French Evolution, Dormant Skills and Why We All Just Need to Chill.

No I am not referring to a sudden Gallic change of heart towards pasteurized milk and turning le steak tartar into le burger. That wouldn’t be evolved, just paranoid.

I am talking about the amazing ability of dormant skills to switch on like genes under the right conditions. It’s how even if your child refuses to speak to you in the tongue you have tirelessly dedicated yourself to, spending countless amounts of discretionary income, which isn’t really discretionary since it should be paying off credit card bills, school loans and the IRS, on books, toys and language reinforcing trips. It’s the hours you spent after your toddler is asleep neglecting laundry, work, and soap scum around your tub while looking up words from your child’s favorite book —one of the few not in your chosen language— because you just don’t know how to say digger, spade, otter and jungle gym in your supposed mother tongue so translating on the fly is not an option. (Richard Scarry why aren’t more of your books available in other languages? Hmm probably because no one else knows those words either…)

I digress.

The flick of the switch can happen at any point. For some it’s right away, like babies who just learn how to sleep by themselves. It isn’t that the parents have done anything better than you, they just lucked out in the baby lottery. It happens during a summer visit to Granny’s when you are sneaking away for a nap and the child really wants a chocolate biscuit. It happens when your new neighbors speak the same other language than you and since you have no money for a babysitter or extra help or any family in a 80 mile radius, that all your social life revolves around ‘couples’ evenings with the kids and portable cribs. It happens when at 15, when she realizes her multilingualism will help get that cute boy’s attention. Or in my case it happens when I agree to move to the other side of the world so I can afford to send my kid to the French Private school.

And it is finally paying off. It has been really interesting to watch the emergence of P’s French on high-speed. The last 5 weeks have sort of played out as follows:

End of Week 1: P comes home and seems happy at school. I attribute that to her understanding French even if she didn’t speak it and the fact that almost everyone around her understands English. Teacher emails me asking me to please try to encourage her to speak French, a suggestion I mostly ignore though I am careful not to slip into English at any point during this transition.

End of Week 2: Not much difference though P seems to repeat the odd French word I say burying it deep within an English sentence.

End of Week 3: Frequency of repeated French words increase including ones she is picking up at school. Still the English sentence rules. A few short French Phrases start emerging, things like “Non! C’est a moi!”. Hello survival of the fittest.

End of Week 4: Her sentences are increasingly half French, half English. I begin to feel the balance of power shifting.

End of Week 5: I nearly fall of my chair when in mid battle with her sister, Pacifique turns to me in desperation and yells “Maman met ça dans ma chambre s’il te plait” while handing me some prized possession. [Maman, please put this in my room]. I feel like once the motor is running, she is more likely to initiate conversations with French

End of Week 6:  An English-speaking friend comes to visit. I speak more English at home. I inadvertently speak more English to her and immediately I hear more English out of her mouth. It is a delicate dance, but I am starting to understand the steps.

So relax, It will happen. Maybe right away, maybe not for another decade, but it WILL happen.

Quote of the Day (well a few weeks ago – darn you drafts folder)

When asked if she wanted an ice cream after a hot hot morning at the beach (all in french of course)

She responded

“oh oui Maman. Ice cream goes in my mouth, tastes sooo good”

How Well Do You Know Your Colors?

There comes a point in your life where you think that some things you’ve got down pat. Things like:

  • How to count to 100
  • Names of basic household objects
  • Names of most animals
  • What color something is

And then you have a child. And you realize you know nothing. You know less than nothing.

Here is a small selection of Pea’s coloring implements. This photo isn’t too bad as we require a re-stock since the kid goes through these like most of us go through toilet paper or beer or both since they do seem to go hand in hand for us ladies.

There were only a few markers left in her box, the rest having migrated into our own personal black hole where favorite gadgets, trinkets, pens, duckies et al seem to continually disappear. When the seal was still intact, this box had about 6 types of red, blue, green, yellow-browny, mustardy type colors, purples etc.  I saw it in the shop, I thought “oh how lovely, look at all those colors, Pea will love this!”

And then I got home, we got some paper out and this is the exchange we have:

pea: “what’s this?”

me: “violet ma cherie”  (me trying to say purple in French. No sooner have I said it I wonder what violet then is in french if purple is violet and here begins my decent into a hellish color abyss )

Pea, now pointing to another marker “what’s this?”

me, sweat beginning to break out on brow “c’est mauve.” (mauve, is that even a colour in english? and really what’s the difference between mauve and purple or purple and violet, or mauve and violet for that matter)

pea: “What’s this?”

me:  I don’t answer. Is that lavender? Is lavender lighter or darker than violet?

pea: “what’s this?”

me: still silent. Oh great we are in the blues. I think of all the blues I know: teal, navy, turquoise, royal, light, blue-black – Overlooking the fact that this last one is going to be a pain to try to explain,  blue is my favorite color and  I tell myself I know a number of blues. My confidence starts to come back until it hits me:

1. I don’t know all of those in French. Instead I start to think of others in I know in french like bleu ardoise and bleu canard and wonder whether I know these in English. Now my head starts to hurt.

2. Look at the markers in the photograph; there are many blues but most of them are NOT the blues I know. This box is looking less and less like a box of simple colors and more and more like a complex paint selection at home depot.

At least 10 minute have gone by at this point. Pea in the mean time has moved on to reds. What do I know about red?Light? Dark? Wait crimson? Ruby? I am starting to see them all in a police lineup and I can’t identify the perpetrators. Doesn’t matter, she isn’t asking at this point…. thank heavens.

I am ok with the fact that I don’t know the colors because I can get it wrong for me. In my world, I don’t matter. It is my choice.  But what I am suddenly obsessing about is the fact that I am potentially giving my daughter inaccurate information. And here’s the funny thing, I am not sure why it matters but it just does. I don’t want to confuse her. I hate that one day I call something mauve and the next violet. She already has a lot to contend with, 3 languages, a new baby sister, a new country, she doesn’t need her mother flip-flopping Senator Kerry style on colors.

I need a book. A book with all the colors in french, english and spanish. I need a colorist in the true sense of the word.

In the mean time I suggest we  move on to playdoh. She happily  makes the switch. But I know I am only putting off the inevitable.


PS Am wondering what her father answers? Does he over analyze the colors? My first thought is he is a man so no. But then I think well he is also an architect working on interior design so maybe. Mental note to self : make colors topic of conversation on next date night. Oh the exciting lives we lead.