Thursday, September 6, 2012

Balancing Bigness and Bilingualism

I'm feeling a bit overcome with emotion.

I know that kind of makes it sounds like I've got tears in my eyes, or that I'm dying to thrash on the keyboard with my fists, or that I really have nothing to say. Quite to the contrary, I'm sitting here at our kitchen table, the only one awake in our quiet house, enjoying the silence and peace after the last few days of amazing life experiences--for both me and the many important people in my life.  No tears tonight (though there were a few this afternoon!), just a decent headache and a mind full of desire to share some of the bigness through blogging.

Caileigh Elizabeth in Daddy's Arm's, Just 11 Hours Old
Though it feels like I should first address the topic of last night's post, I can't get the sweet face out of my mind of our new little niece, Caileigh Elizabeth Nielsen. I feel truly in love, and I saw her for a mere 15 minutes this morning, at the most. I look at her, at them and the joy they feel, and not only do I feel it, too, but admittedly, notice myself wanting another little one, as well. Argh. Damn hormones and emotions. How am I going to keep from procreating with your big voices in the way?! She is beautiful, and perfect as they described her, and the idea of Kaya being like a big sister to her, as a cousin, leaves me incredibly happy!

Heather, Arletta, and little baby Harrington
To top it off, as Estella, Kaya and I were returning to the car from the hospital, I got this overwhelming sense of excitement that, all of a sudden, there are a gaggle of girls in my present and future. Kaya, Caileigh, Arletta and Baby Girl Harrington. A circle of cousins and siblings who will be together at the cabin, celebrating Christmas, going on trips, and surely, doing their hair. I think, while standing in front of that elevator today, I hit this milestone in life where I finally understand why people keep having babies. And why mine and Geoff's sister were so goo-goo over  Kaya!! This feeling of growing one's family, even when it's not immediately yours, is truly amazing. I feel SO grateful to have family around us, to live near them, and to enjoy and be strengthening the relationships that we have between us.

I guess I am kind of hitting all the big topics of yesterday's post, because I'm now ready to talk about Kaya's first official day of Preschool at the Mother Earth School! It's not a traditional photo of her smiling with her school clothes on, lunch box in hand, as I see so many of my friends posting of their super cute kids on facebook. But then again, neither is this school experience--traditional, that is. As we arrived, albeit 10 minutes late because I couldn't pull myself away from my new love at the hospital, everyone was sanding gourds that the kids will use throughout the year for their snack bowls. We were welcomed with smiles and greetings and dove right into sanding and socializing with everyone else. Soon, however, it was time to circle up on the blanket--parents to the side--so the 'Kindergardeners' could encircle and welcome the 'Faery Gardeners' to their new school. Kaya was fascinated, and watched with wide eyes as she sat next to Miss Kelly, who, she'd told me earlier, she really likes. After this warm welcome, it was time to hear the story about the Wise Old Owl, who solicited concerns from various Beings in the forest about what the children might know and might not. "'Wise Old Owl,' asked the plant, 'Will the children know to leave me alone, knowing that, while I might nourish them, some of the other plants may not?" shared Miss Kelly, as the children sat mesmerized around her. "'Whooo. Whooo.,' replied the Wise Owl. 'Yes, the children will know to leave you alone without picking your leaves, even if they've eaten you the day before. They will know to avoid eating anything in the forest until they've asked us first." And so she continued with this beautiful story, constructing the rules for the school in a way that left even parents wondering how guidelines could be presented with such creativity and finesse.

At the end of the day, after they'd gone into the forest to find their gifts from the forest creatures, and returned to us to join us in a picnic, Kaya told me that she'd forgotten to say thank you to Miss Kelly for the purple flower that she'd been given. "Das kannst du ihr morgen sagen," [You can tell her tomorrow,] I told her, concerned about being late for Estella's meeting at the high school. "Neeeeein," [Noooo] she retorted, adamant that she wanted to thank her today. How could I say no to that (after coaching her to ask in a normal voice!)?! So, before we walked out of the forest, Kaya literally ran across the field to Miss Kelly and thanked her for the beautiful flower she'd been given.

What a wonderful entrance to the world of school. Even Estella thinks "it's a really nice preschool," which she shared as we were walking away. As much as I struggled with the idea of German vs. Outdoor Immersion, I'm thus far quite happy with our choice.

It's getting late and tomorrow, as Estella's first day of high school in America, is no exception to our week of big events. So, I better go to bed.

But there are two more things I gotta say.
First of all, how do you balance these amazing feelings of new life with those surrounding a friend in the hospital with cerebral hemorrhaging?! My heart is heavy as I wait to hear more. If I prayed, I'd do it now.

And second, is this.
While getting ready for bed, both tonight and last, Kaya proclaimed "nein!" to the idea of Estella reading her a story. "Ich wiw, dass DU mir eine Geschichte liest! Ich wiw nicht eine Geschichte von ihr!" [I want YOU to read me a story! I don't want a story from her!] Poor Estella. Brand new to the family and directly rejected by the 3 year old host sister. For those of us parents, who remember age 3, we know it means nothing.  But to her. Ouch. So, after a few more bedtime hurdles, and an apology or two later, Kaya was finally telling Estella, in German, that she wanted her to read her a story, and was even begging for some songs in German, too. The icing was the hug. And the thank-you that was delivered in English. "Es gibt kein 'Thank You' auf Deutsch," [There is no 'thank you' in German,] she told me, smiling, as I reminded her of our newest language plan.

I knew it would happen--the bonding and relaxation to resistance--but to see it happening so soon, makes me very happy. Like with those babies, it leaves me excited about our future, about trips we can take and the German that they'll speak and the relationships that will develop. It leaves me feeling like, yes, as rocky as it can be in the first few days of hosting a teen with a toddler in the mix, the waves will settle, and in its place, love will reside.

For more detailed information on the Mother Earth School, check out this feature article that details the history, philosophy, curriculum, funding and achievements. They paint a really clear picture of what the kids do during the day (like making candles and spinning wool from the sheep they shear!).

To learn more about Outdoor Immersion Programs in general, including the definition, the academics, the Real Lessons, and the other reasons to send your child to an outdoor preschool, check out this article on!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

OPOL + ML@H = ??

Just yesterday, I became an auntie to a beautiful little girl who still remains nameless. Kaya got a new cousin, and Geoff became an uncle to Billy and Heather's daughter's sister.

In just a few hours, it will happen again. Only different (and less complicated!). Geoff's little sister will have the baby we've all been eagerly awaiting for months, especially after all the bouts of false labor she's had over the past many weeks.

Last week, when we decided we wanted to host a German exchange student, Heather pointed out that we'd all be getting 'new family members', and it jokingly became a race to see whose 'baby' would arrive first.

It looks like we've taken second place.  Estella arrived this morning, a mere 16 hours after the arrival of the yet-nameless Harrington. But I gotta say: those ladies, Heather and Julie, have worked and are working a LOT harder than I expect I will ever need to with my 'new arrival'. At least I hope that 'our' 15 year old doesn't wake us at 3am for feedings, or cause extreme breast pain during mealtimes or excruciating burning upon arrival (so far so good on the latter two!). 

Clearly, there's a lot of change going on around here. To top it off, Kaya's first official day of school is tomorrow, with a sweet little Faery Garden Ceremony at her outdoor immersion forest and farm Mother Earth School (post on it's way for that one day soon)!

So, it's only natural that Kaya was in quite the mood today.
And me too.
Poor Estella. Poor Geoff.

But despite those moods, something pretty cool transpired today (on top of all that other stuff!). As late as it is, I can't pass up the opportunity to write about it while it's fresh...

When I first called Laura, the International Exchange Coordinator (IEC), she told me that it wouldn't work to have a student speak exclusively German to Kaya. It's against the visa rules: they are supposed to speak only English. I understand. It's silly for a student to come all the way to the States only to spend time speaking their own language excessively. I did that in Germany, and regretted it. The last thing I want to be is a host family who supports or demands for that type of exchange.

And at the same time, I was, and still am, under the impression that it's possible to immerse oneself in the community language and still speak one's native language (sort of similar to what I do with Kaya every day. My German has improved immensely--and my English has only suffered a wee bit!).  For that reason, I asked this Laura if it would be too much to ask for a student to have a relationship with a 3 1/2 year old in German, and an English relationship with everyone else. Her ultimate suggestion, a day later, is that we could sign on as a Welcome Family and see how it goes--see how it fits with everyone involved.

With further consideration, however, I decided that I didn't want Estella to miss out on the opportunity to build an English relationship with a child--it's with children that we can often speak from our hearts, with few inhibitions, with fewer concerns that we will be judged or corrected. For this reason, I began to wonder how we could foster both--a true exchange, where Kaya gets the opportunity to have a German relationship with a native speaker, and Estella gets the opportunity to speak English with a kid. In thinking about the common methods that people use to raise their children bi- and multi-lingually, I was reminded of Minority Language at Home (ML@H), where the household language is in that of the parents, or minority, language, and the community language is spoken outside of the home. The more I thought about it, the happier I became with the idea, and while we were Skyping with Estella and her family on Sunday, I proposed the idea in response to Estella's question about what language to speak with Kaya.

Here's where the cool part begins to come in. After we hung up from our Skype call (which was great! and very exciting!), Geoff, Kaya and I were sitting at the table eating breakfast. We had all been on the call, but Kaya had remained mostly silent, playing with her beads and doing some 'show and tell' to the family on the other end. While drinking her smoothie, she says to Geoff, in a very excited tone, "I'm goin to seak Gurman wif Estella at home, and den, when we're not at home, I'll seak ingwish wif her." I looked at her wide-eyed, impressed that she retained all of that from our call, and then stated it so matter of fact to Geoff later.

At dinner tonight, she said a similar thing, this time, however, after a day of putting it to practice. Her smile was even bigger tonight, however, which surprised me to see after the challenges we faced with the new method. "Ich wiw nicht mit ihr Deutsch sprechen!" [I don't want to speak German with her!] she said to me at one point today, as we were leaving for the park."Ich seche nur Engwisch mit ihr!" [I'm only speaking English with her!] This is after we'd been home awhile, and they'd been playing Candy Land together in German. "Kein Problem," [No problem,] I said to her, understanding how strange it must be for her that I am speaking English with someone that I want her to speak German with. "Wir gehen jetzt weg von zu Hause, du kannst deswegen mit ihr jetzt Englisch sprechen." [We're leaving the house now, so you can speak English with her now.] At the park, it began to sink in, and despite her initial resistance to my encouragements for her to do so, she finally asked Estella if she was English.  A smile wrapped around all of our faces...

It may turn out that ML@H is too much German for Estella. Or it may cause other ripples that I can't currently foresee. But for now, I'm fascinated by the idea of mixing some methods and playing around, once again, with what Kaya is capable of.

p.s. For those who are wondering, OPOL means 'One Parent, One Language', and refers to the method that Geoff and I use with Kaya where one parent speaks exclusively one language with the child and the other parent, a different language.