Tag Archives: bilingual babies

Vive les French Parents!

For me, there are few things not to love about the French. And I’m not talking solely about food or wine. So, I was psyched to read an article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday about the joys of French parenting. The headline says it all: Why French Parents Are Superior.

If you’re not a francophile like myself, an article head like that seems so, well, French. After all, the French are known for their high estimation of their cultural worth and an annoyingly condescending nature. (Part of why I love them, I have to admit.) But having spent a significant amount of time in France, I can say this article is pretty much spot on.

My first real experience as an adult observer of French parenting came when I was living in Paris in my early 20s. I was invited for dinner at a 30-something couple’s apartment. They had a preschooler and an infant. Around 7pm, the mother announced that it was time for the children to eat. The preschooler quietly and politely ate her meal. However, the baby was completely uncooperative. Screaming, fussing, and totally refusing a bottle. After about 15 minutes of futile attempts to quiet and feed the infant, the mother said very matter of factly that she was going to put the baby to bed for the night. I remember thinking, “Without dinner?” And then the French logic kicked in. The mother said, “This is the time we eat. If the baby doesn’t want to eat, fine. She can go to bed. But this is the time we eat.” (Only it was in French.)

At the time, there were so many things that were foreign about that whole scene. At that stage in my life, I couldn’t imagine having kids. In fact, I was ridiculously weirded out by especially tiny babies. And then there was the whole French-ness about it. I mean, I had never heard of an American mother doing such a thing. In fact, all I ever heard about was how new moms were always up at all hours of the night, breastfeeding or fetching bottles.

But there is a simplicity in the French parenting ethic that somehow completely escapes us as American parents. Maybe we just try too hard. The French have that sort of breeziness about them that allows them to do things like wear totally mismatched clothing and still look chic. Maybe it’s the same with parenting.

Unlike the article’s author, I have not spent the last three years studying French parenting principles and techniques. But I do agree with a number of the points that the writer makes about what makes French parenting effective:

  1. Family is about the parents first then the children.
  2. Independence is a virtue in a child.
  3. Structure and routine are paramount.

But I’m not fully subscribed to a couple of the writer’s other theories. First, I whole heartedly believe that discipline is alive and well in French parenting–and I dare say it is dealt much more swiftly and severely than most American parents can imagine. I’m not talking corporal punishment; rather, I’m saying that it seems like most French parents have a much lower tolerance for misbehavior than American parents. Maybe the word I should use is strict. I use a wonderful woman from my French mommy class as an example. At around a year old, she was sending her son to stand in the corner every time he did something she didn’t like. (She was inspiration for starting timeouts at around 16 months with my son.) There’s something that sounds a little horrible to me when I write that, but her kid is a fantastic, super well behaved kid. Obviously no permanent damage done.

I think the writer was also onto something when she talked about the French concept of educating a child. However, I still think she missed the mark a bit. For as much as the French are about education, they are arguably even more obsessed about the idea of formation. Formation is really about a curriculum or training. It’s about mastering a certain topic area or skill. And that’s really the ethic that permeates French parenting. It’s not just about teaching their kid stuff; it’s about training them to behave appropriately in any given situation.

With all that said, I wonder what the real French moms in my French mommy group say about us wanna-be French mamans.

 

 

 

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Filed under daily life, discipline, family, parenting

Day of the Dog

It was just before the holidays that I started to really take stock of my child’s vocabulary. Honestly, I was starting to get worried that he was behind in his language skills. Of course that would’ve been totally normal given that he’s being talked to in three languages on any given day. But still. I was worried that he was noticeably behind.

As it turns out, he’s progressing like any mono-lingual kid at this point. And by that I mean he’s totally soaking anything and everything in. While not everything he utters is intelligible, at 20 months, he’s really trying to repeat (to varying degrees of success) everything that is said. And that is really fun–and a little scary when you actually start to realize all the adult language that you are still using even though you don’t think you are.

But the coolest thing for me this week was that baby now has two words in two different languages for the same object–that object being our dog. Baby’s second word after gato (cat in Spanish) was chien, or dog in French. And that’s what he’s been calling a dog for months now. Until this week when we went to the dog park. As he was running around, chasing all the various mutts, he started yelling out, “Doggies! Doggies!” It floored me because no one in our house says doggies. I suspect it’s something he’s picked up watching television at the nanny’s, but I can’t be sure.

But the interesting thing to me is that, at 20 months old, he understands that doggy and chien mean the same thing. Althought it sort of seems like he’s using doggies to refer to multiple dogs and chien to refer to a single dog. (As an aside–that’s the other thing that’s new in terms of development for him; he can now pick the image of a dog or a cat out of a book or off TV.) But all the same, I’m fascinated by the fact that he’s somewhat grasped the concept of a synonym.

I don’t know if that represents a major milestone in multilingual development or not. I clearly haven’t ready enough books to make me knowledgeable about what I should be doing much less an expert in doing it. It does seem like it should be. But even if it’s not, it’s cause enough for some age-appropriate celebration around our house.

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Yet Another Reason Crayola Rocks

I have always loved everything Crayola. I still get excited just looking at the yellow and green box. It seems so full of fun and possibilities. A crayon is so much more than a crayon–it’s a train or a monster or a pony. And a marker? It’s an underwater adventure or a snowy day or a siege on a castle. But as a parent, there are new things I appreciate in the genius that is Crayola.

First, washable markers and crayons. What my mom wouldn’t give to have those bad boys transported back in time. I’m pretty sure the first time I saw my mom’s head spin around out was when she realized my latest masterpiece had bled through the construction paper, leaving a connect-the-dots version on her butcher block kitchen table. You can still see some of the marks 30 years later.

But today, I realized something else totally awesome about Crayola–markers can be trilingual. Sorry the picture’s not better; I clearly have done a number on my camera phone:

I’m not sure how I missed this before. Maybe it’s new? Or maybe I didn’t have kids the last time I really worked in the marker medium. But either way, I’m loving it now. Maybe teaching my kid colors in three languages just got a little easier.

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Born To Run, Not Just Walk

Baby crossed a few major milestones this summer. And while I’m sorry that I’m only now getting to catch up on them, the truth is I’ve not only been busy trying trying to enjoy them but also just trying to keep up with them. Literally.

When baby and I arrived at my parents’ house for July Fourth weekend, baby was a crawler. He was pulling himself up on furniture, creeping around the house from chair to chair, and pushing all his walker toys, but he was not what I would consider vertical. Then one day not too long after we arrived, he took the first step on his own. The next day he took three steps on his own. The day after that he took five steps on his own. And after that he was a walker.

I had no idea it would happen that fast. I thought it would be a much longer process, one where he would spend weeks only being able to take a couple steps before crashing. I thought for sure it would take a decent chunk of time to develop the muscle strength, coordination, and balance to be toddling around. Apparently not. By the time we were packed up Labor Day weekend to head home, baby could run. 

And as fast as his chunky bow legs can carry him is clearly his preferred mode of transportation. This of course means that I also am doing a lot more running than I’m used to–even with the training that I’ve been doing to prepare for the Army Ten Miler next month. (Remember you can still donate; just click here before Oct. 3!) My mornings should start with “on your mark, get set, go” followed by the pop of a pistol because, from the second my alarm clock rings, it’s off to the races, the finish line being 7pm when my baby goes vertical to horizontal in his crib.  

But as I say that, one thing occurs to me: My baby really isn’t much of a baby anymore. I’m not sure I like the sound of toddler–just yet.

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Filed under babies, child development, daily life, first year, holidays, play time, walking

My Inner White Trash Mom

I don’t know whether it’s the fact that it’s summertime or that I’ve taken refuge at my mother’s house for the season, but I’ve started to notice that my parenting standards are slipping.

Bedtime was the first routine to go. The first couple of missed bedtimes I justified by saying to myself that we hadn’t seen my parents in awhile and we were in a new place. Things would settle down and we’d be back on our old routine. Not so much. Twice in the last week we’ve been out to dinner at baby’s bedtime. (Thankfully sans meltdowns.) Not to mention that I’m so not a co-sleeper mom and yet three times in the past week, I’ve tried to have an all-night struggle with my baby. (I have regretted that decision every time as I found myself hanging off my queen-sized bed at 4am.)

Cleanliness also has been debatable since we’ve been home. Whereas at home baby gets a bath around 5pm every afternoon, at Mimi and Grandpère’s, baths are much more fluid. (No pun intended.) We’ve been so busy that it feels like I’ve been in almost a rush to get him into bed at the end of the day, bath or not. But the other day, I found an entire lock of hair encrusted in some sort of baby food. Seriously, how did I miss that?

Yes, that is a Dorito

But I’d say where I’ve been doing the worst in recent days is in baby’s nutrition.

I consider myself totally that mom who tries to buy organic for baby, who thinks about balancing fruits and veggie servings every day, who doesn’t get more adventurous with snacks than Goldfish or an occasional Wheat Thin–two of baby’s faves.

As a total aside, I’m a big fan of HappyTot foods; love the foil pouch, random mix of flavors–seriously, spinach, pear, and mangoes?–the thicker consistency (no need to add oatmeal or rice cereal), and the fact that it includes the so-called super grain salba, which has the awesome powers of omega-3. But these days, this type of wholesome food is only a tertiary part of his diet.

This past week’s menu has been pretty much an incarnation of Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar. While baby’s still sucked down tons of milk and chowed on at least some of his his normal breakfast, lunch, and dinner foods, his appetite has been decidedly more geared toward a number of treats:

Last Thursday, baby ate French fries.

Friday, he ate a lemon wedge, a carrot with ranch dip, and part of an onion ring.

Saturday, he ate watermelon, salami, and macaroons.

Sunday, he ate soft-serve, vanilla-chocolate twist ice cream with rainbow sprinkles.

Monday, he ate gingerbread cookies for breakfast and Doritos.

Tuesday, he ate barbecue-flavored pretzels, a grilled cheese, and part of an Arnold Palmer (half lemonade, half iced tea).

Wednesday, he ate animal crackers.

Taking stock of his intake definitely makes me feel a bit like a white trash mom. The collective nutritional value of these menu items is darn near zero. But then part of me thinks that it’s summer at grandma’s house, so why not have a little fun and indulge. We’ll make up for it with an extra gummy vitamin or two.

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Filed under babies, co-sleeping, daily life, feeding, food, health, hygiene, infants, parenting

Tuesday, I’m in Love

I love Tuesdays. Tuesdays are the days that baby goes to music class. But before I claim the title of Super Mom, I’ll just put it out there that I don’t actually take him to music class. Baby’s nanny has that joy.

And in fact, it was her idea. She came to me and asked if it would be okay if she signed him up for the free class, which is held in a nearby school. I think she thought he needed more musical exposure. I remember one of the first weeks she was working with us she took him to a children’s concert. If this tells you how sweet she is, she brought me back a CD from the concert, signed by the artist Jose-Luis Orozco with a personal note to me. I have no idea what the note says and cannot understand much of the lyrics, as everything is in Spanish, but baby loves the music. (There’s this one part in the beginning where the singer says, “Eye-eye-eye!” sort of Speedy Gonzalez style and baby always looks up and smiles when he hears that; it’s hilarious.)

I guess maybe she thought it was strange that all she ever heard in my house was the blare of two TVs–one tuned to CNN; the other to MSNBC. (Okay, if I’m being honest, occasionally she’d find one of them on Bravo, if it was a slow news day.)

At any rate, of course I said yes–Lord knows I would’ve paid for it if it weren’t free–and then Tuesdays became all about his music class.

Weirdly enough, I like how the class gives us some structure in the week. See, the first time baby went to class, he cried the whole time. The music teacher told the nanny that it was pretty typical for babies to scream their lungs out until they got used to it. But I had a sneaking suspicion that part of it was that 11:30am class feel within his normal nap time, so I was pretty sure that exhaustion led to the meltdown.

So, I started switching things up and trying to get the wee one to nap earlier, so he’d be in a good mood for all the singing and dancing. Amazingly enough it wasn’t that hard to make the change. Of course it meant my day went at a different pace–showers now were on hold until after the nanny picked him up–but it was a good move, as the next week the nanny reported he didn’t cry once and had a ball.

While I love that our nanny is enterprising enough to seek these types of activities out, I have to not-so-secretly admit that I’m a little jealous. I wish I was taking him to music class.

I feel a little selfish saying that because I get to do plenty of things with him. Baby and I, we have our gym routine and its requisite play group friends and we have French group and all of its fun times. But it’s that mommy-ness in me that makes me always feel like I could/should be doing more. Or at least not feeling as guilty about not doing it, even though I know it’s not only good for baby to have his special things he does with his nanny but it also affords me the time to work uninterrupted, which is key when your job requires you to be at least a little creative.

A few months ago, I was telling my mom about baby’s music class when she asked me what the babies did during the music class. I’m sure my guilt showed through when I told her that I didn’t know. I mean, I assumed that the group listened to music and did sing-alongs and such, but I had no idea what type of music they listened to, whether the group was mostly babies or toddlers, or even if they were speaking English or Spanish. All I really knew is that occasionally I would find the dog with one of those multicolored plastic Easter eggs, stuffed with dry rice and taped shut–a make-shift percussion instrument.

I broke down and asked my nanny to video baby during class. I felt a little strange asking her to do that even thought all I wanted was like 2 minutes of video to be able to send my mom. But in asking her to shoot a little video, I wondered if she thought I was checking up on her. Or ‘if the other parents or nannies in the class were going to look at her askance for taking video of the class. Some people are really funny about that kind of stuff even though it is innocent enough. And really I just wanted to see my son have a good time.

Fortunately, when my nanny asked if shooting the video would cause any problems, no one said it would. So, here’s an inside look at what happens on Tuesdays when I’m not around.

I don’t know about you, but I think that kid’s got real musical talent. While he may have appeared to be more interested in the other people than the music, I know I saw him shake a castanet a couple of times and do one clap. 🙂 So, here’s to Tuesdays!

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Filed under babies, bilingual baby, child development, daily life, fitness, infants, mommy care, parenting

Building a Bilingual Baby

I may not be first (or even second generation) American, but I grew up in a bilingual family.

Well, to be more specific, my mom, a high school French teacher and Francophile through and through, had the harebrained idea that even though we weren’t one bit French she would teach me French by only speaking to me in French as a child. Of course, this plan only went into effect with me, so no one else in my family spoke French but me and my mom. So maybe “family” is a bit of an exaggeration.

The problem with this whole idea was that she spoke to me in French, and while I understood it, I was completely embarrassed by it for one reason or another and always responded to her in English. Why she never forced me to respond in French I have no idea, but I really wish she would have.

So, now I’m the mommy in this scenario and I’ve got a baby that I desperately want to not only speak French as well as I do (or even grandma) but better. But how do I turn that dream into reality? So far I’ve come up with a four-prong plan:

First, I only speak to him in French. From the first “Bonjour, Bébé” in the morning to the last “Bonne nuit, Bébé” at night, we’re speaking frog or we’re not speaking at all.

Second, I joined this mommy group that a friend forwarded me through MeetUp.com called Bonjour, Les Amis. The group is for mommies with infants (<5 yrs old) who want their babies to learn French. Although I was totally mortified by the fact that I had to find friends via the Internet,  I love this group. I don’t know everyone yet, as they meet several times a week and I’m lucky if I can squeeze in one rendezvous, but the Friday regulars are fantastic. I think what I really like is that everyone’s kids are close in age and that the mommies’ language skills are all about the same, so you can get into some good conversation. Of course, at this point, this playgroup is all about the mommies wanting to speak French, but the more the wee ones hear other people speaking it as well, I think the higher the chances that they will not do what I did and refuse to speak French because it’s different than what their friends at school speak.

Third, I aim to take to baby to France (or other French-speaking countries) as much as possible, which I hope is at least once a year.

Fourth, I support his oral development in French by reading to him in French as well as English. This means having lots and lots of books in French and reading some of them to him every night. Sounds simple enough, but it’s a challenge to get good quality books in French here in the States. The Canadian portal to amazon.com offers some selection, but I now consider it a travel perk to spend a half hour in a foreign bookstore picking out French children’s books.

Take my latest trip to Chamonix, for example. Besides the scarves I brought home as gifts for my mother-in-law, nanny, and cleaning lady (and me!), the only other souvenirs I brought home were some baby clothes and baby books, the latter which made my suitcase very heavy on the way back, incidentally. But I couldn’t resist. Why?

First, I’ve always been a sucker for books. My grandmother used to take me on shopping sprees–to the bookstore. There she would buy me as many books as I could carry. (I loved that.) Second, I don’t want baby’s entire library to just be filled with translations of English books. (Although I really love that I have Goodnight Moon and Guess How Much I Love You in both English and French.)

And third, how can I say no to books that are absolutely adorable? Take for example, this one called Poux by Stephanie Blake. It’s the story of Simon who loves Lou, who in turn loves Mamadou. That is until Lou catches lice–poux–and Mamadou says he’s through but Simon’s love shines true. And that gives you an idea of how the book is written–completely in these beautiful, little, sing-song-y rhymes about Lou and her lice.

But for as much as I love the love story, I’m infatuated with Pomelo et les contraires by Ramona Badescu and Bejamin Chaud. It’s a simple book, all about opposites, with an adorable elephant as the main character. The book covers all the basics–high, low; left, right; near, far; open, shut–but the illustrations are what totally make the book. The illustrator definitely had a sense of humor because some of the interpretations of these opposite pairs are hilarious. Point in case, this one about “inside” and “outside”:

Très amusant

 

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Filed under bilingual baby, childrens books, foreign language, reading