My plan had always been to raise my son bilingual–French and English. I was going to handle the French (along with my mom, Mimi) and dad and everyone else would take care of the English. What I never factored in was an equal parts adorable and fantastic Salvadoran nanny.
After I pulled the trigger on hiring our nanny, one of her big initial questions was whether it was okay if she spoke Spanish to our son. I am very open to other cultures and super supportive of anything that would enrich my son in that respect, so I don’t think she even finished her sentence without saying, “Yes!” Selfishly, I also figured it would be a decent way for me to dust some of the cobwebs off of my high school Spanish.
I have zero regrets about my decision, but the results (so far) have been surprising to say the very least. Surprising is a lame word to use, but it’s hard to find a word that can capture the full range of amazement, excitement, joy, and even a little heartbreak that I’ve felt as our son has started to develop his language skills in earnest.
Baby’s first word–other than mom-mom-mom, which I don’t attribute to any specific language–was gato. Yup, Spanish for cat. There are a couple of weird things about that. First, I had thought for sure his first word would’ve been in French. After all, baby spends about three afternoons a week on average with the nanny and the rest of the time he’s parler-ing with me. Second, our cats don’t really hang out with us. Mostly because of the large dog we have added to our family. Most of the time they like to hang out in their lair in the basement, choosing to be little more than an occasional meow from the stairwell. So, how gato came out of his little mouth, I don’t know.
It made me a little sad. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy, too. Baby’s first words are baby’s first words! But somehow it felt a little like I had failed–and we hadn’t even really started yet. As stupid as it sounds, I wondered if my child loved his nanny more, if he had more fun with her, and if she was a better teacher than I was turning out to be.
Fortunately I was redeemed (and the dog, too) not too long afterward when the wee one decided that his second word would be chien. I felt like we were back in the game.
It’s a silly way to look at it. I’m just happy that our kid is learning. And I’m thrilled that he’s truly becoming multilingual. True, he’s likely going to be totally confused for awhile. And I might be, too. I’m hearing the French and the Spanish, but if he’s trying to say something in English, I’m not hearing it. I thought for a minute the other day he was trying to say “thank you,” but it wasn’t clear enough to be sure. So who knows when the English will kick in.
So, as our son rounds the corner to the 18-month mark, here’s a tally of his first words: