Archive | Uncategorized RSS feed for this section

Parenting The Enemy

2 Apr

by Janice Lindegard of Snide Reply

I wanted a girl. No question. Oh, sure, I told people I just wanted a healthy baby, but really, I wanted a girl. So, when my son was born, it was more than drugs and exhaustion that had me on emotional overload.

I was a feminist. I was prepared to rear a strong, self-possessed woman. In my feminist readings, I ran across a piece on women in heterosexual relationships that likened being married to a man to sleeping with the enemy.  How the hell was I supposed to parent the enemy?

The first week of parenthood featured little sleep, lots of poop and a humiliating tendency for my body to do really revolting things completely out of my control. I remember one day, though, sitting on my back porch. The Little Enemy was asleep, finally. I had a lovely rose garden, but I wasn’t admiring it. I was completely absorbed in an epic wallow of self-pity. I had a boy. Boy, boy, boy. No little soul sister, I had a miniature man.

I started to cry. I stared out at my rose garden and wept. I got maudlin. I wept for the sassy girl I wouldn’t have and the beautiful woman I wouldn’t know. I wept because my child would never wear my wedding dress. And then I thought of Dennis Rodman and I laughed out loud. At that time, Mr. Rodman was wildly infamous for his outrageous behavior, which included going clubbing in a wedding dress. Immediately after lamenting that my child wouldn’t wear my gown, I pictured the beastly ugly Rodman in his and thought, “God, I hope not!”

I’ve said that nothing made me more of a feminist than raising a son. When I do, more than a few women look at me like I’ve either lost my mind or made a very unfunny joke. But it’s no joke. If our society beats down girls, it beats down boys just as cruelly. The problem is that while we’re eager to help girls with their self-esteem, their body image, their academic standings and their professional opportunities, most people don’t even want to recognize that boys are bound and gagged by our society, too. After all, helping boys would be the societal equivalent of aiding and abetting enemy combatants.

At this point, you may be wondering what the heck I’m talking about. Boys don’t need help; boys aren’t discriminated against. Boys never had to fight to get into anything. From Little League to Harvard to the White House, boys—especially white ones—have been living the high life.

I am not delusional, though. From the time my son was born, he was treated differently than a daughter would have been. Even in infancy, we expect boys to be tough. Baby boys are picked up less frequently than baby girls. Just because of a roll of the biological dice, one child is cuddled when she cries and the other is left to seek comfort in his little blue blankie. Being born male even reduces your chances of being adopted. Globally, more girls are adopted than boys, not because more girls are available but because people feel safer adopting a girl. In fact, you can probably cut your wait time to adopt merely by stating a preference for a boy.

School is supposed to be where the rubber begins to hit the road in discrimination against girls. But, seen through the eyes of boys and their mothers, school is set up for the male to fail. Standing in lines, communicating verbally, sitting still, pleasing the teacher are all behaviors that, for whatever reason, girls seem to master more quickly and easily than boys. Let’s not get sidetracked discussing why girls are able to do it. Let’s think about what it means to boys that their genetically codified behavior is more likely to get them a pass to the principal than a gentle reminder or exasperated sigh.

I don’t have enough space left to discuss how my son’s middle school career might have differed if he were a girl. I have a hard time imagining he would have been called lazy and unmotivated if he were a girl failing in the gifted program, though. One day he forgot to bring pencil and paper to the library. His teacher gave him a detention for defiance. If his name were Emily, I wonder if she’d just roll her eyes and hand her some paper.

As my son gets older, I’m less and less concerned about how his school treats him and more concerned with how his society treats him. Recently, a friend posted a screed on her Facebook wall. The gist of the post is this: if the parents of boys raised sons who kept their hands to themselves unless invited, then the parents of girls wouldn’t have to worry how their daughters are dressed.

At the same time, I’m dealing with my son’s sexual maturity. Overwhelmingly, his society paints him as barely able to contain his desires. If he has unprotected sex with a girl and she gets pregnant, it will be his fault. Don’t think so? When was the last time you heard someone refer to the boy involved in a teen pregnancy as “a nice young man”? Nope. He’ll be “that jackass who got Susie pregnant.”

The idea that boys have to be controlled for the world to be safe is insulting at best and hypocritical at worst. At the same time we are telling little boys to keep their hands to themselves, we think it’s cute when little girls chase them to steal a kiss. The boys don’t think it’s cute. The boys think it’s harassment and they get mad when we don’t stop the girls.

We ridicule boys who dance, want to be nurses and love to play with dolls. If you think we don’t, then you haven’t raised a boy. When a girl wants to box, play hockey or quarterback a football team, we say “Why not?” We may even get angry if she’s not allowed to. Imagine the reaction to a boy who wants to dance Giselle. Not really seeing the outrage, are you?

Let’s call a truce. Let’s teach boys and girls to keep their hands to themselves. Let’s admit that girls want to have sex as much as boys do. Let’s teach all of our children that they can be whatever they want to be . . .and mean it.

Janice Lindegard is a writer, blogger and columnist living in Naperville, Illinois. She is mom to two children: a bio son with ADHD and a daughter adopted from China. She tries, often unsuccessfully, to follow the teaching of Buddha, is married to a Jewish man and was raised by Roman Catholics. She writes a parenting column for Naperville Patch and blogs about her life at Snide Reply.

What Babies Need

9 Feb

A friend of mine just called me today to tell me that she finally, after years of searching, found a job. It’s just a retail job in a second-hand clothes shop, but she and I were both thrilled. In the evenings after work she brings her four-year-old daughter with her to night school. Her daughter’s daycare is closed by the time her evening classes begin, but B only has another month of schooling before finishing the certificate she is working on, and she’s determined to complete it despite the new job.

I met B almost exactly 4 years ago, shortly after she had come to Montreal as a refugee from West Africa. I met her as a volunteer for a small organization called “Action Réfugié de Montreal”, which pairs volunteers with newly arrived refugees as a source of support and friendship.  When we first met, B had only been in Montreal for a few months and her daughter was three months old. Our volunteer relationship blossomed into a friendship, which has continued although the official volunteer “contract” finished a couple of years ago when B was finally allowed to move beyond refugee status to become a Canadian resident.

Now that I also have a daughter, our relationship has changed and deepened. While in the past she often came to me for advice or explanations about paperwork, procedures, and logistics, she is now the one who has more experience than I do in one very important area of life: motherhood.

B’s strength, determination and joy despite everything that has happened to her are an inspiration to me. She has faced many challenges. She was forced to leave her child’s father behind, in West Africa, when she escaped to an unknown city on an unknown continent. She arrived in a francophone city unable to speak a word of French. She had her baby shortly after arriving, and dealt with having a newborn while still trying to find a place to live, still bewildered and very alone.

B was only able to complete grade 5 in her home country, since after that her mother could no longer afford her school fees. This made finding a job in Montreal almost impossible, especially considering the language barrier. I have watched her struggle to improve her reading, both in French and English, so that she could understand all the important documents sent to her by mail. She managed to find an apartment, prepare her defense for the stressful court case that would decide whether she would stay in Canada as a permanent resident or be deported back to her country, apply to educational programs and jobs. A girl from a small African town has learned her way around Montreal, has acquired functional French, and has discovered organizations and programs that help new immigrants such as herself that I never knew existed. She has survived, despite all odds.

She has done more than survive; she has raised a beautiful daughter. Her little girl is her pride and joy, and has been her companion through all the challenges she has faced over the last few years. Despite her very limited financial resources, B always manages to make sure that her daughter has whatever she needs. When her little girl was still a baby, I watched B skillfully bargain the price of getting her ears pierced to an amount she could afford. She set up a small savings account for her future education, even though she can barely afford to pay the rent and buy groceries. Every year she scrapes the money together to throw daughter a birthday party, complete with a fancy dress for the birthday girl, cake, balloons, and as many friends as their little apartment can hold. B makes sure her little girl gets to talk on the phone with family members including her father on a regular basis, and they have met other West Africans in Montreal who have provided them with a sense of community and extended family. B’s daughter is sweet and beautiful, and she calls me “Auntie”.

I am thankful that when I think about all that I wish for my child, I don’t need to hope that she can meet her father one day, or that I will be able to somehow find the money to provide her with healthy food, a home, and clothing. But my relationship with B has shown me that many aspects of motherhood are the same no matter what culture the mother is from, or what her situation is.  Mostly what babies need is love, and all mothers, no matter where they are from, know how to give that to their children.

Maro Adjemian lives in Montreal, Canada, with her husband and 10 month old daughter.

A Juggling Exercise: The Work and Life balance

3 Feb

After Mia was born, my 17 months old daughter, I had one year maternity leave but decided that I wanted to take some extra time off work and resigned from the job I had at the time – it just seemed like the natural thing to do, because other than wanting to spend some more time with Mia, later I also wanted to find a new professional challenge.

So now I am getting back to the tedious process of looking for a new fulfilling job and all that this process entails. I am being picky because I feel that whatever I go to do next better be worth my time away from my daughter. Things were looking good, some interviews here and there, though nothing concrete. Then came an unpleasant interview, where I was asked four questions relating to my ability to manage being a mom and a professional. I never thought I would be intimidated by such questions which actually to me felt unnecessary, self-explanatory, not to mention bordering on illegal. The questions where along the lines of, ‘this  role requires  that on occasion you work late, would you be able to do that with small child?”, ‘your child is quite young, how will you cope with leaving her?’ and a couple of other similar questions.

During the interview I did not hesitate answering, I expected that some employers may want to know a little about that aspect, though found it odd that there were more than one or two questions. In hindsight, I should have said something that would not give him (yes, it was a male interviewer) the chance to further prove my private life.  But I must admit after the interview I was filled with insecurities and doubts, not about whether I could work and manage my work and home life balance, but by the thought that being a mom would put me at a disadvantage in the eyes of employers.

Having worked in the human rights field I am well aware of all types of discrimination against women and specifically we often hear about discrimination against women in the labour market, especially around all matters to do with reproduction – i.e. men being hired in favour of women because the women are of child bearing age, women cast aside from promotions because she just got married and therefore might fall pregnant, and the list of assumptions goes on and on- but it was weird to feel that maybe I was the subject of discrimination, at least that is what I perceived.

As I friend of mine rightly pointed out, being a mom gives us an added edge, we become great ‘multi-taskers’ and  become extra efficient at work simply because we need to finish on time to be able to tend to our other responsibilities at home.  I don’t deny that I won’t go through my own separation anxiety when I eventually go back to work or that it might take a little bit of time for me to adjust to the change, but in taking the decision to go back to work I am already preparing myself for this process and do resent that my professional ability is questioned because I am a mother, the role I am most proud of.

Next time I am asked anything about being a mother all I would say is this – ‘I have the support system I need  to cope with the demands on this role’, and say nothing more and nothing less. Also, I think I had the best teacher I could possibly have on being a working mother and that is my mom. As a single working mother she took her five daughters travelling around the world whilst she carried out humanitarian work. When we left my country my little sister was just 3 and my eldest sister was 13, so I bet if she could do it I am sure I can too!!

 —————————————————————————————————————————

Paty is a Dominican/Peruvian mom who lives in London with her Norwegian husband and 17 month old daughter, Mia.

Permission to Give Birth – Part 2

31 Jan

At my 37 week check up, my doctor told me, “Your water is low. Your hips are wide. I think I am going to see you before your 38th week. You are going to give birth.” We walked out of her office feeling skeptical. This lady was strange  sometimes..

I had a generally good feeling about her when I met her. I felt I could trust her. She was gentle and kind, and at the same time, extremely professional and precise in her moves. My first visits to her office were so positive that I decided to give birth in China instead of going back home.

So why was I doubting her diagnostic now? 

 An American nurse who we had met during prenatal classes told us she didn’t understand why my doctor was saying that.

“Your water level is normal, your baby’s weight is normal. Nothing indicates that you are going to give birth early.”

So when 4 days later, at 11pm my water broke, my first thought went to my doctor. How could she have known? Was she that good? Simply luck?  But no, it couldn’t have been luck. Her smile seemed confident the day she predicted the birth date.

I decided to stay home, do my breathing exercises, relax and try to sleep in my own bed.

We checked in at 6 am. In the admission room, I reminded the nurse that I wanted a “normal check up”. Chinese nurses tend to prefer to measure the opening of the cervix anally. How they can tell the opening this way is still a mystery to me.

The verdict was….1cm. ” In 7 hours? This is going to take forever!!!!!!!”  I tried to hide my disappointment and sleep a little between contractions. Nurses were coming and going quietly. My eyes were shut but I could feel warm hands massaging my lower back along with comforting words in relaxing tones that I couldn’t always understand.

Two hours later, they checked me again .  3 cm. Then one nurse said, “We are going down.” I wanted to ask why. I was comfortable in my room. I didn’t want to move, but I didn’t have the time to say anything before a painful contraction left me with my mouth open. By the time we arrived to the upper floor I was screaming and begging for an epidural.

In the preparation room a nurse checked me. Again. Between 2 screams I dared to ask, “How many centimeters?”

She said “sì” (4 in chinese).

I signed the number four with my fingers, “Four? That’s it?” (I knew I couldn’t have the epidural too soon and wondered how long I was going to endure this pain before I could have some relief.)

“No, not sì (4), shí (10)!!!!” and she pushed me into the delivery room.

I barely had the time to ask myself if I was delirious from the pain or if she just had said  that I went from 3 to 10 cm in less than a hour?

Suddenly I saw someone dressed in blue rushing into the room, It was my husband. I didn’t recognize him. His hair and mouth were covered. I could only see his eyes wide open with excitement (or was it panic?),”The doctor came back 5 minutes after I had signed the papers for the epidural you asked for, he said it’s too late, you are going to give birth NOW.”

Ten minutes later, my baby girl was born.

The umbilical cord was cut within seconds; the baby was handed.. to the nurses.

As I watched my baby being wrapped in a soft fabric and then handed to my husband, I realised I had forgotten to ask for the basic thing: I wanted to hold my baby right away!

I realize now that this was not a typical birth. I am lucky to have delivered so fast without any drugs, have a doctor who listened to my strange/foreign requests in a country were c-sections and formula rules.

You can read about other birth stories in China here.

A few interesting parts:

 Women believe that they will run the risk of fewer complications with a standard surgical procedure than with a natural birth. However, according to the vast majority of medical opinion, a c-section is much more dangerous, with the death rate approximately 3x higher. Chinese women are aware of this, but they still believe that a c-section is safer, because a natural birth can lead to unanticipated complications that the doctor might not be able to handle. Basically, lack of faith in the hospitals and the doctors leads women in Chengdu (and perhaps other parts of China and the world) to choose the known path of surgery over the unknown path of vaginal birth.”

If I am going to have a scar no matter what, said one woman. I would rather have it on my belly than anywhere else.

Also, women believe that they cannot give birth, because Chinese women are naturally more frail and less able to cope with the trauma and pain of childbirth than Western women. 

Other reasons included choosing an auspicious day for the childs birth, the fact that c-section mamas have their own recovery room in the hospital and work. It is not uncommon for Chinese women to visit a fortune-teller and plan their birth around their prediction of what will be best for the child. In China, August 31 and the week before a holiday are big days for c-sections. Any child born after September 1 is technically one year behind in school and women fear that doctors will be unavailable during the holidays.”

Read “Permission to Give Birth-Part 1”

N. at 3 months with the nurse that held her first..

N. at 3 months with my doctor

 

Pascaline is greek, she lives in China since 2008 with her french/lebanese husband I. In 2011 she gave birth to N. at Angels hospital in Chengdu.

White Ghosts

12 Jan

One day about twelve years ago I was walking across an overpass in downtown Chengdu, when a small child saw me and shouted out “lao wai!” (old foreigner) His father looked at me and I expected him to correct the child, as parents often do, and tell him to call me “ayi” (aunty). Instead he leaned down, pointed at me, and said, “yes, that’s right, look at the lao wai’s big nose!”

I haven’t been called a big nose for a long time and I am no longer surrounded by crowds of curious onlookers as I used to be when I first travelled in China in the 1980s, but I still hear the word “foreigner” at least once a day, especially from children. And when I am out with my own children, people of all ages call out “xiao lao wai!” (little old foreigner) or “yang wawa!” (foreign baby). They all agree that the yang wawa are extremely cute. One woman stood next to us in the wet market and puzzled aloud how it is that foreign babies can be so cute, but all grow up to be so ugly.

I often wonder if I feel more foreign here than a Chinese person feels in a western country. I wonder if Chinese visitors to London feel unwelcome when no-one asks them friendly questions about how they like the food or tells them how well they speak English. London and New York, the western cities I am most familiar with, are thronged with people from every part of the world, and no-one comments on your race or even your language ability. People might ask where you come from, but no-one would ever call you a foreigner. The US and Canada, Australia, the UK and many European countries have such diverse populations that being British or American or whatever nationality is not generally associated with the colour of your skin, at least not in urban centres.

But in China you cannot be Chinese unless you are 100 percent Chinese. Recently I had a conversation with a taxi driver on this subject. He said he had noticed there are a lot more mixed marriages between Chinese and foreigners these days, and he asked me whether the children of these marriages are Chinese or not. I said it depends on many factors, such as where they grow up, where they go to school, what language they speak. He shook his head,

“No that’s not it. Are they Chinese or do they have the nationality of their other parent?”

I said that depends on what passport their parents get for them. Because the Chinese government won’t allow duel nationality, their parents have to choose whether they have a Chinese passport, or the other one. He shook his head again.

“No, I don’t mean language or passport or any of that. I mean, are they Chinese or are they not?”

Finally I got it. It was a rhetorical question, with only one possible answer.

“They are not Chinese,” I said.

He nodded. “Right. They are not. They are hun-xuer (mixed blood). They cannot be Chinese.”

This is a concept I struggle with. Sometimes it feels like the elephant in the room of our peaceful, happy-go-lucky life here; an elephant that could potentially turn nasty. I know there are some fascinating anthropological studies about the construction of race and nationhood in China, but as I haven’t read them I am left puzzling over the tiny patches of the elephant that I can see. What I do know is that a random global event, such as the bombing of a Chinese embassy or the reaction of a London crowd to China’s Olympic torch, can ignite powerful nationalistic emotions across China, emotions that see me and my family as part of the problem because we are foreigners.

Once at Chengdu airport a man behind us in the queue touched my son’s hair. When my son turned around and saw it was a stranger touching him, he backed away and pulled a face. The man made a comment in Sichuan dialect that I didn’t understand, so the friend who was with me translated.

“He said, you westerners have humiliated us for hundreds of years and now your children are still humiliating us.” I must have looked shocked because my friend rushed to reassure me.

“Oh don’t worry, we don’t hate you. It’s the Japanese we really hate.”

It could take hundreds of pages to unpack that particular exchange.

No matter how long I live here, how well I learn to speak Chinese or eat with chopsticks or enjoy spicy food, no matter how many good friends I make, no matter if I marry a Chinese man and have hun-xuer children (too late for me to do this now, but I know many people who have), I will always be a lao-wai, a white ghost, a foreigner. A Chinese person living in the UK or the US must feel foreign too, must struggle with homesickness and cultural displacement and must often wonder if it’s worth it and why not just go home. But at least they know that if they choose to stay, their child will grow up to belong in their new country. My children won’t, not even my son who has never lived anywhere else and speaks Chinese with perfect tones. They’re not even hun-xuer, they’re just plain lao-wai. I worry about the impact it has on them, to be living in a world where they are outsiders. My older son is already clear in his mind that he would prefer to live in England or the USA where everyone speaks English and no-one stares at him on the street, or runs up to take his photo and tell him how cute he is. He has heard so many times what an advantage it will be for him later in life to speak Chinese, that he just ignores it now, and it does nothing to motivate him to study the language.

But perhaps being called foreign doesn’t have to be negative. After all it is a fact of life, akin to how Chinese people call a fat person a fat person, in an upfront way that western cultures avoid. We call someone fat behind their back but not to their faces. Similarly we don’t call people foreign to their faces but that doesn’t mean we don’t have the same feelings about outsiders. London and New York, Sydney and Paris welcome people of all races. Anyone can walk the streets of those cities without being noticed or commented on, as I suppose they can these days in Beijing and Shanghai. But once they move out into the smaller towns and the countryside, there people will start to notice and comment on their being foreign. Not to their face of course, but behind their back. Jackie Kay writes movingly about growing up 100% Scottish of Nigerian extraction in her memoir Red Dust Road. A Chinese friend told me that he loved New York because no-one paid any attention to him there, whereas in the Ohio town where he studied, shop-keepers struggled to understand him and he felt like a foreigner.

In multi-cultural western societies, ethnicity, nationality and cultural identity are of course also vast and complex issues, but we deal with them differently. In the west we are shy of calling people foreign to their faces, even as we struggle openly day by day with issues thrown up by the cultural melting-pot, in the press, in schools and in communities. Whereas in China, foreigners are openly labeled as such, with a prevailing attitude of friendly welcome, but with clear boundaries attached: no messy questions of integration and multi-culturalism. In both cases, when questions of national pride emerge, sinister undercurrents rise to the surface and play out in ways that are hard to fathom. For me, they are harder to fathom here than they are at home.

I wrestle with the choice I have made, to live in a country where I will always be a foreigner, but after all it is my choice. Some days I’m OK with it and others I’m not, but surprisingly I don’t mind being called a big nose. It reminds me of the time I went rafting with a group of my students in Taiwan shortly after a typhoon, and our raft capsized in the rapids and catapulted us all into the churning water. I heard the lifeguards shouting in Taiwanese, “get the big nose!” and I was the first to be hauled out of the water and dumped back on the boat. My students teased me that I was the easiest to find because my nose stuck so far out of the water. They also told me that I spoke in perfect Chinese for at least an hour afterwards. Apparently the cold and shock activated some dormant neurons in my brain and, huddling on the plastic raft with my friends, I experienced a brief period of total fluency, the closest I will ever come to being Chinese.

About me: originally from the UK, I first came to China as a student in the 1980s and my life has intersected with China one way and another ever since. For the past 7 years I have been based in Chengdu, Sichuan Province China with my American husband and our two sons aged 6 and 11. I work freelance for non-profit organisations and on my own writing, editing and translation projects.

Winter Wonderland with a bit of Salsa

21 Dec

Paty: I was born in the Dominican Republic to a Dominican mom and Peruvian dad. I left DR when I was six years old and grew up in many countries around the world, mainly in Latin America but also in Africa and Europe. I guess you can describe me as a ‘Citizen of the world’, ‘Third culture kid’ etc. I speak Spanish and English.

I met Øivind at university in the UK, where we now live. He is Norwegian and grew up in Oslo, speaks English and Norwegian, and can defend himself pretty well in Spanish!

We have a little girl called Mia; she is the apple of our eyes, born in August 2010. I don’t speak Norwegian, but I better get my act together soon otherwise Mia and her dad will have a secret language.
————————-

Winter Wonderland with a bit of Salsa

As we gear up for the festive season I’ve been thinking about the contrast between Ø’s traditions and mine; and about our cultural references surrounding Christmas. How will Mia take in these differences? Mia’s dad is from a Nordic country and I am from an island in the Caribbean, even though I left when I was very young. Most couples take turns on whose family they spend the holidays with; this means adapting to each others’ traditions; but in multicultural couples it is also about adapting to another’s culture.

This year we will spend Christmas in Norway with Ø’s family. It will be Mia’s first Winter Wonderland Christmas experience. Christmas in Norway is very different to Christmas in the Dominican Republic, or in my family’s home.

Ø’s Norwegian Christmas experience = cold and short days, a tranquil environment, a burning fireplace, carol singing, food, presents and a beautiful snow-white outdoor.

My Christmas experience = food, presents, a big family gathering and lots of dancing; and the setting was wherever we found ourselves!

My experience in Norway has always been very nice, though very calm compared to what I am used to. Despite that, it involves a packed schedule: Christmas Eve at my in-laws, Christmas day at Ø’s aunt’s house, and Boxing Day with some close family friends. In between, there are beautiful walks in the forest and by the stunning, frozen Oslo fjord.

At my family home, we celebrate Christmas Eve with a big dinner and the next couple of days are relaxed, meeting other families (if we are in the Dominican Republic) and friends, informally. In the background there is always music.

What traditions will Mia absorb? I realize that of course I cannot choose what things Mia will enjoy the most; we can only expose her to the things that make us happy in the holiday season. Having the Christmas tree up on December 1st marks the start of the festive season for me. For Ø the tree goes up a couple of days before Christmas. I could go down a list of all the things that we grew up with, from celebrating advent, the spiritual meaning of Christmas, Santa or no Santa, to the Three Kings day.

The truth is that I would love for Mia to just take in the best of both worlds – enjoy the traditional picture perfect white Norwegian Christmas with the warmth, and lively togetherness of my family celebrations. White Christmas with a bit of salsa!

Being far away from our families means that during the festive season we travel back to see them, but I guess that as time goes by there comes a point when we will start to create our own traditions in the place we call home, even if this place keeps changing!

How do you combine your family celebrations? And how do you do it if you and your partner grew up celebrating different holidays?

Best wishes wherever you all are during this festive season and Happy New Year!!

Mooo or Merrhh? by Patricia Melendez

19 Nov

Patricia: I was born in the Dominican Republic to a Dominican mom and Peruvian dad. I left DR when I was six years old and grew up in many countries around the world, mainly in Latin America but also in Africa and Europe. I guess you can describe me as a ‘citizen of the world’, ‘third culture kid’ etc. I speak Spanish and English. I met Øivind at university in the UK, where we now live. He is Norwegian and grew up in Oslo, speaks English and Norwegian, and can defend himself pretty well in Spanish! We have a little girl called Mia; she is the apple of our eyes, born in August 2010. I don’t speak Norwegian, but I better get my act together soon otherwise Mia and her dad will have their secret language!

——————

The multilingual aspect in our multilingual home is the one I am thinking about of late because Mia is beginning to develop her speech. She spends most of the day with me and I speak Spanish to her, but when Ø gets home, we speak English between us and he speaks Norwegian to her. That’s pretty standard for a multilingual household, except for the fact that both Ø and I are developing a competitive streak about whose language Mia will pick up first – so it’s early days. Mia is saying a few words here and there and making animals sounds.

Although I knew that animal noises may sound different in different languages, I never thought it would be an issue in my household or that I would be telling hubby to stop saying ‘Merrhh’ when we sing “Old Macdonald Had a Farm,” because it’s not like the Spanish cow that says “Mooo” . The other day we were trying to entertain Mia, who was understandably unhappy about being in the car seat for an hour. So there we were, singing Old Macdonald … and making our conflicting animal sounds, when Mia and I start playing peek-a-boo. By that time I had moved to the back seat to be with Mia, when, lo and behold, Ø joins in on our game. Did you know that ghosts also sound different in Norway?!

Aside from the confusing animal sounds Mia hears, she is picking up the languages. Although now, my worry is how it will be when she soon goes to nursery. A Swedish friend of mine started taking her 18 month old to nursery and up to that point she had only spoken to him in Swedish. He was finding it hard to settle into the nursery because he was not able to understand. My friend was “told off” by the nursery staff because they thought she should have also been speaking some English to him.

Oh oh, should I be speaking to Mia in English more often? I wonder.

I have read that I should stick to my language, and be its “Leader”; and she will pick up the third language in school. But now, the anxiety of her not settling well because she can’t understand, aside from all other worries about putting her in nursery, are creeping in. By the way, my friend also had issues with the fact that English lions sound different to Swedish ones!

What advice have some of you received about raising a multilingual child? And how have some of you adjusted to sending your children to nursery in a language that is not the one primarily spoken at home?

Check out this fun site for animal sounds in different languages.
(http://www.quack-project.com/table.cgi)