Monday, October 14, 2013

Does Absence Make the Language Difference Grow Stronger?

It's just after midnight and in order to see the words I'm typing, I have to keep blinking to moisten my contacts. But I can stay away no longer. When I look at the date of my last post and see that it's been more than 3 months since I last wrote, I cringe. As usual, I've had moment after moment, thought after painstaking thought, of what I might write to break this longstanding silence. And then I don't--for all sorts of reasons, fear being only one of them. I know, I know, what the hell might I be afraid of!? Well, I suppose I continue to recognize this desire to 'make it good' and if I don't think I can, I don't.

But alas, the more I get to know that tendency, the more gently it can just slip here I am.

And oh, does it feel so good.
I'm glad to be back. Every time I return, I remember how much I appreciate and miss you--this little international community of bloggers whom I've 'gotten to know' over the years as Kaya grows up.

I've been away for so long spending most of my time on two primary 'front burners' in my life (it's not just a personal desire for perfection that keeps me away from the keyboard). One of the passions I've written about a great deal, and surely will write about more with time: climate change. The other, while not directly related, has very much to do with that concept, as I hope to, one day, merge my desire to create a stable climate and future with my passion for coaching others to make a difference. While I don't know how exactly I plan to get there, and where my path will land, I am on the journey...and as much as I love it, it certainly doesn't leave as much time for blogging as I'd like.

But before my eyes cloud over completely, I want to at least get out some of the thoughts I was having this afternoon regarding coming home after more than a week away from Kaya.

While I know, cognitively, that there's always an adjustment period, it always seems to hit me in a way that I least expect it. I find myself feeling sad that we can't connect in the way that I imagine it: with her running up to me in the airport, jumping into my arms, and covering me with kisses. Just like in the movies. Or maybe in the movies, it's the mom who does that to the kid...but the kid is definitely into it (as long as she's under 8!). At least that's how it is in my movie. But in my life, it doesn't look that way at all. Instead, it takes us about a day to get back into that place of feeling truly connected, to that point where she's actually happy to be riding behind my bike on her tagalong instead of Dada's. Or where she's hugging my leg in addition to his.

I tell myself that it makes sense. I know it does. I've been gone for 8 days, and she's been with her grandparents for 5 of those days--I know that, at least for her, she needs some adjustment time. But admittedly, I do find myself wondering if, and how much, the bilingualism has to do with that need. As you may know, Kaya is fluent in both English and German, and speaks German with me and English with everyone else in her family and community. Thus, while at Grahms and Grandpa's, it's all English, all the time. When I called, in fact, to say hello and 'I love you' last Wednesday, she wasn't interested, and handed the phone back to Grandpa. In my doubting mind, I wonder if the transition would be smoother if she and I spoke the same language as she speaks with everyone else? Do her words get rusty? Is it a language thing or a Kaya thing?

As I mulled all of these thoughts around this afternoon, I found myself dancing with the thought of how grown up she seems, and noticed a tug of sadness at my heartstrings. Is she growing up in English and I'm not noticing it because I'm with her in German all of the time? Or is it that I was just gone for a week, and she really did grow up a good bit, using word "like" in her storytelling in English: he was, like, going all over the place! (I remember when my dad forbade me to use that word around him in middle school!)

And then, as our connection grew with every passing hour this afternoon, I began to recognize the 'growing up' in her German, too. Her language flowed as she spoke, pointing out the Katze [cat] and other notables in our neighborhood as we pedaled down the street.

And as I sat on that seat, riding down the street, hearing her behind me with all of her excitement for all that was around us, it hit me that I just need to follow her lead and do the same. For it's the flowers and the kitties and the neighborhood pups that can serve to remind us of what is here and now, and what isn't.

It's nice to be back. I look forward to 'seeing' you soon--and, of course, as always, would SO love to hear from you below!


  1. It hink it is an age thing too. Kids when they are small are not really interested in chatting to you on the phone or explaining what they have done in the week you have been away. Life is the present for them.

  2. Oh, great point, Annabelle! Thanks so much for your input and validation. I talked to my in laws this morning after they read this and they couldn't say enough about how much she loves me and talks about me when I'm gone, etc etc. And while I implied that I know this cognitively, it's always nice for my heart to hear it. Life DEFinitely is the present for them, indeed. Love that I have that role model in my life on a daily basis...! Thanks again...!

  3. Our kids (2 and 4 years old, raised bilingually German strong / English weak non-native) just came back from a week's stay at their grandparents'. While it took them no time at all to switch back to English with me, I noticed that both of them had "lost" some of their vocabulary. Both of them used more German words than they usually do with me, and most of all they used German words which they had frequently used in English before.
    However, I believe that this is just a temporary setback. In case they had spent one week in an English environment, they'd probably have forgotten some German words, too.
    Anyhow at this early age I wouldn't worry at all, even though a kid might not actively remember some words, they keep it in their passive vocabulary, and it'll all get reactivated as soon as they spend some days with their second language

    1. Thanks for your input and reassurance, Frank, as delayed as my response comes! I've enjoyed communicating with you over email, and look forward to having more time during the school year so that i can do more blogging, as love to do. HAve some great stories to share, just need to make the time!!


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