Monday, October 29, 2012

A Reading Family

Our apartment is decorated in bookshelves. We have slowed down in book buying over the past few years because with young children around we - at least I - have had less time to read and the books were about to overrun us anyway (also because we bought Kindles...), but one look at our home makes it clear that the people here are some serious book lovers.

Sometimes I have wondered, over the past few years, if our children will inherit our love of books since we don't read much when they are around. I do a lot of reading on the computer, because it is easier for me to handle while holding a baby or napping toddler, but of course a child can't tell the difference between that and working, or facebooking.

I am not sure where, but I remember reading once that children need to see their parents reading - not just reading to the children, but reading for themselves - in order to develop their own love of reading. I'm not sure if that's true, but it is true that my mother read when I was little but not when my younger siblings were little (I was an only child for several years, so she had more time) and I am the only one who reads books now.

With that in mind, and because I was tired of having gone from 50+ books a year to none, I started making a conscious effort to read actual, paper books when K was about two. It still seems to be mostly after bedtime, of course, but once in a while I manage to pull out my book while K is awake. I only make it through a few books a year now, but I have a small part of myself back.

Reading to the little ones, though, is more difficult. Baby M has a shelf for his board books, which he mainly likes to flip through and then scatter around the room. But it is K's books that give me twinges of conscience.

I have gone through phases during her life of reading to her a lot and not reading to her much at all. Sometimes she simply lost interest for a while. But especially in the last year I have hardly been able to read to her at all!

It is one of the most difficult things about having a second baby, not being able to devote enough time to the first one. M is the Chillest Baby Ever and can entertain himself indefinitely with minimum input from me, but the instant I pull out a book to read to K or a workbook to do with her he is ALL OVER us. He will not sit and read with us (because he is one), he will not play on his own or be distracted by a toy I give him. He will jump up and down on us until we put the offending items away.

The obvious answer is to read to her during his naptime, but the boy has a sixth sense that tells him when I am paying attention to his sister even when he is sleeping. He wakes up within three minutes. With K it was tea - making myself a hot cup of tea was a surefire way to ensure K would wake up at any time, day or night, and demand my attention until my tea had gone cold. With M I can have tea but I can't read to his sister.

I have had a little success with reading board books to both children at once, but of course a one-year-old's attention span is not great and they are not exactly on K's level. I am looking forward to when M is older and I can read to them both properly. That's a long time for K to wait, though!

So K's bookshelf has not been touched as much as I would like over the last year. Apo and I take turns reading to her at bedtime, when it is one-on-one, and recently we started reading chapter books together as a family. I read and Apo holds M so he can't climb up and knock the book out of my hands.

First we read Little House in the Big Woods, which was an exciting moment for me since I loved Laura Ingalls when I was little and have been looking forward to introducing it to my daughter for years. The Slovak was skeptical at first, since he wasn't familiar with the books, but after a few chapters he was secretly looking forward to our nightly reading and by the end he was actively sucked in and wanting to know more.

Once we finished that we moved on to Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. It is a little over K's comprehension level, but she has seen the first few movies and really likes Harry Potter, so she was set on reading that next once she found out there are BOOKS about Harry Potter as well. The first chapter was a little rough - in hindsight I should have skipped it - since there is a lot of hinting and grown-ups talking about things that aren't fully explained until later. Booooring.

Once we got to the part with Harry in it, though, things pick up. Last night we read chapter 3, where all the mysterious letters start coming to the house. Usually I split chapters over two sessions, but this time K begged me to keep reading: "I want to know what happens next!!"

At that, the Slovak and I shared a look over the top of K's head. She got it.

She was feeling the thrill of a good story, the need to know what happens next. As passionate readers ourselves, we both felt the thrill of passing something on to our child, something we pray will accompany her through her childhood and her whole life.

Friday, October 26, 2012


I have been enjoying watching as my children's relationship develops. My son loves anything his sister does, even if it involves being a bit too rough with him. It makes it hard to intervene and stop her:

"K, don't do that to your brother."
"But he likes it!"
(M grins like crazy)
"That may be so, but you are still not allowed to poke your brother/take his toys away/turn him upside down. -I- don't like it."

(We determined that he actually does enjoy being poked in the belly with a pirate sword. He does it to himself and giggles.)

She defends him against perceived injustice:

(in SK) "M, stop that!"
(in SK) "Apo, leave him alone, he isn't doing anything! He's just sitting there. Making messes."

She is proud of his accomplishments:

"He said 'ale' [but]! Like a ľud!"

Ľud is from ľudia, which means "people" in Slovak. The word for person is "človek", but K assumes it is a normal plural so she says ľud. Like "peep" from "people" I guess. It makes us laugh, anyway.

In the way of many young girls, she has also decided to marry her brother in case her plans to marry Apo fall through.

All of this doesn't mean she is without reservation regarding her brother, though. She remains clear that she really wanted a sister:

"Mommy, I don't want this baby. I mean, we can KEEP this baby, but I want another one too, a girl one."
"What if we had another baby and it turned out to be a boy, too?"
"Mommyyyy! (with a 'you're being silly' expression) That would never happen!"

A year on, though, I think the Slovak and I can say that M was the perfect addition to our family and we wouldn't trade him for a little sister. In her heart of hearts, neither would K.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Cultural Differences in the Doctor's Office

Going to the doctor in a foreign country. In our family this is usually my job, which is tricky sometimes because of our contrasting standards for an illness or injury requiring medical attention. For me it has to be an extremely high fever or severed limb and even then I'd rather give it another 24 hours and go in the morning if it doesn't clear up overnight. The Slovak, however, was raised by wolves somewhat hypochondriac parents and while he is pretty reasonable about his own health, it is natural to worry more about your children so he has a tendency to panic at the first sign of illness. It doesn't help that if his parents witness a single sneeze, they yell at us for getting the children sick. So I can understand that it makes him a bit jumpy.

I've had to take both children to the doctor this fall more often than usual, between routine checkups (the first year babies have a lot, plus K is about to have her 5-year visit) and assorted minor illnesses. Since we've now all had bronchitis (baby too) we've been a bit more careful with coughs and colds, since bronchitis is not fun. Over the weekend K was complaining of lower abdominal pain so I took her in Monday morning to make sure it wasn't an infection.

I am always a bit frustrated at the doctor's office because while I have a decent grasp of basic (regular person) medical Czech I can never remember the proper medical terms off the top of my head so I am never sure I've precisely described the problem in the way I would have in English. "I am a LEGAL translator," I always want to say, "I don't do medicine!" But I get the point across.

After feeling K's belly and taking a urine sample the pediatrician's main advice to me was to make sure she doesn't sit on a cold floor.

And that's where the cultural issues come into play.

Sitting on cold floor or concrete = infection is a very common piece of folk wisdom in this part of the world. I hadn't heard it before coming here, but I believe it may be somewhat of a tradition where I am from, too (anyone else heard of this?). I do not, however, believe that it is founded in evidence-based medicine. Unless it is and I just missed it, which is possible.

I don't mind the doctor telling me that, but it just serves as a reminder how deeply entrenched we all are in our own cultures (and generations - I think it depends on the age of the doctor as well as country of origin or medical training). I think medicine (causes of disease, treatments, germ theory, etc.) is probably the area in which I feel most foreign and most American, because I was just raised differently and it seems to be more deeply ingrained in me than, say, wearing shoes indoors or talking really loudly (two classic American behaviors).

There are a lot of other Czech medical beliefs that were new to me when I moved here. I can't remember them all off-hand, but a few include:

Drinking cold drinks gives you a sore throat. Iced drinks are basically just asking for it. I have been requested to put orange juice in the microwave to warm it up before serving. After it had been sitting on the counter for half an hour since I knew cold = bad.

Eating cherries and drinking water (together) will have you tied to the bathroom for the next several hours.

Combining certain types of food will have the same effect. The list seems to vary depending on who's talking.

When you have a cold you should wear a scarf around your neck. Because I guess your neck is cold? I'm not clear on the reasoning on this one.

Eating warm desserts will make you sick. The first time I brought my new husband cookies fresh from the oven (the preferred way to eat them in my country, or at least my family) he thought I was trying to poison him.

My mother-in-law does not allow fans or air conditioning to be blowing, even in the car in 40 C (very hot) weather, because they cause ear infections. Heat stroke, though, doesn't seem to concern her.

Walking around with an exposed lower back will give you a kidney infection.

Walking on a cold floor, or any floor, without sandals will make you sick.

When I moved to this country, I only knew "draft" (in the sense of cold air) from 19th-century novels. I had no idea it was a thing that people still talked/worried about, but it totally is.

And that's not even getting into the very specific ideas about raising children. I don't do dětský čaj or balení na široko (tea for babies and a special way of wrapping small babies to restrict their movement in order to prevent hip problems, more or less), which raises some eyebrows but my children seem to be managing without somehow.

I guess going to the doctor, when I can't get out of it entirely, may always be a reminder to me that I'm not in Kansas any more. On the other hand, a few months ago I woke up with a sore back after sleeping next to an open window, and my first thought was "...draft!"

So maybe I'll get on board with some of the above list someday, after all!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Happy birthday, Baby M!

We've just had a weekend visit from the grandparents (my in-laws), who came to Prague to celebrate Baby M's first birthday with us.

He had a chocolate cupcake to devour and a big sister to help him open his presents. The clear favorite was the rocking zebra (a rocking horse shaped like a zebra), which both children enjoy playing with. It is too small for K, of course, but as a new and somewhat fun toy meant for someone else she instantly realized it was all she had ever wanted in life...

I think it has increased M's worth in her eyes, having something that she really wants to play with. He is kind enough to let her ride, too, but I have to remind her that it goes both ways: it's not ok to play with his toys and make him stay away from hers. It was touch and go for a little bit but overall I think she handled the "it's someone else's birthday and not mine" issue fairly well. I hope next year will be even better since it won't be the first one.

I wondered up to the day of his birthday (Thursday) if M would take off walking, but it seems he has joined the ranks of us slackers, walking after a year. I walked at 14 months and the Slovak at 16 months, so we were pretty surprised when K was up and running around at 10 months. M will take one or two steps at a time sometimes but otherwise he refuses to walk or stand without holding on to something.

He hasn't said any first words yet, but he can sort of do a few signs and recognizes several signs and words. He's generally exhibiting signs of intelligence (problem-solving, understanding instructions, that sort of thing) that we didn't really see in his sister at 12 months. She was a good 14 months old and still looking at us like we were speaking Martian, no matter how common the word. (Meaning not even a flicker of recognition even at basic words referring to things like milk.)

M has not been a very talkative (babbling) baby so far, but in recent weeks this seems to be changing. He is getting better with his tongue, can blow raspberries and stick it out all the way, and is making a greater number of sounds. He was born with a tongue tie so this was a bit of a concern.

His pediatrician diagnosed him at 6 days old and recommended we have it snipped at one year, but I consulted with the doctors at the hospital where he was born and they said it is better to do it right away, so we did. I think it was the right decision and it improved his nursing right away, but I still wonder if there will be any leftover effects on his speech. This is why I'm glad to see him stick out his little tongue and master new sounds, because it is really pretty recent.

Sometimes I feel like he understands Apo better than me, or at least as well as me - he definitely understands "pitie", for example, but I haven't noticed him react to "drink" particularly in English. And sometimes he responds better to "nie" than "no", but that could be a discipline problem as much as anything else of course. :-D

He is an incredibly good-natured baby - excuse me, one-year-old boy - who puts himself down for naps when he's tired and who will eat anything you give him.

I can't wait to see how he grows up.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Bits from the last week

My husband is really into college football, which is kind of funny since he was born in Husak's Czechoslovakia and all. Or mainly it's funny because I, the American in the relationship, am completely indifferent to American football of any kind. So when ESPN shows the Texas-OU game I am not the one decked out in Sooners gear and explaining the rules of football to our daughter. The Slovak has that covered.

I went out for a couple of hours last Saturday and came home to a husband and both children with OU shirts and hats and the Slovak had taught K the OU fight song.

A couple of days ago she spontaneously started singing this: "I'm Sooner born, I'm Sooner bred, and when I die I'll be Sooner dead. Wakahoma...Wakahoma...OKU."

I'm not sure if it's a failure to teach/learn the lyrics properly or a geography failure, but something definitely went wrong there...


Earlier this week I had occasion to explain to K the importance of respect for the elderly (she said something disrespectful to someone without intending to). I explained that we should speak respectfully to everybody and not to say things that could hurt their feelings or give the impression we're laughing at them, and that we should be particularly sensitive and respectful toward older people.

I wasn't sure what K made of that message, but a few days later she told me the following:

"I love you up to the moon, Mommy. But do you know who I love most? Babka and Dedo (grandparents). Because they're old and we have to love old people."

Not exactly what I told her, but...close enough!


In a couple of hours my in-laws will be arriving for the weekend to be here for Baby M's birthday celebration. He turned one yesterday!

Now I just have to wrap his presents and bake his cake. And put a board on his head to keep him from growing any more.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Two Years and Ready to Move On

The beginning of this month marks two years that we have been living in Prague again.

The move has been great for our language, because I'm not sure K would have started using actual Slovak sentences if we had stayed in an English environment (she was pretty young at the time, but she could only say individual words in CZ/SK). As it is she now speaks fluent Czech, understands Slovak perfectly and is able to have a normal relationship with her father and grandparents in their native language.

On a language level I'd say the move has been a complete success, because we've also maintained English (so far) without much effort. It's a lot easier having English as a minority language when the children spend more time with me.

There are a few other ways in which living here again has simplified our lives, but in a lot of other ways it is more difficult than it was in UK. When we lived in Prague before, it was as singles and then as a married couple without children. We moved to UK when K was less than 6 months old, so we never really experienced life in Prague with children.

Some of the differences seem kind of superficial (more things to do with children, playgroups, availability of certain services like LoveFilm, better shopping, better customer service), but they kind of add up when you take them as a whole.

And the one that's currently making my life difficult: availability of childcare for under-3s. In UK (and other places) you have the option of nursery (daycare) or childminders (home daycare) for pretty much any age. In the Czech Republic školka (preschool/nursery) starts at 3 and good luck finding a jesle (for younger children) - there are very few.

I don't want to put my children in full-time care, far from it, but a few hours a week for the younger one would give me time to work and time to think. Time that I don't have at present.

Three-year maternity leave is (really) great, but I would so appreciate some systemic support for those of us who can't take it for whatever reason. It's all very well for a person living in their home town to say there should be no need to leave a one year old with anyone but a relative! If I COULD call my mother or sister or mother-in-law, believe me, I WOULD!

Essentially my only option is to hire someone privately for in-home babysitting. I have been resisting this idea (logistic difficulties mainly) but I think the time may be coming unless something changes.

That's not the only thing that's got me feeling tired and worn, but it's one of them.

The Slovak had a quite difficult time adjusting to being back here - reverse culture shock. I can't remember if I blogged about it then, but it lasted quite a while. It was easier for me since as a foreigner, I had already had to get used to life here once, so I knew I could do it again.

He has been wanting to move away again pretty much since we got back, but I thought we just needed to give it time and maybe it would get better. That's why the two-year anniversary feels kind of significant, because now we have given it a chance. And it hasn't really gotten better. Some parts have, of course, but not enough.

One thing is that between being pregnant, having a baby and actually having paid work to do during the day I don't have the time to find and attend a playgroup that will be expensive and on the other side of Prague anyway. If I weren't working and had been less physically tied down for the past two years I might have found us something, but it would have taken more effort than I could give.

Our Prague friends have mostly moved away over the years and while our real friends live in this region (Central Europe), none are in this city. After a while we start looking around and wondering what actually holds us here, and the answers aren't very compelling.

We would really like to convince several of our friends from surrounding countries to pick a place for us to all move together, because that would be awesome. (Seriously, guys, let's make it happen!) Actually, if that place ended up being Prague I think it would make life in Prague start looking a lot more attractive. Isolation is a big part of the problem.

We go through waves of mildly wanting to move and REALLY wanting to move, but we're pretty much both in the same place now, I think. We don't see ourselves here in ten years. We don't really see ourselves here in three years, in fact.

I think that coming back was the right thing to do, because it gave K a strong grasp on Czech that we can build on in future years and it crystallized our thinking on whether we want to live here long-term or not. It would be good if we could hold out a few more years here so that M will have the same strong foundation K has had, but it may or may not work out that way.

I do love this country and there are definite positives to living here, but I can't deny some things are difficult here, and I am kind of ready for something easy. Which really just means a different set of challenges.

But I'd like to take my children to see the lambing. I'd like to take them to a toystore without fearing the staff will shout at them. I'd like some local friends. I'd like to be able to order in. And I could really, really do with a childminder a couple of times a week.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Conversations about Work

Like any child, K is very interested in work but doesn't know exactly what it is. She just knows that she wants to do it when she grows up. I've noticed that as a concrete thinker, like most children probably, she thinks of it more as a specific location than an activity.

"Girls CAN go to work, Mommy, because I saw girls in Apo's work."
"Of course girls can go to work, sweetie, in fact most women go to work."
"But why do you not go to work?"
"You mean why don't I go to work in an office? I used to work in an office, actually, before you were born."
"But why don't you go any more?"
"If I went to an office to work every day, who would take care of you and Baby M?"
"I would take care of him. I would grow up really fast and then I could change his diaper."
"But then who would take care of YOU?"
"Apo! He could stay home and you could go to work."

Rejected! It's ok. Apo is her hero right now.

I let that part slide and we moved on to a discussion of what "translation" means. Before this she knew that I work on my computer and sometimes write e-mails or take calls from clients, but she didn't know what my work actually entails.

I explained that translation is a special kind of job that not everyone can do, because you have to speak more than one language very well and use your "think", as she calls it, to take things in one language and write the same ideas in another. I also explained that "interpreting" is another job where you do the same thing for people who are talking out loud - what she does sometimes for people who don't speak both Czech and English, grown-ups get paid for that. She was impressed. "Yes! That's what I want to do!"

Recently I asked her:

"What do you want to be when you grow up?"
"A worker."
"What kind of worker?"
"You know, whatever Apo does, so I can work in his office with him."

She means it, too - when we visited his office she saw an empty desk and insisted that they save it for her when she grows up and starts working there. She was very upset at the idea that a number of people might go through the hiring process and sit in that chair before she is old enough to take her spot. She wants THAT desk.

She goes back and forth between that and wanting to stay home, carry her babies (all named Zoe) in a wrap, drink coffee and work on her computer. I think it's clear who her two role models are.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Slovak of My Dreams

The Slovak alternately complains about being mentioned and then about not being mentioned on my blog. I forget which it was yesterday, but it came up.

He gives me a really hard time a gentle nudge to write more when I am on a blog break. He has mentioned a few times how I refer to him as "the Slovak" but his only suggestions for more appropriate nicknames are "the Stud" and "Krull the Warrior King". I compromised on "the Slovak of my dreams", usually shortened to "the Slovak"...

He loves reading my blog and other writing, as hinted above. He is my biggest fan.

He was extremely patient and supportive when I was learning Czech. When we got married I didn't speak all that well but he would do "Czech conversations" with me and tell me how great I was doing. Over time, my Czech has improved and his warm-fuzzy comments have decreased in inverse proportion. He now claims I speak crappy Czech any time I make a slight mistake. He does this because, as he says, "you can handle it now". I take this as the compliment it is.

He started keeping a notebook when we met of all the English words I used that he didn't know. I think I've been good for his vocabulary.

He tells me and the children how much he loved us and where to find the necessary paperwork for after he dies, every time he runs a temperature.

He speaks Slovak, English, Czech, Hungarian, French, Russian and Spanish, in decreasing order of fluency. The last two are not very fluent but he would be offended if I left them off.

He will also be offended when he sees how low I ranked his Czech in the fluency list. Look at it this way - his English is JUST THAT GOOD. (And his ř is not)

He never refers to taking care of his own children as "babysitting".

He loves books and history and sometimes says things like this:

"I am the pater familius."
"Pater familias."
"Whatever. Oh you of lesser importance."
"But greater intelligence."
"Yeah, but lesser importance."

And later:

"Do you love me?"
"Surely I am bound to obey you as my pater familias without regard to my personal feelings."
"Good point, also have to love me."

Or this Facebook exchange from when our son was born:

Me: "I've now done my duty as a 14th century wife and given you an heir, my lord husband. Can I have the estates you promised to endow upon me now?"
Him: "For certes I shall endow the estates upon you, as long as I shall receive the dowry promised at the time of our plight troth."

I always refer to my husband as "my lord husband" in private. I also defer to him on all important life decisions.

Well, I have the highest respect for him, at any rate, and he shows his respect for me as well. Marriage can't work without it, man.

He jumped on board wholeheartedly with raising our children bilingually. He held the Slovak standard (as only Slovak speaker in our life) for two and half years in England.

He coped with me being K's favorite parent for quite a while (intense mommy phase when we moved back to Prague) and is now reaping the rewards: she is going through a major Apo phase at the moment. He is eating it up.

He is really smart (I will not say he is smarter than me, I will not do it...) and wickedly funny.

He is always complimentary of my cooking - every time I introduce a new dish: "HOW IS IT POSSIBLE that we have been married __ years and you're just now cooking this for me?" Although sometimes it comes out more like this:

him: "Wow, I can't remember the last time -- I mean, this is one of the best meals you've made."
me: "YOU CAN'T REMEMBER the last time I cooked something this good??"
him, backpedaling: "I meant it was delicious!"

He stands up for me to anyone from a stranger on the street to his own mother if necessary.

He talks me down off the ledge when I need it. I do the same for him when it's his turn.

He prides himself on taking good care of his children and hates when people take a knowing look at K's mismatched outfit (when she was two or so; we let her pick out her own clothes from early on) and say, "Ahhh, Daddy must have dressed you today."

He is the best partner and co-parent I can imagine.

He will try to play it cool but secretly love this post to bits.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Conversations and Czechoanglicisms, continued

These are a few conversations from late last year (October-November) that really made me laugh again today.

Matúš, about looking for a doll-with-hair for K's birthday: " ťažké nájsť bábiku, čo nevyzerá ako šliapka..." (it's hard to find a doll that doesn't look like a šliapka = hooker)
K, overhearing: "Apo, čo je to šliapka?" (Apo, what's a šliapka?)
Matúš, thinking fast: "No, vieš tie sandálky, čo si dávaš na nohy? To sú šliapky." (Um, you know the sandals you wear on your feet? Those are šliapky = flip-flops)
Me: "HAHAHAHA, good save!"

Ahh, words with double meanings. And children who suddenly hear a lot more than you realize...


"Nepushej můj kočárek nohou!" (don't push my baby stroller with your foot!)
"K, musíš povedať netlač alebo don't push. Nesmieš povedať nepushej, lebo to nie je ani slovensky, ani anglicky." (K, you have to say [Slovak word] or [English word], because what you said isn't Slovak or English)
"Ale já musím, protože Ty pushuješ." (But I have to say it, because you are pushing [same made-up word again])

She totally still does this, too.


Apo: "To sú také červené bobuľe..." (Those are these little red bobuľe = berries)
K: "Já nejsem blbá!" (I'm not blbá = stupid!)
Apo: "To som nehovoril, hovorím bobuľe." (I didn't say that, I said berries)
K: "Já nejsem blbá!" (I'm not stupid!)
Me: "Apo didn't say blbá, he said bobuľe."
A couple of moms walking past us with strollers: "hehehehehehe"
Apo: "Ale keď to hovoríš furt dokola, ľudia si začnú myslieť, že si." (But if you keep saying it over and over, people will start to think you are.)


And one more old one:

"Chooch, K." (Scoot)
"Apo doesn't tell me chooch."
"What does he tell you?"
"He doesn't tell me chooch slovensky." (he does, in fact)
"How does he say chooch in Slovak then?"
"Můvej" (move-ej)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Connection Between Babywearing and Multilingualism

Wait for it, it's there!

I'm not a person who likes to draw a lot of attention typically. In the last five years I have learned that pregnant women and/or people with babies get a lot of stares. I choose to believe they are mostly positive (except for those clearly wondering if anyone in the history of pregnancy has ever had a belly as big as yours). People just look over at you, and usually smile a bit, because babies are cute and all.

Having a baby with you is a great way to strike up a conversation with a stranger, whether you want to or not. In my experience, however, there are a few things guaranteed to get you even MORE noticed.

One of them is babywearing, which I discovered when my son was born last year and I didn't use a stroller for the first five months (have been switching between wrap and stroller since then, so we still wrap regularly). I don't know how it is in other places, but in this part of the world babywearing is very much "alternative". There are specialized Czech websites and babywearing groups, but it is not mainstream and based on the reactions of most people I saw, I may have been the first babywearing mama they had ever seen.

I can't count the number of people who came up to me and asked about my wrap, where I got it, how comfortable it is, how does it work, how wonderful for the baby to be so close to me, how they wish they had had something similar with their own children... And of course for every person who actually approached us there were several more who just looked but stayed back. So often I have noticed someone nudge a companion and gesture my direction, or overheard a comment not meant for my ears but clearly referring to my baby and me.

And the thing is, I may not seek to be the center of attention, but I don't mind being different.

I remember wondering one day why it didn't bother me more to be stared at with the wrap, when it dawned on me - I'm already used to being stared at! Not to the same extent, but being out and about with the family often draws some curious glances. For a clue as to why, take a look at our family language diagram on the sidebar, and consider that when we are together ALL those colored lines come to life, often at the same time!

Of course I am hardly the first person speaking a foreign language that people will have seen in their lives, far from it. People speaking a foreign language are a common sight on the streets of Prague. People speaking two or three languages at once, though...that is still worth a second look.

I have often noticed someone paying close attention to our conversation and suddenly realized they were trying to figure us out - what languages we are speaking, who is speaking what language, who is the native speaker and who the foreigner.

Even people who know us have sometimes commented that it's strange to hear a conversation in more than one language. It's not that we switch back and forth much, but if more than two people are involved in the conversation then there is a certain amount of overlap as I make an English addition to the Slovak conversation going on between Apo and K, or Apo does the same in Slovak when K and I are speaking English, then you add in side conversations between parents in either language, and I can imagine that a bystander would be left wondering who's on first. Especially one who understands only on side of the conversation.

And of course there's the inevitable conversation when we first meet someone - what language do you speak with your children? With each other? Bilingual, that's so great, or don't you think it will confuse them... Reactions of course mixed, I choose to focus on the positive. The point is it draws attention, people notice us.

Babywearing and multilingualism are not the only essential things that make our family different, but they are the two most obvious. In both cases I have found that I can filter out any negative feedback and accept the stares, because in the end I don't mind being different if necessary.

I have wondered before if it takes a certain personality type to do something so different from most people, or if experience being different in one way gives us strength to be confident in our decisions in another area as well. In other words, maybe I babywear and raise my children with a minority language because I am that sort of person, or maybe I can withstand the public attention of babywearing because I have experience being different by speaking another language in public with my children.

Either way, that is the connection I see: both are countercultural choices that get you noticed and it takes a certain strength to face that extra attention, I think.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Child Interpreters and Foreign Languages in Preschool

I recently learned that K serves as an interpreter when her preschool teachers can't understand the external English teacher who comes in twice a week. Apparently (one teacher told me today) they ask K and she explains what he said.

Part of me wonders if this is expecting too much of a four year old and the other part wonders if we could negotiate a break on tuition for K's language services.

I am impressed that she can do this, actually, since it is one thing to be bilingual and another thing to facilitate communication between two other people. It's a different cognitive process.

It does go slightly against my no child interpreters rule (I don't think it's right to put a child in that position if it can be helped at all), but this isn't serious or frequent. I know she can handle it, and I am proud of her for being helpful.

We had this conversation as K and another girl sat at the table working puzzles. The little girl pointed to the animals in the puzzles she was doing and named each one in Czech.

The teacher said, "Yes, that's right, and I bet K could tell us how you say that in English."

K, obligingly: "Horse. Cow. Chicken."
Teacher: "Isn't it 'cock'? (to me) Isn't slepice 'cock'?"
Me: "No, I believe it's 'hen', but we usually just say 'chicken' for everything."

An extra level of multilingualness was added by the fact that the little girl naming the animals in Czech - is Chinese. Like K, she's a Czech-born foreigner and is perfecting her Czech in preschool.

Life is fun sometimes.


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