Sunday, January 30, 2011

Our Talker at Two

I went in to Kaya's room tonight, a few hours after we'd put her to bed, thinking I'd go in to cover her up. Instead of a sleeping toddler, however, I was quite surprised to find our little girl sitting up against the side of her crib, Schnulli in mouth, reading a book in the dark, silently. It was so sweet, yet curiously strange. She usually plays for a while in her bed, finding great pleasure in pushing the button on her sound machine to light up the swinging monkeys and the cascading waterfall. And she usually uses this light to read the book that she insists on having with her in bed. On top of that, she generally makes all sorts of noise while she's awake in her bed, babbling about all sorts of adventures she's had throughout the day, or requesting various things to perfect her environment: Tuer auf, Tuer zu, Licht an, Licht aus, Baby in Bett, Baby weg, Decke an, Buch in Bett...[door open, door closed, light on, light off, baby in bed, baby away, blanket alongside (meaning to say 'on'), book in bed] But reading silently in the dark? The scene was so surreal, and such a surprise to me, yet I suddenly felt this overwhelming love for my daughter. How wonderful that she's awake in her bed, at 2, reading a book! I can't help but envision years down the road when she's 7 and still doing the same thing (though I suppose that would be along the lines of identity projection, huh?!). I caressed her cheek from behind, and she spit out her Schnulli. She pointed to a cat on the page, that I could barely see in the darkness, and said, "Katze," with a giggle in her voice. I pushed the monkey button, feeling like MY parents, so that she could have light by which to read. She turned the page, pointing out the "Ente"[duck], again with a smile in her voice. I can't get over how sweet she is. I know I write all the time about not boxing her into an identity, that she is who she is in the moment that she is being it...yet I can't help but see her as the sweetest thing ever (at least in these moments when she's being so SWEET!).

For the past few months, actually, I've often found myself saying to Geoff, "I can't believe how cute she is!" Tonight, for example, she was lounging on the stool next to me as I was lying on the couch. I asked her, in German of course, if she wanted some milk, and she replied with an eager, "Yeah". "Frag deinen Dada, den Milchmonster, ob er dir Milch holt." [Ask your Dad, the milk-monster, if he'll get you some milk.] She 'ran' towards the kitchen, almost prancing high-kneed, excited for her bedtime treat. When she got to Geoff, she said, in the most calm, gentle voice, "Milch, bitte" [milk, please]. After he got up to get her milk, she waited patiently in the kitchen for him to pour it for her, and once she had it in her hand, she left the kitchen, saying "Danke, Dada" [thank-you, Dada]. Geoff and I were floored, and looked at each other wide-eyed. Did she just say please and thank-you on her own, in German?!? Is this my dream come true?!

Kaya and I played this game for a few days, perhaps a few weeks ago, where she'd say "Danke" [thank-you] and I'd respond with "Bitte" [you're welcome] in a different tone of voice each time. We'd both giggle, and it was a great way to teach her a bit about 'manners'. Granted, it gets a bit confusing in German, since "bitte" means both 'please' and 'you're welcome'. I'm not confident that she's grasped the latter meaning, but I'll take former! All in due time.

So, in the above milk-story, you may have noticed that Kaya spoke German to Geoff. About 5 months ago, in October, when Kaya was 20 1/2 months, I wrote about how she had just learned to differentiate between which language to use with me and which to use with everyone else. I found it fascinating that this was happening so early. Now, she's definitely in a different phase. She still seems aware that we each speak a different language with her, but is less selective in which language she uses with us. Geoff told me that she speaks German about 25% of the time with him, though he speaks only English with her. My best guess is that she speaks English with me about 60% of the time, depending upon the situation. After she gets back from having spent the night at her English-speaking grandparents' house, for example, she speaks about 80% English with me. When we're reading certain books, she will tell me what things are in English if I ask her "Was ist das?" [What is that?], but if I give her a choice, "Ist das ein Hund oder ein Affe?" [Is that a dog or a monkey?], she will respond in German with one of the options. (On a side note...I've been noticing lately that her choice is the often 'wrong' choice...I was doing a little experiment with her tonight and noticed that she often answers with the second choice that I give her, regardless of what the item is. I was actually surprised that she was answering 'wrong' because she has correctly identified and talked about the animals that we were identifying...maybe the either/or question is too confusing for her at this stage?? Any experts out there want to chime in on this one?) When I'm feeling relatively impatient, or even full of language doubt, I'll ask her in German to tell me where various things are. Not only does it help me stay afloat emotionally in those moments when I need the boost, but it helps her with the German input so that she's more likely to produce the German next time I ask her.

So anyway, the initial point that I was making above is that she has been less selective with us and will mix and match her words, and even her sentences, quite regularly these days. Tonight, for example, as she was 'cooking' with her new mini-microwave, she was very excited that both the cup AND the grapes fit, and excitedly proclaimed, "Es fits!" [it fits] As she was playing with her croquet set, she was talking about the "gelbe one" [yellow one], referring to the yellow ball. She does this a lot, actually, ("blaue one, gruene one" [blue one, green one]) which makes sense because in German, in order to say, 'the yellow one', you just need two words: "Der Gelbe". 'One' is included in the word 'Gelbe' when it's capitalized and thus serving as a noun. Sometimes she mixes a phrase or sentence because she doesn't know how to say the word in the other language. Like with this phrase, "Neue Microwave" [new microwave], she has heard the German term, but isn't to the point where she uses it on her own yet. Similarly, she's been saying, "Need a Teller," [need a plate] as she's 'making' us food in her "Neue Kueche" [new kitchen]--I've never heard her use the term for 'need' in German, though I've said it and repeated it to her many times.

This morning, as I was lying in bed, I decided to pick up a pen and write down nearly everything that Kaya said in the span of 15 minutes or so. I've been wanting to create a 'snapshot' of her language, and figured this would be a good way to do it. Video would be great, too, except she's very aware of when there's a camera in her face, and doesn't say the same things or act in the same way that she normally might. She noticed, at one point, that I was writing things down as she was speaking...but it wasn't enough of a distraction to keep her from doin' her thing. So, for those die-hard Kaya fans (and other curious readers!), here's an honest picture of the mixing that happens with our bilingual two-year old:

While looking in one of her books:
"Apple on da Katze" [apple on the cat]
"Katze auf dem Table" [cat on the table]

After tiring of that book and wanting a different one:
"Noder one" [another one]
"Get it"
"read a book"
"Aweinah, aweinah" [alleine = alone]

Instead of bring back a book, initially, she brought back her rainsuit:
"Kaya's coat"
"dawe" [there]

Wanting to remove the hair that was sticking on her milk cup:
"Haare weg" [hair away]

After finding a book on the floor and beginning to read that one:
"Bird in dem Baumhaus" [bird in the tree house]
"Hahbing a picnic" [having (a mix between having and 'haben') a picnic]

After I scolded the dog to quit eating whatever she was eating:
"Was eating Kensa?" [What is Kensa eating?]
"Was eating Kensa in dare?" [What is Kensa eating in there?]
"Was she eating Kensa?"

After nearly falling backwards from bumping her head on the bedside table:
"ohmost faw" [almost fall]

While putting money in the piggy bank on the floor, after the books had fallen over on the shelf:
"Zaehne broke" [teeth broke]
When I asked her what she meant, she said it again. When I asked her if she meant that the teeth were broken, she said "Yeah," which is often what she says when I guess the meaning correctly. Still not sure what she meant here, though. This is certainly a challenge with the dual-language's often hard to guess which word she is saying and in which language she is attempting to convey it.

Upon looking up and noticing that her empty milk cup was on the bedside table:
"Milch weg" [milk away]
She likes us to put her milk away, even the empty cups, when she's done with them.

While looking under the bed and noticing a train sand-toy:
"Zug in dem Bett" [train in the bed]
"Zug a dem Bett" [train ? the bed]
She has yet to produce the word 'unter' [under]. When I asked her if the Zug was 'unter dem Bett', she said "yeah." When I asked her to say "unter", she said, "runter...runter.......unter", clearly more comfortable using the word 'runter' [down] than the new term 'unter'.

She continued talking about the train with:
"pay dat" [play that]
"wheels on dat" [wheels on that]
"Rayder on dat" [wheels on that]
"Monkey on dat" [monkey on that]
When I asked her if the conductor was a monkey or man, she replied:
"Mann....Affe....Mann...." []
The guy does really look like an ape, she's got a point.

Then, she finally noticed that I was writing:
"Mama fweibt" [Mama schreibt = Mama writes/is writing]
"Kaya mawen" [Kaya malen = Kaya color/draw]

And then, knowing it was about time to feed her so she could to go next door for the morning, I asked her if she wanted to go see her Tante Jamie [aunt Jamie]:
"Gamie gehen. Gamie gehen. Gamie gehen. Gamie gehen." [Jamie go]

And with that, she ran out of the room, refused her breakfast, demanded to keep her pajamas on, and would let me do nothing else but bring her next door to play.

Ahh, the beautiful life of a two-year old.

Thanks for looking at our snapshot. I enjoy sharing it with you.
Would love to hear any stories that you may have, too, of yours or ours! Feel free to add them below!

p.s. For those analytical types after my own heart: of the 26 utterances she made above, 9 of them were mixed German/English (35%); 8 of them were completely English (30%); 9 of them were completely in German (35%). So, when I said above that I was guessing that she spoke 60% English with me, internally it seems as if I was counting the mixed terms as well. And whooda thunk that my oh-so-scientific experiment would match my subjective estimation?!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Emotional Connection in a Non-native Tongue

The other day, I received an email from the host of January's Bilingual Carnival, proposing that I write an article addressing the emotional connection quandary that arises in raising a child OPOL in one's non-native language. She reminded me that "folks on the outside" might wonder why we are choosing to raise our child this way, especially as a couple with no close familial connections to the target language.

"I never seriously considered raising my children in French," she shared with me in her recent email, "not only because my French is a little rusty at this point, but because I was concerned about being able to communicate with them emotionally in an adopted language. If I'd been a native speaker or truly thought in French or if their dad were French and we communicated that way, I'm sure I would have spoken French with them, but I was nervous that I might not ever be able to really convey my feelings for them in French because, well, I don't *have* feelings in French. Does that make sense?" she asked me. "Most OPOL families I know do have some familial connection to the target language, and so it makes a lot of sense that they make that choice, but I always wondered about that conundrum for families like yours, and if you ever find yourself at a loss for words in German not only when you're frustrated but when you're overflowing with love, pride, etc. (I guess we all find ourselves at a loss for words--even in our native languages--at those moments!)"

Ready to Give Up
If I had made the time to write five days ago, I might have started my personal post with something like, "I'm SO ready to give up! It seems like ALL I have heard from Kaya today is English, despite my constant conversation with her in German. Once again, I'm making ALL sorts of meaning about what it means about me (I don't play with her enough, speak German with her enough, pay enough attention to her), and about what it means about Geoff (he plays with her SO much more than I do, despite his full-time job; he speaks so much more English with her than I do German, THAT must be why there's an imbalance in her language tendencies! How am I going to keep this up once she's really immersed in a culture that speaks English (daycare, school, friends, etc.) as opposed to just being home with me all day?!"

A friend called me in the middle of my 'moment', and gasped when I told him I was ready to quit. "Quit what?!" he asked. "Speaking German with Kaya?!"
His tone was enough to remind me of the immense support that I have, support that makes a huge difference when I really do feel like giving up.

Today, with distance from that challenging evening and thus a much different perspective, I am eager to share my excitement for why I continue to do what we chose.

Clearly, as Abigail expressed of herself, and I implied in my story above, I have had emotional concerns about communicating with my daughter in German. There are multiple times a day when I wonder if I'm saying something 'properly', as a native-speaker would say it. As you may know (perhaps from reading about my Language Experience), I grew up in California, speaking all English, all the time. After starting my German study in college (after 8 years of Spanish), earning a B.A. in Foreign Language, spending a few years living and working in Germany, and teaching and tutoring high school German for 5 years, I ultimately decided to plunge into raising our daughter bilingually in German and English. So, as a non-native speaker of German, there are moments when I get SO tired of hearing myself re-structure my sentences, either aloud or in my head, and often find myself wishing that I weren't so damn grammar-aware. I get so burned out on my internal dialogue regarding which verb or preposition or structure sounds best and is most accurate. Like the other night, when I was SO sick of hearing the German ME. Sometimes, I just have to take a break from the self-criticism, curl up in bed, and put my German on mute.

Why Do It, Then?
So why, you might wonder, would I put my daughter in a position in life where she could possibly learn a language 'wrong', full of errors and non-native manners of speaking?

There are a number of reasons that I turn to, all of which bring me right back to my dream to raise a child in two, possibly even three, languages. I wrote about some of them in a blog post back in August 2010, entitled More Benefits of Bilingualism, but will add a few salient points here that I'm borrowing from an article I read by Michael B. Paradowski:

-"The substantial long-lived cognitive, social, personal, academic, and professional benefits of enrichment bilingual contexts have been well documented.
-Children and older persons learning foreign languages have been demonstrated to:
  • learn more rapidly in their native language (L1)
  • be more efficient communicators in the L1;
  • be consistently better able to deal with distractions, which may help offset age-related declines in mental dexterity;
  • develop a greater vocabulary size over age, including that in their L1;
  • have a better ear for listening and sharper memories;
  • parcel up and categorize meanings in different ways;
  • display generally greater cognitive flexibility, better problem solving and higher-order thinking skills;"
-On a more personal note, I find that there is nothing more important to me than the ability to communicate, interact and build community with those around us. For Kaya to have the opportunity to expand and create broader communities in her life leaves me with a feeling of utter happiness.

And on top of ALL of those reasons is this one, the one I come back to the most:

Of all of the personal accounts that I read (and there were many), I never read about anyone raised in a bi- or multilingual household that had any regrets that their parents raised them with opportunities for additional language acquisition. The accounts were numerous, however, of dissatisfied individuals wishing that their parents had taken it upon themselves to raise their children in more than one language.

I can at least do that, I think to myself. Make the effort and push through what feels like a sacrifice, at times, to provide her with opportunity. What she does with it is up to her. Even if she loses her German completely, if I end up jumping ship on the whole German-thing tomorrow, it helps me to think that her brain chemistry has been affected enough to benefit her capacity for learning and experiencing life more fully.

I'm completely aware of my 'worst-case' tendency. I go there first, when I have no confidence in my German, in my parenting ability, in my ability to push forward through the self-doubt. I go there, as well, because there are surely some of you out there that may be tempted to talk yourself out of it, and my goal is to encourage you to avoid the temptation.

On better days, from a more glass-half-full perspective, I smile to know that I am often mistaken for a native-speaker, at least when conversing in those topics where I am completely comfortable and at ease in my skin. Despite my doubts about my abilities to communicate various words here and there, and my need to look up words I've never before used, I have enough confidence in my German proficiency to keep me afloat in my dream. I also really love thinking about how far I've come since Day 1, when Kaya was first placed in my arms.

First German Love
All of a sudden, with her in my gaze, I was immersed in my first German 'relationship'. I was overflowing with love, and had given myself one language option (to try on for a minimum of 3 weeks) through which to communicate my love to my new daughter. I had a number of friendships in college while I lived in Munich, and continue to communicate with German-speaking friends over Skype, email and bi-annual visits to Europe. But Kaya is the first love of my German life. Abigail expressed her concern that she "might not ever be able to really convey [her] feelings for [her kids] in French because, well, [she doesn't] *have* feelings in French." I didn't have feelings in German, either, until I allowed (and encouraged) myself to fall in love in my non-native language. There's a first for everything if you allow the possibility, and that's what I did with my Kaya.

It was scary and awkward at first, for sure. I remember reading one author say that she used to hold her baby while he was sleeping and share with him, in English, all her deepest feelings that she couldn't express in her non-native language. Having that as an option really helped me forge ahead with my 'experiment', and in the beginning, I certainly did that on a number of lonely nights. But, over time, after I'd connected these seemingly awkward phrases with my authentic feelings of love and passion, they became part of me and my life with my daughter. Just now, for example, my husband just asked me to go check on her because she was still fussing a bit after he'd changed her diaper. As I approached her in her crib, lying eyes half-open on top of the covers, I tucked her in, blanket by blanket, and rubbed her cheek with the back of my hand. "Ich hab' dich soooo lieb," I whispered softly in her ear. "Du bist mein allerliebster Kuschelbaer..." {I love you soooo much. You are my most-favorite snuggle bear.} It feels so natural now, speaking German with her--simply the verbal method that I use to communicate to her how truly important she is to me. Initially, they were just words that I learned in my college classroom. I felt like a robot spitting out strange phrases to this beautiful, perfect creature for whom I'd give my life. A complete dichotomy. Then, as I read more and more German books about love and snuggling, and used these new phrases over and over in our lives, it began to feel more natural, to the point where I now enjoy creating our language of love, making up nicknames and word-games that may or may not sound native at all.

At this point, I can't imagine speaking English with Kaya. Sometimes, I'll say a few sentences, simply to see how it feels, and I find myself immediately switching back to German because it feels so awkward. I used to 'allow' myself the 'luxury' of expressing a sentence or two in English when I was utterly overwhelmed with life and the moment. Lately, however, I've become so comfortable with expressing my frustration in German that I don't need that 'allowance' anymore. That, too, has been a learning curve. This is HUGE progress, I'm just now realizing--where I used to find myself seeking relief from my guilt and fear regarding how much English I used with her in my frustration, I now spend more of my energy addressing how to best align my German phraseology with the type of parent I want to be, regardless of which language I choose to use.

Living in the Now

Abigail said something to me in her email about confidence, about how the amount of confidence that she has in French seems to affect how much she perceives everything around her. This got me thinking about how the language(s) that we choose to use in our lives is just like everything else: simply another aspect our lives that so clearly reflects how we live. Let me explain.

I used to wonder what it would look like when Kaya is 4, 5, 8, 12, asking me things that I can't even fathom being able to explain in my native language, let alone German! The thought has been the source of many a doubt, many a fear that has left me wanting to abort mission and go monolingual with Kaya. What I've been experiencing lately, however, is the power of living from right now, since it's really ALL we have. Yesterday is all in our mind, and tomorrow is yet to exist. Right now, on the other hand, is here, in our laps, in our hands. How do I feel about my relationship with Kaya right now? What wishes to do I have for her life right now, and for tomorrow, if and when it comes? These are the questions that empower me, leave me feeling alive and excited about German and English and life and possibility. When I live from this place, from the place that "right now, I'm choosing to speak German with Kaya", I feel excited about what is possible. I have more energy and less fear, more passion and less doubt.

So for now, that's what I'm doing. I'm speaking German with Kaya.
It's tempting to focus on the past, on the fact that I'm in my 3rd year in this journey, with a year of blogging under my belt. But that's not living in the now, right? So, I bring it back, again and again, to the now.

Right now, I'm choosing to speak German with Kaya.
And loving the opportunity to share it with you!

Thank you, Abigail, for the encouragement to expand...

For Additional Reading on Topics Pertaining to the Above Post:
Language Development at 20 months (Aug. 2010)
My theory about why Kaya's English, at 13 months, was more developed than her German (Feb. 2010)
Language Strategies: What I do and have done to foster our German (Jan. 2010)
My concern about my emotional connection with Kaya (Jan. 2010)

Friday, January 14, 2011

An Unconventional Birthday Gift

This post is a follow-up post from A Very Very Un-Birthday in the Making...

What I love about this whole birthday thing, perhaps more than anything else about it, is believing that people have been thinking about what would make a real difference in Kaya's world. If nothing else comes of it, I know that this, in itself, makes a real difference...

I'm eager for more, however, and I'm VERY driven to inspire you!

So, in response to our Evite and recent blog post about Kaya's birthday celebration, we heard from a number of people about their ideas for our Global Wish List. Here's how the List reads thus far (feel free to continue to add your ideas in the Comments section):

The Staton-inspired Global Wish List for 2011

--increased use of "alternative" forms of transportation
--improved train systems in the U.S.
--greater or total use of renewable energy including solar, wind and micro-hydro
--the beauty, unity, and the sacredness of all life restored
--rekindled connections, being of generous spirit, and cultivation a peaceful heart
--more trees
--the promotion of girls’ education, literacy and peace
--social skills fostered in our age of technology
--preservation of more of Oregon's forests
--increased time spent with each other face to face, voice to voice
--peace between Jews and Arabs in Israel (through development of bilingual and multi-cultural schools)
--increased reduction, recycling and re-use of plastics
--even more trees
--eating more healthfully for yourself and the earth (organically/locally)
--a world where people authentically connect, are seen, and are loved. it's about being with each other and really being present.
--presence and connection to the natural world
--peace created by being peace, love created by being love, balance created by being balance
--U.S. education a higher priority than blowing people up in foreign countries
--health care for everybody
--constant availability of non-GMO food to nourish our bodies
--an international 'socio-ecological score' (SES), similar to a credit score, where people are evaluated on their environmental impact and sociological contribution to society at large

So, as you may know, for Kaya's 2nd birthday, my gift is to inspire others to make a real difference in her world. Many of you have been thinking, as evidenced by the above ideas, about WHAT would make a difference. Others of you may feel more overwhelmed by the request, wondering where or how you'd even begin.

So now for the HOW.

Imagine, for a moment, the power and influence that exists in ALL of the people that are, have or could read this posting. Really imagine. I think, for example, of a friend of mine who is wanting to start a reading program to improve the literacy of children nationwide. I am thinking of another friend who spends her time running an organization that provides support to sexually abused women. In smaller ways, too, many of us have an impact that we rarely know is felt by others, even if only through the smile that we give as we walk down the street.

What if ALL of those people (yourself included!), were to accept my invitation to make a real difference in Kaya's world?!

I see three areas in which you could make a commitment, if you were so inspired and dedicated.

The first area is the most inspirational and exciting for me:

Think of an area where your passions lie in regards to making a difference in the world. This is the concept I've been asking some of you to think about to add to our Global Wish List. For me, I think it would make a big difference if people were inspired to travel more often in ways other than by car. I'm also completely inspired by the idea of rekindling connections and cultivating a peaceful spirit.

Within this area of passion (positive or negative!), think of ONE action (or set of actions) that you'd be willing to take on that you could realistically fit into your life and have 'completed' by April 22, 3 months into Kaya's 3rd year. It might be something that you'd only do once, like plant a tree, or maybe it would be something on-going, like eating organic for one week a month. From my example above, I might institute a carless day in our family one day a week, or (re-)connect with one person a week that I'd love to have (back) in my life. For some of you, with dreams in faraway places like India and Iran, your commitment might look like research that you'd be willing to do to find out about what you could do locally to make a difference. Or it might look like a donation to the organization of your dreams.

Whatever your "ACTION" would be, my request is that you take on completing the commitment within 3 months--with this request, I'm hoping to avoid overwhelm and procrastination and thus increase the likelihood of us making a real difference.

The other aspect of this whole concept that really gets me excited is the sharing part. I'm repeatedly bumping into experiences in life that remind me of the power in sharing ones dreams. I also love the idea of Kaya being able to look back and really know what commitments people made to make a real difference in her world--I'm sure that would inspire her down the road, too! So, my request is that, along with committing to ONE action, you take a photo of yourself (and any others that may be involved) completing or participating in what you've committed to doing. Along with your photo would be a short blurb that you'd write for Kaya, about the commitment that you made and why you chose the action that you did.

The second option:
So, it's clear to me that the above ideas, while completely exciting and wonderful to some, may be just WAY to much for others. I'd love it if everyone were willing to at least consider taking some action, as outlined above, that they weren't planning on taking otherwise. AND I also completely accept that what is, simply is.

Thus, I thought of this idea.

We are going to be planting 2 trees in front of our house for each of Kaya's two years of life. We have chosen a Flame Maple, to represent the fire in her spirit, and a Korean Maple, as a symbol of multicultural understanding. We will be planting them on February 19th, with the help of Friends of Trees and their Cathedral Park neighborhood planting. We would LOVE it if you could join us, not only to plant trees in our neighborhood that day, but to help create a ceremony around planting Kaya's two trees in front of our house.

The third option:
And for those of you who are wanting to do SOMEthing but simply can't take on any more commitments, we'd love it if you'd join in with us on a group donation to Friends of Trees. Friends of Trees is a local, Portland organization dedicated to restoring public natural areas and green spaces between freeways and neighborhoods. Since 1989, they have planted more than 400,000 trees and native plants! On our Wish List, we noticed that a number of people mentioned a wish that included trees...we thought a donation to Friends of Trees, as well as a tree planting, would be the perfect way to honor those wishes and help preserve a world of green for our growing daughter!

So, now what?

If you are clear on the commitment that you are ready to take on, then we'd love it if you'd share it with us by January 22. In this way, we can benefit from your inspiration, and spread the wealth! I'd truly love it if you'd share it in the comments section below--that would allow others to find inspiration from your idea. It also gives you the opportunity to come back to it later if you lose focus. It would also be great to read or hear about your commitment if you are able and willing to join us on Jan. 22nd for our face-to-face celebration! (If you're interested in coming and you haven't received an invitation, please let me know!)

If you are clear that you want to take something on but are still in the process of formulating, I'd encourage you to talk to as many people as possible as you can in the next week about what you're wanting to create. Possibilities will open up out of that action alone. Remember, as well, that I'm a resource, not the one with the whip. =) In the past, I've tended to be a "do-er"...AND someone who has gotten overwhelmed easily. I have a history of being able to chunk things down. I'm also taking a course over the next three months dealing with exactly THIS. I would love it if you bounced ideas off me! I'd also encourage you to nail down an idea in the next week, if you part because now is when the ball is rolling, and there's more energy when it's already in motion. However, if you don't come up with an idea by then, forge ahead with your excitement. An idea will come, I'm sure, especially the more people you tell.

If you are unsure as to what to make of all this, and don't see yourself as making a commitment at all, I'd love it if you'd remain open to the possibility of inspiration. Maybe an opportunity will fall into your lap that you could take on that you might normally have avoided had it you not read about any of this!

I'm so excited!
So excited to think about the possibility of passion as the driving force behind the actions that you might take to make a real difference in our world!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Very Very Un-birthday In the Making

The other day, I was thinking about Kaya's upcoming birthday, while feeling very excited about coming up with an idea that would be more non-traditional in regards to our celebration.

I was thinking about the reason we even celebrate birthdays, which, in my opinion, is to celebrate life--the preciousness of it, the amazement that exists in each of us, and in us together as LIFE itself.

And then, it hit me. There are SO many people that, for us, make a really huge difference--in how we live, in what we do, in how we view life itself. Until recently, I would often ask myself, "How can I, as one individual, make a real difference in the world?" When I look around, however, it is SO clear to me now. I can, just like all of us can (and do!), make a difference.

So, after all of this philosophizing, I decided that the biggest gift I could give Kaya for her second birthday would be to inspire others to make a real difference in her world. Naturally, her world could be seen as our space, our friends, our family--anywhere and anyone that she connects with in some way. But where I really want to affect, for this gift to her, is on a more global level, where one might normally think a two-year old doesn't really "live"--the rivers, the rain-forests, the schools, the train systems...

Last year, I saw this idea for making a Global Wish List at Christmas-time, where, instead of writing a wish-list for all those things we hope to have in our lives, we ask each family member to contribute at least one idea that would make the world a better place (keeping in mind that optimism is the goal!). I thought that we could do a similar thing for Kaya's birthday, where we "solicit" ideas from YOU, asking you to add to our Global Wish List, with the thought in mind, "What would make a difference in Kaya's world?" Then, after people have added to The List, we can focus our 'resources' on one or two areas, and take the actions to really make a difference, be it through financial support, individual commitments, or a unified group activity on her birthday itself.

So, that said: As someone who has been integral in Kaya's life thus far, or even as a random reader, inspired by this post, please consider adding to our List. The list, at this point, will live in our responses...I will start the first one, as an example, and encourage you to follow suit ASAP so we can come up with a plan. If you are more comfortable sending me a personal email, feel free to do that instead and I will add to this list for you. Then, once most people have added their input, we can work on the next step, with the latest information regarding the difference we are eager to make, and have a celebration of life that is overflowing with possibility!

Thanks for riding our wild hair!
We're so excited!

Check out the follow-up post, An Unconventional Birthday Gift, where you can find specific ideas on how to turn the above ideas into reality!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Snapshot Stories on the Brink of Two

I have the evening to myself. Geoff is out with friends, and my cold is nasty enough to scare even my closest friends away. So, with the whir of the dishwasher in the background, and a slight throbbing in my head, it's prime time to make up for stories untold. There are SO many things that Kaya says and does that are SO sweet, so funny, unique, or crazy that if I don't mention them now, they might not get mentioned at all...

I think I've written in the past about how Kaya, in response to my asking her if she wanted her door open or closed, told me she wanted her door "zu" (closed). Her response always left me a little surprised, especially before I plugged in the Santa-light a few weeks ago. What kind of almost-two-year old wants to sleep in a completely black room with no audible connection to the rest of the family? Ours, apparently.

Tonight, as usual, I asked her the same question, and this time, she responded that she wanted the door "auf". That's more like it, I thought. I can make sense of that. As I was reading a message on my phone, however, I noticed how loud the dishwasher was being, and began to wonder if, perhaps, something was loose that needed some attention. Distracted by my internal dialogue, it took me a moment to decipher the word coming from Kaya's room, over and over. After the 3rd or 4th utterance, I clearly understood the word "zu", and asked her doubtfully from my chair, "Willst du deine Tuer zu?" (Do you want your door closed?)
"Yeeeah," she responded, in her sweet, little tone that I so dearly love.

I'm so tempted to make meaning out of this. SO tempted to label her as someone who knows what she wants and knows how to get it. SO tempted to make some comment about how our daughter can't sleep if there's too much noise happening in the background. So tempted to take two incidents, add a few more to the mix, and make a blanket statement about who Kaya is.

But I won't.
It's easy enough to resist the temptation while my brain is at peace.
(If you're confused about this whole meaning-making thought of mine, have a looksie at this.)

I was reminded, as I mentioned her sweet little "yeeah", of this video that I made of Kaya responding to Geoff while he told her a bed-time story in San Diego at my Dad's. I love how she fake-laughs when he talks about laughing, and how she adds her "hey, man," that Geoff taught her a few weeks prior. I think she only does it once or twice in this video, but this is the YEAH that I wrote about on our camping trip that she uses when responding to Geoff and his story-telling:

More recently, Kaya has been 'experimenting' with throwing things and dumping water in places where I'd much rather have dry space, like the floor and the table. I'm still working on staying 'calm' when it happens...Geoff, on the other hand, continues to be masterful at Zen and the Art of Reacting to Toddlers (I married him for a reason!). Tonight, for example, Kaya took a piece of chicken and chucked it across the room. "Kaya," Geoff said, "we don't throw food. You can throw balls, though." And with that, she sauntered off to her room to find a few balls that she then began to throw around the house with Geoff as her biggest cheerleader. When I came out to the table, and Geoff was sharing this story with me, Kaya told me that we "Essen nicht werfen" (don't throw food), and then she quickly returned with her push-toy, saying "staubsaugen" as she walked to and fro near her chicken on the floor. What's that, Geoff asked me, with a strange look on his face? 'Staubsaugen' means vacuum, I told him. She's cleaning up her mess.

Earlier this evening, as I told her to bring me the mug of pencils from her table, a few colors fell on the kitchen floor as she was walking back to the couch. "Clean-it-up," she said, as soon as they fell out, and patiently bent over to pick up ALL the pencils and return them to the mug.

When she spilled her cheerios at the table, it was a similar scenario. "Need a towl," she said, heading to the kitchen, seemingly unaffected by my impatience with the life at the moment. As I brought a towel back, she said, "Mama clean-it-up." Last week, and from time to time this week, she will use the term "aufrauemen" owf-roymen (to clean up), and often sings the Aufrauem-song when she is finished with her toys and wants to put them away.

There are a couple Aufrauemlieder that we sing, this one is my favorite, though, because it's sung to the tune of Mary Had a little Lamb:
Alle koennen aufraeumen, aufraeumen, aufrauemen
Alle koennen aufraemen bis alles sauber ist.

This is the one we sing at our playgroup at the German American School on Weds:
Aufräumen, aufräumen, es ist höchste Zeit.
Alle schnell mit angefasst, dann ist's auch schnell vorbei.

Oh yeah! And the elefant song, too! Last week, I busted out a song that I sung a few times for her but didn't know well enough to remember the words. Wanting to learn the song well, and make it stick, I added some hand-motions, which was a clear winner for Kaya--for the past two days, she's been going around the house requesting the "Owfantenweed" (Elefantenlied), eager for me to sing it over and over and over again. She's begun to sing along, too, especially the part that talks about the elefant wanting out of the house:

Elefant, fant, fant, kommt gerannt, rannt, rannt, (making running motion with arms)
mit dem langen, langen, langen Ruessel. (make like playing a trombone with your arm)
Will heraus, aus, aus, aus dem Haus, Haus, Haus (point away from you, 6x)
aber hat ja, hat ja, hat ja keinen Schluessel. (shake your finger, unlock the door)
Armer Elefant, bist so weit gerannt, (play the air violin, run with arms)
gebe ich dir dafuer ein Zuckerstueck von mir, (pretend to give s.thing)
aber bleib, bleib, bleib, aber bleib, bieib, bleib, (shake your finger)
aber bleib, bleib, bleib schoen hier! (point down at the ground on HIER)

And for those non-Germaners out there:
Elefant, fant, fant, comes running, running running
with the long, long, long trunk.
Wants out, out, out of the house, house, house
but has no, has no, has no, has no key.
Poor Elefant, you ran so far,
I'll give you thus a lollipop from me
but stay, stay, stay, but stay, stay, stay (Dave Matthew's song?)
stay, stay, stay right here!

I wonder, now that I've sung this song a million times, if this song was written about the cruelty of zoos?

There are other German phrases that are coming to my mind that she's been using a lot lately. Kaya can nearly go down the stairs by herself. She still holds one of my hands with one of hers, but there is hardly any pressure on my hand in comparison to what there has been over the past few months (for a long time, even after she could walk, I would carry her down the 17 stairs in front of our house because it was so much faster...I finally 'forced' myself to slow down and let her experience the stairs for herself, at her pace). Anyway, I've been so excited at the progress that she's making (it's really fun (and scary, too!) to imagine her being able to go down the stairs alone), that, to share my excitement, I often say to her, "Du machst das fast alleine!" (You're almost doing it alone!) The other day, as we were on the 3rd step, she said with eagerness, "Fast aweinah, fast aweinah!"

Similarly, when we're in the car, and we're almost there, I often tell her just that: "Wir sind fast da..." or "Wir sind fast zu Hause" (We're almost home). A few days ago, as we were leaving the house, she said, "Fast zu Hause." I had to smile. She was right. We were almost home, in a backwards kind of sense. Who says you have to live life in the direction that we've been living it? Maybe she knows something that most of us don't...

Thursday, January 6, 2011

"Another Noisy One"

Kaya is lying in bed right now after being put to bed more than two hours ago. It's 10:45pm. As I was putting away a few dishes in the kitchen, I hear her sweet little voice in the distance. "Is that what I thought I heard?!" I asked Geoff. Did our daughter just tell me that I was being noisy while I was putting away the dishes?

Yes indeed.
'Noisy' is exactly what I heard coming from the crack in the doorway.

Go listen some more, I told Geoff. Let's get a play by play.

"Up. Up. Up.
Down. Down. Down."

"Anuhder one," she added, hoping to have another Schnulli (binky) at her disposal. She's always loved having access to two of them. Similar to how she loves to have plenty of food on her plate or in her hands.

"Weeego, weego, weego, weego," is her mantra now.
What is that, asks Geoff. What is she in there wiggling, I wonder?

The other day, as she was laying her Schnullis 'in their place' on the arm of the monks bench in front of her crib, Kaya uttered her first 4-word sentence:
"Kaya have it waytur." She was letting Geoff know that she'd be having her binky later, finally having learned that she gets access to her beloved Schnullis at bedtime (and sometimes in the car).
Geoff was so excited. I could have sworn she'd already said a 4-worder, and regretfully rained on his parade by telling him that. But then, as I was sitting with her at breakfast the next morning, she said it again, in reference to her food that she was done eating, and I was sure then, we've definitely hit a new phase.

Last night, as she was eating dinner with Geoff, she impressed him further with her statement about who's chicken she was eating: "Unkoh Gweg made eh." (Uncle Greg made it) Similar to what she used to say to me about our Christmas tree, since Geoff strung the lights: "Daddy made eh."

My nose is runnin' and I'm eager to nurse this oncoming my inspirations are waning. I jumped on as soon as I heard that "noisy" comment come from her room, and now, as I hear her saying, "Baby Bett," wonder if I best go check on that baby in bed.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Freed From Identity

As you may notice, I originally wrote this post in early January, but am submitting it now to the March Bilingual Carnival because this morning, I noticed myself, once again, making all sorts of meaning out of Kaya's speaking English to me when I speak nothing but German to her. This post addresses that tendency that we have as humans, as multilingual parents, to sit with confidence in our fears, and can hopefully offer a different perspective and sense of freedom for you in the way that it has for me.

The other day, as I was having coffee with a friend, a woman walked into the cafe with her twins. They were snuggled in a blue double-Bob, taking in the world around them. Soon after she wheeled them in our direction, conversation ensued about life as a mother with two.

She was easy to talk to. The conversation flowed, and I found myself really enjoying the whole scene. And then, when she addressed some advice she'd been given, my mind started to spin. Apparently, as a parent of twins, you're 'supposed' to avoid the 'T-word' (twins!) because it can give the wrong impression to the kids themselves and to others in their lives. She tends, she said, to avoid referring to them as 'the twins' or even as 'the kids' so that she can appreciate their individual identities.

A month ago, I would have smiled, nodded, and continued on my way, thinking little more than, "That's a good point. I'll have to keep that in mind in case we have another one. But thank goodness it's her with twins, not me. I don't know how I'd deal with TWO at the same time!"

Last week, however, my internal dialogue went a lot more like this:

That makes sense. I can see that. It's important for kids to feel confident in who they are, and to know that they are loved regardless of their brothers and sisters. But wait a second. She said "identity". Is she implying that each of them "is" a certain way, and will "BE" a certain way because of the identity that they already have?

My mind continues to spin. I'm guessing that she didn't really think twice about her use of the word identity. But I sure did.

All of a sudden (well, after 3 days of coaching in December), I see identity as something apart from who we are. I think that each of us has an identity which attempts to, and generally succeeds in, running our life. It tells us who we are, who we should be, who we aren't, who we want to be, and leads us, AND others, to believe, to KNOW, that's just who we are. In fact, once we've been around long enough (I'm already seeing it happen in the first 2 years of Kaya's life), it begins to dictate who we are 'allowed' to be and what we 'allow' from others:

"You are smart, Kaya. So, why are you saying that!?"
"You are sweet, Kaya. So, why are you screaming!?"
"You love water, Kaya. So, why aren't you swimming?"

And more personally...
"I'm independent. So, why am I looking to others for help?"
(What's wrong with me?)

Maybe, like me, you're tempted to answer the above questions. It seems so obvious that, under each circumstance, we act a certain way for a certain reason, right? At the same time, however, I'm clear that I was living my life in a way that had me, and others, believing that I AM a certain way because of who I've been and what I've done and where I come from. When I live my life with my previous actions and circumstances dictating who I am, and expect others to live in that way, too, I get pigeon-holed into being a certain way, and am mentally and emotionally left with no options as to where to go or what to do when I'm ready for something different...

Now, I can say from a place of sincere excitement and peace, I live from a space where I really get to choose who I want to be in any moment that I want to be it. And how truly different it feels.

If I want to embody love, then I can be loving RIGHT NOW. It doesn't make a difference if, up until now I've yelled at my dogs and been rude to my husband and been overly impatient with my daughter. As soon as I'm not being loving, and recognize it, I can choose to be loving, and re-commit to being loving right NOW.

It's so empowering. Suddenly, my failures are no longer failures, but reminders of what I want and what I can do to make it real and right now.

As I was walking in the sunshine this morning, feeling overly exacerbated with my two dogs and the tricycle that wouldn't work, I realized that, in having written what I had, thus far, I may be sending the message that I've reached this level of perfection where it's so EASY to move out of being stuck, and I can just skip through my life with a blissful smile on my face.

Nope. Not true.
In case my dog challenges didn't persuade you...

After I got home last night, I shared with Geoff how excited I am to renew my commitment to be compassionate with him. I brought up a few moments in the past few days when I hadn't been compassionate with him, was specific about how I can change that, and felt excited and connected about moving forward from there, despite or maybe because of, my past actions. Within minutes, the conversation turned, and suddenly, I found myself feeling afraid to trust, in confusion about "what" to do, and once again, devoid of compassion. Ugh.

I can start from here, I thought.
We can start from here, I said.
What do you want, I asked?
What do I want, I thought?

It's Monday afternoon and we are STILL working to move forward from right here. Granted, in my head, I have, and I am. But what good does that do me if I'm living my life all alone here at my desk while my baby sleeps?

I kept asking myself, as I knew my friend would coach me, "Would I rather be right or happy?"

The answer was obvious...yet I couldn't bring myself to move beyond my fears of what I saw as blind faith (trust).

So, this exciting perspective that I have now doesn't keep me FREE from challenges in my life...if anything, I see them arise more frequently. But I can say, with confidence, that my stress level is lower overall, and my fears are more quiet. I know deep down that it's my identity wanting to "win", to "be right", to step away from Geoff and be happy in my own place, 'knowing' I'm right. What has me feeling so free is knowing that I don't have to live from this place of identity, that instead, I can live from a world of possibility, from a world of excitement and passion and creativity where I am connected with everyone and everything around me. I get to listen and be wholeheartedly confident that everything is as it is for no reason until I give it one.

From this world, I can see my daughter as whoever she is going to be in whatever moment she is going to be it. And not expect it to be otherwise.

And that, my friends and fellow philosophers, is as exciting as it gets.
Once again, I feel SOOO free.

Knowing that there isn't one identity that IS Kaya, or some one identity that she's going to BECOME one day. To me, with constant practice and reminding, she will be who she is being in any moment that she is being it, until that moment changes and she is being something else.

When she's feeling tired, maybe she'll be being loud and whiny, and annoying me to no end.
It doesn't mean she's annoying.

When she's feeling hungry, maybe she'll be being cranky and ornery, reminding me that I feel cranky too.
It doesn't mean she's challenging.

If she's speaking English back to me, when I speak nothing but German to her, it doesn't mean she's a passive bilingual with no hope for active bilingualism.

And perhaps the hardest one to conceptualize for those of us that love her most...
If she's speaking German to me and English to everyone else, it doesn't mean that she's smart.

I can hear my thoughts reeling: What? Do they think I think we shouldn't call her smart? Or praise her at all? Do they think I think that will screw her up? Is she smart? Is she not smart?

Hello, identity. My old friend...

Suddenly, I feel freed to see my daughter (and everyone else, for that matter!), for who she is in THIS moment, as opposed to defining her by the past that she has lived thus far.

Until last month, that's who I thought I was, too.
I think it's who many of us think we are...

But where is our past, really?
And where is our future, really?

In our minds, right?
And in others' minds?

Thus, if ALL we have is THIS moment, then WHO we ARE is defined my WHO we are BEING in this moment ALONE.

I am a writer.
I am a mother.
I am a wife.
I am love.
I am passion.
I am possibility.

Kaya is sleeping. =)

She is peace.
She is love.
She is joy.
She is wonder.

She is full of possibility, just like the rest of us...

A similar blog post on this topic that you might find interesting is,
5% German
as well as the follow-up post to that one,
Expert Advice and Analysis

Thank you for being here. Your interest and curiosity continue to motivate me and remind me that I can and do make a difference. Over the past month, as eager as I was to blog, I spent all my extra time working on Geoff's Christmas project. Should you be interested in checking it out, don't want to wait to see it in person, or haven't already seen it on FB, drop me a line and I'll share the link. (I considered posting it here, but there's some fragile photos of our baby that I don't want pasted where they don't belong.)