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.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post and I think maybe yes, it takes a certain kind of personality to do this. In our case, we are living in Australia, my husband's German and I'm Australian but we speak German as a family - and I always notice that if we go out in public, my husband tends to slip into more English with our son whereas I will be more strict with speaking German - I feel like I want my son to know it's still ok to speak another language, whereas my husband feels very self-conscious about it and prefers to fit it. I wonder how our son will turn out!



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