A Week in the Life of a Multicultural Mom

EuropeanMama_all!I very excited to finally be back from the land of ZERO connectivity. Despite my much-needed break, I am catching up on loads of un-exciting parenting stuff and rather than bore you silly, risking the loss of your patronage forever, I am so grateful to European Mama for this hilarious tongue-in-cheek guest post she let me to snatch for my blog!

Global Children via Plushkies.

Global Children via Plushkies.

So, if you’re a parent, you’re bound to get conflicting advice. Even if you’re a multicultural parent, because no matter how good a parent you are, the French/Chinese/Dutch/whatever do it much better than you do. So, I tried to imagine how it would look like if I tried to take all these advice to heart? I made a plan. Every day of the week, I would parent like another culture, and see what happens. I will stick to the books, “Bringing Up Bebe”, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”, and “The Continuum Concept”, and also this article.

Frenchday

So, I go French! I want to start my day with a nice warm coffee and croissants, but the children eat all my croissants before I can even slip into my role of a French mom, and the coffee gets cold before I even get to drink it. Slowly and hesitantly, I assume my role. I tell the children that from now on, we’re going to have a few rules. Such like: no snacking. Food will be served four times a day and not more. And that no actually means no. I take them to playground to practice to practice my “no” saying skills. I try it: in Polish, “nie!”, in German, “nein!”. It doesn’t work, so I try French, “non!”, and that doesn’t help, either. I try to give them the famous French “big eyes”, les grands yeux, but my children only look at me, think that their mom is actually a crazy person and start laughing so hard that they get a belly ache and start complaining. So we go home. They’re hungry and it’s one hour left till dinner! They’re crying from hunger but today I am a French woman and won’t let them do “n’importe quoi”. I am actually kind of lucky that this is French day because I get to pour myself a glass of red wine. And then another. And another. I am starting to panic because I have to prepare a 3 course dinner, and haven’t even started yet. So, another glass of wine it is. I realise that I haven’t gotten the ingredients, so we go to the store to get them. The children are super hungry but I just can’t give in! The trip to the store was traumatic and I’d just skip writing about it. I cook dinner which takes me another 2 hours, and by the time I’m done, the children are too hungry and tired to eat what I prepared: oysters! Frogs legs! Boeuf bourguignon! And cheese! They want me to cuddle with them when they go to bed but I calmly explain that they have to learn to be independent. So, another no it is. I am so tired after this day. I wish my father was here to make his famous crème caramel. I hope next day will be better.

Chineseday

I wake up my children in the morning, calling them lazy and bad people and what will they do without me. Uh Oh. This is not going well. They, of course, rebel against me, but I am a strong mom, a Tiger today. So I tell them that they will get no food if they don’t get up and dressed right now. This ends with everybody screaming and fighting and a scene so ugly that I won’t even describe it here. Let’s just move to dinner. I serve rice and Peking duck. I tell my children to set the table and criticise everything about the way they do it: not neatly folded, not symmetrical, not pretty enough. My children, they’re so lazy. After dinner, I make them practice the violin and the piano for 6 hours. It is true what Amy Chua says: the 5th hour is the worst, for everybody involved. But they can’t go to sleep until they’re done. I am so exhausted and pour myself some sake. I know that it’s not Chinese, but I don’t want to be so discriminating. I am off to bed.

Indigenousday/Kenyaday/Indiaday

I wake up on the floor in my bedroom. I decided to co-sleep today and the result was me falling from the bed. The baby wakes up, and of course, I feed him on demand. This is actually quite nice. Until I remember that I need to go diaper less. That changes the day to the worse, because while my big girl is pretty much potty trained, I have still two more to go. My little girl doesn’t run fast enough to make it to the potty, and the baby, well, he’s a baby. Which leaves me with lots of pee and poop, pretty much everywhere. I need some alcohol, but don’t know what kind. I decide on a shot (or two or three) of homemade nalewka. It’s homemade so it should do. I am busy the whole day: preventing poo tragedies, feeding them when they’re hungry (all.the.time), breastfeeding, baby-toddler-and pre-schooler-wearing. I don’t even have the time to meditate or smell the flowers or go outside to hug the trees. At the end of the day I am so tired I want to go to sleep. But I can’t because the children aren’t tired just yet. So I wait. And wait. And wait. In the end, we all fall asleep on the floor.

USday

So today I can be an American mom. This is harder than I thought because they have all these kinds of parenting methods: attachment parenting (which I pretty much went through yesterday) and there are free range parents and helicopter parents, and it’s so complicated and I only have a day for this! So, OK. Maybe I’ll be a helicopter parent for a while and then I’ll be a free range parent for the other half of the day. I follow my children everywhere. I always ask what they’re doing and why they’re doing them. I also decide to take this one step further and apply to University in their name, and started to look for jobs. I also constantly praise them for how clever, pretty, intelligent and funny they are. After few hours the children are more than annoyed with my constant putting my nose into their affairs (and the constant praise that goes with it) and want to play by themselves. So, OK I go free-range. The plan is, we go to the park, I leave and they go back home by themselves. Sounds easy! We get to the park. I explain that at 2 and 4 years old, they’re almost ready to go back home by themselves! I thought this was a great idea!  They didn’t. They started to cry and cling to me! And at home they couldn’t even wait for me to leave me alone! But I praise them for how well they’re doing and we go home. But I totally forgot about the cheerleading, and baby-genius enrichment classes! I need me some brownies. And a few hamburgers and fries! With ketchup! And pumpkin pie! Any alcohol? Well… maybe some Starbucks pumpkin latte would do? OK, we go to sleep.

Dutchday

OK, as you may know the Dutch are very focused on routines and order. So, I make a schedule for the day. 8:00- we get up. 8.30-9.00 – we eat breakfast. I feed the baby after that. 10.00-11.00 we go to the park. 12:00- we eat lunch, bread with cheese, ham and some tomato (in Dutch, they call it “broodje gezond, healthy bread, I am awesome!). We drink coffee, yes, the children as well, I just add milk to theirs. But wait, I am too late for shopping! What would the employees at my local Albert Heijn (that’s the biggest supermarket chain in the Netherlands) say if I show up too late for my shopping? OK, maybe it’s not that bad… what I’m 10 minutes too late? For shopping! Oh, no…I am so stressed at the supermarket that I buy a bottle of Jenever and some Heineken to help me with this. O, and some Belgian chocolate wouldn’t hurt either… or appelflaps and stroopwaffels, oh, and I totally forgot the apeltaart! I also smoke a joint. But wait, that’s not the time for eating sweets, not to mention the alcohol? Whatever, I eat them anyway. But then, I need to get right back on schedule. I nag the children to finish eating dinner so that they go to bed on time. This day reminds me why I hate schedules. We go to bed.

How good that it’s the weekend and I can go back to my usual parenting style, which is pretty much everything mixed up together. Of course, I didn’t do all the things described in this article (I do, however, have some homemade nalewka at home). And, in case you’re asking, I am not really making fun of other cultures. I am making fun of myself for having such a chaotic parenting method (meaning no method whatsoever). If you manage to parent like the French/Dutch/you name it and it works for you, more power to you. If you set out to do it and failed, don’t beat yourself up. You don’t need to follow one culture. You can make up your own parenting culture that fits your personality, personal beliefs and your children.

Shit, I said it again.

via http://newlifeinvermont.com/2013/01/10/potty-mouth-mommy/

My first daughter SweetPea was a very late talker, and this gave me ample space to learn to curb my potty mouth. In my defense, I worked first with sailors and then with a journalist; both seemed to embrace the abundant use of expletives on a daily basis.

Say what you want about how you wouldn’t have fallen prey, stick a person in a room for a week with an up-talking teenager or former valley-girl, and I assure you they will be infected by these atrocious and highly contagious conditions. Swearing is no different.

Pea, who is all of four-and-a-half, never went through the parroting phase most kids go through or at least not in a significant way. This meant that if my husband or I did slip up, we were at a very low risk of having her repeat it. Unlike a friend of mine with two- year-old-twins who, upon moving to Brooklyn and trying to make their way off the Brooklyn Bridge, missed the exit and swore loudly. I’ll never forget his description of the moment where time slows and you think you may have gotten away with your transgression. Reality snapped him back when seconds later, a duet of curses launched on a repeat loop from the two backseat boosters.

Little Plum, my second, was a precocious talker. She started early, in full sentences and quickly moved to parroting comfortably in any language she hears. I always figured I’d get myself into a pickle at some point, but I assumed it would be with her. Turns out she wasn’t the witness but the cause of sorts.

Sometime before Christmas, I managed to say ‘oh shit’ twice in 24 hours.  And to clarify by twice, I mean in two instances but the actual phrase was repeated high-capacity style if you know what I mean. I realise that sounds unthinkable. but the first time at least, I feel I had just cause. Plum, who was all of two, had locked herself in her room in our new house. I was still waiting on a complete set of keys to all the doors, which I’ll have you know I requested prior to signing the lease as I am blessed with the gift of foresight or, is cursed with the knowledge that inevitably what can go wrong will go wrong. Either way, I perched on the terrace, outside her safety-grilled windows; frantically dialing our landlord with one hand, while pushing my hand up against the mosquito screen through the bars to sooth my little naked and distressed inmate.

I was completely freaking out at the time and regretted as soon as I said it. I, like my friend, had a slo-mo moment where I thought I’d narrowly escaped but no such luck. SweetPea started repeating it, less out of curiosity and more of solidarity given my state of high anxiety. I quickly turned to her and trying to compose myself, explained:

‘oh Maman shouldn’t have said that, it is a bad word’

And nothing more was said by anyone…until later that night.

Come evening, I was tired both physically and emotionally and decided to allow myself a glass of wine a little earlier that usual. Ok yes, I’ll admit it was still daylight out.  As I tried to pour a glass, I lost control of the plastic knob and ended up spilling most of the contents on the floor. Unbelievably, I said it again! In front of Pea, again. She was now looking at me slightly perplexed.

Again, I found myself explaining why Maman shouldn’t have said it. but this time she wasn’t buying my story and the urge was simply too strong. She started repeating it, trying it out in different sentences. It wasn’t in a taunting fashion but just as a ‘oh so you shouldn’t say this word sort of thing but why not. I may not be able to get my hands on mommy juice or high shoes in my size but this I can control.’ At least that is how I perceived her line of thinking.

In the end I went to my ‘go-to’ rectifying which was “Santa Claus will be very unhappy with me, and I probably won’t get any presents. I must not say that, and people don’t appreciate little girls who use bad words” etc…

Pea, being the kind and generous-hearted kid that she is, told me she would be happy to share or even give me the gifts Santa brings her and not to worry. She also suggested I say “oh dear” instead, next time.

Now if only I could get Little Plum to stop using the French word for ‘seal’ or ‘phoque’ when she is talking about animals in English!

Night and Day, and the Alphabet

A new friend who is expecting her forth explained to me one of her rationals for having more than two kids. It goes something like this: If you just have two, it’s too easy to fall into categorizing your kids good/bad, generous/selfish, gregarious/quiet, etc. She claims that with three or more, it ends up being more of a merry-go-round in terms of who is acting up which leads to less labeling.

It’s an interesting concept and I loath to admit that I find myself doing exactly this. Among the dichotomies, they are divvied up as verbally gifted and the late-speaker. Some of you may have read my timeline post on the early days of P’s language emergence; it’s called: when self-doubt creeps in.  The title is quite the giveaway. There were times I wondered if she was ever going to speak. If felt like forever and this is due, I am sure in part, to the fact that her two best buddies were seriously early and prolific talkers. They were singing full songs before P could put two words together.

I spent a lot of time seesawing between believing–and explaining to everyone who raised an eyebrow–that some kids are just late talkers irrespective of the number of languages spoken at home, and entertaining the fact that maybe it was the three languages but that I should hold tight as she would eventually catch up.

I’d read that children in multilingual households were often a bit slower to speak with more limited vocabularies but they usually caught up and surpassed their little monolingual mates. Hurrah  By the age of 2-3….err wait my kid only has about 80 words and that’s including water in French, English, Spanish and ASL. If you cut it down to just meaning, she had about 20 words.  I’d also read that there was no difference in the development timelines and heard stories of children–actually my little cousin was one of these–who speak on time, well and in all of their languages. My best friend had often repeated that she knew a tri-lingual (Japanese, French & English) family whose first daughter had no speech issues while her little brother was an extremely late talker for whom they sought expert advice.

All this to say that from the time that C was 10 weeks old, I could already spot the difference. As a baby she vocalized a lot just as all those annoying parenting books said she would. P never did. She watched everything attentively but overall, she was, with the exception of crying, a very quiet baby. She was definitely a prolific smiler but laughter took forever to happen. For a while, I was worried that I was the least funny parent on the planet. All my ‘new-mothers’ group friends were posting cute YouTube videos of their babies chuckling and gurgling and all I could get at best was a gummy smile. Sometimes it was if she was laughing silently.

C did end up quieting down a bit and I figured I had another slow talker on my hands.  Her babbling was done rather quietly. Some first words came – the usual for babies these days: Mama, Papa, iPad, Milk but nothing out of the ordinary and not at an accelerated rate. These were said loudly and confidently but the rest of her babble was more of a mumble.

Then out of the blue, around 18 months, when she was using a handful of words and signs but not much else, she started speaking in sentences. And by sentences, I don’t mean

“Give milk me” or “me want biscuit”

but things like

“I want to sit there” and “no, I don’t want that”

The first couple of times I told my husband I was clearly hallucinating as I could have sworn that C was speaking in grammatically correct sentences. She was still in her barely audible phase so I was certain I was mishearing. But then in happened when he was there. And we both looked at each other and then I knew, it wasn’t just wishful thinking.

Claude also spoke more readily in the various languages though here I attribute this in part to me making a much bigger effort at sticking to French and that she started attending a bilingual French/English program, something we were not able to provide for P at the same age. She also had that vocab explosion most kids have where they repeat every single word or phrase they hear.

And at the age where P finally put “hi” and “mama” together, C was giving us full renditions of twinkle twinkle little star and her absolute favorite, the alphabet.

Everything in due course. Children develop at different speeds but they all get there eventually. C sang at 2, P didn’t sing til around 3.5. In this age of  league tables and measurements and researching everything to death, when we bathe in an environment rife with hyper-parenting, drowning in endless streams of activities there to amuse our children but more often to assuage our fear of not doing everything possible to give our children the best start in life, it is very difficult to take a laid back attitude and just let kids be kids. But it is critical for our kids wellbeing and more importantly perhaps our own that we take a step back, slow down and let them develop at their individual pace.

My girls were night and day when it came to their language development but now, I sit here, sweetly serenaded by the pair and realize I need not have worried so much.

This post was written for the October Bilingual Carnival, hosted this month by Bilingual Babes.

Don’t Touch My Child! Lessons from Asia

The American psyche is still reeling 33 years after the disappearance of little Etan Patz on his neighborhood corner. Kids have never been more coddled and cooped up. Activities like biking to school, which were once commonplace, now risk getting parents reported to social services, publicly ostracized, thrown in jail and on occasion nearly punched out by well-meaning grannies.

Is Our Fear Founded? 

Every successive generation of technology along with the widespread adoption of social media means we are now, more than ever, aware of potential dangers. Couple this with competing media outlets battling it out for viewers, and we have a very distorted view of the threats facing our children today.

This article was written for  In Culture Parent. To continue reading please click here.