleaner transportation.

About a month ago, I became Event Coordinator for the event here which we're calling Moving Planet Portland: A Climate Action Fest. For me, as passionate as I've been about the outdoors and the earth, this whole business of being in charge of a huge event, is really new--and in moments, I have to admit, a bit overwhelming. All in all, however, I feel completely excited about the whole thing--not just the event and the possibilities it holds for creating change, but also the opportunities that my participation has given me to create a place for myself in this climate change community.

I could go on and on...but I'm nearing my deadline for this little Carnival, and I know there's many of you out there who might enjoy a story or two, and perhaps even a video, of the latest with Kaya. So, until I create another opportunity to rave about my excitement for this event, including drawing a more clear connection between my passion for this and my dedication to my daughter and her future, I'll leave you with one more video on the subject that, if I had to choose, is clearly the most motivating video out there (in regards to taking action around this issue)...

OK, OK. Now to the meat and general focus of this here blog: Our little Kaya.

Sometimes I forget about this daydream that I used to have when Kaya was a baby. I'd get so excited at the idea of having a little kid--one who'd be using a little-kid voice and little-kid concepts and little-kid words--all in my non-native language. I used to yearn for the opportunity to be around and listen to young native speakers, hoping for every opportunity to learn some new word, some new phrase, or simply analyze their language and learning process. The idea of having my own one of those--it lit me up, for sure. And after such a long phase of wondering, of doubting, whether it would really finally did. And my dream continues to be alive as our daughter speaks German with me and English with everyone else.

As you may recall, if you read any of my posts about that process, I wasn't sure it would stick. Granted, I wasn't living in fear around it anymore, once she finally started differentiating, but I also wasn't living in complete confidence that, nearly 2 months down the road, I'd actually use the term bilingual to describe our daughter at two and a half.

As normal as it has become for her to use both languages, I still beam and have this incredible peace around knowing that we stuck it out, and made it through, and we now are parents to a child with two primary languages. And from that place, I find I'm still so eager to share some of the memorable things that she says and does.

The other day, for example, while Kaya and I were hanging out with Kate (a woman who Kaya had yet to meet), Kate noticed that I was speaking in German to Kaya. "Is that German?" she asked me. After I affirmed her question, she began to tell me, in German, how she'd learned it many years back, having lived in Austria for a while. After hearing Kate speak, Kaya immediately turned towards me with this excited look on her face: "Sie spricht Deutsch, Mama!" [She speaks German, Mama!] It was clear to me that she was not only surprised to hear it from someone else, but was clearly aware that it's generally a language, in her life thus far, saved for her and mama to use between themselves.

Commenting on the bilingualism, a woman said to me the other day that it must be pretty normal for Kaya to mix her languages. "Actually," I told her, "she doesn't really mix, surprisingly. She's very clear about keeping the two very separate. With me, it's German. With Daddy, it's English." Often, she'll even translate for us, saying one statement in German to me, and the exact same one in English, to Geoff--as if she's clear that we each only understand that respective language from her mouth. The only exception is when she's really angry and upset--she will often yell at me in English, and will have none of it when I remind her that she's speaking in English and that I don't understand her when she is.

A few weeks ago, after I'd just brushed her hair and was putting away the brush, she was laughing hysterically at saying 'tschuess' [goodbye] to various things that she'd identify around the breakfast table. As fun as it is to hear her say goodbye to all of these random objects in German, I love the laughter the most...and how she just turns off like a light when she's done...

Buerste = brush 
Buch = book
Cheerios = yup, you guessed it...
Flasche = bottle
Wasser = water
das Essen = the food
Foto = picture 
Schwein = pig
Affe = monkey
Becher = cup

About three weeks ago, as we were hanging out in her room, I noticed the phone off the hook on her Nanaphone. Excited to see that she might have been using it on her own, I asked her if she had "mit Nana gesprochen." [spoken with Nana]. "Ja," she replied, quite matter of fact, oblivious to the fact that her Nana passed away last summer. "Was hat sie dir gesagt?" [What did she say to you?] I asked her, growing ever more curious with every passing response. "Nana hat auf Englisch in mein Ohr gesprochen," [Nana spoke in English in my ear] she told me, demonstrating, to me at least, that she's quite clear about who speaks German and who doesn't.

And the last story of the evening, before I lose you to this lengthy post of return (writer's block is clearly gone!)...we were in the park a few weeks ago when a man on a nearby blanket asked her, in English, how old she is. "Two and a half," she responded, flooring me with her awareness of the extra half. When I asked her later what she'd said to him, she struggled to fill me in on the half part--clearly a new word for her in German.

At this point, my analytical subjective assessment would be that her English is still ahead of her German in regards to vocabulary and complication of sentences that she chooses to use. But the progress that she's made in just two months of German immersion with me has been astounding, and I expect her German to continue to flourish in the next year that we're still home together.

Thanks, blogging community, for who you are and what you do and stand for. For me, you've been a rock in times when I only wanted to give up. Because of you, I was able to push beyond those moments of overwhelm and believe that the persistence would be worth it.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

"I'm trying to get the words out..."

Despite my initial doubts, it turned out to be another wonderful weekend at the cabin. The sun did its part to light up our world, and the starry heavens glistened from above, leaving their mark above the light of the fire. Summer has finally arrived around here, and the clear skies make everything brighter.

Including Kaya's German!

In the past, when we've gone away with family and friends, I've found that Kaya will increase her frequency of English with me, simultaneously decreasing the amount of German she speaks. This weekend, however, the mix of English-speaking family members with her German-speaking Mama seemed to do nothing other than solidify the fact that she now lives in different languages with different people. Over the course of the weekend, of all of the interactions that she and I had with each other, there were only two occasions that she spoke to me in English--and immediately following both of those utterances, she immediately corrected herself by switching to German.

It continues to amaze me that, after just a few weeks of patience and persistence, our whole world has changed. I feel excited again, and hopeful about our future with this bilingual journey. This afternoon, I realized that I now have a whole different outlook on what school/s we might choose. October (and our trip to Germany) is no longer a goal, but an excitement, which I know will simply solidify the current trend. And most importantly for this moment, now that our daughter is speaking only German with me (and English with others), I'm inspired to share more of the memorable moments of our bilingual process.

Last night was the cherry, for sure. As Geoff was leaving the Blues Festival with Kaya, she was attempting to tell him, in English, what she'd just seen on the street:

"There's a.....a.......a......there's a......a.....(add a 10-15 sec. pause here)..."

Distracted by the airplane flying above, she looks up and says, "Airplane," to which Geoff responds, "Yup, there's an airplane." Clearly attempting to communicate something different, she continues with her attempt to narrow down the term:

"There's a.........I'm trying to get the words out..........Mama calls it 'Polizei'.
"Oh! Police!" Geoff responds, floored by the whole interaction.
"Yeah," Kaya continues, recognizing that her observation was now in the past. "Kaya saw a green police car."

Like Geoff, I was ueber-impressed when I heard this story. Kaya has been searching for terms in this way for a month or so now--but up until this conversation, had only been searching for terms in German, not in English, as she was in this conversation. I'm SO excited that she's finally reached a point where her vocabulary, at least in some areas of her life, is more expansive in German than it is in English. I also love how she uses these seemingly 'adult expressions' to fill us in on her process: "I'm trying to get the words out..." It makes it so clear that they are little human processors at this age now, and no longer little babies, simply trying to make sense of the stimuli around them.

In addition to our little processor, we've got quite the sweet snuggler. This morning, during our daily 'Kuschelzeit' [snuggle time] in bed, Kaya had turned herself towards me and was looking into my eyes. Her head was on my pillow, mere inches from my face. She had her hand a bit outstretched, and as if she was going to touch my shoulder. Before going any further, however, she asks me, in her sweetest little Kaya voice, "Kann ich dir Liebe geben, Mama?" [Can I give you love, Mama?] Long ago, while rocking in our rocker together, Kaya asked me what I was doing while I was stroking her face. Not exactly sure of how a native would answer that question, I took a stab and told her, "Ich gebe dir Liebe." [I'm giving you love.] It's become the phrase, and regardless of how awkward it may sound to native (I've yet to check...), it works for us, and still melts my heart whenever she asks.

Later, as we were on a jog through the park, I was getting a drink from the water fountain. After I'd finished, she looked up and asked me, in a voice nearly as sweet as the one she used in bed, "Kann ich auch Wasser haben?" [Can I have water, too?] There have been a number of times over the past week where she's been using English phrasing while speaking German, despite her accuracy with this sentence. As we would ask it in English, "Can I have water, too?", the modal verb, 'can', comes immediately before the infinitive of the main verb, 'have'. In German, however, the two get separated, with the modal verb (or helping verb) preceding the subject (in questions), and the main verb coming at the end of the sentence, after everything else has been said: "Can I too water have?" I find myself assuming that children who speak German monolingually, or those with native-German-speaking parents, also make these mistakes, similar to English-speaking children making the grammar mistakes that they make as they attempt to sort through the rules in their heads. I've yet to ask around or do too much digging--if you have any input on this, I would love it hear it.

Though she continues to confuse her grammar between the two languages, I'm impressed with Kaya's awareness of the separateness of the two. A few cabin stories from this weekend can help to illustrate this assumption on my part.

On Saturday morning, I snuggled up with Kaya in the bean bag chair on the back deck. I offered two books in front of her, and she chose the one in English about a French, masquerading dog. Quite the complicated story (in comparison to See Spot Run), I found plenty of challenge in my attempt at translation on the fly. Despite my doubts, she went for it, and I was able to pull it off well enough for both of us to enjoy the story. Part way through the book, however, we were interrupted, and decided we'd take a break for a while. During this break, her Tante Jules [Aunt Julie] came outside and began to talk with her about the book we'd just read--which just so happened to be the same book that she'd read to Kaya in English during our last cabin trip. Kaya seemed to have remembered that, and she let Julie know that, "Mama tells me this book in German."

Later that afternoon, while Geoff was cutting vegetables with Kaya, he was playing around with the word 'broccoli', pronouncing it in syllabic chunks with more of a German pronunciation than an English one (broh-ko-lee). Upon hearing his word play, Kaya let him know that, "that's how you say it in German."

And earlier that day, I was told about the following anecdote that took place between Kaya and her grandparents a few days earlier at their house. The details are a bit foggy, since it comes secondhand, but what I recall is that there was discussion happening about Kaya's poopy diaper--Gramm's might have mentioned the fact that it was poopy and that it needed to be changed. Grampa, the jokester that he is, chimed in, too, letting Kaya know that, "Some people call it poop, but we say poopsi-doodle around here." Kaya had some input on the topic as well, and made sure that they knew that "Mama says Ah-ah" [poop]. 

I think Grampa was on the right track with his 'poopsidoodle', because I'm quickly tiring of the term 'amazed' and 'impressed'. 'Happy' and 'excited' are nearing their time, too. Maybe it's time for new adjectives in this English language of ours. Maybe the time has come for me to share about how excitarambibambled I am about Kaya's new tendency, and how amazarific it is that I finally get to exist in the same language as my daughter.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

My Kraut has Come!

This post was written for the Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism, hosted this month by Natasha Goncharova of Bilingual Russian. Should you be new to the carnival idea, it is a way for those of us who are passionate about 'lingualism' to connect with and learn from others who are similarly eager to build community. For more information, or to participate in future carnivals yourself, check out Bilingue per Gioco.

It's crazy. For probably 4 months now, it seems like I've been blogging about my frustration with my own German--how uncomfortable I feel with it; how good it isn't; and how I simply don't want to live in this language if my daughter won't be living in it with me. All of a sudden, however, over the past two weeks, the focus has finally shifted to Kaya's output, and my German has taken a backseat for this wonderful little ride.

Thank the good spirit of the universe.
It's about time that I quit complaining and feeling like a victim of my own creation.

Two weeks ago today, I started a new method with Kaya, which I will now refer to as perseverance (thank you 'Germanintheafternoon' for that great piece of advice). My previous term, insistence, left me with such a dictatorial feeling--perseverance, on the other hand, leaves me in a much more inspired position, instilling confidence and contentment like never before.

Up until two weeks ago, Kaya had been phasing out her German with me over a period of about 2 months--initially speaking between 40-80% German with me, until ultimately speaking nearly none. When I switched both my method and my attitude, expecting only German from her and guiding her through the process to make it happen, she began to speak more and more German with me, to the point that she's at today. I now accept only German from her, and she gives it to me about 95% of the time. How's that for mathematical analysis from a language major!?

It's amazing to me, and incredibly exciting!!, that over a period of two weeks, we were able to change what had become our habit, and ultimately, my negative outlook on the whole endeavor. How wonderful it is to finally be communicating in the same language as my daughter!

Should you be new to this blog, or perhaps just this development of ours, I encourage you to check out the past few weeks of our blog, starting with our first day of 'Insistence'. In that handful of posts, I've laid out, nearly day by day, the successes and challenges of the whole process, ending with a celebration of "It's working! It's working!".

For this post, however, I really want to be in the moment, and live in this excitement of mine that my Kraut has finally come! (I told you it would!)I know there are many of you out there who know how I've struggled with it for the past long time. I know there are others of you who have struggled with the same thing yourself, and may be wondering if this is possible for your relationship, too. I'm clearly no expert, and my perspective is that every child and every situation is different. At the same time, we're all endowed with a human brain, and for the most part, it tends to find the easiest way through a situation, and do whatever is necessary to be able to follow that route. Until two weeks ago, Kaya had no real need to be able to speak German. Understand, yes. Speak it, no. She was doing just fine speaking English to everyone, including me, and had only to develop the ability to understand everything I said so that she could get her needs met. We had fallen into this pattern where she'd say whatever she'd say in English, and I, in hopes of encouraging her to speak German, would then ask her, in German, if what she'd meant was thus and such. She'd answer, "yeah", and we'd move on from there--her getting her needs met, and me growing ever more frustrated with every passing week of less and less German spoken.

Though it was exceptionally trying at times, especially for Kaya who was used to being able to speak English and move on, she ultimately learned that she wouldn't get what she wanted if she didn't speak to me in German. Initially, it was a challenge for me to know what she knew how to say and what she didn't. There were a few buzz words that I knew she knew, like Hund, Affe, Essen, Wasser, [dog, monkey, food/eat, water] etc. But sometimes, it was really hard for me to know how long I should wait for her to produce the German without feeding it to her, as I'd been doing for months. Over the course of the week, however, it became clear to me when she was frustrated because she didn't want to switch, and when the frustration was from the challenge of formulation. At this point, the frustration is almost non-existent (with the exception of her most tired moments). Instead, she either speaks to me outright in German, or will switch immediately if I either don't respond right away, or ask her politely what she said (Bitte? Wie war das?). Often, now that her comfort level is improving, she'll begin to ask a question or make a statement and will pause in the middle of it while she figures out what comes next. Generally, I'll give her a few seconds to try it herself, and then, like with anything else, I'll coach her through the process before she gets to that point of frustration or giving up.  At that point, I'll say the German and ask her if that's what she means, and then will encourage her to say it herself if she hasn't done it on her own already (as she often will). Sometimes, as she did the other night while some friends were over, she will begin a sentence in German and then start to end it in English, catching herself in the middle to switch:

"Wo ist Johanna goi--geht?" [Where is Johanna goi--going?]

As you may know of German, in order to form a gerund (the -ing form of a verb), you simply use the regular present tense verb (goes), without a helping verb from 'to be' ("is" going). 'Geht', in other words, means "goes, is going, and does go". That grammar difference definitely catches Kaya at's pretty cute to watch her wheels spin when she speaks German from an English vantage.

That same night, at our BBQ, Kaya was lying in my arms, hours past her bed time. She snuggled in close so I could hear her say, very clearly, "Ich viw schlafen." [Ich will schlafen = I want to sleep.] A two year old asking to go to sleep is quite the party-trick--I was simply excited because she told me in German!

Similarly, Kaya now tells me "nein" [no] and I love it. Not that the concept is so exciting to me, nor new to her--being two and a half, she's had that one down for a while now, and it definitely adds a challenging element to many a situation. But I can't think of a time when she's used "nein" so consistently with me. Initially, when we first started this change, she'd say "no" and I wasn't sure how to get her to switch. But, as with many other situations, I pulled in the either/or option, asking her "Ja oder nein?" [yes or no?], and she would inevitably choose the German. I think it probably took her about 5 days, but now she uses the German term consistently, clear that it's just part of the language that she speaks with Mama.

What made perhaps the biggest difference for us was when she learned the term "ich will" [I want] and "ich mag" [I like], which she often uses to talk about things while we are reading--it took about four days, but once that term became part of her working vocabulary, the German seemed to start rolling off her tongue, in longer and longer sentences.

What I've noticed about myself through all of this, is that most of my previous concerns on the subject have disappeared. Before this change, I would find myself a bit unexcited about any time that she'd be immersed in English--at her grandparents, with her dad, listening to me on the phone, etc. I felt all this pressure to expose her to only German, concerned that too much of the community language would contribute to her tendency to speak more and more of it with me, as she'd been doing. Now, however, all of those anxieties have disappeared, and I feel excited again about the simplest of activities. Granted, I have to admit that two isn't my favorite age--but I'm once again enjoying the simple games of pretend and hide-and-seek (Versteck!). We even just decided to host a young French woman for a month, which, since she'll be part of our family for the next many weeks, will naturally increase Kaya's exposure to English. But I'm nothing but excited about the whole thing. I recognize that exposing Kaya to all sorts of people, speaking all sorts of languages (or even just English!), will contribute to her understanding that there's a world full of people out there, and it's all about creating the connections and recognizing the similarities between us, despite any differences we may have in our communication.

Monday, June 20, 2011

It's working! It's working!

It's hard to know where to start, really.
I see success everywhere, and all I want to do is share.

In the past, as you may know, I've been uninspired to write about much of the English that Kaya has been producing. It's hard to be inspired when the overwhelming emotion is sadness and confusion, often masked by frustration and overwhelm. With all the German she's speaking again, though, through the success of this little 'insistence experiment', I'm feeling in love all over again, with both her AND nearly everything that comes out of her mouth.

Here's a snippet of a conversation that I heard this morning while she was changing Frieda's diaper (Frieda being her babydoll):

Kaya: ah yu wet?
Baby: ---
Kaya: yeah? OK. Ah you sure?
Baby: ---
Kaya: OK. (runs off to get a diaper for her baby...)

And this morning, on our bike ride home after from visiting Dada at work, Kaya was 'singing' Old MacDonald in her trailer. She's been doing this for about a month, and as much as I hate to admit it, I've been hung up on the fact that she's been singing an English song instead of a German one. This morning, however, I was able to fully appreciate it for how cute it really is that she talks her way through this song, adding different animals and the sounds that they make to the various verses that she 'sings'. The video that I captured below is not only typical of how she sings it, but also of how, over the past day or two, she tends to switch almost immediately from English to German with just one simple response from me, without growing frustrated.

In the video, you will hear me chime in at one point, asking her, "Was macht der 'pig', das Schwein?" [What does the pig say?], at which point, she resumes the song, adding "oink, oink..." Towards the end, when it hits her that she would rather be watching the video than being filmed, she initially speaks English, but then switches, as I mentioned, to requesting to see "das Foto" [the picture] in German.

Something has definitely clicked for her over the past few days. As Gramms says, you can clearly see the wheels turning. There have been many times over the past two days where she will start speaking to me in German (as opposed to switching after starting in English), as she used to do about 4-6 weeks ago. Sunday morning, for example, as I was lying in my bed and she in hers, she called out, "Mamaaaaa," at which point, I responded, "Morgen, Baby. Ich bin wach. Ich bin in meinem Bett, und du bist in deinem." [Morning, baby. I'm awake. I'm in my bed and you're in yours.] After a few seconds, she began to ask me if I was awake, but cut herself off in the middle of asking: "Mama, are you awa--" Then, she began to babble to herself for a few minutes, reciting the alphabet (in English) and playing with her toys. After about 2 minutes, she let me know in German that she wanted "aus dem Bett." [out of bed]

This morning, as well, her first words for me were in German, letting me know that she'd drunk all her milk: "Es ist leer, Mama." [It's empty, Mama]

For the most part, the German that she's speaking is basic, often just a word or a short phrase. It's clear to me that she's formulating once I ask her what she's said, or told her that I don't understand. Until today, she wouldn't switch languages without a number of attempts on my part to get her to switch (What did you say? I don't understand you. Excuse me? I only understand German from you.) Today, however, she only needed one, if even that, to switch. As I was riding my bike this morning, and she was repeating, "I don't want that water," I realized that, initially, it felt really mean to me to 'ignore' her when she was speaking English. That's because that's all she would speak to me, so I would be ignoring her all of the time. Now, however, if I don't respond immediately, she seems to be processing a message that the language she's using isn't getting her want she wants or needs--so she'll switch to see if that works better. And it does. I'm even going out of my way to respond faster to her when she's speaking German, and even offering allowances that I normally wouldn't. Tonight, for example, she let Geoff know that she wanted me to come into her room. When I went in there, she immediately told me that she wanted to "kuscheln" [snuggle], and though we normally leave her in her bed once we've put her to sleep, I picked her up immediately when I heard that, and let her snuggle with me until she let me know that she was ready to go back "ins Bett" [in bed].

As well as the simplicity of her German that I've noticed over the past few days, I've also noticed that she's confused about a few grammar concepts that she has nailed in English. After I laid her in bed for the first time tonight, she told me that she wanted me to "schaukeln" [rock]. After I rocked for a while, I stood up, and went to her bed to kiss her goodnight. "Ah you going, Mama?" she asked me. I was surprised at the clarity of her question, and about how calmly she was asking. "Wie bitte," [What was that?] I asked her, expecting a quick switch on her part. "Ah you going, Mammi?" she repeated in English. "Bitte?" I asked her, again, confident she'd switch this time 'round. She paused, as she often does lately, formulating her new question. This pause seemed a little longer than most, and she followed it up with a grammatical statement in the first person as opposed to a question in the second: "Ich gehe?" [I go?] She similarly struggled this afternoon with the 'yours-mine' concept, when she was telling me whose swing was whose today on the playground. Despite my experience as a language teacher, I still struggle with how to 'teach' this concept. It's a hard one. I don't expect her to get it easily (and was surprised when she got it so quickly in English about a month or two ago).

I'm confident we'll start seeing longer, more grammatically correct sentences soon, though. This afternoon, right before I recorded the Old MacDonald video, Kaya was eager to switch water bottles with me. I had the fun one, with the easy-to-suck straw. She had the metal one with the hard-to-open lid. She'd been repeating herself about 8-10 times while we were riding, until I finally pulled over and let her know that I could hear her but didn't understand her. At this point, she switched to German and produced a sentence that put quite a smile on my face: "Ich will dat Water. Ich will...ich moechte...dieses Wasser....haben." [I want that water. I want...I would like to have that water.]

And my last point for the evening, before I hit my birthday at midnight (what a gift this week has been for me!!)...Kaya is conceptualizing all of this so much sooner than I've read that she would. I read that, in general, kids are aware of people speaking different languages at about 3.5--the same age that they generally stop mixing. Kaya is beginning to label the languages now. While we were playing at the park, and after she had just spoken English with me, Kaya said, smiling, "Das ist English...Das ist Mamasprache." [That's English. That's Mama-language.] I set her straight, reminding her that 'Mamasprache ist Deutsch. English ist Dadasprache." [Mama-language is German. English is Dada-language.] This afternoon, however, while we were folding laundry, she got the terms right, saying, again with a smile on her face, "Das ist Deutsch. Das ist Mamasprache." [That's German. That's mama-language.]

That's right. It sure is.
It feels really good to be proud of that, again!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Fueling the Fire of Change

Wow, check out this crazy stunt, writing 3 days in a row.
Maybe I should send my husband to Vegas more often...

There's so much change taking place on a daily basis, it's hard for me to avoid sitting down to lay it all out for the Kaya die-hards. I know you're out there. AND...I know that one day, while I sit blissfully in the sun, floating on my favorite lake in the German Alps (Eibsee!), listening to my daughter ramble on in her Krauty-way, I will want to go back and read how it all started, read about the days full of 'sucky' moments, full of strife between me and my two year old while I 'gently' remind her that I don't understand.

Maybe if I say this enough it will serve as a gentle reminder to myself to follow my own implicit advice.

It's not as bad as I'm implying it to be, really.
In all actuality, despite the frustrating moments that we experienced today with our choppy and awkward communication, I'm seeing major 'progress', which continues to provide the fuel to make it to our next moment of success.

Here are the best of the best...

This morning, I was invited by one of my German-speaking friends to have coffee with her and a native German colleague that she recently met in the lunch room at work. Admittedly, I had my concerns about bringing Kaya into a coffee shop at 9am, especially after the challenges we had in leaving the house (typical these days whenever we're trying to get anywhere on time). But the whole experience was awesome! My friend loves Kaya, and the feeling seems mutual, so as they sat blissfully in the corner, reading books and playing in German, I got to interact in German with an adult! I think what I loved the most was that this German woman was so willing to share her feelings with me, to the point that she got teary-eyed as she was telling me about her ex-boyfriend in China. My experience of many Germans has been that it takes them a while (many months?) to open up and share their most meaningful feelings. It was SO great to experientially branch out of that stereotype. I also loved that Kaya was surrounded by German, and though she still needed a bit of reminding at times that I am only understanding German from her, I'm confident that it made a difference in how much German she was speaking. When she saw the strawberries on top of the granola, for example, she let me know that she wanted some by saying "Erdbeeren" [strawberries]! I took her face and nearly smothered it with kisses, I was so excited! Despite the progress, it can still take her 6-7 repetitions in English before she'll switch to German. The fact that she spit it out the first time...SO huge right now. My friend said, too, that with her, she was speaking a lot of German, as well.

Ja, wohl!!

Later in the afternoon, I decided to take Kaya to the library for our favorite performer, Mr. Ben. As much fun as that was (it really was! He rocks!), I had even more fun with Kaya once the show was over and we headed to the children's section. Last week, I decided that I like reading English books to Kaya that I can translate on the fly. Initially, I was being really hard-core about only reading "Mama-Buecher" [Mama books] and Dada-books. I've since backed off, however, realizing that we have such greater variety if I leave myself open to the option--and since she can't read right now anyway, I don't think it makes much difference (please feel free to chime in, anyone, if you know otherwise). So, the greatest moment during our time at the library was when I was reading one of these books to Kaya and asking her to identify some of the things on the page that she saw. In the past, as I've said, I've been asking her a lot of either/or questions (which, by the way, are getting MUCH easier for me to create in our many conversations). This is to encourage her to speak German instead of saying the English which is likely on the tip of her tongue. But this time, I thought I would see how she'd respond with a direct, open-ended "Was ist das?"[What is that?] and "Was siehst du da alles?" [What all do you see there?]. I was ecstatic (would you expect any less from me at this point!?) when she responded immediately with the German, whatever it was that she was identifying. I think my excitement ended up taking so much space in my brain that there was no room left for remembering what she actually identified. But I do recall thinking it was perhaps a fluke, that if I were to ask her again, she'd answer in English. So, I tried that, too, and she continued to answer me in German, for a number of words in the book. It was as if her brain had switched over, and she was simply operating in 'Mama-speak'.

On the way home, she seemed to be in that mode, too. She was in her car seat, and had just finished the rest of her snack in her cup. All of a sudden, I heard her saying "nehmen, nehmen, nehmen!" [take, take, take], as she was handing me her cup to take from her. This was after no encouragement from me whatsoever--we'd simply been driving down the road listening to our favorite German CD right now, 'Lisa Kann schon Viele Sachen' [Lisa can already do a Lot] (it's awesome if you're interested...a good mix of talking and singing!).

It's funny. When I take a step back and look at how excited I'm getting that she's speaking one or two words in German every once in a while, it's easy for me to go to that "what the hell?!" place, where I feel embarrassed, and this desire to explain myself. I have to remind myself that it's all about the progress, about the now...not about how it was more than a month ago when this would have been a 'silly' thing for me to get excited about because she was speaking mostly German to me, at the same level as her English. Now that she's speaking fluent English, and very little German, these milestones seem massive when I allow myself to really experience it.

The last little fuel for the fire today happened while I was at the Farmer's Market this morning, where I went so we could pick up our CSA share from the local meat farm we just joined. The guy working this morning overheard me speaking German with Kaya, and chimed in, at one point, that he was really glad to hear me teaching her with that language. His mom, he told me, tried to do the same with him, but didn't follow through because his dad is American. He doesn't have much family on his dad's side, however, and after going to Korea to visit family, he realizes that the language is a big barrier. Now, he's learning Korean in college, wishing he learned it as a kid so he could have those connections with the only extended family he has. Hearing his story was my reminder of my initial motivation for this endeavor: I've read of NO children that regret that their parents spoke to them in a 2nd or 3rd language, but of plenty of children who wished their parents had followed through in raising them with more than one language.

I need this reminder during those many moments where Kaya is SO excited to tell me that she "wants ta wead wif (you) Mama", or asks me SO sweetly if we can "snuggle wif da wight on". It's in these moments where I need this reminder that this process really will pay off, and that, in the end (and perhaps even in the process), it will be a true gift for her. At this point, the way I see it, Kaya has had no reason to go through the extra effort to produce the German. It was working just fine for her to speak to me in English and have me respond to her in German. She understood everything I would say to her, and she could use one language to communicate with both of her parents. I knew that this situation is common in many households where a minority language is spoken by one or both parents, and I knew that I was hoping to avoid it. I just thought it wouldn't really start until she was older. But after experimenting with this 'insistence' as I have been for 5 days, it's clear to me that Kaya needs a reason to learn to speak. I could wait until we are in Germany, or until one day down the road when she may be there by herself on an exchange. But I want to try this, because it seems like it could be easier and more enjoyable in the long run if we put in the extra effort now.

That's generally how life works, right?
It seems like bilingualism should be no exception to the laws of the universe...

(and to all you Dad's out there, including Kaya's and my own, Happy Father's Day! I've once again succeeded in writing into the wee hours of the morning. Please, dear spirit of the dawn, help me create energy and patience with my budding toddler...!)