Thursday, September 30, 2010

A New Beginning

The waiting and preparing is finally over and we are here, ready to get started. Currently we're struggling with an hour time difference and a late afternoon nap making bed the LAST thing on our daughter's mind. She needs plenty of sleep, though, for her first day of Real Preschool tomorrow.

Real Preschool. I'm not sure I'm ready. Maybe I'll just keep K home until Monday. Or next year. Ahem. I think it'll be easier to let her go to school this time, actually, because we are already used to her "school" in England. That was the difficult adjustment, but still, starting this school feels different: it is actual, official preschool because my daughter is an actual, official preschooler. The other one was just for fun, just to get K out with other children. This is Structured.

I was supposed to have another baby to take care of by the time I sent K off to preschool! I guess that shows you what plans are worth. I do have tons to do while K is in school, so I guess it's good that I'll have a few hours a few days a week in which to do it.

More tomorrow on how it goes!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Random Declarations and the Balancing Act of Being Two

"I no go to school. I go walking in the countryside."

K made this declaration on the way to her last day of school in UK. I'm pretty sure I know where she got the phrase from, after thinking about it, but it was pretty off the wall at the time. She then repeated herself several times, ending with, "Countryside, countryside, countryside, crountryside, crunchy, crunchy, crunchyside..." Which is actually kind of clever in a way. We had to admire her vocabulary level in English.

She has also taken to saying, "It's a rainy day," "It's a windy day" or "It's a sunshiney day" instead of just "It's raining" and so on. That one she learned from me - and surprised Apo with her sophisticated phrasing when he heard it the first time.


K declined to take her nap today, so after bouncing off the walls for a while in the hotel room, we went in the late afternoon to Starbucks. We had coffee, juice and a chocolate muffin and read books. We made it through The Gruffalo and part of a book about pyramids, with K snuggling further and further into my lap as we read until, midway through the second book, she started snoring. Not such a big girl after all, I guess!

It must be exhausting to be her age, so poised between toddler and big kid. She does a good job negotiating her way back and forth as needed. I just have to follow her lead and try to be what she needs, alternating between snuggly Mama, in-the-background Mama and Egyptology teacher.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Moving, Day 2

K: "Mami, daj!" (Mama, give me that!)

Made me slightly nervous until I realized which language she was speaking. "Daj" sounds like English "die". Cheeky child.


Me, discussing fitting houseful of things into an apartment: "We're going to have to využívat the sklep." (take advantage of the basement storage area)

I could have also said it the other way: "Budeme muset jůznout (n.b. use-nout) ten basement." The Slovak of my dreams would have understood me either way. How awesome is language mixing, anyway?


K and I watched some Bořek Stavitel and Prasátko Pepinka on the internet yesterday. That is, the Czech versions of Bob the Builder and Peppa Pig. I am slightly mystified as to why they went with "Bořek" for Bob's name instead of something alliterative like "Standa Stavitel". That will not, however, keep me from singing "Znáááte Bořka? Všechno staví!" for the next few days at least.

I totally should have thought of that before - the problem with finding traditional Czech children's entertainment online is that a lot of it has no words or, all too often, words that I wouldn't want my preschooler hearing! Or else it's just over her head, like the classic Czech fairy tale movies we have. K isn't quite old enough for Pyšná princezna or Princezna se zlatou hvězdou na čele yet...although come to think of it, maybe I should try them out soon. She IS very into all things castle and royal lately.

We also watched some (more) videos of Czech and Slovak kids' songs. I particularly look for songs K knows, sung by children, like home videos of someone's two-year-old singing a barely recognizable Prší, prší. I think it's good to see the language and the songs K hears at home from Apo also being used and sung by real children like her. Plus she really likes babies.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Moving Day, take 1

I am keeping out of the way blogging while the movers pack up all our stuff. This definitely beats our DIY move within Prague. Of course, then we didn't have to deal with changing countries, or, indeed, metro (subway) stops. We moved about a ten minute walk from where we had been. CZ to UK (and back) is a bit different.

The guys moving us are Polish, which is awesome, except that we don't have a secret language if we need one. Of course, neither do they. That's the fun thing about language cousins.

I'm glad K isn't here to see her toys being boxed up. She feels pretty threatened even when I just organize them, so I don't see her being down with seeing the ujos take them away. I asked her this morning if she knows who is coming to our house today. She thought for a minute, then remembered, "Ujos. They take my toys to Prague."

I've been preparing her for the move for the past few weeks. She keeps asking if we're going to "Pwague" yet. Last night we did our final pre-move organizing and packed our suitcases for the week we'll be without our things. When I put on my pajamas and sat on the bed, K told me, "No sleeping! We have to go to Prague!" I had to explain that we weren't going to Prague RIGHT THEN.

She is signed up for nursery M-W, to give her somewhere fun to be while we pack and clean. Then Thursday we fly and Friday she has her first day of real preschool.

I'm still debating half-day v. full day. Full day would be convenient especially Friday and Monday, since we'll have plenty of work to do at home, but full days are obviously more expensive and also it might be better to ease in with some half-days for the first few weeks. Especially since full days are 8 - 3:30 and I have a child who still likes a good two-hour nap in the afternoons. It'll be interesting to see how THAT develops with the advent of big kid preschool.

Then next week I start on my work-related paperwork. Ach, too many changes at once. Plus who knows what other government office visits and official things related to work, preschool and generally re-integrating into Prague life.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Neither Here Nor There

We took our last trip to London today. Went to the Natural History Museum, which was pretty awesome in fact. We didn't see everything, but that leaves us something to look forward to if we ever come back here again. K was down with the dinosaurs and the bugs, just like in the Smithsonian earlier this year.

The Slovak of my dreams is watching college football on ESPN tonight. I think he's going to miss it when we move, unless our cable provider has improved its American sports selection while we've been gone.

In an attempt to amuse myself while failing to get very excited about American football, I have added a short list underneath the blog archive to the right over there. I thought it might be useful to link to previous blog posts with some basic information about us/this blog. Is there anything else I should cover?

Friday, September 24, 2010

On Being the Expert

We had a first this week - the first of what will probably become commonplace in a few years. K asked me how to say something and I didn't know the answer!

"Mama, I put this on table. What this called?"
"That's a banana peel."
"What Apo call this?"
"Um, I don't know! We'll have to ask Apo when he gets home."

And with that, a bridge was crossed. All because I don't eat bananas.


I'm in a peculiar position at the moment, because we are moving to a country where I know the language and my daughter doesn't. I am the expert in her eyes. But, since it isn't my native language, she will have the occasional question that I can't answer and the day will come when she will know the language better than I do. For the moment, though, I still know more than she does. I'm enjoying it while it lasts.

(That applies to more than one area of life, doesn't it? I also am retaining my edge in technology and gadgets, by the skin of my teeth. K can do things with my phone that it took me ages to figure out...)


Also, even once K both speaks Czech and works my phone better than me, I will still be the one with the driver's license. And the bank account. Thus guaranteeing me a few more years of relevance to her life!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

September Carnival on Bilingualism

We took a break for the summer, but the Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism is back this month, hosted by Fab Mums! Take a look at my submission, Parenting Now, if you missed it. Maria also linked to my post on Multilingual Mania earlier this month.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Childhood Classics

We've been having a nursery rhyme revival around our house lately. We have several collections of nursery rhymes and songs, but I realized recently they're all in Slovak or Czech, and I just tend to sing the same half-dozen or so songs in English that I've managed to retain the words to over the years...

So I set out to rediscover some classics - especially rhymes - that I've forgotten about in the mumble mumble years since I learned them. I didn't get more than a line or two into anything before having to hit up my trusty friend Google. With the computer to back up my rusty memory, I introduced Baby K to Jack and Jill, Hickory Dickory Dock, Georgie Porgie...and as predicted, she loves them all!

When I finish one, she encourages me, "Another one! Try again!" When one strikes her fancy, she asks me to repeat it several times until she can sing or chant along. I love how intently she watches my mouth while she's learning the words. She likes to act the rhymes out when possible, like jumping over an object on the floor every time I say "Jack be nimble, Jack be quick."

She can sing/say more of the Slovak ones that we sing, too. Her versions of "Prší prší" and "Varila myšička kašičku" are pretty recognizable. I really like how, even though she can't remember all of the (very similar sounding) words on the second one, her intonation is spot on: "tomu dala NA [lyžičku], tomu dala NA [vidličku]..." It sounds very Slovak. :)


Yesterday as we were getting ready, K asked me to "čes" her hair. "Mama česing me." "Apo no čes me." Česať means to brush (hair). This is totally the sort of mixing I accidentally do - like "čeking" for "waiting".


Not long til moving day now. Stuff gets packed up a week from today and we fly out a few days after that. Buying a few last-minute things we want to get before leaving England for good. Need to get fish and chips, I think. And order some Indian.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I have a present for you

Use it well.

This is an old Czech song that's had a major revival on the Polish internet in the last few years. Take a look at Jožin z bažin, a Czech song presented with Polish subtitles! Does that not break your language brain?

(It's like the time I told someone calling me from America

Me: "I'm just watching a Polish movie."
Them: *strangled sound*
Me: "What? No, it's not in Polish. It's dubbed into Czech."
Them: *strangled sound indicating that's not much more normal* )

Jožin z bažin is actually pretty funny, so here's a version with English subtitles if you're interested. Give it at least until the guy starts dancing (just under 30 seconds in).

I totally have to show this video to Baby K when she gets home from school.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Power of Word Choice

Recently K doesn't seem to "want" anything: she "needs" it.

"I need sit on you knee." [i.e. lap]

"Mami, I need Timmy." [TV show]

"I really, really need chocolate."

I guess all those exchanges consisting of, "I want chocolate" and "No, you don't need chocolate now" have made an impact. It's not a question of desire, mother! I need it! To live!


Also, brief, cryptic discussions in Slovak apparently don't go over K's head any least, not when it comes to Christmas presents. Apo went back in the store to buy something we'd been looking at for K, while K and I walked on. As soon as he left, she turned to me and asked, "Apo buy me my Tinkerbell now?"

If we want a secret language, I may actually have to learn Hungarian. Though K will probably learn it faster...

Friday, September 10, 2010

Parenting Now

This post is part of the September Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism, hosted this month by Maria at Fab Mums.

In talking and reading about bilingual (or potentially bilingual) families, I have often been struck by the conflict between an overly long-term and overly short-term view.

What I mean by that is those parents who give up on speaking an additional language to their kids for reasons in the short term like inconvenience, refusal to respond in the language, child not understanding the language as well so parent quits entirely, speaking majority language so the child will get on in school, and all sorts of other relatively short-term concerns. For example, in the short term it would have been easier for the Slovak to just speak English to her, or for me to speak Czech to her while we're in UK (so she would speak it when we move back), but I think in the long run those solutions wouldn't hold up.

I don't think that any of these are problems so insurmountable that the family should give up its language (because truly, stick with it and the child WILL almost certainly be fine in the end), but unlike a lot of the popular advice floating around, I DO think they are valid concerns and shouldn't be dismissed off-hand.

Then at the other end of the spectrum is the over-emphasis on long-term development. Every conversation I have about moving to a country where my daughter doesn't speak the language well includes the repeated reassurance, "She's so young, she'll be fine!" I have taken to saying it first, actually: "I know that at her age she'll be fine eventually, but [insert mild concern here]..." It is true! At her age we will ultimately be more concerned with keeping Czech from taking over completely as her dominant language. But.

What has struck me in the last year, faced with long-term reassurances like "She will be fine in the end," is that while she WILL be fine in the end and maybe even in the middle, I can't focus solely on the end result and ignore the present. I am her mother now. It is my job to be concerned about her welfare both present and future. I can't blithely go on, assuming she'll be "fine in the end", and ignore the real girl struggling today.

She will be fine in the end, but today she is sad because the children on the playground ignored her. She will be fine in the end, but today she is confused because the stranger on the bus didn't smile at her greeting.

She will be fine in the end, but today she kicks the ground and says with self-disgust, "I can't talk!" because she can't get the words out right in the other language.

I really believe that the long-term benefits will make the struggle getting there worth it, but I can't just casually dismiss the process without acknowledging it CAN be a struggle. I can look ahead to sending my trilingual third-grader off to Czech school with a smile, but in my haste to get there I can't overlook the tiny preschooler who is my today - and an over-hasty rush to say "fine in the end!" feels to me like overlooking and trivializing the tiny preschooler's real and current feelings. She won't even remember this, but I'm not just responsible for the parts of her life she remembers, am I? I have to watch and guide her and shield her from unproductive pain even if it is just transient.

She will be fine in the end, but I am not her mother just "in the end" - I am her mother now and every day until we reach that end in which we will be fine.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

one step closer to Prague

We are in the countdown, slowly disengaging from England so we can focus our energy on Czech Republic. It would have been so nice to just stay there instead of coming back here for such a short time. It's difficult to be in transition for so long. Plus, explain to a 2.75 year old child that "we are going to live here, but not right now, but soon, because first we will be here for a little bit, then go back to our old house and school and then the ujos will come and pack up our books and toys and clothes and take them here to Prague, and we will live in this house and go to the new school."

K refers to our Prague flat as the "small house" as opposed to the "big house" that is our house in England. She also knows that the place is called "Pwag", though as we walked to the market one day (15 minutes away) she said Prague was back behind us and what is THIS part called. I should teach her "Vršovice" and "Strašnice" I guess.

The first full day in Prague she gestured expansively to indicate the whole flat or city and said, "This my home."

She didn't want to leave the other day, which was surprising given all her toys and things are in England. Made me hopeful that she will take the move well, at least.

She is learning about very big girl things in Prague, like holding on in the metro and not running in front of trams. She is in charge of pushing the buttons in the lift, 0 for down and 7 for up. The first week I was still lifting her up to reach the 7, but the second week she could reach it herself. She is very concerned about having a stamped ticket for public transportation. When I was using the one-time tickets, I let her hold on to them with the instruction not to lose this because it's very important! And being very important, of course, is right up her alley. Now that I've got my long-term card I have to come up with "tickets" for K anyway. She doesn't care that you ride free up to 6 years old.

Also while in Prague she started talking a lot about her "passport" and being very concerned that if she didn't have it, they wouldn't let her on the plane. She even made a worried pretend phone call on the subject. Apo found her a novelty souvenir passport and pasted her baby picture (the same one in her real passport) in so she has a passport to play with. She was very relieved when she got it and immediately "scanned" it into the computer. Can you tell this child travels a lot?

K still spoke English to people but she seemed more receptive than before to the idea that to communicate you need to speak the way people understand. On the way to the playground I reminded her that kids here say "ahoj", not "hi", and mentioned a few other Czech-English word pairs she knows. She nodded seriously and then took off running, "ahoj deti! ahoj!"

One difference about living all on the same level (no upstairs) is that we use the whole space more of the time. K seemed to enjoy having a full length mirror in the bathroom. Occasionally I would pass by and she was growling like a monster or making faces at herself into the mirror. I guess you're never too young for that kind of thing. Also, we had to have several heart to heart chats about how just because you CAN open the refrigerator to get yourself some cheese doesn't mean you're ALLOWED to do so. (Our fridge in UK is above the freezer and she can't reach it.) That child could eat a whole box of Veselá kráva in one sitting, if I let her. That can't possibly be good for you.

Now it's back to our routine for a little bit and then off to one-hundred-spired Prague yet again.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Back, briefly

We're back from our last visit to Prague before moving in, like, three weeks. Ask me if I've packed anything. Don't expect much of an answer.


While I was away, I had an article published at Multilingual Mania! It's called The Language That Speaks to My Heart and talks about how language affects (my) identity. Take a look if you haven't read it already, and I hope you like it!


We had a great week full of friends and somewhat cruddy weather that didn't manage to keep us from having fun. K was best friends over the weekend with a boy her age who only speaks Polish. It didn't stop them getting into mischief, giving each other hugs and to tell you the truth, it kind of looked like they were spooning once. I learned a little bit (more) Polish. Also Croatian and Hungarian. You don't get too much more multilingual than this past weekend!

I even made it to K's preschool informational meeting and introductory first day for new kids. My reservations about the school eased in some ways and intensified in others, leaving me firmly ambivalent. Pro: K's teachers seem nice. Con: I find it VERY, VERY DIFFICULT to overlook the mistakes they make in English. "Participating on" something or wanting "to enlight" someone my child might not notice, but "jinny pig" for "guinea pig" is a little more blatant. The lead teacher's Czech is better than her English, but she's not a native speaker. I'd say she speaks Czech approximately as well as I do, i.e. occasional mistakes and an occasionally noticeable (in her case Russian) accent. Not a deal-breaker, but they DO claim to have "native speakers" in each classroom, and I wouldn't consider myself or the teacher to be native speakers of Czech. However, the more important thing to me is that she is sweet and I think K will like her.

Also, they want to feed her seaweed. We'll see how it goes.


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