At my lowest point this week, a friend of mine helped me recognize that I was making all sorts of meaning out of the language that Kaya uses at any particular moment. Naturally, I wasn't aware of this in those moments...I was just frustrated and impatient and overwhelmed. When I'd hear her speak English, I made it mean all sorts of things:
- despite all my efforts, my daughter still isn't learning
- surely this pattern will only continue--if I can't deal with this now, how will I deal with it for years to come?!
- she's not going to be an active bilingual
- I'm not doing enough--I need to do more
When I come from this place, I feel excited. I feel at peace with whatever language comes out of Kaya's mouth, and can trust in the process, whatever it is. This is exactly how I was feeling last night as we were driving to Gramm's for dinner. I began to notice that I was unaware of what language Kaya was speaking, because I was more focused on being with her than that on what or how we were communicating.
This must sound so strange for some of you.
How can this woman be so focused on language that she's ultimately disconnected from her daughter?!
I wonder the same thing, sometimes.
It's all a process, though. A serious roller coaster, as I mentioned above. Every time I 'see the light', I tell myself that I'm going to remember how this ride feels; I'm going to remember that riding it is just part of the process of the gift I've chosen to give our daughter. And then I forget again. And again. And go seeking solace from my family, my friends, and my growing community of multilingual parents.
Which is exactly why I share my fears and doubts, because as strange as the above experience may sound to some of you, I'm confident that, to others of you, it hits very close to home. I've been told by a couple people lately that I worry too much. Six months ago, I would have been in complete agreement with that statement. Now, however, I believe that I don't worry more than the average Joe on Main Street--I just publicize my concerns more than most, airing my doubts for the purpose of connection and consolation. I think that most of us, as humans, worry. I think, however, that we live in a society where it's safer to keep to oneself, safer to hide the doubts, safer to be perceived as strong and confident.
I'm learning that our perception of safe isn't always spot on. And when I'm inaccurate, I pay the price in self-worth and in my connection to humanity.
As I often do, I got off on a tangent. Initially, I was attempting to share the story of Kaya's tendency to interpret over the past few days. At this point, because I didn't write it down, it's hard for me to remember the details, but I'll see what I can do to dig some up...
Yesterday, Kaya told me, in German, that she needed a new diaper ["Kaya braucht eine neue Windel"]. Thinking that she was just wet, I told her that we'd wait a bit until she was done drinking her milk. When I checked her pants, however, it was obvious that Kaya knew best: she definitely needed a new diaper. Jokingly, I told Kaya to go tell Dada, who was standing just outside the door, that she needed a new diaper, that he could help her. She climbed off my lap, sauntered over to Daddy, and proclaimed, in English, "Kaya need a new diaper." I was shocked. Even though I clearly remember her doing this many months ago (telling Geoff she wanted milk after she'd told me she wanted "Milch"), it seemed really different this time. Perhaps because it was a longer statement, and was in direct response to me telling her in one language to tell him something that she then communicated in a different one. It happened a couple more times that day, unfortunately with statements I can't recall, but each time, left me smiling and amazed. Screw the child-labor laws...she's around the corner from a paid salary!
This morning, on a slightly different note, as I was reading her a book before nap time, Kaya conjugated a verb into the present tense that I had just read to her in the past tense. For those non-grammar types out there, the example should help clarify. The book, called Gross und Klein, Wer Passt Rein [Big and Small, Who Fits in There?], is about a badger who brings a pile of pants for his friends (what else is there to bring to one's friends?!). The raven grabs the whole pile for himself, naturally, and begins to try them all on. Successively, they are either too big or too small, as announced by the various animals who are better suited for the particular pair of pants. As I was reading the page about the badger having brought pants with him to all of his friends [Der Dachs hat seinen Freunden Hosen mitgebracht], Kaya repeated what happened, but changed the verb, gebracht [brought], from the past tense into the present: Er bringt Hose [He brings pants]. This happened all in German, which not only made me happy, but impressed me a bit as well. I suppose she took something complicated and simplified it into something she knows well, the present tense, but I was surprised because the past tense form of the verb, mitgebracht, is irregular and doesn't sound at all like the present tense, bringen.
All in all, I'm feeling more at peace with Kaya's tendency to mix. I decided last week that, instead of feeling so angst-y and full of doubt, I want to feel trust in the process, in whatever stage she is at in whatever moment she is in it. So, after sending my desire out into the universe, I am continuing to feel more relaxed about the words that leave her mouth in whatever language they leave it. So, instead of responding constantly with, "Hast du _____ gesagt?" [Did you say ____?] or repeating back, inquisitively in German, whether she did this or that, I'm just allowing myself to respond with love, however I feel like responding. Admittedly, I was getting pretty sick of hearing myself ask her all these questions all the time (as I think I blogged about a few weeks ago). And feeling very taxed by the process! As a fellow bilingual wrote from Italy, "none can tell what [response] is best and in which respect. One approach could be better at promoting bilingualism, another at promoting the child's self esteem, another at promoting parent-child relationship, just to name a few." When I remember this, I feel freed from having to do it any particular way. It seems so obvious, not to put all my strategy eggs in the hands of one expert...but it's so amazingly tempting and easy to look outside ourselves for the answer. Not to mention, believing that there is 'an answer' at all.
I know, I know, I'm still riding that high from the excessive amount of German last night at dinner. That fear and doubt will certainly be back, and I'm sure you'll hear about it from me again! But I swear: it's going to get easier and easier to get back on my horse of peace and love, and ride into the sunset anew, smiles a plenty.