This post was written for the Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism, hosted this month by Multilingual Mania. Thank you so much to everyone involved...your posts and readership make a massive difference for us all!
I was doing an interview with a friend on Thursday, when one of her answers left me pondering:
"What can you count on me for?" I asked her, curious to hear her perspective.
"To speak German with your daughter," I heard, suddenly smiling at the irony. Just two days earlier, I was making plans to back off.
To speak German...,
the non-native language that has been plaguing me for weeks, leaving me feeling trapped and restricted in how I say what, and when...
With my daughter...,
the incredibly endearing two-year-old who is adamant about what she wants with whom and where...
If we'd had more time, I would have told my friend all about how close I'd been. She probably would have said, You've been there before, right?, and I would have said, Yeah, but this time I was really close. And I woulda been right--I was really close.
As you may know, if you've followed my blog at all, I've continued to struggle with this whole non-native endeavor. Am I good enough? Can I do it? Will our relationship suffer? Is it really what I want now that I have a feel for the sacrifices involved?
The past few weeks have been especially tumultuous for me, in regards to these dilemmas. I could think of little else other than changing my method and breaking free of my entrapment. Not throwing in the towel altogether, but allowing myself some opportunities to speak English with my daughter. However, being as strict as I have been about OPOL, I felt like I was about to give up. Though I've gone through a few brief phases in the past two years, I've generally spoken to our daughter in only German since day one, and requested that my husband do the same in English. It's been a roller coaster of emotions, to say the least, watching the ebb and flow of Kaya's English and German. One week, tons of German. The next, seemingly none.
When Kaya was a baby, other mom-friends would give me crap because we had such an "easy" baby. She slept well, ate well, and cried when most people expect babies to cry. I knew I had it good, and soaked it up for as long as I could. During this time, as I implied above, I continued to speak German to her, despite the awkward challenge of monologue in my non-native language. As tempted as I was at times to give up, I told myself I'd wait for dialogue before making my decision.
Well, here it is. The dialogue. Full sentences. Narrations her life as she lives it:
Kaya do dat.
Kaya will staubsaugen [Kaya wants to vacuum].
The day has come, I've reached my goal, and as I've been doing all week, it's time to re-assess. Is this what I want? Can I handle it? Is it as much of a priority as it used to be?
No. I don't think so. Not really.
The answers were pretty obvious to me, and their negativity was what had me truly questioning whether my method reflects where I want to be going. I'd talked to three very important people in my life--my neighbor, my Dad, and my 'surrogate' mom--all of whom supported me immensely in doing what I felt was best: backing off the stricture and doing what felt more comfortable and easy.
My concern, I told them, was that as much of a gift as bilingualism is, I'm not sure that Kaya isn't losing out in some other way, at the expense of our attempt to raise her in two languages. It's the classic argument, right? Can a non-native speaker really foster the essential connection in their non-native language? A month ago or so, I had no doubts. A blogger friend even asked me, "What's changed? What happened to cause the doubts that didn't seem to exist before?"
Kaya is two.
That's the difference.
At least that's how I make sense of it.
I tell myself it's harder because I'm not only trying to parent in my non-native language, but because I'm constantly faced with being tested in it, too. It's one thing to be the parent I want to be in English...that, as many of you know, is challenging in itself. But in German?! While we were taking a parenting class last year, I remember the struggle that I had, attempting to process all of the info in German--What would that sound like? How would you say that? And how am I going to get it to come out in German when it isn't even natural in English?
And that's what I found...it doesn't come out naturally at times, especially in those moments when all I want is to get my message across as quickly as possible, and to feel confident in my role as a mom. Not lame and stupid and awkward, speaking my third language.
Between those uninspiring feelings, and my sense that I haven't been speaking to Kaya as much as I might if I spoke to her in English, I feared that she might be losing out on a big part of her mom. And as much as I know that there are no truths, no guarantees, my understanding of neurology had me confident that those foundations are not worth sacrificing for anything, including multilingualism.
I still believe that, I have to say.
But what's changed is my strategy.
After talking to my Dad on the phone, and hearing him tell me that, according to my concerns, I should change my method "forthright" (I kid you not, he used that word!!), I began to wonder if I might not regret my decision later. Of course, this wonder wasn't new...I've been kicking it around for weeks, frozen by fear of the consequences of "giving up" on something that I might not be able to get back. It's had me feeling trapped, this fear, and is exactly what I've been trying to shake for the past 6 months. Kaya may speak 'a lot' of English right now, far more than I continue to expect under the circumstances (another topic for another day), but what I do know is that she's not speaking English because she hears me speaking it to her--and that, for me in my current position, is incredibly relieving.
In the past, I've talked about creating possibility, about the power of seeing what you want and going for it, even if it seems completely out of reach. I decided, while sitting on the couch with my husband, that it's time, once again, to employ that tool. Instead of feeling stuck in strategy, trapped by my own rules and regulations...despite being tested and awkward and tired and tempted...I can focus on the possibility and follow through with my initial dream of active bilingualism for Kaya.
It really came down to this: If I give up now, at what could be the most challenging parental phase of our lives (adolescence aside!), how will I feel later?
Of course, there's no way to know until I'm there, but my sense is that I'd rather not make any rash decisions, about anything if I can avoid it, when I'm being tested by a toddler. We really should use this excuse far more often than we do, fellow parents. I can't pay the bills, honey...I'm being tested...
The other thing that had me holding on was this awesome piece of advice by another blogger-friend: "...we have created this environment which is really remarkable, yet we feel, in weaker moments, that we are doing something artificial. Maybe we are, but it's all our little angels know, so for them, it is their reality...I just think that its easy to forget that actually, for Kaya, it is as normal to hear you speak German as it is for her to hear her dad speak English." This is so true. The last few days, as I was mulling all of this over, I spoke a few sentences to Kaya on different occasions. Each time, she'd been simply focusing on whatever object was in front of her, as she often does. As soon as I spoke English, though, she quickly turned to look at me, and paused, as if she were clearly processing that something wasn't quite 'right'. She notices, I have no doubt of that now. And as this friend continued to remind me, "inside her brain, Kaya understands German whether she chooses to respond using her German words or not." This, too, was a great reminder. I'd been telling myself that all my efforts were for naught, that the challenge isn't worth it if she's not even learning how to speak 'my' language. But what I forget in those moments of high expectation is that there's a lot I don't know, and making a decision based on those feelings can leave me, leave us, with oodles of lost opportunities.
So, at this point, I've decided to stick it out: I'll stick with OPOL for six months, which will just about see us through our 3 1/2 week trip to Germany in October. At that point, Kaya will be closer to 3, in a different language phase altogether, and hopefully, fingers crossed, won't be testing us as severely. I know, I know...testing continues. But I'd rather 'risk it' and see, than be driven by fear and overwhelm....the conclusion I seem to land on every time.
Thanks, once again, for joining us on our journey...
P.S. I know that there are many of you out there, bloggers and parents who I value and respect, who don't use OPOL as your method. You may bounce between methods, and might utilize the inconsistencies that leave me feeling so fearful. I just want you to know that, in no way, does my fear nor my dialogue here, reflect my attitude towards you and what you do. I recognize that we each do the best job we can, with everything we do, and we each have our own set of expectations and concerns. As much as I know that I share concerns with many of you, I also recognize that my concerns may feel eons away for those of you employing different strategies that work better for your life. I applaud you for whatever you do, it all makes a difference--I'm just not very good at extending the compassion and appreciation I have for you, to me (working on it though, and one day, SOON, I'll be a master!).