Saturday, May 31, 2014

Adding a Third Language at 5?

As I walked in the door this evening, I saw it on the floor. There was no mistaking it, with the return address from PORTLAND PUBLIC SCHOOLS, Enrollment and Transfer Center. We'd been waiting for weeks to hear if we'd make the lottery for the Dual Spanish Immersion Program at our neighborhood school, and alas, we found out:

We made the cut (!!!??!?!?!?!$&!!@%$^$%^!).

For me, just hours from the news, my heart swims with emotions--excitement, fear, relief, curiosity, eagerness--and my mind swirls with thoughts. Can we trust an immersion program in it's first year at a school? What will adding a third language do to her non-community language (German)? What happens if we end up getting into our 'dream school' part way through the year--and then we don't like it?

When Geoff and I were on the fence about whether we wanted any more children, we agreed that we didn't want to make the decision based on fear (I'm afraid she'll feel alone in the world if she doesn't have any siblings...). Instead, we wanted to make a decision based on inspiration, based on the song of our heart beneath the fear.  Naturally, we want to do the same with this decision, too--a good reminder for me right now, as my mind spins and my stomach tries to talk me into a chocolate smoothie. There's nothing like chocolate ice cream to make everything feel easier in the moment.

So, then, what would my heart say if it could talk?
What would I hear if I listened?

I would love for Kaya to learn Spanish. As I told her tonight, it was the first language that I learned in school, the one I learned before German. The idea of my daughter knowing the same languages that I do leaves me with a cozy feeling.

And my brain is saying the following, too. Naturally, Spanish is a much more useful language to know than German, so there's that. But even if she's only in this Dual Immersion program for a year or less, a program which is conducted 90% in Spanish and 10% in English, I can imagine that the learning opportunity would only be beneficial. Right?

A month ago, we thought we had this school thing all figured out. After having discovered that we were 63rd on the wait list at the school that had me in tears of joy on curriculum night, we decided that we'd enroll Kaya for next year at her current school--a continuing Kindergarten class at her outdoor immersion forest farm preschool (Waldorf inspired). I met with her teacher, talked to the director, and felt great about the decision. And then, Kaya told me one night that she didn't want to go to school there next year. She was ready to be inside more, done with being so muddy and wet, and eager to learn to write--a much cuter, longer tale than I'm sharing now, but curt to stick to the point. She was also tired of being in the car so much, about 25 minutes each direction. And so, wanting to honor our daughter's wishes, we gave it some good thought, and decided to consider other options, optimally closer to home.  

And so here we sit...with three enticing neighborhood options in our laps:
1. Traditional kindergarten option at our local public school, which is rumored to be a good program now (after years of being one of the worst in the city) [$ free]
2. Dual Spanish immersion in that same school: 1 classroom, 1st year, non-existent reputation at this school but solid at others [$ free]
3. Local Waldorf kindergarten with about 6 children, with my friend, in her home [$ the same amount we'd put away for her college if we chose a free option]

Something tells me that you understand my quandary.
I bet you even understand why I'm craving chocolate...

Clearly, I don't have an answer. But what I do know is that I'd love your input. While I've finally learned that I need to get quiet and seek within for my answer, I also feel strongly that data would feel good right now. Are there legitimate fears I can put to rest? Are there valid considerations to weigh on?

As always, I love being on this journey with you--while I haven't had much time to branch out into the blogging world lately, I love that you come here, as it really makes a difference to feel so in community. This video of my new-found source of inspiration makes me think of us--singing our song together, from all over the world, each in our own beautiful place--and simultaneously reminds me to search within, and listen.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

When Eating, Wash a What?

Last year, I went to this really amazing retreat led by Chozen Bays, a Buddhist mindfulness teacher who is also an M.D. It had such an impact on my life at the time, changing not only the way that I ate, but more importantly, my entire relationship with food. While I've slipped back into some of my tendencies to wolf down my dinner and do all sorts of things while eating (including thinking...), the principles still permeate our lives, and very clearly trickle down into Kaya's world as well.

Most recently, she and I were sitting at the table, eating breakfast before school. In the middle of our table, in and around the rocks surrounding a candle, live our Mindful Eating Reminder & Encouragement Cards--a small stack of cards on a ring that Chozen made to support us in our daily lives after the retreat. From this mini deck, Kaya, Geoff and I will often choose a card that serves as a reminder or inspiration for how to eat more mindfully. It's quite a fun game, actually, as we always choose them randomly, and there's never an obligation to participate. So, on this particular morning, I picked up the deck and randomly flipped it open to a card. We both laughed, as it landed on the same card that had come up for me multiple times in the last 4 days:

When Eating, Just Eat.

Clearly, a sign from the universe that I need to be a hell of a lot more present when I'm eating.

So, there I am, determined this time to hone in and be present. I look at the rocks, chewing my cheerios, swallowing my milk, noticing the multitude of textures and flavors in my mouth. And then, Kaya makes a noise that I can't even begin to explain with text. She was wearing her felted owl around her neck (which her teacher at school gifted her for her birthday), and apparently, she'd dripped some milk on his head. Being my mother's daughter, hearing her concerns about souring milk echoing in my head, I gently reach over, grab her owl from his nest, and assure her that all will be well. Nothing a little water can't cure. As I return from the sink, and sit back into my seat, Kaya says something that left me laughing incessantly:

Mama, du hast nicht gehort zu der Karte. Du hast "When eating, just wash a owl!" [Mama, you didn't listen to the card. You did "When eating, just wash a owl!"]

I couldn't believe how tuned in she was, to the card, to me, to the whole concept--and how she brought it all together into this cute little mixed-language statement. And perhaps, the part that had me laughing the hardest was how it sounded when she said 'a owl'. As you may recall, I come from quite the grammar-nazi family--the language nuances were drilled deep, including the types of indefinite pronouns that need to be used before nouns starting with vowels ('an' vs.'a'). So, while it's hard to explain why I found that so funny, and that I certainly wasn't laughing at my daughter for using the 'wrong' article, it added to the hilarity of the whole situation. I laughed so hard, and for so long, that Kaya kept looking at me sideways, saying nothing but "Mom!", pleading me to stop and wondering why I found it so funny.

One day, maybe I'll share more about the 7 types of hungers about which Chozen teaches (Eye Hunger, Mouth Hunger, Nose Hunger, Stomach Hunger, Heart Hunger, Body Hunger, Mind Hunger), as they are pretty fascinating and have definitely made a huge difference in our family. In fact, soon after I came home from the weekend retreat last year, and had taught Geoff and Kaya about the different types, Kaya made a comment one day at the table in which she told me, quite matter of fact, "Mama, ich habe viel Augenhunger in Moment!" [Mama, I have a lot of eye hunger right now!]  This is after days on end of whining to Geoff and I about her desire to eat: "Ich wiw Essen, aber ich hab' kein Hunger!" [I want to eat, but I'm not hungry!]. She would get very angry, screaming and sometimes crying because we'd tell her that we like her to eat when she's hungry because it's healthier, as opposed to just eating for other reasons (it looks good, smells good, seems good, feels good, etc).

There's another retreat coming up in early June, and while I would so love to go to another one and deepen my practice, I couldn't be happier that Geoff has chosen to go instead. I'm quite curious and excited to feel the ripple effects from a different perspective...

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

German is Here to Stay

If this weren't such a passion of mine, and perhaps more importantly, if I hadn't finally been able to loosen up a good bit around this whole topic, I would feel quite embarrassed at my pomp and circumstance from my post the other day, only to be followed by the experiences of the supposed, Day 1. 

So, there I was, lying in my bed that next morning, hearing the pitter-patter of Kaya's feet at she came into my room to wake me. "Wann stehen wir auf...?" [When are we getting up?] she whispered, more quietly than she usually makes herself known in the mornings. Was that German, I wondered, half-asleep, slowly remembering her excitement of the plan the night before. What do I do? Respond in German, as usual, or stick to our 'plan' and overcome the awkwardness of speaking my native language with my daughter?

I chose the latter, with a half-smile on my face, eagerly wondering how she'd respond. She, too, got a half-smile on hers. "Do you want me to speak English with you?" I asked her. She nodded, silently. So, I kept overcoming my temptation to revert to German, pushing through the strangeness of the communication experience. At this point, a few days later as I write this, it's hard for me to remember all the details of our exchange, but what stands out is when she asked me, about 10 minutes into the morning, when we'd start speaking English together--in German. "I am speaking English with you," I responded, slowly, with a smile. This is after I'd spoken a number of sentences with her in both English and German, and her having spoken only German with me. 

I clearly remember looking at the clock about an hour later, making a mental note that, despite her initial excitement, and her comments about her continuing desire, she still had yet to mutter even one sentence to me in English. Similar to days, weeks, and years prior, she was still inserting a word or two here and there, when she didn't have the word in German to use--but as for full sentences, really making that first step towards transitioning to our 'new structure', nothing.

On the way to school, continuing to live in this strange land where mama speaks a sentence here and there in English, and Kaya responds in only German, Kaya says, "Ich habe Angst, mit dir Englisch zu sprechen..." [I'm scared to speak English with you...] When I asked her if she knew why, she said she didn't. I validated for her that it must feel strange for her, likely in the same way it feels for me. When I picked her up after school--a time which can often be a bit emotionally challenging because she's tired and in need of a break--I wasn't sure which language to choose. So, I went with 'business as usual' from the morning, trying a sentence here and there in English, curious to see how she'd respond. Again, German in response. And, similar to our drive to school, she shared with me again that she was scared to speak English with me. Again, I asked if she knew what felt scary. She bit my head off with that one, telling me adamantly, "Ich weiss es nicht! Ich will nicht mehr darueber sprechen, Mama!" [I don't know! I don't want to talk about it anymore, Mama!

What I found so interesting about the day up to that point is that I didn't find myself feeling attached one way or another. Emotionally, I was aware of some relief that I felt, that we have this bond, in this special language, and it won't just 'come apart', just like that. A friend pointed out, a few days later, that it's going to take a lot longer for her to get used to speaking English with me. For sure. As a language teacher, and someone who has started a number of relationships in various languages with people, I know how challenging it can be to switch once you've started--and that doesn't even factor in the mother-daughter emotional bond that exists which naturally contributes to the feelings that accompany the language.

As I'm tucking her into bed that night, after an evening of more of the same (smatterings of English from Mama, only German from Kaya), Kaya says to me, quite calmly and matter-of-fact: " Ich glaube, es geht nicht, Englisch zu ist zu 'weird', mit Dir Englisch zu sprechen." [I believe it's not going to work to speak's too weird to speak English with you.] "Das ist OK," [That's ok] I told her, feeling so much love and admiration in my heart for her ability to just be with what is, and state it as such. "Wir koennen nochmal probieren, wenn wir wollen, wenn es sich nicht so komisch fuehlt." [We can try it again if we want, when it doesn't feel so strange.]

And with that, we kissed goodnight and said goodbye, at least temporarily, to the plan that I actually thought would work (despite all of the evidence I had to the contrary). I wanted it to work--I would love to be able to communicate with each other in my native language at times. And at the same time, I'm relieved it didn't. I am very happy we have this with each other, despite how challenging it feels for both of us at times to say exactly what we want to say. 

But from this whole experience I realize that the German's not going anywhere anytime soon--so, I wonder, why not play around with some English a bit more, at least in those moments when I really want to include others more, or I just want to get something really complicated across to her? Yes, I could be opening Pandora's box to a slippery slope of mixing hell, but it is our life and our relationship, right? We can have our cake and eat it too, to the point that I can support her knowledge and ability in this second language, and simultaneously 'exactify' our ability to communicate as we want in any particular moment?

The next question becomes...what do we do if we actually make the lottery for the Spanish Immersion Program at our local elementary school?!!?

(As always, would LOVE to hear your comments, input, or shared experiences! Thanks for traveling this journey with us!)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Changing the Structure After 5 Years?!

It's been so long since I've written on this here lil' blog that I was surprised that my computer even remembered the address when I typed the first three letters. If it hadn't been for those of you vocal and committed readers, letting me know you're out there, sharing your thoughts in response to my past posts, I probably would have had to go through the effort of typing out every last letter.

On a more serious note, I so appreciate reminders that you're out there. In fact, the most recent note I received is likely the reason that I'm here now.
So, thank you!
I've missed you, dear international community.
And I've missed blogging.

But I'm back. Hopefully for a while, but at least for tonight.
Things are brewin' on the bilingual horizon and I couldn't not share.

As I left Kaya's room tonight, after tucking her in, I hear from her, in her sweet little 5-year-old voice, "Ich hab' dich lieb, sehr sehr sehr sehr sehr viel!" [I love you, very very very very very much!]
A Look of Confidence that Pierces
Oneonta Gorge in the Columbia River Gorge
Heart-melting, without a doubt.
To be quickly followed up with a similarly sweet, "Schlaf schoen, Mami!"

As much as I'd like to wax on a side note about the strangeness of this whole 'Mami' phase, after being called 'Mama' for 4 years, and most recently 'Mom', I will stick to the point that I was originally wanting to make: after the last 3 years of speaking only German with one another, using the commonly known methodology of OPOL (one parent, one language), it is still the language we use to communicate, albeit for a few words here and there that we both throw in when we don't know the term in German.

That makes me really happy!
Especially when I consider the road we traveled to get here.'s about to all change.

As you may know, if you've been around since the beginning, or been curious enough to explore my posts from back then, I've certainly had my moments where I was ready to give up, and gave it very strong consideration. Granted, I never planned on throwing in the towel was more a matter of wanting to lighten the 'burden', the stress of not knowing (particular words, phrases, and more challenging, what the outcome would be), the pressure (of feeling like I should know more, speak better, etc), the fear (would we have enough connection, would she suffer somehow?), the doubt (is all this effort 'worth it'?). I thought about all sorts of different arrangements that I might work to ease my stress, including picking certain days, or parts of days, when we might speak some English with each other. I even remember a time, a few Christmases ago, when I thought we might whisper when we wanted to speak English. That seems so funny now.  But I never 'let' myself try any of those alternatives. As much as I was very committed to her proficiency in German, I was also very afraid of what might happen if I did let up. And, underneath that, what that might mean about me if I did?

Apparently, the intense personal development and coaching training has paid off, for I'm no longer stopped by my fear in this arena (and how great that feels!)...:

As I was lying in bed with her, noticing how many English words she was infusing into her story from her day at school today, I asked her if she liked speaking German with me. "Jaaah," [yeeaah...] she said, wriggling with her whole body and burying her face in her pillow. As our conversation progressed, it became clear to me that she does like speaking German with me, and doesn't want to lose it, but is curious about and interested in speaking English with me, as well.

Me, too.
There has definitely been a part of me, since the beginning actually, that has wanted to have at least part of my relationship with my daughter in my native language--the reason that many, if not most?, bi- or multilingual parents choose the language they do with their children.
I'm no exception.

"Ich habe eine gute Idee," [I have a good idea] Kaya proclaimed, as we continued our discussion, snuggling close in the darkness of her room. "Wir koennten ein Jahr English sprechen, und dann ein Jahr Deutsch." [We could speak for one year in English, and one year in German.] I wasn't sure if she really meant 'year', or if she was going for another time frame--she is still learning the concept of time, and often gets the concepts confused, if not just the words (the bilingual thing definitely confuses the issue). After clarifying with her that she knew what a year really felt like (from the beginning of one school year, to the end, plus a whole summer), she verified that she really did mean 'year', and proceeded to explain to me why she thought this was a good idea. Granted, her reasoning wasn't much more than an explanation of what we'd do, but it was clearly her argument. One year English, then the next in German. Simple as that.

As much as I'm into the idea of exploring options at this point, especially with my fluent 5 year old, I'm not into losing the language, which, I shared with her, is likely what would happen if we took an entire year off from the language. While not initially convinced, she ultimately heard me, enough to listen to my 'counter-proposal': "Wir koennten an einem Tag der Woche Englisch sprechen," [We could speak English one day a week] not quite confident about my idea, but happier with it than the idea of losing our German. She clearly didn't like that idea. "Was?!" [What?!] was her quick rebuttal. "Nur ein Tag?!" [Only one day?] As we lay there, ruminating on this idea that neither of us was so fond of, Kaya chimes in again. "Ich habe eine gute Idee! Wir koennten ein Tag Deutsch und dann ein Tag Englisch" [I have a good idea! We could do one day German, and then one day English.]

What you gotta understand about this idea is how representative it is of how often this happens. Generally, we think of ourselves, as adults, as knowing more than kids, right? I mean, in my case, I've been on this planet for 35 years longer than my daughter, you'd think that I'd know more, and have more (and more unique?) ideas than my five year old. Well, apparently, bilingualism (or maybe it's just childhood?!) trumps my level of confidence, because it happens quite regularly that didn't even cross my mind--even on those topics, like this one, where I've been mulling for 3 years!
Kaya will come up with an idea that

Ingenious. One day on, one day off. The idea might exist in certain parenting books, but not any of the many that I read in her upbringing.

As I mulled this idea over in my head, as much as I loved it, I also noticed myself feeling a bit hesitant about what it might mean for her (our?!) German. She's already mixing quite a bit, particularly on days like today where she spent the last 40 hours in an English-speaking environment. So, I proposed an amendment: "Ich habe eine Idee! Wie waere es, wenn wir an den deutschen Tagen Deutsch sprachen, und an den Englischen Tagen, Englisch mit Deutsch wenn wir wollten?" [I have an idea! What about if we spoke German on the German days, and English on the English days with the option of speaking German if we wanted?]

Her antipathy was clear. That idea was not going to fly.

And with that, she responded calmly, "Ich habe eine Idee! Wie waere es, wenn wir an den deutschen Tagen Deutsch sprachen, und an den Englischen Tagen, Englisch?!" [What about if we spoke German on the German days, and English on the English days?] I know it may not seem so funny on the screen, and it didn't seem funny to her either ("Mama, das ist nicht lustig..." [Mama, that's not funny...she said, laughing along with me], but I found it hilarious that she would propose that, as if so sarcastically to make her point.

So, that's what we're doing.
After 3 years of one method, 5 years of only ever speaking to my daughter in German (with a few explosive exceptions here and there), the structure is about to change. Yes, I'm a bit concerned, as I shared with her, a bit fearful that it might be a slippery slope and we'll never 'get it back' to this point ("Warum hast du Angst, Mama? Es ist mit Deutsch...?" [Why are you afraid, Mama? It's with German...]). And she, too, has her fears, as she shared with me just before I left her room: "Mama, ich habe Angst, dass wir morgen anfangen..." [Mama, I'm scared about starting tomorrow...]

But despite our minimal fears and concerns, we are both excited!
It's wonderful to be in a place, as George Saunders shares in his book, Bilingual Children: From Birth to Teens, where I can discuss with my daughter what she wants to do. Granted, I'm still older, with more experience on language proficiency, and what it takes to maintain fluency. But, as I highlighted above, she's clearly got me trumped on some other facets of her idea propagation.

Maybe TRUST is one of them...