Silent Sunday

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The case against bilingual books

Our local library branch recently purchased a handful of English/French bilingual books to add to their collection. Knowing our excitement for new books to read in French, the library staff put them on hold for us. I was eager to bring them home and to see first hand what they were like. I tried hard not to judge an incredibly challenging concept too fast: quality translation and native-like storytelling in two languages.

Papa was the first to read one to Ayo in English: Bear’s Birthday. The experience was largely a positive one. The illustrations were beautiful, the colors vibrant, the story was a good length and each book in the series had a little activity to do at the end: remember where Mr. Bear went throughout the book, tell the time on Mr. Bear’s clocks, or count the balloons at Mr. Bear’s party. Clever, clever.

When it came to my turn the next day, we read that same book, this time in French. What a completely different experience! The story didn’t flow. The translation was poor and the vocabulary weak.

Sigh.

At bedtime, I do tend to translate English books the kids choose to read into French, on the fly (simply because reading to them in English feels quite unnatural to me now). Even without knowing what might happen on the next page, I can humbly say that my spontaneous translation is largely superior to what I saw in print in the French book before me. I was so disappointed. It’s almost like a translator sat in front of a screen, unable to see the finished product, a French story.

Below are some sample pages of L’Anniversaire de l’Ours, English/French bilingual edition.

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Here are the four main reasons this bilingual book didn’t work for me:

1) Line by line translation. This story was translated line by line to the point where the English (source text) permeated right through to the translation (the target text). Think permanent marker seeping through a thin piece of paper. I knew exactly what the original text said as I read the French. A better solution might have been to simply retell the story. Easier said than done, you might say. True, the translator is only partially at fault in the case of illustrated books since pictures do add some level of complication. Still, I was surprised to see how foreign the storytelling style felt in French. Very often, I notice French authors adopt a much more anachronistic and creative approach to storytelling in French. Have you noticed this as well? This is very different to the anglophone storytelling art, often focused heavily on the beginning and the (happy) end. When short text is attached to illustrations, it is of course impossible to change that Anglophone sequence. However, it would have been fairly straight-forward to use the two English phrases as a starting point to recount the story in maybe one, maybe even three much more natural French phrases.

2) Choice of verb tense. I have come to realize that it isn’t rare to read children’s books in English in the simple present (or maybe in the present continuous) tense: “Bear unwraps the treasure and looks inside. He has a wonderful birthday surprise!”. But, translating everything into a present tense in French felt tragically unnatural, as if there was a need to dumb down the story. Most French speakers have heard of the most faithful verb-tense marriage in storytelling: Mr. and Mrs. imparfait-passé simple. Like in most couples, they each contribute their own strengths to the marriage. The imparfait is a past tense used for description or habitual actions like eating breakfast whereas the passé simple is for those sudden actions like the ‘UFO landed in our kitchen!’, ‘the rock just broke a window!’ and so on. How unfortunate then, to read a whole narrative in the present tense in French.

3) Choice of register. This is a basic problem all translators face at some point. Just like you wouldn’t go to a formal dinner with the president in your pyjamas, you just have to resist the temptation to translate “The table is covered with tasty treats” by “Sur la table, il y a plein de gâteries savoureuses” (which sounds like “a ton of delectable treats”). The book was littered with such a flip-flopping of registers, that it made it hard for me to read out loud.

4) Weak vocabulary in French. Sadly, this book taught us zero new vocabulary. This could point to a non-native translator. Vocabulary was bland like unseasoned, overcooked cauliflower. When comparing vocabulary in two similar books, I find that French children’s books generally seem to feature rather advanced vocabulary. It isn’t uncommon to see something like “herb garden” translated as “le parterre des plantes aromatiques” (a flowerbed containing aromatic plants), a real-life example taken from T’choupi dans le Jardin, a little book geared towards 3 year olds.

I didn’t want to throw the poor translator under the bus. As I have mentioned before, excellent translation is an incredibly difficult task. Still, I felt it was appropriate to contact the publishing house and gently tell them about the quality of the translation…especially when small libraries like ours choose to invest in books like these for the benefit of a wider community. I informed them that I was planning on reviewing the bilingual book series on this blog. (On a related note, it is never a waste to drop a line to a publishers who care. They kindly sent us a complimentary copy of a monolingual (translated) French book 1, 2, 3, partons en safari: une Journée en Tanzanie to review later on, on this blog.)

Putting translation mistakes aside, because some of the other books in this bilingual series certainly featured better translations, I still struggle to understand the market for bilingual books. I mean, who do they serve if they don’t tell a good story, use unnatural verb tenses or fail to build vocabulary. Fellow multilingual blogger The Piri-Piri Lexicon wrote in one of her posts that she felt like bilingual books most often cater to non-native audiences – to children learning a second language rather than to the child growing up with two languages. I think I would tend to agree. Confirming this theory, we have certainly checked bilingual books out in Spanish, German or Mandarin on occasion, frankly just so that the kids (ehem, the parents too!) can experiment with the sounds of another language. I have to say, we have never read a bilingual English/French book prior to this series.

Perhaps this is because the bi-/multilingual learning experience can’t simply be about living in a translated world or life at the mercy of your translator. Isn’t multilingual living so much richer than this? If cultures are different, lullabies are different and fairy tales are different, why then do we need to limit ourselves to translations? Indeed, why read an awkward rendition of  Goldilocks and the Three Bears when we can read Le Petit Prince in its original version? I believe Annabelle over on The Piri-Piri Lexicon drew a similar conclusion on one of her other fantastic blog posts.

I am really curious to hear your own thoughts on bilingual books. Have you read any that have been helpful on your journey? Which ones? And do you feel any different about monolingual translated books, like the one I was sent by the publishing house?

Silent Sunday

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Silent Sunday

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God Bless America.

The first Fourth of July I experienced as an Adult Third Culture Kid was in 2008. We went to some highly political parade in the middle of the country. We saw cool vintage cars and confident marching bands. I was offered artificial food at a fair: bright red candied apples on a stick, funnel cake, “cheese curds”, hotdogs on sticks (called “corndogs”), bright purple cotton candy. “I’ll pass” I said, completely in awe that people would eat this stuff. That weekend, we went to a church in which the pastor proclaimed “this is the greatest country on earth!”. Guys, he wasn’t even joking. As someone who has traveled extensively, this statement was not only inaccurate and offensive but absolutely infuriating. I mean, let’s at least compare apples with apples at a minimum. “We are the best at artificially colorful food” or “We have the greatest rates of obesity” seemed to be more accurate statements, since a country obviously cannot be the greatest at everything. We sang some cultural pro-military songs and proclaimed “God bless America” as if it were the Lord’s Prayer. “Gag! Puke” I wrote in my journal as the others were pledging allegiance to the American flag. I was absolutely appalled by the sheer arrogance and poor theology of this church. As if God didn’t want to bless all the other countries in the world. I’ll spare you of the words I used to describe that day in my journal.

Fast-forward to 2014. While I still feel like such statements are a bit sheltered, I think I have come a long way in this TCK journey. Today, I can see how immigrant neighbors would want to celebrate the opportunities they have found in this new land. With my cultural glasses on, I feel like it is not a bad thing in itself for people to celebrate their country and values that are unique to this land: family, faith, generosity, creativity, kindness.. Even fun to have BBQs, enjoy family, friends and fireworks. I still do not feel like the American flag particularly represents freedom to me, and I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat all-American food. But, I can go about my daily life without dreading this holiday quite literally 364 days out of the year. I have to say, I was especially grateful to the American government for giving the country a holiday so we could enjoy a brunch and watch the France-Germany football match at our place this year. ;-) Indeed, we were all appropriately dressed in the French supporting colors bleu blanc rouge, which double up as American colors. That must have been the very first Fourth of July we were all dressed up in Red-White-Blue! After a lazy day, TM and I even enjoyed watching some fireworks on our porch, white Russians in hand, long after the children were in bed. All in all, we had a pretty great July 4th. God Bless America! …and all the other countries in the world too for that matter!

Hope for this weary mama

Two lanky girls stumbled into the coffee shop. One following the other. They both wore glasses. Their gait was either demonstrative of high intelligence or the insecurity that comes with being a pubescent teen. Or perhaps both. Unshowered and with that fresh-out-of-bed look, they plopped themselves at an empty table next to mine around 7:50am. They neither moaned nor threw sugar packets at one another. As what appeared to be their mother and father proceeded to order coffee for themselves, the girls stayed seated at the table and occupied themselves. One with a smartphone, the other with a book. The whole scene was so serene. So unfamiliar.

‘Will my kids ever be capable of that?’ I asked myself. ‘Or is this self-entertaining business only reserved for intellectual, well-behaved, bookie kids?’ Oh, sure, my kids could join me at this coffee shop, but they would be the center of attention. In this case, that isn’t a good thing. At present, mine constantly require some form of supervision or some need to be met. Picture a game of ongoing ping pong until you no longer want to play. Change one diaper, change the next. Nurse an infant and run after the toddler about to throw a glass bottle. Glass bottle!? Where did he get that glass bottle anyway?

Here I am, escaping my own progeny for three hours at a coffee shop, for my own sanity. Actually, for the health of the whole family. Because if I don’t, I may just hurt someone. And I am not just throwing words around, friends.

On the heels of Tall Mountain’s work trip number five since mid-March, I needed a bit of a reset. A time to debrief what happens when I am sleep-deprived and stretched to my limits. A time to process these long days of solo-parenting, trying to keep the household together around the clock. A time to understand how I can be swept within minutes from absolute tenderness and infatuation for my kids to the evil tyrant, wreaking havoc and terror in my home. I am so ashamed of myself. I am so surprised by what I am capable of. I am so humbled by this stage of motherhood. Father God, forgive me, for I am weak. This shattered vessel desperately needs your grace and your mercies, that are new every morning. Can it be that these are available to little old me?

Was it really so important that little guy cleaned up his toys in the living room? Was it really so important that little miss got full naps? Was it really more important for my home to be presentable than for me to get a few minutes of sleep? How could I have brought my own flesh and blood to fear and trembling? How does it escalate so fast? And why on earth is she still needing to be fed all-night long? I promise you, I was a much better mother without kids. I never bribed, I never spanked, I never raised my voice, I never shook with anger, I never cried with fatigue and in utter desperation.

So, putting my own stay at home mama pride and judgement aside (judgement towards myself – I mean, if this is mainly all I do, certainly I should be able to hack it, right?), Tall Mountain and I went onto care.com for the first time last night. We’d thrown the idea of an extra pair of hands around for a while. Forcibly, it was back on the table again. With help, I could do that professional work that keeps me otherwise busy from 10pm-midnight, research new opportunities for our family, care for myself and my household or catch my breath – especially while TM is on further overseas trips. Alongside the French that the kids are getting from me, I have always wanted a French speaker to support our minority OPOL language. I had shrugged off the possibility, thinking we would never find a match, right here, in the middle of America. I no longer remember how but last year, we had indeed found Lucile, babysitter extraordinaire. She helped out so we could enjoy a couple date-nights one full year ago. And then she broke the news she was leaving back to France.

Back to square one. Six head shots popped up after we entered all our requirements: not too pricey, French-speaker, car owner, older than 21, cleared background check, kid lover, available at our proposed times. We weren’t just looking for French citizens per se. As I have written previously, we long for our children not to become little French kids or little American kids, but rather to become lovers of their world. That might help explain our reaction to what happened next. One profile picture caught our attention immediately. She wore a black head-covering in her photo and wrote that she actively participates in raising her siblings. I don’t doubt it! TM smiled, saying “What about her, babe? I think she might be a good fit. What do you think?”. As I read Fatima’s bio, I slowly started to get hopeful and even excited at the prospect of a non-Westerner helping to care for our children. I had never thought about this idea before. I have always adored that fierce but loving mother-hen-like nature so characteristic of many African, Arab, Asian women. It brought me back to my new middle-aged mama friend from Mali who I met at the library last week. Within three minutes of meeting her, she ordered my son around, getting him to obey and giggle at once: Ayodelé, tu lâches la boutan dé l’ascenseur tout da sweet! T’écoutes ta mama, ah?!* she lovingly yelled. No Westerner could ever get away with that. But that is besides the point.

You may find it peculiar how we could think that a Muslim girl might align with our family’s values enough to care for our most cherished possessions. While we have yet to meet Fatima, I think we fell in love with the potential for intercultural and interfaith exposure for Ayo and Délice. We also know Muslims to care deeply for family and siblings, to know how to cook (minus during ramadan – hehe) and to be responsible from a young age. Sadly, Fatima got back to us this morning saying she was out of country for two months. Now, we have to decide if we will wait until the Autumn to interview her or if we look into other leads in the meantime.

While solo-parenting will never be easy, it is exciting to imagine a helper that won’t just keep our children busy but may even enrich their view of the world. Not to mention, give this weary mama a break. After a long week, the prospect of someone like Fatima coming by to hold a baby from time to time in the Autumn, so that I can get down to Ayo’s toddler level and ask him if we can clean up together, is more freeing that anything I have heard in a long time.

*Get your paws off that elevator button right away, Ayodelé! You listen to your mama! (more or less ;-) )

Play dough and Creamsicles

It feels like the summer is in full swing. I love all four seasons, yet it is undeniably easier to entertain kids in the summer without turning your living room into a preschool. Diaper bums, eating outside, playing with dirt, watering a garden in full bloom, bubbles, painting, chalk, splashpads…the mess stays OUTSIDE! Yahooo!

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Still, in this life phase, there are plenty of days when I simply don’t have the energy to review my countless saved recipes to add a bit more outdoor fun in the day. I’m talking homemade plaster, bath paints, glue, papier mâché, new snack recipes. This is when I love to rely on friends’ blogs to come across über simple ideas for tried and tested, all age fun. Ideally, recipes so simple you can make them with your kids.

Perhaps you are like me? If that is the case, here are two super easy recipes for those many many hours spent outdoors. They are not my original recipes, but tweaked by yours truly to even further simplify them. Tell me if you end up making either of these and why not share your own summer favorites in the comments below…

Play Dough (inspired by Laughing Kids Learn)
I like this one for its natural ingredients easily found in your kitchen, for its wonderfully soft texture and lack of salty residue often found in homemade doughs (or worse, headache inducing chemical smell found in store-bought “Play Doh”). Here we go…

  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 2 tbsp any oil
  • 2 tbsp cream of tartar
  • 1 .5 cup boiling water
  • food coloring (optional – we use Liquid Natural Decorating Colors by India Tree)

This is actually a good, no bake recipe for once! Mix ingredients and you are done. I did say it was an easy one!
Enjoy when cooled (5 mins) and then store in air tight container.

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By now, it’s getting hot in the day and you need to grab a healthy treat but even YOU are tired of “just” frozen juice popsicles. This is where my Youtube buddy (errr, well, she doesn’t know she is my buddy yet) Katulka2 saved the day with her family fav’ recipe for..

Orange Creamsicles:

  • 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1 cup coconut milk (or cream of your choice)
  • 3 TBSP honey or sweetener of your choice (optional)
  • 1 TBSP orange zest (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla

Combine ingredients trying not to lose too many in the process to hungry toddlers, pour mixture into popsicle mold, wait a couple of hours (the hardest part) and serve when frozen (duh!).

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Today, we substituted oranges for berries we had in the fridge: blueberries and strawberries. In this case, boil down 1 cup berries in 2-3 TBSP water for 5 mins. Use potato masher to mash berries. Combine with other ingredients listed above and… ENJOY THE SUMMER.

France & Greece

Returned from Europe. Two kids on jetlag. Ayo 26 mos, Délice 5mos.
Tall Mountain leaves for long trip to Asia. Kids use it as an excuse not to sleep at night anymore.
Guests in town. Sweet guests.
Translation project looming. Burning the candle at both ends to finish in the wee hours of most nights. Loving the work, hating the 3-4 hour nights.
Amazing, thoughtful friends take a toddler, hold a baby so I can meet the deadline.
It takes a village. Maybe a city? … to raise kids when you are solo-parenting.
TM returns. Spend my self-allotted vacation morning working.
Eventually get work done and go home early because I miss my family!? Funny how that happens.
Phew!

FRANCE
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Our home away from home. It was entirely good to be at my parents’ home. TM joined us for a couple days before leaving for an assignment across the Swiss border and couldn’t wait to commute 1h30 back for dinner at mum’s. So good to see friends. So good for Délice to have an extra pair of arms to snuggle up into – thanks, papi! So good for me to have some company with the children, not to mention a little break in the kitchen. Thanks, mamie! So good for Ayo to run around the French countryside or to have trampoline play-dates and lots of natural opportunities to be around French. He totally remembered all the little things about the Haute-Savoie from last November. Who said children don’t have memories this early on? We almost started to get worried about his English by the time papa returned from his work trip. Mamie gets a well-deserved 5 out of 5 for maximizing the linguistic opportunities. All in all, the time was so, so relaxing and carefree. It’s perhaps it’s no wonder Ayo keeps saying: “Mamaaaaaan, Ayo taking the avion in da maison mamie papi!!”.

GREECE
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From my parents’ place, we all went to the airport where we met the rest of the family and flew to Athens for my parents’ 40th Wedding Anniversary bash. I got to be the designated driver of the minivan: 6 gears, signaling not useful, lanes and speed limit optional, straddling the emergency lane.. polite! After three hours we made it to the house on the beach my parents had generously rented and it turned out to be a mansion, equipped with swimming pool, expansive garden for the kids to play in and many indoor and outdoor areas to sit with a friend. Ayo and Délice loved waking up to their cousins every morning. Papi and Mamie were in a mini heaven-on-earth surrounded by their kids and grandies. We all took turns cooking dinner and we all surprised my parents one night inviting a couple of Greek chefs who cooked for us at home! We were all free to come and go or just to be. The mamas even got a kidless coffee out – since when does that happen? Given the set up (house on the beach, fun country and food, good weather), TM and I think it was possibly the most restful vacation we have had since having children. Movie nights, book reading by the pool, food shopping and café crawling in a foreign country, shooting the breeze for hours and hours with ‘mah sis’…it was so perfect.
We stuffed a couple bottles of olive oil and chocolate-tahini spread into our wine cellar bulging suitcases and sadly said our farewells, thankful to have two awesome and incredibly enthusiastic munchkin travelers and such a wonderful family to spend time with. And thankful to travel via Frankfurt for a last real latte and chatter in German. Have I mentioned that we love Europe?

I could write a whole lot more about our time but that was it in a nutshell. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves..

France…

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100 meters from mamie and papi’s house lies the green valley of rainbows and unicorns. Or other farm animals.

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Someone is loving this. :-)

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How you clothe a baby after 30 years!
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Greece…
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Watch this space…

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Back in America with an abundance of memories and plenty of thoughts from a lovely few weeks in France and Greece.
We’re busy catching our breath, doing laundry and trying to readjust to Mountain Standard Time. New blog post to follow…

Lost in translation

Words are spinning around in my head. I am living and breathing equivalents, false cognates, brilliant translation techniques like compensation even when I put a script down. Currently submerged in two translation projects with two different target languages, I’m in translation mode!

I inherited the one video dubbing project, with a horribly clunky translation. We’re talking 30% too long to fit into the video time codes. Pity the voice over, out of breath, racing to record the text. Think Cinderella’s grotesque step-sisters’ feet being shoved into her cute little glass slipper. Both are technically feet you can walk on, but the one picture of bunions stuffed into dainty high heels ain’t pretty.

I was actively thinking of ways to improve the translated script I was given as I dropped the hubs off, on the other side of Lake Geneva. On our way back to my parents’ place in France, the kids at last fell asleep in the back seat and I needed a break from translation woes. So, I switched on an expat radio station. As if haunted by the ghost of translations gone wrong, my ears suffered through a poorly translated advertisement for patio furniture. You could make sense of the words, but it was so painfully awkward, I wondered which volunteer had been awarded the project. You see, there is such an art and a responsibility in translating. How do you maintain the target text length, translate meaning and not only words, find the right register and style and create a beautifully natural text in your target language without taking too many liberties?

Ok, so I virtually see your eyes glazing over. So, to preserve the identity of the poor souls laboring over the initial dubbing draft, cause God only knows how hard it actually is, let’s instead bash the dilapidated ad I heard in the car. It went something like this:

“You are going to love our sturdy patio furniture. Honey yellow or cherry red, they will be a delight in your home.”

The words are certainly English but tragically, all oomph, urgency and product unique selling point have been lost in translation.  In fact, I know that something got lost in translation without even having access to the original source text (which sounds like it may well have been in a far more factual language like German).

What might it sound like in an English-speaking ad, you ask? How about:
“Discover our contemporary, high-quality, durable outdoor patio. Available now in honey yellow or cherry red.”

I don’t have the source text so it cannot be perfect, but it’s modern. Concise. Skillfully punchy.

With this example in mind, I had a new spring in my step, enough to finalize the dubbing project at midnight last night. My mission: to stay as close to the meaning, register and style as possible, mimic the English length but use French style of sentence structure, French idiomatic expressions and so on. I put it to bed shortly after putting one of the kids to bed. You know, before the other one woke up.

Beautiful translation is bloomin’ hard and I can’t blame the dubbing team for their clunky translation. If they don’t have access to the author and aren’t aware of how much liberty they can take, it is absolutely their responsibility to be as loyal and close to text as they can. I just got lucky enough to consult the author.

Similarly, I sent a translation sample to the creators of my second mammoth project: a juice cleanse start up website and all their marketing collateral. Their feedback breathed life to the static words sitting on my virtual pages. As a translator, I am no longer handcuffed to the word but instead I am empowered to, in turn, breathe life into the translated text so that the passion of the message isn’t lost in translation…

Introducing Mandarin

Ayo’s first introduction to Mandarin was uneventful. I didn’t take him to some toddler class. Oh no, it wasn’t that glamorous. I have come to realize that the best language learning opportunities do not always come in a beautiful school package, tied with a perfect teacher bow. I simply selected two very short YouTube videos: one song about colors and one video on the topic of fruit. After a nap one day a few weeks ago, I asked him if he wanted to learn his friend Micah’s language. “Yeah!” he assured me. So, two year old Ayo was plopped in front of a screen and eagerly watched the two videos after a nap one day. I sat quietly beside him, watching his reactions.

At first, he was riveted and completely silent, clearly intrigued by this foreign language that was neither French nor English. He has definitely heard Chinese before but never been sat down in front of a screen to listen to a third language. It must have felt strange and perplexing: he thought he knew his colors but now it seemed he didn’t at all. Next I knew, Ayo was relying on his eyes. He began to chant the color louder than the Chinese color. “Orange!” he chanted, over the “Chéng sè” [romanized]. At this point, I intervened, telling him that was right, that was Mandarin for “orange”!

Many fond memories of Chinese school came back to me as we watched the fruit video. I am so fond of the Chinese as a people-group, as a culture and with Mandarin as a language. The lively and hospitable culture, the amazing food, the beliefs hidden behind the characters, the history behind the four letter sayings (called 成语 “chéngyǔ”), the coexistence of the artistic and the orderly in each character’s strokes, the melodic of rising and falling tones … just some things that are so beautiful to me. Such are some of the things I am eager to share with our children.

That said, I have to write that I chuckled as we watched the fruit video. This is because I remember how Mandarin taught by a mainland Chinese native was so authentic, and to the Western mind….and at times…umm…rather illogical! Similarly, in “our” fruit clip, we “Follow Jade!” to the market in China and learn the names of a few fruit. Then when we go to review the fruit, Jade asks us which one is the watermelon. A fruit we hadn’t heard of previously at all. I had to giggle as many memories filled my mind of me scratching my head when confronted with typical Chinese language teaching pedagogy.

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Actually, we got lucky because there was at least no Westerner featured in this video. In so many of the language learning material coming out of China, the foreigner (typically Caucasian) is portrayed as clumsy and ignorant. In contrast, China is glorious and perfect and the Chinese character is intelligent and all-knowing. As a language student, you have to simply take this with a grain of salt and realize that most foreign language educators and publishers have never left the country and this is the lens through which they view the 老外 (“lǎowài”), the foreigner. If you are thick skinned enough, you’ll be able to see that it’s hysterical. Government subsidized CCTV[.com] has its own range of free language learning videos, that are absolutely fascinating from a sociological and cultural perspective: white guy trips over his huge nose onto the dinner table. Chinese friend comes to rescue with band-aid. Good entertainment, but the videos are absolutely useless for most Western language learners. The level is often way too high for beginner/intermediate learners and too low for the advanced learner…

This digression leads me to separating our own Chinese language learning material in two categories: those from China and the Western ones that have high-quality producers / publishers. I still view Chinese material as very valuable for our family in understanding Chinese culture and have a nice selection from our past trips. However, I have found that sources like Chinesepod.com or, say, Little Pim DVD that have Western curriculum or directors but use Chinese native speakers are sometimes more accessible and helpful to the learner when coming from a Western context.

Back to our colors and fruit. Ayo watched them both and then wanted to watch them again. Then, in the middle of a video, he told me he was “all done”. I watched him physically relax his shoulders and return to thumb sucking as he was granted one French video. Little to no work was required to understand this one. Fascinating how the brain works.

Most linguists would agree that videos should not be the only method of language input. Ideally, one could learn and practice it with a native speaker. But there you go, that was our real-life first introduction. :)

Constant acts of kindness

I find that the mundane often meets the extraordinary these days.

Date: Friday, March 7, 2014
Time:
11:30am [Read: soon to be collective meltdown time for kiddos.]
Place:
 Our little neighborhood
Situation:
Snow day. Toddler refuses to wear hat, gloves, coat on our walk home from the park. I stop to explain the benefits of wearing warm clothes in front of someone’s home.

Enter an older lady with raspy voice from years of talking. Lady observes toddler from her living room hardly wearing any clothes. Lady runs out to the sidewalk, armed with a blanket for Ayo…

Her: Do you have enough clothes for your child? Please, please take my blanket to keep him warm.
Me: Oh wow, thank you so much!  I actually have a jacket, gloves and hat but getting him to wear them is another story!!
Her: Alright dear, just making sure he was warm…

Date: Monday, March 10, 2014
Time: 10:45am
Place: First: home, then: doc’s office, later: store
Situation: TCKmama hasn’t felt this ill in about five years. Fever, weak, flu-like symptoms, throat feels cut up by shards of glass. Papa is on the other side of the world, on a work trip. Getting to a new doctor is going to be quite the challenge between a wailing, hungry daughter and an active son who is tired of being plopped in front of another YouTube video. Drat! GPS drops us off in front of a fitness center. Finally find road of doc’s office 30 mins late. I call office. Office says they will do all they can to still try and fit me in.

Enter man exiting a bank who watches sick mother run with toddler and teddy bear on hip, infant in stroller and bag around my neck.

Him: Wow, you have your hands full. Where are you trying to go?
Me: 360 South Logan!!!
Him: Let me see.. that way is the 200s block…must be this way. Let’s find it together…here it is, 360 Logan.. good luck!

Enter 50-something female doctor who reads forehead temp and throat swab sample

Her: Dealing with this without your spouse? You must feel terrible. Can we help you arrange a nanny service or something? Here is a prescription for Streptococcus Group A, also known as strep throat. Go to the drive-through pharmacy on Colorado Blvd so you don’t have to unbuckle the kids. And, do you want to feed your daughter now while I play with your son for a bit?

After realizing I would have to wait for prescription, I run to store to pick up a few essential groceries for our really sick toddler friend staying with us at home. Enter Turkish cashier lady.

Her: You look so rough! Can I go through the aisles and help you pick your groceries up?

Date: Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Time: 11:30am. [Read: soon to be collective meltdown time for TCKmama and kiddos.]
Place: Local library
Situation: TCKmama babysits, thus attempts to go to library storytime with Délice in stroller and two toddlers ‘walking’ alongside. Storytime comes to a close. Ayo runs for the steps. Library staff assists in calling him back and playing hide-and-seek with him. He melts down and wants to be in stroller. TCKmama tries to bundle three kids up, lug a huge diaper bag, carry Ayo, push stroller and hold a cute extra munchkin hand.

Enter Mary and Yolanda, two of the sweetest and brightest young library staff you will ever meet.

Them: Can we help you guys out?
[They then proceed to hold a small hand and some belongings and walk with us to the elevator]

Date: Wednesday March 26, 2014
Time: 10:30am [Read: toddler snacks running out. Baby sister more than ready for her first lunch]
Place: Grocery store
Situation: Mama is finished with her groceries. She is just waiting in front of rotisserie chicken for them to be cooked. Wednesday means $3 savings on a delicious freshly cooked chicken… We wait another 20 mins, struggling to entertain ourselves.

Enter a family-man clerk wearing white latex gloves who checks the roasting chicken temperature with a thermometer.

Him: Sorry ma’am, they are going to need another 10 mins.
Me: That’s okay. We can wait… I think! *nervous laugh*
Him: I’m really sorry we weren’t ready in time. Your time is precious in this life phase, that I know. Which chicken would you like me to remove when they are ready? This one is on the house.

Date: Yesterday, Wednesday April 2, 2014
Time: 11:50am. [Read: collective meltdown time for TCKmama and kiddos.]
Place: Grocery store parking area
Situation: Mama weight-lifting her groceries into the car, a heavy carseat and infant within, and strapping in the finger-sucking brother into his carseat. This grocery trip followed our 100 steps of leaving the house with a toddler (minus the potty training element but plus the baby sister)..

Enter a middle-aged gentleman with striking silver hair and one full brown shopping bag.

Him: Hey, can I take your shopping cart back for you? I remember having young kids and always hated leaving them in the car to run the cart back.
Me: Well, it’s this beastly “car cart” that has to be left at the front of the store. It’s okay, I can manage…
Him: It’s really no problem!
Me: [Hears Hallelujah chorus] Oh my goodness, thank you SO MUCH!

—-

For as physically tiring and hectic this season of life is, I receive so much compassion, support and kindness from people who don’t or barely know us. Think about it, these encounters all took place in the past month. They are just some of the mind-blowing (not so random) acts of kindness I experience on a day to day basis as a young mother in the United States. Such are the stories I will tell Ayo and Délice one day when we no longer live stateside. When discussing friendliness and kindness, I will tell them what a rich American heritage they have.

My hope is that they will one day grasp how contagious, powerful and transformational such acts of kindness are. My hope is that they would learn to slow down and also gift perfect strangers with kindness, simply out of the abundance of their hearts.

Mama thoughts at TWO!

We have a two year old! We once marveled at our infant boy’s mini features, wondering who he would become. Today, we already have glimpses of who this little boy is becoming and the journey is truly a lot of fun…

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Perfectly renamed “happy activist” by a gracious family member, two year old Ayodelé is strong-willed and persistent yet carefree, enthusiastic, fun-loving and utterly hysterical, observant and caring, snuggly yet independent, rambunctious and high-energy, adventurous and doesn’t feel much pain, yet he is a cautious little boy…

He is tall and lean like his papa, grins just like maman and looks very much like his eldest maternal cousin “Zozos”. He has a frighteningly great memory, very good comprehension of French and English used in daily life but jumbles them all up when he feeds them back, thinking that surely, everyone must understand both cognates. At two, his speech is not terribly clear to the uninitiated and his sentence structures aren’t all that complex, but he makes himself perfectly understood within the confines of our home. He is the kind of kid who will repeat a word 50 times with persistence until you figure out what he means. He loves his maman and loves to cook and taste all ingredients used. He loves to eat, loves his extended family and loves most women who are given the name “tata” (auntie). He also is fond of his play kitchen, toy cars, small containers with marbles inside or real pots and pans with frozen veggies therein. He is weary of most men besides his papi, his uncle TJ and his papa.
Go figure.

Some days, it is perfectly clear that Ayo is still a toddler and on others, he seems like such a little boy, who needs a rock in his pocket, wants to be thrown on the couch or have dirt under his fingernails and the right music played in the car. Two years old feels like a significant milestone around which time we start to wonder how to get him to stop sucking his fingers, how to teach him to dress himself, how to get him excited about the potty. I wouldn’t say that Ayo is an over-achiever, yet as his cognitive abilities increase, including thirst for things like colors, numbers, letters, song lyrics or more descriptive vocabulary, I feel he is at last about ready to learn a third language with some level of intentionality. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to language learning, I certainly believe in windows of opportunity. I do think Ayo is approaching a really good window of opportunity where his French and English foundations won’t be so compromised and yet before a new language feels funny to the ear and on the tongue. For where our family is at in life, Mandarin seems to make the most sense as a third language. So just last night, we were starting to think of ways to bring the gift of Chinese culture (a huge part and parcel of language learning) into our home: not the easiest challenge given our relatively monolingual geographical context, but not impossible either. Of course, that starts with me returning to language study, which has been on the back-burner given our new life with a toddler and a newborn. In this pursuit, I checked out several books on multilingualism from the library. Some great books that I have already read, which seem more relevant now than with an infant Ayo, and new ones that specifically guide parents in navigating the specificities of cultivating more than two languages. The critical difference between bi- and multilingualism is of course that you have to provide enough input in not only two but three (or more) languages to truly enable acquisition. We’ll take it easy and see how Ayo takes to it. As I am on the subject, there is a really interesting book that has just been published surrounding trilingualism, recently promoted on Multilingual Living‘s website: Language Strategies for Trilingual Families: Parents’ Perspective. Do let me know if any of you have read this. (If not and you are curious about it, you can win a copy here!)

We are also just starting to face terrifying decisions surrounding school and education, made even more complex by a questionable American public school system but appreciation for diversity and then there is our desire to further nurture multilingualism without going broke. Then, there is the question of his peers, which you of course can’t choose. Not to sound like a mama bear, but yesterday he tripped and fell as he was helping papa take the rubbish out. A couple of kids cycling past mocked him when he cried. Few things will make a mother more sad than to hear her child is laughed at by other kids. And yet, we must must must allow him to become autonomous and grow up to face people in life who won’t have his best intentions in mind. As his mother, I do know Ayo is growing up, but yet I believe he still strongly craves our parental nurturing and protection. On an encouraging note, Ayo is slowly able to move beyond behavioral instructions (“we don’t throw our food”) to more character building and reasoning (“we want to be good stewards of our food, so we do not throw food”). Of course, we know that character is first and foremost modeled by us. Also modeled by us, how do we show Ayo how to love and care for people around him?

Back to our constantly picketing happy activist… as Ayo’s parents, we want to cherish his fantastic persistence, independence and strong will rather than just crush these gifts. As a family, we want to learn how to harness and cultivate them. Parenting this child can be such a challenge on a daily basis and I repeatedly fail at stewarding his gifts. But by God’s grace, papa and I won’t give up. We absolutely love who Ayo is, we are excited to watch him grow into a caring big brother and love when we get glimmers into who he was created to be.

So many thoughts at two.

The iconic American cookie

I was driving the hubs to the airport the other day when I noticed this hotel shuttle with a gargantuan chocolate chip cookie on the side…

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The branding person inside me had a brief argument with my cross-cultural inner person. Why on earth would an aspirational hotel chain affiliated with Hilton, feature a child’s snack on the side of their airport shuttle? And then, my cross-cultural inner voice had to agree with the hubs’ expertise in the matter. He wasn’t renamed “uncle cookie” by his niece for nothing! Turns out, the sweet fresh chocolate chip cookie, is one of those iconic indulgences that most walks of life and socio-economic classes in America can identify with. Ideally, the fresh cookie is enjoyed with a large glass of cold milk. Maybe even leaving a mustache on your lips in signs of appreciation. That reminds me of a friend’s new American husband who was offered a glass of wine as an apéritif in Switzerland. He declined, asking for a cold glass of milk instead, which definitely didn’t go down too well. Never do that.

Back to our decadent fresh cookies with chocolate spilling out of them – this being apparently a key component to their appeal. (Uncle cookie never goes for the hard, pre-packaged kind…no memories of granny in those packages.) There must be something nostalgic about them that wakes up the child in grown adults. Maybe this comfort food awakens memories of grandma’s kitchen. Don’t get me wrong, I too, like a good batch of cookies at select times, I just think it is hysterical when grown men eat them at the most formal of occasions: at a business meeting, at a movie, or after a working lunch. I have been so perplexed by this sight that I have googled all sorts of things around the American chocolate chip cookie over the past few days.

If you have traveled across the US on United Airlines business class (lucky you!), you might have noticed that the perk is one large warm chocolate chip cookie. The first time I saw a load of men in suits munching on their hot cookies in business class, while working on excel spreadsheets, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I am not sure I will ever get used to this, let alone hearing a grown man ask for a large glass of milk to accompany his baked good. This is the case in any setting, but in business class, it is really a peculiar sight from my cultural lens. Have you ever thought about how funny that is? Perhaps it is only funny given my cultural context. Maybe an individual from another cultural background would giggle at macarons or fine chocolates to accompany an espresso or something.

Anyway, just a light-hearted post today.
Happy Thursday all. Almost the weekend. :-)

Guitar in the park

It was about 3:30pm when we arrived at the park.  We had so much fun there yesterday that we had to come back for more. The intense mountain sun again soaked through to our skin as we slowly made our way to the playground. I pushed Délice in a stroller with one hand and held a bag of sandbox toys in the other. I occasionally called for Ayo not to run too far away from maman. He was thoroughly enjoying the freedom of meandering and shouted with sheer glee as he made a new discovery: a new rock or a big stick. After the buzz of the weekend, the park was still and peaceful, with runners and dog owners silently whizzing past us. Between the unrestrained toddler squeals and his mother beckoning him to come back as he ran for the cars on a nearby street, we definitely made our presence known.

As we reached the playground area, catchy music drowned out our noise pollution and quickly caught our attention. A man in his late thirties sat alone on a bench, playing a mini guitar, singing as he strummed in a striking male Edith Piaf voice. It took me about two seconds to realize that he was singing in impeccable French. I decided to park our stroller in his vicinity and let Ayo play there with the sand toys so we could enjoy his music. It was such a beautiful picture. About 20 children swung on swings, raced down slides and ran around the park on this warm day to gorgeous French vintage music. My mind imagined the scene immortalized in a black and white photo but yet the weather was too beautiful to let it linger in black and white. I snapped a quick photo of my own to record the moment. Mine was a little less idyllic. It was one of Ayo dumping sand upon himself. I couldn’t keep snapping because I didn’t want to be so obvious that I was actually trying to take a photo of guitar-man.

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Ayo eventually made his way to a slide and I told him to move away from the bottom of the slide so that other kids could come down: “Il faut que tu bouges de là, sinon tu vas te faire écraser par les plus grands, poussin! ” That is when I heard a young girl say: “Qu’est-ce que vous avez dit?” By her use of French, it was pretty clear to me that her daddy was the one playing guitar for the glorious benefit of all the rest of us.

It didn’t take long for her father to overhear me yelling across the playground to Ayo in his native language. Guitar-man eventually walked over to Ayo, who had his eyes on that ‘toddler-size guitar’. “Vous êtes française?” he asked me as I burped Délice over my shoulder. Am I French. Shoot – how hate that question! I muttered my ‘yes but no but yes’ answer. In his confusion, he turned to Ayo and had a mini conversation in French. He asked him if he liked the music. Ayo nodded. Guitar-man asked if he should play another song. Ayo nodded and squealed and clapped. And he asked him a few more questions, which resulted in timid responses yet perfect comprehension from my almost 23 month old.

Given the minority language feelings I shared in one recent blog post, my heart jumped for joy to be able to witness this little exchange. Here we were, in the middle of America and Ayo thought absolutely nothing of it, that he understood and could respond to a random Frenchman talking to him in the park.

Times like these remind me why we are on this multilingual journey.
Times like these remind me that the effort is not in vain.

—-

This post was written for this month’s Raising Multilingual Children Blogging Carnival, organized by thepiripirilexicon.com.


'Raising multilingual children' blogging carnival

This month’s carnival is hosted by Olga Mecking over at The European Mama. Head over there to read fascinating blog posts written by a wide range of multilingual parents on the theme of ‘Multilingual Stories and Anecdotes’!

 

Chatty blog “reduction”

Struggling to find the time to do the many things that I love.

One of those many things is to journal. A few days ago, I started using the voice function on my phone to journal in the car at red lights. Too many thoughts that I don’t want to see vanish. Another of those things is blogging. So many topics to blog about, so little time. One late night, I wrote a long chatty “one month alone” update blog in my drafts but sadly, somehow when I went back to it this morning, I found it blank. Sigh.

So, to use a cooking term, here is the essence of that blog post in a 20 minute “reduction”. No, really. I just started my stop watch. :-)
Truth be told, I love a good reduction. Usually, by boiling, you reduce your mixture, thus also intensify the flavors…

Délice is seven weeks young and Ayo 23 months. That means that I have been handling the two on my own during the week for one whole month now. Someone recently asked me how it is going with two under two. I had to respond this way: It is both harder and easier than I thought. It is lonelier and yet busier than I had imagined. It’s way more fun and way more mundane than I had thought it would be. It is more thankless yet so full of snuggles and hysterical laughing. Finally, it is more of a wonderful challenge and a more frustrating than I had thought it would be. For example, last week, I realized it had taken me a full two hours to get out the door. You remember the children’s book “Everyone Poops”? Well, the more accurate title for our life phase would be its sequel: “Everyone has Pooped AGAIN!”. I counted nine poops between two kiddos one day. Sometimes it feels like these are the only thing I am doing: changing diapers, clothes and feeding. It’s a lot. Both for me and for TM – even if I am the primary care-giver during the week. We have not fully figured out a good balance between kiddos, time for us and time for each of us yet…but that will come in time. Still, mentally and emotionally, I think I am in a fairly good place.

I am in the thick of the tension of not being sure I actually enjoy being at home full-time and yet trying to be diligent in the task before me, knowing full well that I am giving to these two munchkins what only a parent could give linguistically, nutritionally, educationally, spiritually etc. This is the hardest and most mundane job I have ever had. Give me a board room jam-packed of Chinese architects to present to in that urban design firm in Shanghai. Give me the volatile French boss who wanted me to decide if he should buy a company that evening based on my report. This job now is simply harder. Yet, I am the luckiest mother in the world not to have missed out on a single moment of my babies’ lives for the past almost two years. Surely, that is worth a short-term sacrifice?

The reason I feel in an okay place mentally and emotionally is not only because I am slowly getting the hang of things with two under two (namely learning to endure the inefficiencies of small humans) and easing back into running, but because a few life-giving opportunities seem to be cropping up. It’s often feast or famine like that in my life. First, there are good reasons to believe that I will be starting a sizable translation project this week. Translation is what you might call my “Starbucks job”. Nothing too exciting but pulling shots is sometimes more therapeutic than the repetitive task of getting a toddler to wear a jacket. Secondly, a company I had contacted five years ago (!!) would like me to host a cross-cultural training seminar for soon-to-be-expats. To put this into context, if I had to pin one down, I think this would be one of my dream jobs. I just had to say yes! Sure, these are “only” side gigs, but truly solid opportunities I am really excited for. I honestly don’t have the time for much more than this. Actually, I do have a couple of night feedings during which time I can research opportunities for the future. Nothing I am comfortable sharing yet as I am still in the dreaming phase. Still, it is SO life-giving to think about life after diapers. Will that be in the birth world, in the cross-cultural marketing world, in the speech and language pathology world? Only time will tell..

I also still have one personal branding client. Sometimes, I regret having kept any work at all as I feel guilty for not exceeding my clients’ expectations but as I am learning about mothers of small children, they just make time out of not much at all. They sleep less. They prioritize more. To be blunt, whether they are working at home or going into an office, they work their ass off. I pray to God that I will remember to encourage that frazzled mother in the grocery store for her freaking amazing work when I am older and not just tell them to “enjoy the moment for they pass by so fast”.

So,  I see I went over my time by seven minutes. More thoughts later…

Sweet moments

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It’s going to be a good morning!

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Not safe or recommended but practical!
You’d never know that we are headed out the door.

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Papa on duty!

Here is how I found them when I arrived back home:

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Discovery of the car at the grocery store.
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Just some fun moments captured by my phone camera recently.

 

 

Cold days…

It was cold last week. We’re talking frigid. For several consecutive days, my weather app read -25c / -13F. We’ve never experienced such a cold snap in this city, but thankfully, we were prepared for it. You see, we did have one totally depressing cold day the week before. We were completely house-bound and actually a little tired of playing kitchen! It was such a lonely, boring, cooped up day, that I gladly gave up one Friday evening to scour every interesting toddler blog or YouTube video I could find in that three hour period in search of new activities to keep us busy. A few new ideas and a small amazon.com order of inexpensive supplies kept us sane in the afternoons last week. We still try to get out most mornings or else I find someone climbing the walls. Clearly, only so many crafts can keep little boys busy! Here are five simple activities we did together to stay sane during the horrid temps…

1. Playing with letter magnets on the fridge.
Sorting by color, putting them back into the box, making patterns and of course flicking them all off the fridge. End of activity.

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2. Watching water beads grow.
Selecting colors and a couple dozen beads to put into the water, trying to grab them from the water, squishing them, bouncing them, playing with them in bowls and measuring cups, playing ‘search-in-the-bath’ with them and of course dumping them all out for mama to pick up. End of activity.

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More ideas for next time we play with the squishy beads here on Pinterest. Super fun.

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3. Good old-fashioned coloring.
We graduated from boring wax crayons to [washable!] marker pens. We played matching the caps, colored on paper, tried to color in between the lines in a coloring book and of course, in a moment of panic, frantically knocked all the markers down and started throwing them. End of activity.

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4. Playing grocery store with Bruno, le-nounours-teddy-bear, in the role of the cashier.
We chose objects to purchase, selected a card to pay with, bagged the purchased items up and of course, started throwing all the play fruit and veggies and all of mama’s real credit cards. End of activity.

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5. Baking.
This activity became an old classic when I found out that it could take us up to an hour and a half to bake the simplest of cookies. And with a toddler strapped to the chair! Pictured here is Ayo baking lemon shortbread cookies to have something to use cookie cutters to make fun shapes with. We mix, we measure out and taste all the ingredients and eventually get high on brown sugar and of course start to ruin recipe proportions and the capacity to eat dinner. End of activity.

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BONUS – One activity I hope we can do together one day, but didn’t have the courage to supplies for is this edible glow bath water. Doesn’t that look fun? But this one is only useful for the dark. And thankfully, papa is home most evenings to play with the kids anyway.

What are your favorite indoor activities for toddlers? We are thankfully back to park and playground weather this week, but we may need some ideas in our toolbox for the future…

You ate your what?!

I ate my placenta. And based on the squeamish reactions I have received since sharing that nifty piece of information, I thought I should write a little more about the practice of placentophagy and my own experience with it.

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Alright, so, eating your own placenta to promote postpartum recovery (placentophagy) might not exactly be a mainstream idea yet, but it isn’t a new one at all. Throughout the ages and around the world, many women have consumed the afterbirth, that has nurtured and sustained the life of their babe in-utero. Today, more and more women choose to ingest their own placenta, known to be jam-packed with helpful nutrients, vitamins and hormones. Many report increased energy, better milk supply, less postpartum depression, decreased postpartum bleeding and faster healing of scar tissues (check out this video here). While some women don’t mind it sautéed or in a smoothie to preserve the original qualities of the nutrients, the most popular way to eat it in the West is by dehydrating it and turning it into little capsules so you don’t have to deal with the taste (find out how it is done, here). You can even add herbal supplements to the dehydrated, ground placenta if desired or consume as is, which is what I did.

Did I just lose you? In all honesty, it felt a tiny bit “crunchy” for me after my first birth too. However, after digging into the practice a bit more, I knew it was an obvious item to add to my second birth “bucket list”. I was so curious to see what all the buzz was about (at least in the birth center and home-birth worlds). Based on my research, it was my hope that nature’s free medicine might help decrease those night sweats that had me waking to change my PJs more often than feed my newborn last time. I was dying to know if the oxytocin left in the afterbirth would give me a closer bond with my daughter than in the first days after Ayo’s birth, when I felt rather estranged. I was also eager to compare my postpartum energy levels with the recovery from my previous birth.

So, a couple days after Délice was born, our kind neighbor helped us drive the placenta-on-ice to the Placenta Lady. She did all the dirty work for us. I do understand you can encapsulate your own but, this isn’t exactly the type of leftovers the hubs wanted to find in our blender. ;-) Two days later, we were given a little jar of capsules and a few instructions on how and when and when not to take the powerful tonifier. I would have loved to share my experience of taking the pills the first days postpartum but according to Chinese Medicine, counter-indications included not taking the pills when you have any acute illness (think: mastitis, flu, cold..).  Well, by day 3, our whole house (minus Délice, thank God!) got sick for 2-4 days. Bam! That meant that I was only taking the capsules from day 4 onwards. Of course, for best results, you are meant to take the majority of the pills within your first ten days postpartum. So much for my placenta experiment.

In the end, the most tangible effect from placenta ingestion I can attest to, was a moderate decrease in those hormonal night sweats and a noticeable increase in milk production. In my case, the latter was not a good thing as Délice was already struggling with my ridiculous over-supply to start off with. In fact, the magic milk enhancing placenta capsules may have indirectly contributed to an extremely fussy baby (gassy and puking up everywhere) as well as two horrible bouts of mastitis in those first weeks, which meant suspending placenta pills completely during that time.

I understand that each body reacts very differently to placenta pills. So, if you were wondering what to expect after consuming a placenta, you’d have to carry out your own experiment. All I can say is that, minus those few sick days with a family tummy bug and with the bouts of mastitis, yes, I absolutely felt physically and emotionally healthy in first two weeks following Délice’s birth. I was out of breath, but literally up and running by day 2. But how much can you attribute to the pills and how much to the subsequent birth factor? It’s hard to know exactly. Délice’s was an unmedicated, second birth without any laceration. Recovery was understandably really quick. The first days were also much less stressful this time. During Ayo’s first days of life, I wasn’t sure I liked being a slave to the incessant breastfeeding of this helpless being, to the night wakings, to the projectile vomit and explosive poop – blah! I was more prepared for the drill this time. Also, yes, I felt tired in those first two weeks following Christmas Day, but it is hard to know how much is sickness and racing-after-toddler-induced, how much was the fact that I was/am up in the night with a newborn. And would I have been more fatigued without the pills? Difficult to know with certainty. All that to say, I don’t regret eating my placenta but I sadly cannot offer a very conclusive report based on my personal circumstances.

I am fully aware this is a terrible anti-climax at the end of this blog entry, which has been the main reason I wrote it days ago but never posted it. What can I say – sometimes you can’t tie everything up in a cute package with a pretty bow. ;-) I’d love to hear your thoughts on placenta consumption or any of your first hand experiences with the practice!

Home alone..with TWO!

Mamie has returned to France. The futon is folded back up and her trademark post-visit “secret card” has already been collected from the letterbox. Tragically, paternity leave is now over as well. As if that were not enough seclusion, said pater has deemed our house unsuitable to work in now that air fills the lungs of TWO expressive children. As it stands, it remains unclear whether we kicked him out or he left us on his own volition.

bathingtwoNo one is gathering up stray burp cloths, helping bathe a child (see photo, right) or neatly organizing kitchen cupboards. I hear no more work calls. No one is asking for a coffee. Instead, unrestrained squeals of delight and tears of uncaught falls fill our home. I hear Ayo repeating “maman? maman? MAAAAman?” until I answer. Délice is crying for mamaaan-waaah until I pick her up. Gosh, even Thomas the Train is cheerfully proclaiming “Brendham Docks, I am on my way!” in a loop until I turn ‘him’ away from the wall he ran into while Ayo fell off the chair. I pick raisins off jeans, sweep granola from the floor, berate Ayo for throwing banana at the wall and wipe almond butter off magnets. I should clarify: I did all those things before Délice joined our family. But now, such things get done while feeding both kids, all in assessing which poopy diaper is more threatening. For the record, it’s always the newborn’s. So, I lay Délice down, continue to respond to Ayo’s constant jabber and prop my daughter’s head up, hoping she won’t puke her meal up while I grab a wipe, while I speak a quick text message to my phone: “Its bak 2 realty”..I mean “back to reality”. No hands left to type and even Siri can’t keep up with the pace. It’s just me and the chilluns now.

I knew Monday, January 13th would come fast. I dreaded it, yet couldn’t wait to see what it would be like all at the same time. We all kissed papa goodbye at least twice at a ridiculously early hour of the morning (considering I am up all night) and I took a deep breath as I watched the garage door close. You see, after two half days of initiation last week, yesterday was my first full day all on my own with two kids. I’ll admit that I feel a little ridiculous making a big deal of it, especially knowing that at least two mama friends with four kids read this blog. Still, I think I might like to look back on these beginning days and remember what life was like to learn to juggle a 22 month old and a 3 week old…

Our very first outing was a trip to the post office to mail some books we sold on Half.com, in order to make room in the house for a second baby. That turned out to be a brave first outing because the line was longer than a seven year itch. It’s no wonder the US Post Office is going out of business! After changing both children’s diapers, I pre-tied my Moby wrap at home, lugged Délice in a carseat and a diaper bag and bribed Ayo to follow us to the car with his lion-face backpack filled with toys and snacks. At the post office, Délice in the wrap, I got Ayo & backpack out of his carseat. He bolted towards busy Broadway street as I grabbed our packages. I ran after him, catching him by his hood, squishing Délice’s head with my packages. We joined the back of the line and by the time about three people were behind us, Ayo had pooped his pants again. This sort of threw off my afternoon of errands since I now needed to go to a store where I could find a changing table. There was plenty of time to muster up a plan since we had entered the twilight zone of the post office. Ayo lost it by the time we reached the counter. He giggled and ran for the door and to everyone’s dismay, I plopped my packages on the counter and I ran after him to save his life. This time, supporting Délice’s head. If only the people buying our books online from the comfort of their plush armchairs and frolicking out to collect their mail could see what it took to get those packages in the post! We wrapped up at the post office and Ayo eagerly said “Bye byesh” to everyone and blew kisses on our way out. I stuffed our children back into their carseats and instantaneously coveted my parents’ era of being able to nurse at the wheel and keep small babies in wraps instead of in clumsy, clunky carseats.

From there, we went to the grocery store. I heaved Ayo into the cart after Délice was stuffed back into the Moby wrap. I lifted him back out when we reached the bathroom. He shook his head and said “non, non, non” before realizing a diaper change wasn’t a negotiable. I changed him, considered changing Délice and opted against it when I saw Ayo crawling on the bathroom floor. I quickly washed hands and lifted him back onto the cart as I tried to remember if we actually needed anything from the store. Milk! Yes, we need milk! I headed to the dairy section and aimed for the center of the aisle as my toddler’s hands tend to dangle in hopes of grabbing all colorful bottles. A pregnant woman stopped me to ask me about my Moby wrap. Several grannies just ‘had to see the newborn’. And one woman asked me what it was like going out with two young kids so close in age, as she has another on the way as well. “I have no idea! This is our first trip outside the house!”. We laughed.

Okay, that was enough laughing, I really needed to race home to avoid missing precious naptime for Ayo and *sigh* for Délice’s next feeding. Quick, quick to the checkout… And then I heard Ayo say “Maman?” and mouth the fish sound. Yes son, of COURSE we were going to make one last stop at the aquarium next to the store’s entrance. He squealed with delight and waved “BYE BYESH” to all cashiers with both arms, generously blowing them all huge kisses. The aquarium was a precious haven of peace in the middle of our storm. This moment was as special for mama as it was for Ayo. In that moment, it was like nothing had changed. We always stopped there and checked out all the fish. “Maman? Piti!” he said as he pointed to the smaller fish. “That’s right, Ayo, there are little ones and big ones too. Look behind that rock, do you see that one?” We stood there looking for the hidden orange fish, the pretty tiger striped one and the ugly grey bottom-feeder. We stopped there until we had seen and counted them all.

pandtI could carry on with all the details of these past two full days on my own with Ayo and Délice. On how they fit into one stroller (see photo) or are getting along. But I think you get the picture. The past 48hrs have been busy, chaotic and full with some added logistics and laundry. And I predict this season will be even fuller, more taxing, more fun, more dull, more lonely and more lively than the one before. At the same time, I never expected to find such special moments like the one in front of the aquarium to delight in my son, like I get to experience in the middle of the night with my daughter. I can’t wait to find more of these moments as I choose to truly stop and see beauty in the midst of our new chaos.

Nine days postpartum…

Toddler naptime stream of consciousness, nine days into it…
Trying this without using the “delete” key.

Getting too old for these nighttime feedings. I love stroking Délice’s cheeks. Oh my goodness gracious, she smells like heaven. Nice not to feel so stressed about it all this time around. Rather, stressed she is growing before our eyes. Quick, quick, take it in before it fades away. It took me all of three days to decide Délice cannot be our last one. TM agreed by day five. What is wrong with us? This is madness. How will I ever feed both? Entertain Ayo and not miss out on Délice’s each move? Whole house sick with tummy bug sucks big time. Ayo is hardly ever sick. How could that have happened?  Cartoons allowed in our house, what’s happened to our parenting? Ayo’s first big bro moment, cuddling Délice whilst watching a show: “Caillou fait des pizzas.” A French show seems more acceptable, right? At least he is learning something, right? He’s speaking less French already. Mama can’t just be dedicated to teaching him French all day anymore. So sad. So happy. So thankful for those who are caring for him. And us. Surrounded by unbelievably loving friends, family and church. Tired. Winded. How will I cope when TM goes back to work and Mamie is back home? This is like a diaper factory between her and him. She poops. He poops. She poops again. Tiring. Then I feel great and attack machine loads of spit up and breastmilk laden towels. And then I get tired. Herbal baths are divine. All postpartum mamas should be allowed to enjoy the herbal bath I had at the birth center after Délice was born. That was my first moment I got to stare into her face all on my own. So special. SO special. Candles, babe snuggles and bath – like I said, divine. Then the vernix absorbed into her skin. Skin-to-skin, skin. Then, I took the memory home: stockings to pour herbs into and a bathtub to pour herbal stocking into. A bath to shut everyone else out. Just me and my squishy belly that no one wants to touch anymore. I do! Me and my leaky breasts. Thankful for great supply. Quick feedings. But leaking faucets are hard to repair. Time. It’s all about time. Back to the bath – me and my memories alive behind my closed eyes. It was a birth beyond my wildest expectations. Birth is addictive. An unpredictable roller coaster. My hopes this time: to feel the intensity of the pain the whole time, not to push the sensations away. To experience the ring of fire. Ouch…why did I want that? To try other coping mechanisms rather than just squatting to push a babe out for 10 hours. Sling, shower, toilet, stair lunges, birth ball, tub… To enjoy pink champagne in celebration of this new little girl. To try the birthing tub. Check check check. Beyond my wildest expectations: midwife Laura attending Délice’s birth. A waterbirth! A Christmas Day birth! A delicious vernixy babe. No laceration at all. Say what?! Second baby bliss. A birth attended by my mama and my sis a.k.a. “midwife in training”and doula par excellence. Best labor backrubs ever. Most calming presence ever.

And… toddler naptime is over. Just like that.

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And then there were four…

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What a very Merry Christmas indeed!

Minority language feelings

It’s got to be mind-boggling for any parent to watch the process of language acquisition unfold. As a linguist, I can’t tell you how much fun it is to experience Ayo picking up language at such an unprecedented rate this month. At 21 months, he is mimicking, babbling enthusiastically, using words we didn’t know he knew (watch out for those private conversations, guys!) and even starting to realize that something like a sour yellow fruit can have two qualifiers. Up until this point, there has been a distinct preference for just one noun, usually based on frequency of use or ease of pronunciation. (“Eau” being easier to say than “water” and “bye bye!” easier than “au revoir” for example). Indeed, in our home, the acidic fruit can be called a “citronor a “lemon”.

Last week, while chomping on a slice, Ayo said something like: “Mamao! Teeto” and since these days you snooze you lose, as I failed to respond with ‘that’s right, it’s a citron’, so he pressingly yelled for “papaaaa!?”. Papa responded with: “you got it, that’s a lemon!” In response, Ayo declared “neeymo!” and then wanted to hear the other qualifier again: “Mamao?”. Me: “Oui, c’est un citron!” He said something like: “Teeto! Neeymo!”. Super interesting.

At this point, Ayo understands French and English incredibly well. Almost equally well. French comes out plenty of the time. Yet, he is using many more English words than I had ever imagined possible. And this, despite me communicating with him more or less nine really long hours each day solely in French. Whaaa?! Sure, on a head level, I knew he would develop a preference for English eventually by us living in the US. After all, we’re surrounded by English every single day! But, I guess I had assumed that until he is in school, influenced by peers speaking a given language, he’d show some small preference for French spoken the majority of the day. But alas, our current socio-linguistic reality is that I really am his only real source of French input at this point in time. We’re hopeful this will change one day…

While his English language development is wonderful to watch, the speed by which he absorbs it does at times remind me just how lonely and uphill this battle as a champion of the minority language can be. I never knew I would feel quite this way. Have you ever felt this way, minority language parents?

In all this, I cannot allow myself to get discouraged if when I say “jus de pomme” approximately 3600 times and he gets it in English after papa says it all of four times. Instead, I have to continuously remind myself how much minority language teaching is not so much about today. It is a journey of faith that this is a free gift they will use and build on tomorrow. In another season. And in the meantime, I truly am having so much fun on this journey, watching it all come together…

 

Twice Blessed

Woah, as of today, I am considered full-term! 37 weeks is certainly not when we hope to have a baby, but today is the earliest our birth center can welcome laboring mamas. Wait… laboring mamas? Are we really about to go through this again?

This pregnancy has really flown by at a staggering pace and this little 37 week milestone reminds me of all the things I would love to do before we become a family of four (did I just write that? Crazy!). This colossal event will inevitably take place sometime, anytime now, within the next five weeks.

We’ll eventually need to set up a crib, finish Christmas shopping and I’d like to make Ayo’s room a little more fun and “big brotherlike”. Come to think of it, we should really think of filling out outstanding medical forms and perhaps freeze a couple postpartum meals. All the same, I wish to be at a place of peace and rest if these things can’t get done in time. Truly, all babe will initially require is mama, diapers and a car seat, right?

Despite all the other little irritating items gnawing on my tired brain at the end of the day, a much bigger question is at the top of my mind anyway: How on earth will we manage two kids under 21 months and preserve our couple’s sanity?

That question unveils many more:
Will we ever have time as just lovers ever again?
How can we not just survive the chaos but thrive as a family of four?
Will I ever shower again?
Will I ever sleep again?
Does a growing family imply a sedentary lifestyle?
How will we ever travel again?
Will I ever have a real career again outside of motherhood (the hardest career ever)?

Based on decent Amazon reviews, I recently borrowed the book Twice Blessed – Everything you need to know about having a second child – preparing yourself, your marriage, and your firstborn for a new family of four by Joan Leonard from our local library. It was one of the few books I found that spoke about changes to expect in your family and couple, not just how to help your first child to adjust to having a sibling. It talks about how the year following the birth of the second child is statistically the most stressful year in a marriage. Leonard states that a firstborn may transform a couple’s carefree life, but the second places huge strain on both partners. For her, adding a third or fourth is ‘just’ a continuation (multiplication, I’d think!) of the balancing act learned from having two.

While I am enjoying reading the book, mainly thankful for its brutal honesty and occasional survival tips, I find that I have to constantly remind myself that people have gone before us on this journey and have not only survived but thrived and have chosen to have more children! Sadly, in the same way that not-so-thoughtful-strangers offloaded their birthing trauma when I was about to give birth last time, several individuals now warn me about the apparent misery we are about to embark on – especially with two children so close in age. Two in diapers. Two unable to dress themselves. Two little beings completely unaware of danger…

In these final weeks of pregnancy, I really question the benefit of listening to those comments. (Duh, of course two munchkins will keep us busy!) Instead, I want to choose to approach this new phase with anticipation, delight and gratefulness and listen to the encouragement of those who have been in our shoes before. I choose to see this as the perfect, intended time for our family to grow. To be forever thankful that we will soon be twice blessed, especially, when I once thought that we might never be able to have kids.

Instead of the obvious, dreaded questions, that will eventually sort themselves out, I want to ask ourselves deeper, more important questions:
What lessons will this new little one teach us?
What are the huge benefits of having two so close in age?
What new relational doors will be open as a result of having another child?
How will our second child transform us and our family’s values?
How can this little one strengthen rather than weaken our marriage?
How will we intentionally choose to enjoy this transition, despite all its challenges?
How will we steward this precious new gift of life?
How will our second babe enrich our lives? I know this addition will do that, including for Ayo, who will soon have the immense privilege of becoming an older brother!

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Surprise!

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Awesome surprise breakfast baby shower this past Saturday.
Feeling so loved and blessed by this really special group of gals.