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.


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