In just a few days, I finally get to host the international blogging carnival, and I'm so excited. Naturally, I've been wracking my brain to come up with a topic that would be best suited to share with whatever readers, new and old, who are interested in multilingual parenting topics. It's been so long since I've written (once again!), and I'm thus, quite tempted to just give a little update about the Kaya-meister, and our lives with and around her. But for those who don't know her, I'm thinking something more general, more all-encompassing, something that might be more easily applied to others' lingual lives, might be better and more interesting. So here we go, let's see what I can create...
Kaya and I just got home from a little jaunt over to our neighbor's house after walking home from camp. This neighbor isn't just "any old neighbor", but rather a woman who has grown near and dear to all of us in our family after the role she played while my mom was dying. Lena, though she has no children of her own, is quite the mother-figure, and is a wonderful fill-in Nana now that Mom is gone. I love watching her with Kaya, in the way she plays, banters, questions, wonders, and just generally enjoys everything Kaya--just like my mom did.
This afternoon was no different. We stopped by to share some hummus and falafel chips (my new favorite!!) in the much-loved, and very rare, Portland sunshine. Lena was eager to visit, especially once she heard that Kaya was quite excited to stop by 'Tante Lena's' and say hi (Lena doesn't speak German, but she loved the idea of being called 'Tante' [aunt], so the name just stuck...). We grabbed a seat in the fenced patio, Kaya initially eager to stay in her jogger as she played her shy card. Within minutes, however, Lena had Kaya out of her shell and giggles were abounding. The beloved game was a hand-washing one: Kaya would 'wash' Lena's hands with 'water' and 'soap' while Lena 'lathered up' waiting for Kaya to 'rinse'. But Kaya didn't want to rinse her...in fact, she quickly figured out that the game was much more fun if she let Lena's hands stay soapy. Lena grew quite disappointed, sad I might even say, that she had to just sit there with soap on her hands. Kaya just giggled, ran away, soon to return with an "OK, I'll wash yoh hends off".
The other game that Kaya loved was hiding the carrots that Tante Lena was so intent to eat.
"You want to keep them from me because I'm such a pig, huh?" Lena questioned of Kaya.
"Yeah," she'd respond, stashing the carrots in the top of the stroller.
"Oh, I'm so hungry," Lena would cry. "Can't I have some carrots?!"
"No," Kaya would respond, giggling even louder.
At one point, I began to get meta about the whole thing, recalling that I was still seeking a topic for the upcoming Carnival. It hit me that the situation I was just observing--with observing being the key word--is pretty typical of many situations I find myself in with Kaya, particularly lately, or so it feels. With Kaya and I speaking only German with each other, and English with most everyone else, it makes for a unique dynamic in play. When I do choose to contribute, vs. just observing from within, it becomes a fine balance between translator and "Mitspieler" [one who plays along with]. Some people are quite proactive about asking me what it was that I just said--with short, simple statements, it's pretty easy to interpret, particularly with voice tone and body language. With those who ask, I'm always more than willing to share what just transpired. In fact, I almost always love to share with others what we're talking about--it just often feels awkward to find that balance, that 'spot' in the conversation to insert the English interpretation. Often, especially with those who aren't as proactive about asking, I tend not to share what we're talking about leaving the other/s in the dark about what is being talked about on the other side of the table. I'm not quite sure what to think of this, at this point...part of me is tempted to ask others how they feel about it when they are in that situation with us. The other part of me, however, almost doesn't want to know because I'm not sure I want to feel the obligation to continuously interpret our conversations, 'littering' our interactions with English. This is the beauty of a blog entry: I write this here in hopes that those of you out there, on both 'sides' of the situation will share your input to inspire the rest of us...
When Kaya was younger, in her pre-language stage, and we spent a lot of time in English-speaking playgroups in the community, I remember feeling very awkward about speaking German in front of others. I did it because I was committed to it, and felt confident that I wanted to stick to OPOL [One Parent, One Language], but I found I would keep my voice down, and even would say less to avoid bringing attention to myself. I felt afraid that others would think I was righteous, thinking our way--the bilingual way--was better. I also felt awkward, as a non-native, speaking German with my daughter. I can't remember how long it took me--I'd have to look back at my posts--but it was a lot longer than I remember thinking it would take for me to truly become at ease with German as our language.
Now that I'm completely comfortable with it, I'm noticing these other pieces. I'm no longer self-conscious about speaking German (at least in front of English speakers), but I do find myself being aware and somewhat sensitive to them not being able to understand us (for the most part). Fortunately, after 3 1/2 yrs of speaking German with Kaya, my husband, Geoff, can understand and thus follow along with 95% of what is said. That's a huge relief; I can't imagine it for me otherwise. But around others--especially family and friends, who are important in our lives--I've been thinking about three interesting concepts lately.
First of all, as I was alluding to above, I tend to observe more than I play, more than I think I otherwise would, were Kaya and I to be communicating in the common language. There definitely seems to be a disconnect, a scattered-ness and lack of flow when I participate with Kaya and our English-speaking people. This disconnect might be due, in part, to Kaya's manner of response, which is the second thing I've been thinking about a lot lately.
Kaya is very clear that, when she's speaking to Dada, she's speaking to Dada--and I better not respond in German (or at all!) without expecting an "ehhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!" in response. The same goes for her communication with me--Geoff has come to expect the same response with English. Granted, it doesn't mean we don't try it--it's pretty hard to avoid, especially as she gets older and begins to 'mom and pop' (asking me for one thing after she's already asked him...). I also get a similar response when she's playing alone in English (she plays in both languages)--if I respond to her in German, she makes a similar noise, though not quite as adamantly.
This separate-ness definitely has its pros and cons. On the one hand, I love that I get to 'check out', to a certain extent, when Kaya is speaking to Geoff. It's like I can relax, knowing that he is 'responsible' for answering or responding to her question or need. It's a similar feeling to asking Kaya who she wants to take her to the bathroom--me or Dada. Sweet, she wants Dada! On the flip side, however, I'm noticing a bit of sadness on my part, a feeling of being 'left-out', of wishing that we could all just play together, smoothly, easily, and that I could just speak my native language with my daughter with words that have been flowing off of my tongue for 36 some-odd years (as opposed to just 15-ish). Wishing that, when I did communicate with Kaya, others didn't feel left out, didn't feel in the dark or wishing the situation were otherwise.
At this point, now that Kaya's been speaking exclusively German with me for 12 months and some change, I have no doubts about whether I should continue to speak German with her. I've seen enough of the benefits, and even moreso, have complete faith in the research that I've seen, to know that it will be worth it for her life. That's what my head says, anyway. But my heart does worry, at times, grows fearful that my relationship with my daughter will suffer; that we won't be able to ever communicate to the same extent that we would if it were my native language (if you were ever looking for a reason to hone your language skills, here's one!); that, over time, German will become the more challenging language for her to speak, and she'll just choose to communicate with others over Mama. My head is telling my heart to quit the silly-talk. Nothing like a mother's bond, it says. And you don't have to worry about then, it says. Be in the now.
Before we left Lena's place, Lena asked me which language Kaya liked speaking better. I wasn't sure, and told her to ask her.
"Kaya, which language do you like speaking better, English or German?" Lena asked her.
After a short pause, Kaya responded with a tone of confidence, "Both."
I know there are many of you out there, native and non-native alike, who continue to deal with similar thoughts, feelings, and situations regarding the OPOL and non-community language dynamic in play and social situations. What do you do? How do you feel about it? Have you gotten feedback from others about what they think or feel? I wrote about this topic because I'm so curious about your thoughts, your experiences, and anything else you're willing to share around this topic. I hope you'll take a minute to share, and/or pass this post along to someone else who might.
Thanks for being part of our journey!