Thursday, December 29, 2011

Slovak-American Christmas in Prague

We went totally low-key this year. We stayed home, no visits to or from in-laws, so we just picked a few holidayish things we wanted to do and focused on them.

As always, we had Slovak Christmas on the 24th and American Christmas on the 25th, though we dialed down the cooking on the 25th from a full Christmas dinner to a more modest Christmas brunch. Less time cooking, more time playing with toys!

Earlier in the month we experimented with making pomanders out of clementines and spices, and K enjoyed it so much that I think we'll make it a holiday tradition. We made three separate batches and gave them away as gifts. We also made sausage balls and baked gingerbread twice and I think we'll make one last batch of each for New Year's. We listened to and sang Christmas music and K managed to learn Jingle Bells as her first (English) Christmas carol.

We also went to her preschool Christmas performance where the children sang (Czech) Christmas carols they'd been practicing since mid-November. Since K spent a few weeks singing "sanáčku, panáčku" [not at all the right words] I'm thinking it was a good idea they started early, since this was most of the children's first year to be learning the carols properly!

The baby was pretty much along for the ride this Christmas - as he is for most things. I'm pretty sure K helping to open his presents and stocking won't fly in future years! Also, next year we probably won't be able to wrap up a few toys and clothes we already had for him...he did get a couple of new things though. And K has hardly taken off her purple princess dress since she opened it on Christmas Eve.

A very successful Christmas! And without driving ourselves crazy with overly ambitious plans.

Birthday and language update

K's birthday was on Thanksgiving this year. We took the day off school and work (I think we're going to try to do this every year - it would be a nice tradition) to spend the day together.

For the birthday fun thing we decided to go with the horse-drawn carriage ride around downtown. We didn't tell K what the surprise was until we were standing right in front of the horses, and she loved the anticipation as well as the carriage ride itself. The rides are 20 minutes long around the center of Prague and she spent the whole time feeling like a princess. I showed her how to do the royal wave. Lots of people turned to look at us, some tourists even taking pictures (because of the carriage, of course) and K wanted to know why. She accepted my answer of "Because it's your birthday" without question or surprise.

After we were done we went home, opened presents, at some point I made a cake, and in the late afternoon we went over to a friend's house for Thanksgiving dinner. I took the cake and everybody sang K happy birthday. K's main present was a gold necklace from her grandparents. They have been wanting to give her a gold necklace since she was a newborn, but this was the first year that we allowed it. A chain around a baby's neck has never struck me as extremely safe, but four is a bit more reasonable age. K does love her beautiful necklace.

We did not invite any school friends over, which is good because we were actually all sick earlier that week and just barely recovered by her birthday. They did do a birthday celebration at school, including a cake, meaning there was no point in me bringing cupcakes as I'd planned. Overall I think K's birthday hit the right note of festive, low-key and fun.

It's hard to give an update on K's language progress because she's at that stage (which probably most of us know well...) where improvement is more subtle even though her knowledge and vocabulary are expanding all the time. She has trouble with some sounds in Czech - just like in English, actually - but most people understand her with no trouble and she can express pretty much whatever she wants. Her conversations with Apo are getting more complex (of course, this is as much due to age as anything else) and she has to resort to English less and less often. She still cracks us up sometimes with her language borrowing, though.

I'm noticing more Czech phrasings translated into English now, like "I have a truth" instead of "I'm right." Occasionally I notice that K knows something in Czech that she doesn't know in English, and I casually catch her up to speed. Sometimes she asks me herself how to say something. It seems to be working pretty well so far. K definitely adheres to the Apo-Slovak, Mama-English model, easily switching back and forth depending on who she's speaking to and sometimes translating what's just been said. English is still the sibling language but her dolls speak English and Czech both.

A speech therapist came to the preschool a few weeks ago and told me afterwards that she couldn't get anything out of K so couldn't make an evaluation. She wasn't really clear on whether K didn't say anything or she didn't understand what K said, but I know K has a tendency to clam up in front of strangers or get all shy and whisper, so I am imagining it was that. Also, I wouldn't be surprised if K found this particular speech therapist scary - I would have at that age.

I find it hard to be concerned at all, though, because I find the idea of speech therapy for four year olds a bit, um, premature. I think most children have trouble with a few of the harder sounds and almost all grow out of it by early elementary. Czechs are traditionally much more hard core about wanting kids to master all the sounds BEFORE entering first grade. I can't really get too excited about it.

Even without a professional evaluation (which wouldn't take our circumstances into account anyway), I feel confident saying K's Czech is pretty impressive for only starting to speak it a year ago and her English is by and large indistinguishable from her American peers. Except for a few Britishisms and Czechisms here and there, of course.

Oh, and...I think K's going to be an early reader. She knows most of the alphabet and insists on stopping to read (name the letters) of any writing we pass outside, like the posters at the bus stop. She can read our names most of the time and the other day she wrote her name correctly without needing me to tell her which letters come next. It still needs a bit of practice, but she is self-motivated and determined to learn! I think by her next birthday she might be reading for real.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Prayer for Melissa

This is the post that I wanted to write on Thursday had my two beautiful trilingual children not chosen that day - and the days since - to be uncharacteristically screamy and less than obedient. And every moment not dealing with the fussing I've been trying to work on the translation due Monday that seemed like a good idea at the time.

(It's still a good idea. I'm going to finish today. Although it turns out googling "working at home with a newborn" does NOT give you the secret of what to do when the newborn refuses to nap at his accustomed time. Serious information gap there.)

Anyway, this is where my thoughts go this time of year...twenty two years ago

I hope to get a more substantial post up soon. As soon as I can keep my hands free and lap empty for long enough. (This post is brought to you by my right hand. The left hand is busy holding beautiful trilingual child #2.)

Friday, October 28, 2011

I only like your English

This past Sunday night, my daughter and I had the following conversation:

"It's time to go to bed so you can get up for school in the morning."
"I don't want to go to school tomorrow. I'm not going to go there any more."
"Why not? You love going to school."
"I don't like my teachers or my friends or toys."
"But you like your teacher Lida."
"I do like Lida but not the other teachers."
"And you like your friends M [Russian] and L [New Zealand]."
"I do like M but not L. I don't want to be her friend any more. I bite L."

(K has claimed not to like L several times in the past several weeks, and actually did bite her at school a month or so ago.)

"That's not very kind, is it? L is your friend and we don't bite our friends."
"But I don't like L any more, because L speaks English and I don't want to speak English at school. I want to speak Czech like all the other kids. I don't like English."
"You don't like English?? But you and I speak English together."
"I do like your English, Mommy, I just don't like L's English."
"Well, that makes sense. You don't have to speak English at school if you don't want to, because everybody else speaks Czech there. Maybe you could tell L you want to speak Czech together."
"But L doesn't speak Czech."
"She does speak Czech actually - she just doesn't like to. But you know, even if L speaks English to you, you could answer her in Czech. You don't have to speak English if you don't want to, and if you want to play with someone else, just tell L that."
"I did tell L I want to play with somebody else, but she said no. So I bite her."
"It really isn't kind to bite people. Maybe you could tell your teacher if you want to play with someone else and L won't leave you alone, because you should be able to play with whoever you want."


I had suspected in the past several weeks that L might be more attached to K than K is to L, but I didn't know it was bothering her to this extent. I couldn't believe she was able to put into words at her age that it bothers her to stand out by speaking another language at preschool from the rest of her friends. It had occurred to me that she might feel that way (at least eventually), but I didn't want to suggest it to her by asking. I can't agree with her way of handling the issue - biting and telling L she isn't her friend - but I really can't fault the desire to use her languages in the appropriate contexts. That's completely understandable! After all, the rest of us get to choose when and where to use our languages. And I would hate for K to feel so self-conscious about it that she started to actually dislike English. Basically she is getting pulled into another child's language rebellion.

I brought up the key points from the above conversation with K's teachers at school on Monday, and they confirmed my feeling that L is more attached to K than K to L. They also added a new bit of information, which is that, in addition to preferring English, L is a bit bossy - always wants to choose what and how to play - and K is the only child agreeable enough to put up with it. K isn't a passive child, but she is obliging and typically doesn't insist on her own way, so I can see that dynamic existing. Being easy-going and adaptable is a good trait and evidence of a good heart, I think, but I don't want K to be so overwhelmed that she lets herself be pushed around until she feels the need to lash out in order to escape. Which seems to be what is happening.

We are reminding K regularly now (as are her teachers, once they found out how much it bothers her) that she can choose who to play with and what language to speak - she doesn't have to speak English if she isn't comfortable with it, even if L addresses her in English. And she doesn't have to go along with everything someone else wants in general, either. That's the trick, I suppose: taking charge of your own languages and your own life, and learning to stand up for yourself without biting people...

Monday, October 24, 2011

It's All Over

So now it can all begin.

Marek Jákob was born last Tuesday, October 18, at 4.3 kg (9.5 lb). That's right. I had nearly ten pounds of baby inside. This may well have an impact on whether I decide to have another child or not...with a first child of 3.6 kg (8 lb), I don't really like the size trend I'm seeing! Overall this labor was actually faster and easier to recover from than the first one, though, so I'm not complaining too much.

We came home from the hospital on Friday and have been settling into our new family of four since then. K is loving being a big sister and only having mild behavioral (not listening, etc.) issues. (Although, after my last post, things actually got worse - she came down with an ear infection and we all got colds. Thus proving that excessive stress does not, in my case, bring on labor. I still had to go for induction.) The laundry we're simply adjusting for.

K came to see us in the hospital Tuesday evening when the baby was several hours old. She brought him a toy she chose for him a few months ago - a soft cow similar to the soft giraffe she sleeps with. We had also prepared a gift from the baby to her, which the Slovak smoothly put into the baby bed when K wasn't looking. She thanked the baby profusely.

The next day when they came to visit, the Slovak had prepared another small surprise for her (we have a small stash of goodies to bring out if we think she's feeling too neglected or overwhelmed over the next few weeks). So of course the day after that she ran in the room asking if the baby had anything else for her. I explained to her that the baby wouldn't give her a present EVERY day, and suggested to the Slovak that he may have inadvertently set the bar a bit too high. Haha.

Apparently the Slovak had to do some fast talking to get K to let him wash her "Big Sister" shirt instead of wearing it to school again on Friday, after having worn it Wednesday and Thursday. She begged me to bring the baby to her school so she can show him off to her friends and teachers, so I went with the Slovak in the car to pick her up. She was proud and her teachers were very admiring of her little brother.

I've managed to get out a bit each day (i.e. Saturday and Sunday) and have even got the hang of the baby wrap I got to try with this baby. We had a sling and a front carrier with Baby K, but couldn't make the sling work for us and the front carrier did get used but was really hard on the back. So far the Moby is a much better fit! My mother-in-law, who is visiting for ten days to be an extra body in case I gave birth in the middle of the night or similar, was shocked that we went for a walk so soon. My mother just seemed in awe of my Amazon-like stamina. :-D

Marek seems to be conditioned to obey K's voice already: the other day, I was trying to get him latched on and said, "Just open your mouth, sweetie." K repeated to him, "Open your mouth, baby!" And he did, but not enough, so I told him, "Now just a little wider." K instructed him, "Wider, baby!" And he instantly opened his mouth as wide as it would go. We're going to have to try to teach her to use her power for good instead of evil...

Also, the sibling language appears to be English at the moment. Of course, it's only been a few days at this point, and only one of them actually talks, so we'll see how things develop from here!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Buried Under a Mountain of Laundry

...and the baby isn't even born yet.

On which point don't get me started (yes, due date has passed).

I never expected that the transition from three to four family members would be entirely stress-free, and I was definitely expecting some level of regression from K - AFTER the baby was born. I didn't realize that the adjustment and anxiety can start even before the baby is born, but...apparently it totally can.

I'd say it's been at least a month of increased wetting (from a child who NEVER wet), going from twice a week a month ago to twice a night last night. And then there's the daytime.

And then there's the increased clinginess and weepiness at pick-up and drop-off at school, although, interestingly, never actually during school. Presumably because the stress and changes are at home, not school.

And then there's the difficulty listening, which is what kicked everything off - back before I made the connection with the upcoming baby. Since I was expecting all of this more like now, not a month ago.

Generally we've been fielding a lot of emotional issues in our parenting recently. If you ask K, she is perfectly happy and not at all worried about anything. But then she tells a sad, sad story about being lost, alone in the woods, surrounded by lions (levs), tigers and spiders, having left the house in the night when Apo and I didn't hear her, and calling and calling us but we don't hear her so she gets eaten by the spiders. Alone. In the dark. And I think, could you tell me 'fear of abandonment' any more clearly?

I remind her that she's never been outside alone in her life, and she replies, "I know, it's PRETEND! And I was really sad about it..." I amend the story to say that nothing like that ever happened or ever will happen, but if it did, then we would hear her opening the door to leave and we would come to get her in the forest and protect her from the lions, tigers and spiders. She objects, "But we couldn't run away fast enough, so we got eaten." - "No, I picked you up and carried you while I ran." - "But your tummy is too big to pick me up or to run fast." - "Well, Apo came and found us and HE picked you up and rescued us both." She seems to like that ending, but it doesn't stop the stories entirely.

Despite the somewhat increased defiance and refusal to listen, K is actually still pretty sweet and affectionate - in between non-listening episodes, which seem to frustrate her afterward as much as they do us. Like she can't help herself. And the wetting isn't defiant; it seems genuinely involuntary and distressing/embarrassing to her. It's almost enough to make me think it's a physical rather than emotional issue, but the timing seems too coincidental to be a random infection at the same time as a major change at home.

I've tried to dial up the affection and reassurance and dial down the frustration, but it isn't easy. Especially knowing that the baby hasn't even been born yet, so we have at LEAST another several weeks to few months of this ahead. Our mattresses, and possibly our nerves, may never recover.

Monday, October 3, 2011

I want to go there! The far east edition

My daughter loves to travel and see new places. Sometimes the places she wants to go are easily accessible, but recently she's been really agitating to New Zealand and China. Kind of hard to get from Central Europe.

I can't remember if I wrote about it here or not, but K has still been continuing to process our move from England to the Czech Republic - which happened a YEAR ago - in recent months. She asks repeatedly, most recently the day before yesterday, "But why did we move to Prague? Why don't we live in England any more?" I explained (the first time it came up) that we moved because of Apo's work so that we could be with him, that the move to England was never intended to be permanent, and that we might move again someday, too. K was upset at the idea that we won't go back to live in England (we spent so long living between the countries that she thought we were just on a particularly long visit here, I guess), but excited at my suggestion that maybe we will go back for a visit someday.

In the same conversation, I think, she wanted to know why not everybody speaks English in Prague, and why we do speak English. I talked about different languages spoken in different countries. She also wanted to know why her friend from New Zealand speaks English but the other friends don't. I said that New Zealand is a country far away where they also speak English, like in England and America. Her eyes lit up and she asked if we could go to New Zealand, please.

Then during the part of the conversation where I explained that if/when we move again someday, we'll have a new house, new school, new friends (...), she instantly joined the two topics by asking if we can move to New Zealand. Since then, the idea of moving to New Zealand has come up with surprising regularity!

And then, just to add to the list of places we can't actually feasibly go, K has had a slowly growing fascination with China in the last several months. We have some family who lived in China for several years, and on a visit they gave her a little doll and explained it is from China. K doesn't play with the doll really, but she started to mention China occasionally after that. Then recently we were looking at a children's atlas and she was very interested in the map of China (K loves maps in general, in fact).

And THEN she started to watch episodes of Ni Hao, Kai-Lan in the mornings before school (it and Dora come on back to back at about the time K wakes up), and now she keeps asking me things like, "Mommy, how do you say ___ in Chinese?" To which I have to answer truthfully that I haven't the faintest idea. If she were interested in Dora, I could actually help with Spanish vocabulary, but it seems K is only interested in repeating the phrases in Chinese. It's kind of funny.

I suppose if I were really on top of things I would actually find some materials to teach K some basic phrases in Chinese. It is pretty sweet that she is developing such an awareness of other countries and languages and interest in learning about them.

And now...she wants to visit China. I've had to tell her it is unlikely that we will go to China in the near future, though maybe we can someday. Like, it would be much closer to fly there from New Zealand once we move there. Sigh. :)

It does occur to me that New Zealand and China are possibly the only places K knows something about where she hasn't already been, so maybe I just need to increase her exposure to places like Vienna. Or Rome. You know, places on this continent.

Once we get back on our feet enough post-baby to contemplate taking a real vacation again, I think K would totally love somewhere like Paris or Rome. And China, well, maybe we'll make it there eventually, too.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

It's All Downhill From Here...

My daughter used a Czech phrase this weekend that I didn't know.

Actually, she's been using this phrase for a while and it was only this weekend that the penny dropped: on Friday I learned the phrase myself, when her preschool teacher used it in front of me, and on Saturday K used it again and I realized, "THAT's what she's been saying all this time!"

The phrase is "mít kozí nohy" - having your shoes on the wrong feet. Obviously something that comes up regularly in a preschool environment. Literally it means "having goat feet." K's version is more like "Mám kože nohe?" so maybe I can be forgiven for not recognizing it - not that I'd have known what it meant if I had. Sigh.

I comfort myself with the fact that the Slovak had never heard this phrase either. Last year it was asking me for a word I didn't know (banana peel), this time it was knowing a word I didn't know.

Overall, though, I still have the edge. The Slovak has the edge in English, too. Vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation. We know how to use "he" and "she" properly. Things like that.

Also, we can spell, drive and go to bed whenever we want. (I spell better than the Slovak - in either language. For the record.)

We aren't ceding ground to our almost-four-year-old quite yet.'s still coming.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Raising the Children ALL WRONG

or, parenting differently than your parents. I imagine most of us have at least some experience with this - after all, we all probably do some things like our parents did and some things differently. And then you throw a spouse into the mix, with their own parents and ideas.

And then you make the spouse from a different country from yours, and you get a treasure trove of potential parenting differences.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Slovak and I are actually on the same page when it comes to parenting - and most other things. It's part of our cross-cultural magic. :) But as I've mentioned before, we are both so far out of our own cultures that we could almost miss in the middle. Neither of us feels bound by tradition and we're both pretty comfortable finding our own path. Being a bit different.

OK, I admit it. We love it. It's why we make a point of speaking Czech in central Arkansas - just to see people try not to stare...

But - we are the multicultural black sheep of two very monocultural families, and THERE is where the "raising the children ALL WRONG" title comes from!

You might expect we would have met opposition to raising our children with more than one language, but in fact that is one of the few areas we HAVEN'T heard criticism about. Everyone in our families thinks it's just great that our kids speak / will speak two or more languages. How fun! How useful! I think both sides know how they'd feel if THEIR language was the one being left out, so they're grateful we're keeping both languages covered.

(In fact, my mother once complained something about raising her granddaughter too far away from her - a legitimate complaint which I acknowledge - and I responded, "Be glad I'm making sure she speaks English." That put things in perspective.)

That said, our respective families DO find the reality of our bilingual family a little disconcerting, but they aren't opposed. And comments along the lines of "It's so strange to hear K speaking a language I don't understand, wow" I can handle.

Oh no, bilingualism isn't the issue. It's everything ELSE we do...which sometimes feels like EVERYTHING else we do. It never fails to crack me up, though, that while our families both disagree with (the details of) how we're raising K, they disagree in diametrically opposed ways.

For example, the Slovak's mother walks into a room and closes the window because are we TRYING to kill the baby? My mother walks into a room, opens the window, and goes to the other room to open another window to get a nice cross-breeze for that baby.

We put a sweater on the baby, and the Slovak's mother wants us to put on another layer and two hats. We put a sweater on the baby, and my mother says, "Get that sweater off that baby! It's not that cold!"

The Slovak's mother was disturbed that we wouldn't give our baby tea in a bottle. My mother was disturbed we wouldn't give her juice or formula in a bottle. (We exclusively breastfed.) The baby foods we eventually did use were also completely inappropriate.

His mother probably thinks we're too laid-back. My mother probably thinks we're too strict.

And so on, down the list of just about every area of child-rearing you can think of. Whenever either side gets too worked up about something, I point out that the OTHER side wants us to do it the opposite way, so if they're equally dissatisfied we consider it a parenting win. And the truth is that we DO do some things the way our parents do, it's just that the things we do differently make a much bigger impression. Due to being, you know, different.

At this point, four years in and having developed a bit thicker skin, it's actually kind of funny. When we were first starting out, though, it was incredibly stressful - we were just finding our balance as parents, making decisions like how to feed the baby and how to dress her, and a stream of criticism from the elder generation was less than helpful in boosting our confidence. Over time, though, we did find that balance, learn to trust our instincts - that often told us to do things a third way that neither of us learned at home - and developed the ability to smile pleasantly and do just as we like...

Some of the differences between our parents' styles and ours are cultural - tea for babies is Slovak, juice and rice cereal are American. Staying home from school for three weeks with a cold is Slovak, toughing it out and getting everyone else at school sick is American. And some are generational - the Slovak's parents are two years younger than my grandparents on one side (they started late, mine started early). In some very real ways my mother-in-law is closer to my grandmother (and her generation) in opinions than to my mother (and her generation) - much less than to me. The Slovak's mother raised him much the same as she was raised herself, meaning to make her really happy I'd theoretically have to adopt the habits of Slovak families in the 1940's. My mother is more flexible in her ideas, but there are clear areas where she thinks we're doing things strangely.

I think a lot of the resistance to our ALL WRONG approach to parenting is emotional - but that's not the way I raised you! What's wrong with how I raised you?? Anything you do differently can be construed as implied criticism of your own parents, which is then hurtful to them, even though so often the reason is much more simple: we live in another culture now and we're doing it their way, or that doesn't seem to work for my child's (or my) personality, or my spouse doesn't want us to do that. Any number of neutral reasons you might choose to do things differently.

And then the implied criticism actually IS sometimes the case - there are several areas where the Slovak and I are deliberately departing from our own upbringing, and while we don't throw it in our parents' faces, if they pressed the issue we'd have to say we simply disagree with their approach and want to try something differently. Different rules, different priorities, different disciplinary tactics. A different understanding of how children tick.

As a frivolous example, the Slovak and I both have clear memories of complaining that our heads hurt as children and being told, "No it doesn't. Children don't get headaches." And then being confused and annoyed because IT'S MY HEAD AND IT HURTS. So now we make a point that in OUR family, ANY member is allowed to get a headache at any age.

I remember the comment, sometime in the last year or two, "You probably think you're going to raise that girl without making any mistakes because you're such better parents than us, don't you?" My instant response was that NO, we don't think we're so much better parents, and we don't think we're going to avoid all mistakes. We just expect them to be our OWN mistakes, not a repetition of past generations. We're trying to learn from the past.

For instance, I grew up on stories of newbie mistakes my mother made with me as her firstborn, like the bees buzzing around my head because she stuck a hairbow to my head with honey, or not knowing she should be washing in the baby fat creases until she noticed horrible gunk in the crease of my neck when I was a few months old. So when I had a baby, I never put honey on her head and I made sure we washed her neck. What I didn't think of, though, was scrubbing DILIGENTLY behind her ears, until we noticed gunk behind there (we'd been just wiping without looking). And nobody told me that when potty-training, if you put a small child on the time-out spot and say DON'T GET UP, she WON'T. Even if she SHOULD. And you have a damp spot where she obediently went pee-pee right where you put her...

See, my daughter will probably know that story and not make that mistake. She'll make her own mistakes while looking back and being horrified at mine. Just as it should be.

And yet - somehow - with all this potential for hostility and culturally-, linguistically- and generationally-based disagreements, we have actually come to a fairly peaceful place. A place in which, despite thinking we do things ALL WRONG, both sides of our family tell us that we are doing a good job raising their grandchild (soon to be -ren) and admire the results of our parenting: K. If we can raise a girl that (confident, bright, sweet, kind - grandparents are biased...), then maybe there is something to what we're doing. At the very least it hasn't ruined her.

I think I've got this on my mind since within the next couple of weeks we'll be starting over with a newborn, and I wonder how much of the same ground we'll revisit with our parents - and if we'll deal with it better this time around. I think we will. Last time we were still learning what kind of parents we are. Now we know and will be prepared to defend those choices or adapt them to fit our new baby's needs.

Because sometimes being all wrong is just right. :)

Friday, September 9, 2011

Multilingual Czech Preschool

When my daughter's preschool sent out an e-mail earlier this summer asking which parents were interested in forming an English class with a native English speaking teacher this fall, I wrote back saying not interested, thanks, we have one at home.

I guess they end up forming not a full time class but a twice a week lesson with an external American teacher coming in, and the first lesson was yesterday. K was apparently exercising with the kids who don't attend the English class - but when I went to pick her up, the head teacher asked me if I would mind terribly much if K attended the class for 45 minutes twice a week. To help the teacher.


Apparently the kids spent most of the class staring wide-eyed and not really participating, since English is so new for them. The head teacher asked the English teacher if he thought it would help to have an English-Czech speaking child in the class to smooth things over, and he apparently said yes. So she asked me if K could join in.

I have mildly mixed feelings about it, but I suspect that most of my concerns would apply more to elementary school and Czechs teaching English. They aren't learning grammar that K already knows, the American teacher won't be threatened by her superior grasp of the language, and I don't THINK that kids this age will give her social problems if she knows all the answers and they don't - three things that can easily happen with older children in a similar position.

So I said ok, as long as it's helpful and not distracting and not more than those two lessons a week. Frankly, I get the impression that K enjoyed the "English lessons" they had last year, which I believe were mainly the regular teachers singing a bunch of English songs. It was/is her chance to be a star since she knows all the songs, can count to 10 in English, and whatever else they practice. Which I guess is not detrimental at this point.

A stickier problem will be what to do with mandatory English lessons in elementary school, where K will either be conspicuously at the top of the class, ridiculously bored, forced to choose between biting her tongue at the teacher's wrong English ("This is my k-nee") and correcting an adult in front of the class, or even put in some special position over the other kids (this is where I think "teacher's helper" can really backfire). I think I'd like to send some worksheets or a book from home for her to work on instead, or if there are multiple English-speaking students in the class, it would be awesome to bring in an external teacher for an hour to do a native-English class - language arts, learning to read, whatever. It'll depend on how open her elementary school administration and teachers are, I imagine.

But for the moment, K will be singing along with English songs, counting in English and generally playing along with whatever the teacher is trying to do. Which will ideally inspire the other children to follow her lead, haha. I'd be interested to see how that plays out!


K's teacher also commented a few times recently on how her Czech is improving. It's more grammatical now and more flexible. I found it interesting that her teachers claimed she never mixed Czech and Slovak at school as I described her doing at home, but then one day I was witness to the following:

Teacher: "Kde máš obrázek?" (Where's your picture?)
K: "Já nelobila" (nerobila - SK - I didn't make one)
Teacher: [insert several guesses as to what K means, including "Ty jsi rozbila?" - you broke it??]
K: "Já nelobila!"
Teacher: still not getting it
Me: "Chce říct "já nerobila" - nedělala." (She's saying 'I didn't make one' in Slovak)
Teacher: "Jo tááááák, to je ta slovenština..." (OOOOHHHHH, it's Slovak, didn't expect that...)

I've also heard K use Slovak at school other times, I think, where I had the feeling the teachers didn't realize that's what she was doing. So I'm thinking she may be mixing more than they realize and they just don't hear it! Actually, now that I think of it, I remember a conversation between a teacher and a Slovak-Czech little boy last year, where the boy was talking about his "babka" and the teacher kept asking what/who he was talking about. I mentioned we have a babka in Slovakia as well.

To be fair, I guess you really don't hear or understand the mixing unless you are used to it or expecting it somehow. I may be more sensitive to children's language mixing (whether CZ-EN, SK-EN or CZ-SK) or language-related misunderstandings/disobedience (the two-year-old isn't trying to be naughty when continuing to kick the gravel after being told not to - he may well not know it's called "gravel"!) than your average grown-up. You know, being occasionally prone to them myself...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Big Sister, Baby Brother

One reason I wanted to have another child is so I could double my multilingual research pool watch and try to foster a sibling relationship up close. Siblings add a whole new dimension and challenge to life - and parenting - that I wouldn't want us to miss out on.

I knew K would love Baby Boy, but I am still caught off guard by the strength of this sibling relationship even before he is born.

She includes him in all our family portraits - sometimes inside me, and sometimes outside. Sometimes more than once.

She daydreams about what they will do together when he is born. Most of her plans are actually realistic, since I've made sure to warn her that babies don't do much but eat, sleep and cry when they're first born. She wants to change his diapers, push his stroller, hold him (all acceptable), and also sleep with him in her bed and nurse him (not very feasible). She also rigged herself a baby wrap from an old scarf and I certainly hope she doesn't expect to carry the actual baby in that...

What surprised me a little more, though, is how she has conversations with the baby - performing both sides of the conversation herself (and sometimes using the results against me). For example, this past week, at bedtime:

"Mommy, please lay down in my bed with me. (persuasively) My bed is reeeeeally comfortable."
"No, sweetie, I have to go back into the living room while you go to bed."
"Because the baby wants to go to the living room?"
"Um, yes."
"(to my belly) Baby, do you want to go to the living room? (high-pitched voice) No, K, I want to stay here with you. (normal voice) See, he wants to stay with me."

So I, of course, did the only thing I could do in the circumstances: I plucked an invisible baby out of my tummy and handed him to K, telling her to take care of her brother. She put him on the pillow next to her and I left the room.

Or yesterday, when K and Apo were on their way to the store and then the zoo, K wanted to take the baby with them. I plucked him out of my tummy again and let him go with her. When they got back from the store, I asked if she still had him, and she held up a plastic bag clenched tightly in her fist, saying, "Yes, he's in here! He had a lot of fun at the store. But now he's too tired to go to the zoo, so he can stay with you." (Probably a good thing, too, if she was keeping him in a closed plastic bag.)

Their interactions are sometimes very sibling-like, too: A few weeks ago I was hugging K so that she was partially pressed up against my stomach. When she moved away, the baby kicked hard, and I told her so: "The baby just kicked, because you were squishing him!" The next day, when she was listing all the wrongs done to her recently (over-tired and annoyed), she said:

"...AND I don't like the baby."
"What did the baby do to you??"
"He kicked me! That not nice!"
"Well, you were squishing him, after all..."

Sibling rivalry. In utero. Oh my. :)

And then sometimes I have to provide the baby's voice in their conversations:

K: "Good night, Mama."
Me: "Good night, K."
K: "Good night, baby, I love you." (kisses stomach)
Me, squeaky voice: "Good night, K!"

Obviously K doesn't feel that being divided by a few inches of mama's belly is any significant impediment. Of course, their "relationship" is all very theoretical still, since the baby IS still inside (and due in large part to K's active imagination and pretend play), but it is still a bit more intense than I had expected at this stage!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

What language do babies speak?

The other day I asked K what language she thinks Baby Boy speaks.

After a moment's thought, she said confidently, "English."
"So you think our baby boy speaks English?"
"Yes. And Czech. *pause* Wait, I'm silly - babies can't talk! He says 'waah, waah'."
"Of course, you're right, babies can't talk. But we can talk to him, and we can use English and Czech. And Apo Slovak. We will have to teach the baby how to talk."

I like how K saw through my 'trick' question (I didn't really mean it that way, though). She seemed pretty certain that baby boy will be a strong English speaker like her, and she liked the idea of helping teach him to talk - in all three languages.

No monolingual babies in this house, it seems!

Friday, August 12, 2011

History Hitting Close to Home

Apparently construction on the Berlin Wall began 50 years ago today.

I can't begin to express how grateful I am that it's gone.

Several years ago - a few months after we married, in fact - the Slovak and I took a quick trip to Berlin. We didn't have much time there, but we made it to Checkpoint Charlie. (Right next to which, by the way, was a Czech cultural center called "Czech Point Charlie". I still can't quite believe that...)

We stood on the west side. We stood on the east side. We stood in the middle and hugged. If either of us could do a cartwheel across it, we possibly would have.

I imagined a wall standing between us, keeping each of us from crossing over to the other. If it were still here, I would cross it, if I could. My Slovak is worth it. But we would almost certainly never have met, and we would be worse off for it.

How terribly, terribly glad I am there is no wall between us today.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

How did I give birth to a socially adept child?

Not that I'm not pleased. It's just surprising to see someone who looks and acts so much like me be so...outgoing. Of course, I'm much more outgoing these days than I was as a child (the Slovak is the same), so maybe we can foster our girl's warm, friendly nature without making her as shy as we were as children. Balance is good.

This past weekend we were invited to the birthday party of the Slovak's co-worker's twins. Of course, when I told K she'd been invited to a party, she hardly cared that she'd never met the hosts. She was incandescent with joy. "Really?? I like parties! I've never been to a party!" (She has, but it was over a year ago so she doesn't remember. She loved that one, too.)

This was interesting in a couple of ways. For one, it offered us a partial answer to our "What do people do for their children's birthdays?" question, at least for a certain segment of the population. It also confirmed for us that while it was fun, it's not our style. (Rented facility, hired clowns, lots of kids, only some of whom the birthday girls actually knew)

We also got a rare opportunity to watch our child interacting with her peers, since we got to stay for the party, too. She wasn't the youngest there, but she was on the younger end of the kids participating in the games, competitions, and so on. At one point the children took turns singing a song into a microphone. We looked over, saw K about fifth in line (and at least a year younger than the next youngest in line), and wondered out loud to each other if she knew what she was lining up for...we both expected her to get shy or scared when it was her turn, but she announced her name and chosen song clearly into the microphone and then sang it. She got a bit muddled up in the middle, but she finished - just like most of the older ones who sang before her.

The striking thing was that the man in the clown suit clearly had no idea she wasn't a Czech little girl (you could tell by some of the things he said to her). She communicated clearly and age appropriately. Even forgetting the text mid-song was age appropriate, and her singing was pretty on-key. Score for K!

I also met (or re-met) several of the Slovak's co-workers who were present. They apparently all remembered that the Slovak is married to an American but nothing else about me, because they were all comically surprised to find that I speak Czech. (It's a common reaction.)

(all in Czech)
"You speak Czech??"
"Yes, I do."
"You are Czech?"
"I'm not Czech, but I speak Czech."
(to the Slovak) "I had no idea your wife speaks Czech!"
(all with a clear subtext of "But you sound so...normal!")

Have you ever noticed that if you type Czech too many times in a row, it starts to look funny? :)

I also met/overheard a couple of Czech-speaking foreigners, which is always interesting as we are, apparently, relatively few in number. This was because several of the families present were in similar (Czech-English, at least) situations as us, so I had a few brief conversations about bilingual kids and such.

We also overheard that there was another Apo present - I overheard a girl calling "Apo! Apo!" and saw that another man, speaking Slovak, was answering her. I'm not sure we've met any other Apos, at least not directly. I think my Slovak felt some Apo solidarity going on, even though the two of them didn't speak.

Lots of fun was had, K behaved really well (especially on just a 20 minute nap), fit in very nicely with peers (have I mentioned the wonder of two introverts producing a highly social, leadership-quality-possessing child? the Slovak and I would both have suffered at a party full of people we didn't know, and we'd have died before performing a song in front of a crowd like that!), and the party lasted so long we had to cut out early (after 3.5 hours) because it showed no sign of letting up and we had company waiting for us at home... Overall: success.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Bilingualism Carnival!

And a series of articles on fun ways to improve a second language (for adults) that I did a while ago and totally forgot to mention here:


Check them out if you haven't seen them before!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Learning to Write

When K was around two years old, I hand-wrote something in front of her and her whole body stiffened in fascination as she watched me. She immediately demanded that I repeat the trick, so I took a blank piece of paper and demonstrated how to write her name and, upon her insistence, various other words.

It instantly changed her whole way of drawing: previously, she would scribble and maybe on a good day we might get a circle, but from that moment on her drawings became pages full of small, intricate symbols. She also started noticing things written outside, on the bus, in the store, and wanting to know what they say. Her fixation on it was really sweet, with this attitude of "I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU HAVE THIS SKILL YOU'VE BEEN HIDING FROM ME ALL THIS TIME." (My response, of course, was "YOU'RE ONLY TWO. DON'T BE RIDICULOUS.")

Since then K has gone through a few phases of intense interest in reading and writing that last a few days or weeks until something else catches her attention. I've been using those high-interest periods to slowly and casually teach her some of the alphabet. The results of this to date are that she recognizes a few letters (K for her name, M for mama) and can write a few others (she writes lines full of T and O and then tells me what they say) and her alphabet puzzle is no challenge any more.

We're going through another intense writing phase at the moment: K makes me write down a word and then she copies it out to the side. She doesn't know what sounds most of the letters make and hasn't really caught on to the principle yet, but she is surprisingly good at making (backwards, upside down, sideways...) copies of the letters she sees. She can be somewhat single-minded (I have no idea where she got that, unless it was from the Slovak. really. that's my story), so we have pages and pages full of writing, ranging from "cat" and "dog" to "basket" and "computer", whatever she requests. I think she wanted to write "octopus" once.

I've been indulging her so far, sounding out the words as I write them and not addressing the backwards and upside down aspect. I think just practicing writing them will help her to eventually straighten them out and remember the names, etc. And of course, backwards and upside down writing is common even in children older than K, as I had to tell my husband - it offends his sense of correctness to just let it pass. He also doesn't like it when K uses "he" and "she" (or similar) incorrectly. It's wrong! I do sympathize :) but I remind him and myself that it's really developmentally normal and K will straighten it out herself eventually...

K also mentions almost daily that when she is a big girl, she will go to the big girl school (where she would really like to be attending already, in fact). She asks me about big girl school: what they do there, what they learn, if they have toys and a sandbox. She was very interested to hear that in big girl school you learn to read and write (and count and learn all about the world). I have been wondering this week if she wants to learn to write now so she'll be able to go to big girl school, or if the two interests are actually separate, if related. She hasn't mentioned them in connection like that, but you never know what is going on in her small, curly head.

I know it's not entirely unusual for parents to teach a two or three year old to read, write, count to 100, and do long division (really, some people's laundry lists of accomplishments are kind of silly), and of course sometimes a child absorbs these things without being specifically taught, but I am really finding a lack of desire in myself to cultivate an early reader (etc.) beyond allowing K access to knowledge as and when she requests it.

Because I also think it's silly to deny a child the opportunity to learn when he is clearly interested, as apparently my mother-in-law did with my husband - it was frowned upon at the time for kids to start school knowing how to read, so none would be ahead of the others, so she didn't teach him anything until he started learning in first grade. (I think this is why he was so surprised when I recently mentioned reading chapter books at 6 and 7 years old - I was an early reader and by first grade was reading Nancy Drew...he looked at me with a little extra respect after that!)

I always thought I'd be more eager to encourage my kids to read (and acquire other academic skills) as early as possible, but I kind of surprised myself once I became a parent and decided, you know, I'm really not interested in pushing it. I am confident that K will learn to read when she is ready and that pushing too hard runs the risk of her losing interest. I'd rather she learn to love reading at any age than learn to read early but regard it as a chore or something to make Mama happy.

K has access to crayons or pen and paper, willing scribes in me and the Slovak, (rather a large number, in fact, of) books, and I make sure she sees me reading myself. Have had to make an effort on this front, actually, as I took to mostly reading on the computer once she was born (hands free), so you can't tell if I'm reading my e-mail or something more substantial. I am picking up real books more often now, though, and not saving them just for when she's asleep. (We'll see how this goes when boy baby is born and I have my arms full again, though...)

So basically, that's where we're at: 3.5 and determined to learn to write. Reading seems to be less of a concern, since K can already "read" (i.e., retell a story to herself as she flips through a book), so I guess she feels like she's got that one down. I imagine that if she continues writing like this she'll learn to actually read sometime before starting school. That's fine with me. Whenever she's ready, I'll be ready to help. To me, the important thing is that she's engaged, eager to learn, and terribly proud of herself. I am not invested in her learning as much as possible, as fast as possible, but I am also proud of her - of her determination to learn and quick mind, yes, but even more of her confidence, joy in life and kind heart. Those are the real skills she'll take with her to first grade, regardless of what else she knows.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

No Longer the New English-Speaking Girl

Yesterday a new girl started at K's preschool, recently arrived from New Zealand. Like K when we arrived, she apparently understands but doesn't speak Czech.

The teacher told me about her yesterday and said it was funny that K and the girl hadn't yet realized that they both speak English. I told her the story of K and her bilingual friend. It's not that unusual I guess.

Today I asked K who she played with at school, and she mentioned playing with Lexie (the NZ girl). I asked about Lexie, and she said they played together but Lexie "doesn't speak very well". She speaks a little bit but not a lot, K said. I asked whether K speaks a little or a lot, and she said she speaks a lot. (That is certainly true!) I asked what language Lexie speaks, and K answered, "Sometimes she speaks English." I pointed out that K also speaks English, and K said that yes, she does speak English, but she doesn't speak it with Lexie. She speaks Czech with Lexie.

It was kind of interesting hearing K's perspective on a girl in the same position K was not so long ago. Her stance on Czech as the language of kids (and babies, and animals) is firm. I was wondering if she would feel any kinship or similarity between her and the new girl, but I didn't want to suggest it to her by asking. I'm not sure if K feels much of a difference between herself and the Czech kids at school. She does speak a little differently, but it's not a significant difference any more and she/they might not pay it much attention.

I did ask K's head teacher yesterday what she thought of K's level of Czech, and she pretty much agreed with my assessment that K is somewhat, but not significantly, behind monolingual kids her age in Czech, but that she should bridge the gap in 6 months to a year at this rate. She was also pretty impressed with how well K has done so far.


K also demonstrated yesterday that she knows her left from her right, in Czech/Slovak (words are the same) and in English. She immediately and without thinking showed me her right hand, left hand, pravá ruka, levá ruka...

This is more impressive (to me) than you might think, because I have always had trouble with telling left from right. I also sometimes forget which side of the road you drive on or which direction is first base from home [in baseball], which knee I have a freckle on, etc. I wouldn't be surprised if there's a technical term for it. So I was doubly surprised when K knew it correctly, because I had to think to know whether she was right or not. Obviously I wasn't the one who taught her.

I asked her teacher once we got to school (this happened on the way there), who said that they don't specifically teach left and right, but they do tell the children, "You are coloring with your right hand now" and similar. And last week K was looking for something and the Slovak told her it was on the left side, and she reached the correct direction to find it - that was our first clue that she knew the difference.


Another of my idiosyncracies is that I sneeze in bright light. Like not knowing left from right, people who don't do it themselves don't even know it exists usually, but it totally does! I think it's called photosensitive sneezing, and it apparently runs in families. The Slovak thought I was making it up until our daughter was born and, as an infant, sneezed in the bright sunlight for the first time. He has to admit it exists now. :)

Thursday, July 14, 2011


This may be a totally silly thing to be thinking about in July when my daughter's birthday is in November, but she regularly brings up her birthday - when is it, what will we do, reenacting her last one - so it's not really out of the blue.

Also, her birthday is one month before Christmas, so every year we have to plan in advance what to give her for her birthday and what to keep for Christmas.

Also, this year in particular, her birthday is going to come about six weeks after we dramatically and irrevocably change her life by introducing a baby brother. K is excited about having a baby brother and will be a good big sister, but she is also used to being our baby and not having to share us with anyone, so I don't think the transition will pass with no insecurity or uncertainty whatsoever. So I'm inclined to want to make this birthday particularly special and sparkly instead of letting it slink past in a haze of diapers and night feedings.

In googling for ideas on birthday celebrations for a four-year-old or how to make a birthday special, however, I found that my idea of "special" doesn't seem to correlate to other people's idea of "special". All I found were suggestions on how to spend more money for a more lavish party...

Which brings me to the fact that K has never had a birthday party as such. Go ahead, tell me how mean I am. The thing is I am really not into massive parties for kids, with bouncy castles, pony rides, clowns and the whole class - or even people the child doesn't know! - invited. It has always seemed odd to me to invite your friends, boss, clients, and so on to your child's first birthday (because I think it's overwhelming and not very meaningful for the child), for example, though I know a lot of people do it.

My ideal party is the immediate family and MAYBE one to two close friends of the child, with cake, candles, singing the birthday song, presents, and possibly a child-oriented, age-appropriate outing.

For K's first birthday I made fairy cakes (hey, we were in England!), we helped her blow out the candle and she opened her presents. We recorded the celebrations for the benefit of the grandparents. One other person was present, simply because we had a houseguest at the time. She helped with photography and such.

For K's second birthday, her Slovak grandparents came to visit. I made her chocolate cupcakes, helped her blow out two candles (or was it a candle shaped like the number 2? can't remember), and she opened her presents. We had a live Skype feed for her American grandmother (we do that for birthdays and Christmas for both sets of parents, it's so very 21st century). We also took her to a soft play area for the first time, where she had a blast.

For K's third birthday, I was willing for the first time to invite a friend or two, but it was just after we moved to Prague from UK, so she didn't have any friends close enough to invite. Instead, I made her a cake, she blew out the candles, we sang, she opened her presents, Skype feed, Slovak grandmother in town, and we went to the Prague aquarium. Which was frankly a disappointment, given how beautiful the Prague zoo is for the same price. Oh well, lesson learned, at least we did something fun. And really, especially with the cake and presents, K had a BLAST. She couldn't stop smiling and posing for pictures.

(As a note, my MIL tried to discourage me from making K a cake - she didn't understand why I would go to the effort of making something myself when I could buy some pastries from a bakery instead. I was shocked at the mere suggestion, which I guess shows that I do have certain Ideas about what good mothers do for their kids' birthdays...apparently a big party isn't required, but a homemade cake is. I already feel like a slacker because I don't know how to do cake decorating the way my mother always did, so my cakes are very tasty but not very decorated!)

So this is basically the pattern that I'm looking to make "special" - not a more extravagant party or gifts particularly, but something extra that a four year old will find magical. We've been looking for slightly more "big girl" gifts, with some success - that's another topic actually, what do you get for a four year old that she doesn't already have (gifts from previous years will last for a long time, like her toy kitchen) and that isn't inappropriate, overly commercialized, branded by Disney or TV characters she doesn't recognize, and so on? Because that rules out most of what I saw in stores on our recent US visit.

So far I've thought of taking K on one of those horse-drawn carriage rides around Prague. They're for tourists, but I've always thought they were cool and I think K would adore it. She loves downtown Prague, sight-seeing, horses, being a princess... The only complication is her birthday is in late November so the weather may or may not be very pleasant. But if we dress up warmly I can imagine a wintry carriage ride as being pretty special.

Alternatively, I've been thinking for a while that K would probably really love to sit down for ice cream in a slightly fancy-looking cafe downtown. There are a bunch that have been restored to their pre-war elegant decorations and seem to be frequented by tourists, so we might not be too conspicuous bringing a child. The complication here is do we bring the baby or not and can we convince a friend to keep him for an hour or two if we decide not to.

Even something as simple as a zoo or movie theater trip would be fun, though we hit the zoo too often for it to qualify as life-changingly special and I'm not sure how fun it will be in late November, and there would have to be a really good family movie out at that point, which you can't guarantee.

I'm open to suggestions on something else to do or somewhere to go in or around Prague, especially something that takes into consideration the time of year and presence of infant.

Generally, I've been thinking of scaling back on presents in general in future (for both children) and focusing more on a family outing or experience as above. For the first few years, we didn't have ANYTHING, so we needed everything. A ride-on toy, Legos, books, dress-up clothes, things to play shopkeeper or kitchen, we had none of it, so birthdays and Christmas were essentially opportunities to stock up for K as well as any future children. Now that we have most of the general categories we wanted and most of it K should keep playing with for at least another couple of years, we have less of a need for the "big" gifts and can concentrate on filling in the gaps (for boy baby) and adding on something for bigger kids (for K). I'd rather birthdays and holidays be less about getting a big gift, anyway, and more about spending time together having fun. I'm not opposed to spending money, either on gifts or special outings, but I want to find that magical balance, basically.

I would like to have a very, very small birthday party this year, because I think K is old enough to enjoy it now and see above re massive life changes. I'm imagining one or two friends from preschool coming over to play for a few hours and having a piece of cake.

This is where the cultural and linguistic twist comes in, because I don't know what current birthday customs are in this country! I know what they used to be at least for some people, when people my age were growing up, but I have the impression they may have changed and parties may be more common and such. I am fairly sure that sleep-overs are still pretty much unheard of, but none of my friends are the parents of young children, so they can't really tell me for sure. I would be willing to consider one friend spending the night, but obviously not if the mere suggestion would scandalize the parents!

Also, K's best friend at school is Russian and I'm not entirely sure her parents speak Czech, which would be an additional complication. Haha. I have to figure out some logistics still.

So these are the questions I'm currently considering.

How mean is it that our daughter has never had a birthday party outside the family?

Are we really the only ones who don't do it?

How can we make her first birthday post-sibling something special for her?

What's something fun but reasonable to do in late November with a four-year-old? Bonus points for something offbeat she hasn't done before.

What do other people do for their children's birthdays?

Particularly, what do Czech people do for their children's birthdays? How do I find out?

What kind of toys does a four-year-old play with that a three-year-old doesn't? Bonus points if it isn't Disney themed, involving thousands of small parts or encouraging attitudes I don't think are appropriate for young children, i.e. me and Barbie - and Bratz type dolls even more so - have a very uneasy truce that involves them not coming in my house.

Why can't you buy anything these days that doesn't have a trademarked character (Dora, Cars, Disney Princesses) prominently displayed? Has anyone else noticed that Disney has totally taken over the world?

Was it like that when we were kids?

Why couldn't I find any toy stores other than Toys-R-Us and the toy sections of big box stores in America?

Can anyone recommend me some? Online is ok.

Also, what kind of books does a four-year-old enjoy that we don't already have? Bonus points if they're in Czech or Slovak.

Am I overthinking this? Wait, don't answer that one. Overthinking is totally my thing.

Monday, July 11, 2011

School Year in Review and 3.5 Year Language Update

The official last day of school was June 30. K started the school year in October, at a different school we weren't happy with ultimately, so we finished out the year at a different school that we ended up loving.

In under six months K went from speaking in individual words to conversing entirely in CZ/SK (she speaks Czech but it's interesting how strong an influence the father-language has on her still, i.e. Czech hasn't taken over completely) confidently, if mildly ungrammatically.

I'd be interested in an actual evaluation of her speech level, since I don't have much experience with native Czech speaking children so it is hard for me to judge what is age-appropriate and what isn't. I would estimate, though, that she may be up to a year behind her age level, or maybe less, which is a massive step up from the 2+ years behind she was at the beginning of this year. I'm hoping to ask one of the teachers what they think, too.

As far as English goes, K is the star of the school's English hour. Hahah. Again, it's hard for me to judge where she's at but I believe she is right at her age level. Grammar concepts are slowly coming together, although some, like he/she and his/her, she still doesn't have straight. Everything in the past is yesterday, and there are still several sounds she can't produce - but those seem about typical for 3.5, it seems to me. When we were in America, a few relatives commented that they could understand everything she says with no trouble, one adding, "I find her easier to understand than [cousin who is a year older], actually."

I do wonder, though, if K will STAY at age level, and if I will recognize the signs if she doesn't. Will her English stagnate with just me to talk to? Will I provide rich enough stimulation to keep her vocabulary and fluency growing? Will I notice if her English starts to lag? I think so...but I'll have to remember to monitor.

Socially and developmentally speaking, K is really thriving and happy, and I think her school is contributing to that. She is confident and friendly and usually very reasonably behaved. She has a wild imagination and loves to tell stories and play pretend. She often plays out both sides of a conversation at once, between her dolls or even, this weekend, between her toes. As in, her toes were having a conversation with each other. She seems to have a feel for music, picking up songs easily and singing them on key usually - not a given at her age. She recognizes a few letters (I teach her only when she's interested) and has good crayon and scissor control. I think our Kumon workbooks have really helped her confidence with crayons and scissors. She can count to 10 and is working on up to 20 in both languages. She knows the Czech months and is learning the English ones. Her reasoning and negotiating skills are developing at an alarming pace...

We've noticed that Czech is becoming her self-play language, especially since a lot of her scenarios revolve around school type situations, imaginary conversations with her friends, etc. It isn't a hard-and-fast preference for Czech, though - it seems that K's toys, like K herself, fluidly and naturally switch between languages at will. But there's more Czech present than English most of the time, I'd say, even when she was, for instance, playing with the toys at my mother's house.

Which takes us up to the end of the school year. I had been minorly wondering what happened to all the children's artwork, since K often came home with paint in her hair but rarely had any pictures sent home. They did display artwork on the walls at school, but that wouldn't account for everything. All was explained, however, when during the last week we were presented with a binder filled with K's work from the year, displayed in plastic sheet protectors. The binder also had several pictures of K and classmates on the front and back, two CD-Roms with pictures and video clips from the school year, the daily record of what went on in school (today we went outside and talked about snails, etc), and a letter to K from the teachers summing up her year.

K's letter talked about how she started out quiet but quickly learned to talk in full sentences, made lots of friends, and generally had a fantastic year and her teachers are proud of her. I thought the letter, and the whole book, were really sweet and a nice memento of the school year.

The "summer break" didn't last long, though, since we decided to keep her in school for the summer - her school is staying open except for a week at the end of August, just before the first day of school on September 1. I think school is good for her at this point, and there's no reason to stop if I don't have anything more fun for her to do. I am going to keep her home a few days if I manage to take us to the zoo or do something else worthwhile, but otherwise it's work and gestating for me and school for K.

So pretty much she finished school June 30, had a Mama and K day July 1, and left for a week in Slovakia July 2, from which we just returned. And then, today, back to school to play with her friends.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Consequences of Multilingual Parenting that Nobody Tells You About

In our family, we have a Mama and an Apo. In fact, in our family we refer to all mothers as Mamas and all fathers as Apos, no matter how other families refer to themselves. Our Apo occasionally refers to me as "Mamka" or "Mami", and I occasionally refer to him as "your father" (usually in the sense of "WHEN IS YOUR FATHER GOING TO __?"). K goes back and forth between "Mama" and "Mommy" (sounds very like Mami) for me, and sticks to Apo for the Slovak.

Incidentally, "Apo" is a Slovakified version of the Hungarian word for daddy, which is what the Slovak calls HIS father (his parents are Apo and Aňu). It is pretty much only used in eastern Slovakia where he is from, so people in Prague and western Slovakia are as baffled upon hearing it as anyone else. The only time it gets instant recognition is from someone from eastern Slovakia who also uses/used it at home... Czechs call their fathers "táta", "tatínek" and variations thereof, and Slovaks typically call their fathers "ocko" and variations thereof.

"Mama", on the other hand, is pretty adaptable. It's "máma" (slight pronunciation difference) in Czech, or more often "maminka", or "mamka" or "mamička" in Slovak. "Mami" fits in either language. Thus K never raises any eyebrows calling me Mama or Mommy wherever we are.

So it took our daughter a while to pick up on the existence of other words to refer to parents. For example, for a long time she didn't know what people meant when they talked about her "daddy", because we never use the word. Eventually, she figured out that "daddy" and "tatínek" are different words for Apo that other people sometimes use, but she never said them herself, or at least not to refer to her father.

Recently that has started to change...

For one thing, K is referring to us sometimes as "moje maminka" and "můj tatínek" or "můj táta" (instead of "můj Apo"), especially when talking to her Slovak grandparents this week. I can't remember if she has called Apo táta to his face or not, but he definitely tries to discourage it, because he is called Apo.

Our last day in the US this year was Father's Day, and I'm pretty sure people were asking K about her "dad" and talking about dads and moms, because later that day or very soon after she said something about "mom and dad". This caught our attention, because of all the possible parental names, K has NEVER said "mom" or "dad". She clearly got it from Outside Influences!

Soon after that, once we were home, she mentioned her "mom and dad" to me again, and I asked,

"Do you mean Mama and Apo?"
"No, MOM and DAD."
"But we're your Mom and Dad."
"No, you're Mommy and Apo!"
"Um, well, who are your Mom and Dad then? Where are they now?"
"Mom is at work and Dad is at home." (points back to her bedroom)
"Can you ask him to come out here?"

K then went back to her bedroom, Dad first refused to come out, then came after all and K pointed to the floor, explaining that Dad is very small. And apparently invisible.

Are you getting this?


And it doesn't end there, oh no. An imaginary "tatínek" has also recently made an appearance, clearly differentiated from the real Apo.

That makes five of us so far.

I keep waiting for K to claim her OTHER parents are much nicer, less demanding, or in some other way entirely better than her REGULAR parents. I could handle that. Especially if the other parents would go to work and clean the house for us so we could spend more time goofing off with our kids.

EDIT TO ADD: I totally forgot about "MApo"! When K was learning to talk, for a long time she referred to me as "Mama" and Apo as "MApo". Which made him kind of mad. Like he's just a substandard version of me. Eventually she learned to say Apo and use it for the correct person, but she continued - and continues - to say MApo sometimes for either or both of us. At least occasionally it seems like she's just forgetting or changing her mind mid-word as to what she wants to say.

But recently - on the plane back from US, so the same day that "Mom and Dad" were first mentioned, she showed us a picture she drew. We are her favorite drawing subjects, especially Apo as he is artistically interesting with his short hair, glasses and beard. This one, however, had glasses, a beard and long hair. (Long hair is my only distinguishing characteristic.)

We asked about it, and she confirmed that we were seeing long hair, glasses and a beard. We looked at each other and said "...that must be MApo!"

So I guess that's six parents at last count...

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Bilingual in Arkansas

One of the most pleasant surprises during our trip to America was that K did not back off at all from her new speaking-Czech-with-Apo routine.

We thought she might revert to answering in English, as she used to do and as would be understandable in an entirely English environment, but she had no problem conversing with him - in the store, in the car, in Grandmama's house - in all or mostly Czech and Slovak, depending on her knowledge of what she wanted to say. She does still speak some English to him, mostly on things she doesn't know the words or grammar for yet. Fair enough.

She also was completely confident in speaking English with everyone else and fitting in with other kids. I heard her use a Czech word to Grandmama once or twice, but she mostly kept everything to what people could understand. She enjoyed singing some of her preschool (and home) songs to Grandmama, which was pretty entertaining, especially when I had to clarify which songs she was singing real words to and which songs she was making up as she went along.

I wondered if K would be surprised by everyone speaking English in America, but the only time she commented on it was at the Prague airport when two women ahead of us in line were speaking English. "They speak English like me! And you!" I guess she got used to it after that.

She had a blast while there and didn't get set back at all during the trip or once we got back. Even jet lag was much easier this time around - we all slept all night every night since we got back! Not like jet lagging with an 11 month old who at 2 am just wants to play...

One thing she learned in Arkansas was the song "Ring of Fire" - she's heard it before on our i-pod, but started trying to sing along in the car this time. So of course I played it for her a few times and sang along so she could watch my mouth and pick up the words. I have to say, "Burns burns burns" is a very funny line to hear coming out of a three year old's mouth! I think it's the perfect souvenir to bring home from a trip to Arkansas, don't you?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Difficulty Making Yourself Understood

It's not just for the foreign language any more!

We just got back from a visit to America. (It was great, fun was had.) While there, we had a few communication challenges to overcome...not counting the Slovak's traditional introduction to new people of "Hi, I'm The Slovak" followed by blank stares at the unfamiliar name.

Early one morning the Slovak went out to get us coffee (is he not a lovely husband?) and came back somewhat depressed. He said the girl working at Starbucks made him repeat everything three times before she understood. He asked me if his English is really that bad or is the girl just not very smart? I suggested maybe it was the lack of a distinct Southern accent that threw her off.

The next few times we went in, he made me order, and I HAD THE SAME PROBLEM. Same girl, made me repeat myself three times, and still got the order wrong. I was able to assure him that it wasn't him, it was her. Poor guy was starting to doubt himself.

Then, for our last meal before getting on the plane, we stopped at Olive Garden. We sat down, then the Slovak and K left for the bathroom. While they were gone, the waiter stopped by for our drink order.

"I'd like two raspberry lemonades and a child's apple juice please."
"OK, and for you?"
"I'm having one of the lemonades."
"So three raspberry lemonades and an apple juice."
"No, no, just two raspberry lemonades."
"But that's only three drinks."
"There are only three of us here. Me, my husband, and my daughter."
"But I could have sworn I saw a tall, bearded guy with glasses walking away from this table a few minutes ago. With a child."
"Yes, that was my husband and my daughter. We're the only ones here."
"OK, you threw me off with the 'three child's lemonades and an apple juice' thing."
"?? No, sorry, I just want two adult raspberry lemonades and a child's apple juice."
"OK, wait, let's start from the beginning. Who all is sitting here today?"
"Two parents, drinking raspberry lemonade. One child, drinking a child's apple juice."
"Yes. But what are YOU having?"
"I'm one of the parents."
"But what about the other person here?"
"Really, no other person. Two raspberry lemonades, one child's apple juice."

I am not even exaggerating. I think I may have left out a couple of exchanges, in fact. Somehow I convinced him to bring the drinks I asked for, and we got them. Eventually. It was very difficult keeping a straight face for the last half of the conversation.

Good grief. :)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


We're in a year of transitions.

It's been about nine months since our move back to Prague, and we're all pretty much settled but not quite settled yet.

Our apartment is definitely still in transition as we work to reduce, simplify, organize, carve out some space for a very small new family member.

And I think 3 is such a year of balancing as well, so grown up compared to 1 or 2, and so small compared to the first graders K so fervently wants to join at the big school. One minute confident in her assertion that she's a big girl and CAN do lots of things, the next cuddled in my lap insisting "But I'm not a big girl any more!" and that she can't POSSIBLY do other things. K still has no problem claiming to be a baby when she's not feeling up to facing the big girl world.

K is becoming a Czech speaker, but she's not quite there yet. She's becoming multilingual, but still has some ground to travel.

She's thriving in preschool, learning and growing in knowledge - in English as well as Czech, which I wonder how she manages - all the time.

She's becoming a big sister, but she's not quite there yet either.

The baby is becoming a baby, the Slovak and I are about to expand the family by 25% and double our parenting responsibility...

Pretty much, this year is going to end in a very different place than it started. More so than most years.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Translation please!

The Slovak and I have always had a buffer between our families and our other culture, more or less by default, since we live so far away. By this I mean that we introduce certain cultural or language elements to the other side of the family, but always in a controlled and limited way and the families aren't living with The Foreign on a daily basis.

For example, my family is familiar with the Slovak/Hungarian family names we use (Apo, Babka, Dedo) and we've talked about various Foreign customs we keep and cooked Foreign food for them. At the Slovak's parents' house this past Christmas we set out a snack for Santa (and had to save it from Dedo clearing it away after 3 minutes). That kind of thing.

We don't often speak the other language when our parents are around, either, though we do when on our own or even in the next room. Or trying to make my sister uncomfortable. Because we're mature adults, we are.

...but that's all in person. A big part of our communication is obviously online, through Skype and - this is key - Facebook. Skype, of course, is still individual contact, but on Facebook all your friends see what you're saying (unless you take measures so they don't).

This becomes significant for us because both our parents have Facebook accounts and regularly look at our various updates. Obviously. We, in the meantime, have a very international circle of friends, a large number of whom speak both English and Czech or Slovak, so the conversations on our pages tend to be...multilingual.

I do a lot of conversation recording there, for instance, so a lot of my updates are half English, half CZ/SK, or all Czech, or all English except the one key word in Czech... Or else 3/4 of the comments to an English status are in CZ/SK...after all these years in Prague most of my close friends are here or in Slovakia, anyway!

Which brings us to the title of this post: the most frequent recent comment on the Slovak's and my pages is "Translation please!!" from my mother. Especially when she sees that it involves the word "K", of course. She wants to know what's going on in her granddaughter's life, or what funny thing she said today, and she can't understand the language it's in! How frustrating.

I brought it up to laugh at her on Skype the other day after several "Translation!!" comments in a row. "You don't like it when we have something on there that's not in English, do you?" She laughed and said, "It's frustrating!! The Slovak hardly ever has any English on his page any more, I just scroll down once in a while to check..." She understands that we live a multilingual life, but it's one thing to be aware of and another thing to witness.

So I go back and provide a translation when requested, though of course The Funny is sometimes lost when explained, and recently half the "translations" have been "The Slovak is talking about hockey again" (world championships in Slovakia!).

We actually get fairly regular comments from various people, asking for translations or mentioning they don't understand - or pretending they do understand - although I've been concentrating on my mom's reactions in this post because with K's recent Czech explosion this is really the first experience my family has had of what Babka and Dedo have all the time: a grandchild saying funny things (and inspiring Facebook updates) in a language they don't understand. I love that my mother wants to know even the things that are strange to her, though.

So basically, this is another stage of the grandparents learning to live with the reality of a new, Foreign element in the family. I've written about other aspects before, and no doubt will again.

This multilingual family thing, it is a balancing act. And the balancing always fascinates me.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Song of the Sun (or Moon?)

It came to my attention yesterday that K's knowledge in Czech exceeds her English knowledge in at least one area. That's a first!

The area? She knows her months in Czech now, or rather, she sings a song that more or less resembles the months of the year, although she doesn't know what they signify I would say. I have mentioned individual months to her in English, like your birthday is in November, my birthday is in December, right now it is May, etc., but I haven't started teaching the months in order yet. I guess it's time now...

I realized this yesterday on the way home from preschool, listening to K sing a song she's never sung before: "červe, červe, červenec!"

I asked her, "Did you just say červenec?" (July)
"No, červená!!" (red) (first clue she doesn't understand the significance)

But then she sang it again and followed up with something like "srpy" (srpen = August), so I asked her, "And what about leden?" (January)

She instantly replied with the whole song! "leden, únor, březen, duben, květen, červen, červenec, srpen, září, říjen, listopad, prosi-prosi-prosinec"

Predictably, some of those were more recognizable than others, but if you knew what to listen for, they were all there. And if you look closely, you'll see that the initial "červe červe červenec" was actually "květen, červen, červenec"!

Then I asked her, "Do you know what those are?"
She answered, "Yes, the sun," and pointed outside. (second clue she's not totally in on what this means)

This is the fun part: I am almost certain that the sun is not a total non sequiteur in this conversation... The teacher must have told them that this song is the "měsíce" - months. The catch is that měsíc means both month and MOON, and K almost certainly knows only the second meaning. (She doesn't understand time enough to know what a "month" is in English, either, of course.) So she understood the teachers saying, this is about the moon - and then mixed up the moon and sun to tell me it's about the sun.

It's also possible they have pictures to illustrate seasons and months that involve the sun, but I'm thinking a confusion on the word měsíc is involved somehow.

The significant thing here, however, is that my daughter knows something in Czech that she doesn't yet know in English, which is an important milestone in her education. Also, it's surprising that she knew the song so completely the first time she sang it for me - usually she will sing fragments for a while before being able to produce the whole thing. Also, I totally have to figure out a song for "January, February..." to balance her knowledge out again!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Bilingual Easter Romance

We spent Easter weekend within walking distance of the border of Czech Republic, Slovakia and Austria. On the Slovak side. The weather was perfect and time with friends much needed.

After we got back, K overheard me telling someone we had seen "lots of friends" and she instantly corrected me: "No, Mama. Only one friend."

That would be because while WE spent time with lots of our friends, SHE spent the whole time playing with one new friend. It was L, our friends' son who was born 5 weeks after K. They've seen each other before but didn't remember, since it's only once or twice a year.

This time, though, they hit it off the instant we stepped out of the car and played non-stop from morning til night. Or rather, from morning til nap-time, and then after nap-time til night. They're only 3, after all.

Other than the hand-holding and mischief-making and occasional kiss-giving, this friendship was significant for K because L, too, is bilingual. His parents are American but he was born in Czech Republic (different city from us) and he goes to Czech preschool. I don't think K has met any other kids that (she realized) are bilingual like her.

They started off speaking Czech together, which was pretty fun in itself. L's mom kept telling him, "You can speak English with K, you know...", but it took a while to sink in. Both kids are accustomed to other children speaking Czech so it was a perfectly normal thing to do. L also spoke mostly Czech to me, especially at first.

Eventually, the two little ones realized they both know English as well, and the real fun began. I loved eavesdropping on their conversations and hearing how and when they switched between languages. They're both currently stronger in English, so they used it for more complicated thoughts they couldn't express in Czech. It was also instructive to note the sort of things they talk about. It's been a long time since K spent any time with other kids outside of school, where I only see her for a few minutes before going home, of course, so I miss out on the types of things she and her school best friend talk about, for example.

It ranged from planning out their next mischief (Czech: "Půjdeme tam, a pak tam, a pak tam..." - pointing out where they would run to next), to discussing who could run faster (the Slovak overheard this one), to complimenting each other on a job well done (Czech: "výborné! dobré!" every time they jumped from stump to stump).

K woke up in the mornings asking for L: "Where's my friend? Where's L?" though she relatively often referred to him as simply "boy". Including to his face. "Chlapče!" (CZ) she would call when he wasn't right next to her. Or else it was chlapček (SK). Hard to tell.

Slovak made an appearance, too, as it usually does in K's Czech. I'm never sure that anyone but us (i.e. her teachers, etc.) realize that it's actually Slovak, though, instead of gibberish or mispronounced Czech. "Počkaj ma!" she called after L. I don't think I've heard her say počkaj ma (wait for me) before, but it's definitely something she's heard from Apo. I like how you can trace where she's learned things based on the language it's in. Useful for casting blame, especially when she picks up somewhat inappropriate vocabulary. On which more later.

K and L were also fun to watch on a social level. K is a bit of a leader and L is a bit of a follower, so their relationship was pretty much her grabbing his hand and taking him from place to place. With him more than happy to be led. They both had some out of character behavior over the weekend because they were having so much fun and encouraging each other. Usually they both would have stuck closer to home (closer to mama), but with a friend to play with they didn't need us! Plus the sun was shining and there was a sand pit, so really, what could parents offer them other than a place to sleep at night? Didn't bother me...more chance to talk with MY friends.

I can't actually remember all the things I heard them say to each other, but I remember they were funny. We don't get many chances to see our daughter interact with peers, at least for such an extended period, so it was a really nice opportunity for us to see how two 3-year-olds interact. In that sense even the English was a bit of a revelation, to hear how (and what!) K communicates with a peer, or anyone who isn't me. And of course for a kid who at the beginning of January wasn't stringing two words together in Czech, having whole conversations with a friend in Czech is a great accomplishment.


This happened after we were back home, but speaking of somewhat inappropriate vocabulary, K and the Slovak had the following exchange on Monday:

"K, potrebuješ ísť peepee." (K, you need to go peepee)
"Apo, už som bola, ty vole." (Apo, I already went, dude.)

That's all Slovak except for peepee (duh) and ty vole, which is Czech and means roughly "dude". It's not a BAD word, but it's a little rougher than "dude" in English, and you definitely don't expect it from your 3-year-old's mouth. The Slovak and I officially disclaim all responsibility for K having heard it, which is reasonable in principle since it's Czech and we are English and's true that ty vole regularly makes its way into our conversations (with each other) in any language. It's a Thing.


Oh, I also asked K's teacher the other day if she could identify a certain song K sings at home, which in K's rendition goes, "Kaka kaka kakala". I had to sing the tune before the teacher realized what it was: "Jedna kapka kapala". She also burst out laughing and immediately told the other teacher K's version, because K was basically singing, "Poop poop poopy poop". Which was pretty much my first clue that the real words were PROBABLY, ok HOPEFULLY something different.

Parenting, it is a joy.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Working Mama, Growing Girl

I have five documents open in Word needing to be translated. Obviously this is an ideal time to blog!

The upcoming holiday has had me unusually busy for the last several days. In typical feast-or-famine fashion, I got TWO random phone calls on Friday from prospective clients I contacted ages ago, and then fielded various offers all day yesterday.

In fact, since I knew Friday that I'd be pretty busy Monday, I agreed with K's school that she would stay all day Monday since she'll be missing school this Friday. So K stayed in school 8-5 and I worked all day. It was strange, because while I've put in some very full work days since K was born, it was always working while taking care of her, or at most working while the Slovak took care of her. Translating for hours at a time with no one asking me for a spravočka (roz-, cartoon), pink milk, to come play, what I'm doing, if I'm done working was not my usual working environment.

Which brings me to a tangent on why I work in the living room, the loudest room in the house. I have a work station set up by the couch. The answer is, I've tried working in the bedroom at the desktop, but it happened about like this:

Me: working away.
K: keeps talking to me.
Slovak: keeps talking to me.
TV: on, because they like it.
Me: I'm going in the other room so I can concentrate. *goes, sets up, translates for 30 seconds*
K, opening door: Hi Mama, what are you doing back here? Do you want to play?
Me: I'm working, can you go play with Apo?
K leaves, comes back 30 seconds later: Do you want me to cook you some lunch Mama? Do you want me to sit on your lap?
Slovak, coming down hall: I'm coming back here with you, this is where all the action is!
Me: OK, I'm going back in the living room, and you two stay here!

My family wants to be close to me. I love that. But it does make it more practical to stay in the main room when I'm busy, because they follow me all over the apartment anyway. Haha.


As I mentioned, K stayed at school all day yesterday. She was pumped, because the all-day kids take naps at school and she's been talking for months about wanting to sleep at school. The teacher said she did great and was cheerful all day.

She's also been attending swimming lessons every Tuesday for a couple of weeks, taking a mini-bus from school to the pool and back. My questions about how "swimming" went met with a flat refusal, however - "I didn't go swimming. I blew bubbles in the water. (or) I splashed with my feet in the water." Caught out by lack of precision again! I've mentioned this before.

I also told K recently not to put her shoes on the couch, to which she replied, "These aren't shoes. They're slippers." I told her that slippers are a kind of shoes and to get them off my couch now. Again, precision. Very important to my little girl.

K also continues to impress most everyone with her Czech. She speaks Czech most of the time at school and on Skype to her grandparents. Most of the time meaning that she doesn't always know how to say what she wants in Czech so she makes it up or says it in English. The kids and teachers understand her (Czech), though, which is great. She sings Czech songs she learns at school and gets mad at me if I don't know them. I know some of them, parts of others, and others are just new.

Somewhat frustratingly, her grandparents do NOT understand her. Or more precisely, they don't listen to her. Before, the Slovak and I could shrug this off as it was probably hard for them to pick out the three CZ/SK words from a torrent of English, but lately she's been speaking Czech to them the whole time, no English included, and they still don't respond to what she's saying unless the Slovak tells them LISTEN and asks K to repeat what she said. To be fair, it is probably also hard to hear over Skype, but the main ingredient here is not paying attention. Which is kind of too bad. It's frustrating for K to make a comment or ask a question and be answered with, "You're so cute, yes you are."

It may be better when we see them in person in a few months. Or it may not. We can deal with either.


Ok, back to work. Or to get a snack. Hmm...


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