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Dec 24, 2009

Winter Wonderland escape

The first part of our holiday trip was a quick visit to the Colorado mountains for a friend's wedding. We spent 2 days in a small resort surrounded by mountains, a ranch and wonderful snow. We were very lucky with the weather: snow had just fallen a few days before, and we were greeted by bright sunshine.
Besides the wedding (beautiful and fun), we were able to enjoy the mountain, and Daniel had the best time. The first part of our program included a sleigh ride in the ranch, to visit all herd of horses, an ox, 2 donkeys and a mule. Daniel enjoyed seeing the animals closeby and he loved the motion of the sleigh (especially the bounce every time we started again). The horses were so big compared with the ones we see around here. They are used to working outside all year around. It was great to feel like we were closer to nature (although there was nothing green to be seen, everything was covered in white).



On the second day, we let Daniel try cross-country skiing. We were not expecting much, especially because we hadn't really introduced the concept of skiing to him before. But he had a lot of fun. Right away, he seemed comfortable with the skis and tried to run and slide with them. There was a kids skiing school next to us, and Daniel was trying to mimic was the 6-8 year-olds were doing. So cute!


Overall, it was great to have a little bit of a different routine for a few days, and we will definitely consider coming back to the mountains for future relaxing trips.

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Dec 13, 2009

The quest for fleece pajamas and bad, really bad customer service at Sears

Heading into the winter, I have been trying to find affordable 2-piece fleece pajamas for Daniel. This turned out to be more challenging than I thought: I either found nice but very expensive pajamas (not worth the price given that Daniel will probably outgrow them in 2 months) or cheap ugly ones. I ended up finding a few that seemed to be nice alternatives at Sears, so despite low expectations, I gave them a try.
It turns out that the sizing was a little bit off... not a big deal, I thought: Daniel is hard to dress right now, so it can happen. However, I got the worst customer experience when trying to return them. Here is how it went.

I first realized that there was no return label included in the package, and I couldn't get one automatically online (First FAIL!). So I emailed asking for one.
Me: "I would like to get a return label for my package as the clothes are too big."
Sears response: "Here is the link to our return policy." - Second FAIL.
Me: "I know the policy, I just need the label."
Sears response: "We will get one for you."

I was a little bit surprised that they didn't send me a digital label for me to print at home. But I thought I will give them a couple of days to see if they send it by mail. It wouldn't have been an efficient way to handle returns, I thought, but it was their problem.
After a week, I didn't get anything, so I emailed again.
Me: "I still haven't received my return label."
Sears response: "We recommend you return the package in a store." - WHAT?!? Third FAIL.
Me: "Are you kidding? I don't want to go to a store, I want to send the package back per mail. I need the return label now."
Sears response: "UPS will send you a return package. Please let us know how you will return the package."
Me: "I will leave outside by the porch."
Sears response: "Thank you. It will take 3-5 business days for UPS to send the return label." - Why this long?!?? Forth FAIL

I didn't hear back from Sears after that, but received a voice-mail from UPS to inform me that they would pick up the package on the same day. A couple of issues there:
- At the time, I still hadn't received a tag to tape on the package. Scheduling a pick up is useless if I can't properly prepare the package.
- Informing me of the pick up date on the same day of the pick-up is inefficient. I had already left my house by then anyways.
Fifth FAIL and counting...

I had to email Sears with some more complaints 2 or 3 times... While I got responses from them saying they had contacted UPS again, I never heard from UPS on another pick-up.

After another month of back and forth, I finally took it to the next level and expressed my frustration on Twitter, to @mySears. At least, someone started taking me seriously there. That said, it wasn't after a few more emails (the first couple of emails asked questions that would have been easy to answer had the team read all my previous exchanges - such a waste of time), that I got resolution. At that point, Sears just reimbursed me for the items, without even trying to get me to send them back. I think they realized how bad their return process is, and pretty much gave up.

Conclusion: At least 18 back and forth emails needed and a 2.5-month delay to resolve a return issue. Amazon's (and many other retailers') return process is instantaneous! How sad a big company like Sears is so behind!

Funnily enough, one of the emails I received included a link to a satisfaction survey, which I quickly answered... except that the "submit" button didn't work. Well, Sears, it looks like you have a lot of work ahead of you to improve your customer service. Until then, I will be shopping somewhere else.

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Dec 12, 2009

23 months going on 24.... and so much fun

Daniel is turning 23 months on Monday. Wow! Almost 2 years! This year for sure went by fast, and thinking back, we witnessed major developments in the last 12 months. From my standpoint, the developments are very positive!

I went back to look at pictures we took earlier this year, and I couldn't believe how much Daniel has changed physically during the year. Back in January, he was still a chubby little boy with a cute baby smile. Now he is a real kid, slimmer (fortunately), and his look says that is really starting to process what's going on and having his own mind.

A year ago

A month ago

Speaking of own mind, he has started a few tantrums here and there, but so far, the frequency and length is limited. And, in my mind, this is completely compensated by all the positive that comes with this age.

Take for instance talking. A year ago, Daniel was only saying a few words, and not even giving them the right meaning.
Today, I heard Daniel say his first 2 official sentences, including subject and verb, and all words at the right spot: Daniel faehrt camion (Daniel drives truck); Daniel likes music. OK, he mixed up some languages, but this is expected at this stage of development. In general, Daniel's vocabulary in all 3 languages is still growing very well. Sometimes, I even feel that he manages to remember French words many days after I taught them to him... once. What a memory!
By now, Daniel can frequently produce 3-4 word sentences. They don't always include the right words in the right order, and they still require him to make a huge effort (he sounds breathless after saying the sentence). But they definitely allow him to communicate with us very clearly. It's very interesting to see what he is noticing, the relationships he is building in his mind and the stories he is making up. So fascinating!

Also, Daniel started singing entire songs, such as the ABC song (yes, he knows the alphabet, although I doubt he can do much with it at this point) and Baa, Baa Black Sheep. So cute. He definitely likes music, and he tells us about it!

On a more logistical note, we are now able to take Daniel to nice restaurants for dinner without fearing the worst about his behavior or having to leave the table mid-way. Lately, Daniel has been able to 1) eat somewhat cleanly by himself (even with a fork!) and 2) entertain himself happily most of the time. This is also great progress! (although we still continue to bring books with us for now, just in case!)

Another development I love to watch is on the emotional front. Daniel has really started to develop empathy and to understand what other people are feeling. Unfortunately, it doesn't always turn into him being open to share his toys or being cooperative when brushing teeth. But lately, I have found quite a lot of success in telling him that Mama is sad when he isn't nice. In most cases, he will try to react to the information and improve.

Also, it's been interesting to observe Daniel respond to stories in movies or books. We recently watched "Up", which we didn't expect Daniel to be into. However, he watched through the end and has been asking to watch it over and over again ever since. He seems to understand the story, and he is particularly fond of the moment when the house flies away at the end, after the characters have spent the entire movie trying to protect it. Daniel always seems to feel so sad when this happens!
In one of Daniel's many train books, there is an image with a little girl saying good-bye to her mom who is leaving in the train, while the girl is staying with her dad. Daniel regularly hugs me when seeing the picture, as if to say that he doesn't want his own mom to leave. So cute!

Based on this, I have a hard time believing what the common wisdom says: that 2-year olds are unbearable? Granted, we are not at 2 years exactly. But so far, it seems that things are moving into a positive direction, not backwards! I hope things don't change on us come January!

In January, Daniel will be moving up to junior pre-school and reconnecting with his older friends who moved up in September. It will be great for him to have older role models and to be encouraged to keep up with them. His teacher in his current class has recognized that Daniel is slowly getting bored, so it will be great to see how he does with more stimulation.
In the meantime, he will be spending 2 weeks with our families in Germany and France, respectively. So it should also be an interesting learning experience as well. I can't wait to see what Daniel will have learned by the time he turns 2!

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Nov 22, 2009

The concept of waiting, a toddler's perspective

Our 22-month old son Daniel started to understand the concept of waiting several months ago. It was a critical word for him to learn, especially at daycare where it's quite common to have to wait for his turn when other kids are playing with his favorite toy, or being cared for by a teacher, etc... In most cases, what Daniel had to wait for what somewhat immediate, and the reward came soon. His understanding of this concept made our life so much easier, and we really started appreciating it and encouraging it.

Over time, Daniel started to wait for bigger, longer-term things. For instance, when my husband had to travel for business for a few days, Daniel understood that he needed to wait and showed great patience during that week.
Most recently, Daniel has been waiting for us to leave for Christmas vacation, several weeks away.

His grandparents came to visit in October, and he really enjoyed reconnecting with them. It was the first time where he was old enough to really establish a strong relationship and to remember it once they were gone. He can remember them so well, that he keeps asking every single day when we will go into the plane to visit Opa and Oma. (answer: around Christmas). Unfortunately, this type of answer doesn't mean anything to a 22-month old, and the conversation usually ends with "Opa and Oma are in their house in Germany, we need to wait until we visit them"... and a deep sigh from Daniel.

Daniel and Opa discovering a big tree in October

How can Daniel understand that the wait this time will take 2 months? Compared with other things he has been waiting for, this is an awfully long period of time to wait. Is he going to be discouraged before the time comes? Is he going to give us and stop believing us? Is he going to continue to feel sad when thinking of Oma and Opa until we take off for Germany in another month?

We bought an adventscalendar as an attempt to help Daniel understand the process of counting the days. He is now mentioning Opa and Oma when seeing the calendar. But not sure he understands the specific purpose.

While it's great to see him becoming more patient, I feel bad that we are asking him to be so patient for something he is to excited about, yet without a good way to explain it to him.

Wondering if other parents have had a similar experience and how they addressed it?

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Nov 13, 2009

My poor toddler, bitten by a dog on the nose

These were for sure the most difficult 6 hours in my life. I thought taking care of a sick 6-week old baby when sick with the flu myself was hard, or that working 80-hour weeks was hard. But this was before last week's accident happened.

It had all started so well. We were visiting friends in their cabin in the Shasta area: awesome place, perfect weather, great company. This promised to be a relaxing and fun weekend, and our friends were treating us like kings. Daniel had quickly become friends with the dog (he *used to* love dogs). He had fed him and played with him all morning. It was so cute when Daniel started comparing his body to the dog's.
2 ears: check. 2 eyes: check. 4 legs: wait, I only have 2 legs. Tail: why don't I have a tail coming out of my back? So cute.

But then, it happened. Out of nowhere, the dog, who had been lying, stood up and bit Daniel on the nose. I honestly can't remember exactly what happened, it's all so blurry in my mind. I just remember feeling so shocked, scared, I mean, really scared, and incredulous at the same time that I got paralyzed and couldn't move.

With the most fortunate turn of events, the dog stopped biting after a few seconds (which felt like eternity though), and we found that the damage was not life-threatening. Daniel was bleeding a lot from his scars on the nose and from the mouth (he got bitten inside the mouth too). But he was breathing well and hadn't lost any tissue.

As we raced to the ER (about 45 minutes away), Daniel actually recovered pretty quickly. He stopped bleeding quite quickly and after 10 minutes or so of crying, he was even able to play iPhone games all the way to the hospital. He was even quite cheerful when we came to the hospital (this changed quickly as soon as he saw the nurse though).

Meanwhile, my head was racing. What had just happened? Why couldn't I prevent this? Why didn't I do anything to stop the dog sooner? And what if the dog had hit the eyes... the mouth... the throat? The thought of all these scenarios was so scary. These thoughts continued to haunt me several days after the accident, and I still get scared just thinking about it.

I can't imagine how hard this must be for Daniel to process. He loved dogs so much and had no reason to believe that something like this was even possible. Add to the surprise the scare of being attacked on the face by an animal bigger than him, and the pain of the bite. It's surprising he is showing so little impact of this (except for waking up a few times with nightmares the first night and mentioning the dog once or twice a day now ... that's it)

Back to the physical damage, the doctor was able to quickly apply stitches to the major wounds. Fortunately, we expect little to no long-lasting scar on Daniel's face.

The operation itself was tough to witness for me, though. While Daniel was quite happy as long as we were waiting (iPhone games saved the day), he panicked every time a nurse brought something to the room. This was a roller-coaster for about 30 minutes before the doctor was finally read. I felt so bad for him to have to go through the stress and calming down over and over again.
As the nurses sedated him before doing the stitches, I couldn't stand the sight of a motionless and wounded Daniel. This was so hard. And then, the 30 minutes after he woke up were terrible too. Daniel was so grumpy, tired, sick, thirsty and kept crying he was cold (an expected side-effect). I had just taught him to proactively tell me when he was cold at home, to make sure he was dressed properly. He was definitely using his words in the right context. However, this time, there was nothing I could do to take away the chills. His body had to go through them as part of the process, and I could only hold him close in my arms, talk to him and wait. I felt so helpless.

Fortunately, the story ended well. Daniel is recovering very quickly, and he has had very side-effects of the sedation if at all. 24 hours after our ER visit, he was already dancing, laughing and almost his normal self. He is still talking about the dog that bit him, and it will take time to reacquaint him with dogs. But this accident should soon be something of the past, and we will hopefully forget about all the bad memories.
As for our friends, they are not so lucky. They lost their dog in the process and feel really bad about what happened.

We promised ourselves to do a redo of the weekend in the cabin. Same location, same crew (except the dog), same great food... and hopefully a lot less drama.

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Nov 1, 2009

Daniel's new French-speaking toys

Somehow, my husband managed to receive a couple of hand-me-down French-speaking toys from a German colleague who lives in the Bay Area (not sure about the French connection, but not surprising given how multi-cultural the Bay Area is). When I say "French-speaking", I really mean speaking. The tractor in particular is very loud.


It says things like "Hello, Good-bye", but it also has a few educational games. One is about finding the right key among a set of different colors and forms to start the tractor. The other is about fitting various farm animals in the trailer. The game explains the rules in French, and gives a lot of emphasis to the key words (e.g. yellow key, horse, etc..) in French. Daniel has become passionate about this toy, and I am very happy about it too.

Obviously, the tractor + farm animal combination is a hit. All that Daniel loves in one package! Most importantly to me, Daniel loves to repeat the words he hears from the tractor. He had known most of the words in French for a few months now, but I think it's helpful to him to hear another source of French than Mama. It gives these words more importance, and he is so happy to repeat "cheval", "cle", "mouton", etc...) when the toy says these words.

I think that when we go back to France over Christmas, we will be getting a few of these French speaking toys, so that Daniel has many reasons to continue speaking French.

Another encouraging observation is that, even after spending most of the afternoon playing with this tractor in French, Daniel described the various pieces to my husband... in German. The one-person/one-language system seems to be working so far.

Since it's been a while since I posted, I also wanted to note some other progress: Daniel seems to know most colors and shapes now. He described to me a "triangle" today, completely unprompted. I was very impressed. He is getting more patient now... I sometimes feel bad keeping him waiting long, now that I can afford it because he doesn't complain. However, the tantrums have gotten stronger too. Definitely getting closer to the 2nd birthday!

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Oct 31, 2009

Halloween

Today we celebrated the first Halloween where Daniel participated to the whole experience. Last year, Daniel was 9-months old. While we put him in a costume for a few good photos, we didn't do any of the trick or treat activities, pumpkin carving, parade, etc...
This year, at 21 months, Daniel got the full flavor of Halloween. First, his teachers at daycare started introducing Halloween a few weeks ago already. There was all kinds of activities around pumpkins and reading Halloween books. He has become an expert at saying "pumpkin" and "Halloween" by now! We also visited a pumpkin patch last week, and Daniel had a lot of fun carrying pumpkins into a wagon, riding poneys and "driving" a tractor.


Finally, today was the big day.

Daniel's costume this year was a firefighter uniform. It had taken me a while to find a good uniform for him. The typical baby costumes for boys are either too bulky or they represent super-heroes Daniel doesn't know yet. At the end, I thought a firefighter uniform would be perfect for him, since he loves firetrucks. Interestingly enough, Daniel didn't show any interest in the costume, neither when I brought it home a few weeks ago nor on Halloween day (actually he was interested right when he woke up - in his pajamas. But by the time I had managed to dress him the interest had gone).

However, he was very interested in the pumpkin carving competition that was taking place at the corner of our street. That these pumpkins could be turned into faces ("monsieur") was fascinating.

We finally managed to dress him for the neighborhood Halloween parade, and he was actually quite happy to walk with everyone else. It was probably about 3/4 mile long and he held the pace really well.



Trick or treat was also interesting for him. At first, he was confused: I usually have to remind him not to walk on people's yards when we play on the street. Daniel didn't understand why today he was allowed to walk in, and then why he had to stay at the door. After all, when you knock on someone's door, you usually expect to come in! After a few houses, though, Daniel figured it out. He was still shy and didn't say much of a "trick or treat", but he loved getting candy. He was also fascinated by some of the decorations in our neighbors' houses: flying bats, hanging skeletons... He didn't know this should be scary. He just thought it was interesting and kept watching over and over.



We only visited a few houses and went back to our own home to welcome more trick or treaters. Daniel happily distributed candy to the visitors, which was surprising given that he usually wants to keep everything for himself. Since today was completely different, he must have forgotten his usual behavior!

Overall, it was a good day, even though Daniel is still a little bit young to understand what this is all about. He probably will be asking for candy and pumpkin for the next several days now, or he might just completely forgot that this ever happened... Next year should be even more fun. He should definitely understand better by then. Wondering if he will be able to decide what he wants his costume to be by himself?

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Oct 21, 2009

Tinyprints Holiday cards are here

The Holiday season is quickly approaching and I wanted to write a quick article about what Tinyprints has to offer in terms of Holiday cards and gifts.

This year, Tinyprints really offers a lot of unique and exciting products, from custom photo cards to pop-up cards or even photo montage cards. And since Holiday is also about gathering and parties, this discount can also be used for Holiday party invitations, and many more great products.

All these cards, whether standard or more innovative formats, go through the same level of internal review before they are printed and shipped, to ensure the highest satisfaction.

I encourage you to browse Tinyprints to find out for yourselves which card or which collection will work for you this Holiday season.

Tinyprints ships to the US and Europe too. If you are interested for a 30% coupon code, email me at isabelle AT isabelles DOT net for specific information.


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Oct 19, 2009

Bear Gulch Cave, Pinnacles National Monument

My in-laws visited us from Germany for about a week, which was great. We hadn't seen them since May, and we enjoyed catching up. Plus, they took good care of Daniel, introducing him to new places, bringing a lot of toys (probably not necessary, though) and teaching him a lot of new German words. They also did the shopping for us and cooked dinner every night... It felt like a vacation!
As a result, we felt well rested over the weekend to do a "big" excursion, to Pinnacles National Monument. The park is well know for the rock formations and cliffs (very popular with climbers) and some caves. We decided to take the short trail (about 1 mile each way) to visit Bear Gulch cave, which is one of the biggest caves in the park.



Due to a misunderstanding with my husband, we had forgotten the baby backpack at home. At 21 months, Daniel is actually a good walker, and he didn't seem to mind hiking, even as we climbed up the mountain. The issue, though, is that he loves to explore everything he sees on the way, from stones to flowers to water puddles. A great thing in general, but we were going soooo slow! My husband ended up having to carry him on his shoulders for most of the climb. It was probably a good thing, though, because by the time we arrived in the cave, we needed Daniel to be fit and walk by himself. The cave is very narrow and steep, and it could have made it difficult to carry Daniel.

Daniel did great for the most part: very excited to get into the dark tunnel at first (he is currently fascinated by tunnels). He was also very intrigued by the water falls in the cave. He walked for about 3/4 of the cave and climbed 30-40 steps in the dark without complaining.


But then, he hit the point where he started to be very uncomfortable in the dark, tired and fussy. These few minutes of meltdown weren't fun. Taking a rest in a corner of the cave with a patch of light helped calm him down. But he didn't want to walk any further in the cave after that, and we had to carry him crying through the exit.

The big reward at the end of the cave is a nice lake surrounded by some of the cliffs. We took a nice break there, having snacks, laying on the grass, watching climbers go up and down, and things went back to normal pretty quickly. Daniel even walked a good part of the way back, until we decided that his constant distractions made us much too slow again... and he finished on my husband's shoulders again.



Overall, it was great to have a good excuse to get away from the day-to-day at home. Our weekends are usually very quiet and somewhat repetitive. We enjoy them like this most of the time. But this short trip was a good reminder of things we used to be passionate about, pre-baby: hiking, outdoors, spending time with friends, eating fast-food on the way to the countryside! Part of me had missed all of these things even if I didn't realize this until now.

We are considering joining friends for a weekend in a cabin in the Mount Shasta area in a few weeks. I look forward to having the chance to have a different type of weekend, and to start sharing with Daniel our passion for the outdoors.

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Oct 16, 2009

Successful transition to toddler bed

This time has come: Daniel had to move out of his crib into a new toddler bed. We knew this was coming: he is a very active - and somewhat impatient- 21-month old, and he had started to try to climb out of his crib last week. We were hoping that it would take him at least until this weekend to perfect his technique, and we were planning to take advantage of the weekend to make some arrangements in the room to avoid a major fall.
Well, Daniel was quicker than we thought: on Wednesday he climbed out of his crib and fell off.

Fortunately, he didn't have any major injury. But he had gotten so scared that he didn't want to get into his crib any more. He ended up taking his nap in our bed.
So, we took the opportunity to rush to Ikea and buy him a toddler bed. How excited he was when he saw the red bed and red comforter with animal patterns! I think he realized that he now had a bed like mom and dad, and loved it. He couldn't stop climbing in and out of the bed, rolling on the comforter and talking very excitedly about the new bed. The old crib was definitely a thing of the past!

Daniel chilling in his new bed


Our main concern was whether Daniel would want to stay in bed once we put him to bed at night. He had been pretty good with going to sleep by himself once in the crib. But we were wondering if he would want to take advantage of the fact that he can now climb out of the bed by himself. We had heard a lot of stories of kids constantly getting out of bed once given the opportunity.

It's been 3 evenings now, and Daniel has continued to fall asleep by himself. Granted, he complains for a few seconds when we put him to bed, trying to get us to read just one more book or play with the trains for a few more minutes. But so far, once he understood that it was bedtime, he stayed in bed... and slept well all night.
We hope this pattern is going to continue. Or did I just jinx it by claiming success too soon?

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Oct 5, 2009

Of "cou" and "kuh"

So, we have reached an interesting milestone in Daniel's language development. For the first time, at 20 months, he has learned 2 words in 2 different languages that sound exactly the same and have very different meanings. And yes, you guessed right, it's "cou" (neck in French) and "Kuh"(cow in German). It didn't occurred to me first, as I usually never use "Kuh" with Daniel when I talk to him in French. I was just very happy he had learned a new French word. But then, I noticed that he started showing cow pictures to my husband, calling them "Kuh" and showing his neck at the same time. Or, he would show me his neck and imitate the cow sound at the same time. He is probably very confused right now about what to do... And I am not sure what to do except to just use the right word in the right context over and over until this sinks in.

I guess confusion can happen in every language, even for monolingual kids. There are words that sound the same and have different meanings in every language (e.g. "marche" in French can mean "walk" or "function"- btw, this is another challenge I came across with Daniel recently). Monolingual kids eventually manage to master the complexity and understand how to assign meaning to words. They just have to be patient and practice.

I am just wondering if the issue with words from different languages is the same or if it adds another layer of complexity that might be more difficult to navigate. Does anyone have experience with this type of situation? Should we just consider it business-as-usual when raising a tri-lingual kid or should we do something specific to help?

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Oct 4, 2009

14 days of Gratitude Challenge and...

... I love it! It hasn't completely changed my world, and I haven't discovered a completely new wisdom for my life. But I like having the daily reminders to see the positive in all situations, good or bad, and appreciate what I have. It's so refreshing.
What has become clear is that I cherish the time with my family and friends more than anything else.
Even when I complain about Daniel starting to show signs of the Terrible 2 phase, or when I think my husband could do more to help, I know this is nothing against the joy I have to spend my life with them. And when I get distracted from calling my friends because of some trivial reason, I am reminded that they are important too, and that I should keep in touch. Everything else can wait.
So, here is to 2 weeks of Gratitude Challenge. I look forward to week 3 and what I will discover/be reminded off in the last stretch.
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Oct 2, 2009

Seeing the glass half full

Today's focus for the Gratitude Challenge was to see the glass half full, and be kind to others. This was a good task for a Friday: last day of a busy week at work (with a lot still to do!), and a week where my husband had been traveling (i.e. I was by myself with Daniel).
It would have been easy to find things to complain about: too much work, computer too slow, co-workers not responding fast enough, time going by too fast, my husband's job that includes a significant amount of traveling, and why not even complain about the colder weather, because now I can't take Daniel to the park in the evening any more?
But the challenge allowed me to see things from a different perspective, and helped me make the most out of my not-so-good-sounding Friday.

First, regarding work. I should be lucky to have a job, and not only that, an exciting and rewarding job. Yes, it's a lot of work, but I usually like being busy and doing things. Plus, we are getting into the Holiday season, which I love (call me crazy!). Yes, it has its difficult moments, but usually, I like the action and I am OK with the workload that comes with it.

My team is great, and very performance-driven. Everyone tries to do their best to support each other. Yes, sometimes, things go slower than what I would like, but it's because there is a lot going on. It's not that people are not doing their part. So I should also return the support and help them as much as I can.

Finally, my new work is closer to Daniel's daycare, which makes my commute much easier, even when my husband isn't here.

As for my time alone with Daniel, it turned out to be very good. We couldn't spend much time at the park, but Daniel enjoyed reading a lot of books with me. Long time ago, Daniel decided my husband is the designated reader (he is more lively than me when telling stories, and it makes a difference), so it was good not to have "competition" and to let Daniel catch up with French. At 20 months, Daniel also started to be able to play by himself very well (especially with trains and puzzles), so he required less exclusive focus than a few months ago. It made it easier for me.

And when my husband comes back from his trip tomorrow, he will be energized to play with Daniel, so that I might be able to have some more time for myself this weekend.

Does my Friday really sound so bad now? I don't think so. It was actually a good Friday. And I am thankful for having these types of days from time to time.

Want to get inspired? Learn more about the Gratitude Challenge.

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Oct 1, 2009

Seeing life through the eyes of a child

A few days ago, the Gratitude Challenge task was to see life through the eyes of a child. I thought this was a neat exercise. Every now and then, I am reminded by my own 20-month old son how refreshing it can be to see life from his perspective. He finds fascination in by every little thing, from a ball rolling across our backyard to the games he plays in water or even to a garbage truck passing by the house. He can be so happy with these little things that represent new experiences for him. Also, he tends to be a little explorer and is not afraid to try new things... sometimes to my consternation when it's about climbing a tall play structure or exploring a new house by himself (we have been checking houses for rent lately, and Daniel seems to be more excited to visit these houses than we are! He hides in the closets and lets us find him... Fun for him, not so much for us).

In comparison, my adult life feels a lot more serious and straight-forward. I could definitely benefit from trying to be more excited about the little things or more spontaneous when embracing new situations.

However, I have to say that I don't envy Daniel for being a child. Not everything is that simple. First, he is still very dependent on adults. He usually wakes up very hungry - and fussy- in the morning (he doesn't eat much dinner these days, but that's ok, though... He has reserves). He must feel very helpless to have to wait for us to prepare breakfast before he can have anything. From his behavior when waiting (like trying to open the fridge), I can tell that he wishes he could do more to help himself.
Also, the other day, our fire alarm went off after we turned on the heat for the first time in 6 months (there was just a little bit of smoke at the beginning and the alarm picked it up - nothing serious). Daniel completely panicked, and he must have been quite traumatized: after 4 days, he is still pointing at the alarm on a regular basis and explaining how scared he was when it happened. I am glad that, as an adult, I have enough experience to not be afraid when it's not necessary. There are benefits of being a grown-up after all.

If only I could remember to still enjoy the little things as Daniel does. So here is my list of little things I am grateful for today.
- the fact that my husband and I are able to provide for Daniel, in terms of spending both money and time for/with him.
- the fact that the weather is less cold than earlier in the week, so that we can go out and play in the park.
- the fact that we have a very supportive family. Although they are far away, we know they are here for us... and we will see some of them next week (I can't wait)
- etc, etc... The list is definitely getting longer as I think about it. Isn't it the exact point of the Gratitude Challenge?

Want to get inspired? Learn more about the Gratitude Challenge.

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Grateful for all 5 senses

Today's Gratitude Challenge task is to focus on one of the 5 senses and be grateful for it. I thought it would be an easy task. I am so happy to be able to see the world, and witness beautiful things with my own eyes: sunset by the beach, the fall colors on the trees, beautiful card designs from Tinyprints, my son smiling and happy, etc...
However, upon further thought, I realized that I appreciate all my senses equally, and I can't really isolate one from the others. They are all so important to me, and I am so grateful to be able to enjoy them all.

Take hearing for example. I enjoy listening to music a lot and I definitely think music enriches my life. As my readers already know, I am so excited to witness my son's language development. And then, there are the random sounds of the rain falling on trees, waves by the ocean, birds singing in the early morning, laughter of friends, etc... I can't imagine what life could be without hearing. So here, I am grateful for hearing too.

And now, on to taste. This one is obviously important too. I was raised in France, so I have come to appreciate food. This passion only got stronger when I traveled internationally and discovered many other foods... and I liked them all. Yes, I am thankful for taste. And by the same token, I am thankful for smell, as all good foods also smell wonderful. Not to mention the smell of flowers and woods, fresh laundry, and many other things.

Finally, what would be life without the sense of touch? Without the hugs and kisses from my son? Without being able to feel the coziness of a warm blanket or the softness of flowers?

Really, all these senses are important to me, and I am so grateful to be able to enjoy them all. Some people have to go through life with a limited ability for one sense or the other, and I know that they are missing a lot. I am so glad I can appreciate my life through all my senses.

Want to get inspired? Learn more about the Gratitude Challenge.

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Sep 28, 2009

Gratitude Challenge, Day 7

I am a little bit behind in the Gratitude Challenge, as I was sick over the weekend. So, I am catching up now with Day 7, which couldn't have come at a better moment. The challenge is about posting a picture of something I am grateful of.
I actually have a lot of pictures to choose from, from this past weekend. Now I need to disclose that I didn't take the pictures myself. My husband is into photography these days, and he just bought a new camera he is experimenting with. So covering all great photo opportunities (which I am actually thankful for too).
But the subject of the pictures is exactly what I would have taken myself: our 20-month old son. Usually smiling and playful, often very focused and intense, always very interested in learning about the world and now starting to tell us stories. He is so much fun!
Here some shots from the weekend... Enjoy.









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Sep 25, 2009

The roller coaster of raising bilingual/trilingual kids

Last week, I wrote an article about Daniel’s progress in all 3 languages: French, German and English. The picture was quite balanced and I was optimistic that he was able to learn them in parallel. When I take a step back, I still think that he is on track, showing good progress every week. He is really starting to make sentences and tell stories, which is exciting.
On a day-to-day basis, however, I regularly feel doubts about what we are doing to Daniel and whether he is going to overcome the complexity we are exposing him to. Now that Daniel is more interactive, at 20 months, this adventure is becoming a roller-coaster.

A few days ago, Daniel decided to call horses “horses” (in English) with me. He has been using the French word for it (“chevaux”) on a regular basis now, so I know he knows it. I think he was particularly proud to know “horse” too, and wanted to practice. Logically, I thought this was completely understandable, except that, deep inside, I felt once more that he was going backward.
Similarly, Daniel learns new English words at daycare every day. Recently he started using the words “walk” and “kick”, words I have barely used with him in French. It just never came up in our activities. He plays with the ball often enough at daycare to learn “kick”. But at home we spend our weekends going to the “piscine” (pool) or “parc”, not playing with the ball. As a result, there are words he knows better in one language than the other. And this applies to all 3 languages (For instance, Daniel knows the word for ice cream in German only because Guido loves to eat ice cream with him, and I don’t) But, every time I hear him say a new English word, whose equivalent I haven’t taught in French, I feel that I am behind … And this happens all the time these days.
Then I realized with consternation that French is a lot more complicated than the other 2 languages. How do I explain to Daniel that “chevaux” (horses) is really the same as “cheval” except that one is plural and the other is singular? The 2 words don’t sound the same. And how about verbs? Daniel knows the words “run” as well as “court” (present time for “run” in French). But depending on the need of the sentence, this word “court” can become “courir” or “couru”. 3 variations to learn for the same word. In English, he will be able to get by with just “run(s)” and “running”.
But then again, tonight, Daniel showed a water fountain to another kid’s mom, saying “water”, and he showed it to me, saying “eau” (water in French). This was perfect!
It is going to be a long road until Daniel masters all these intricacies, and I expect this roller-coaster to continue for a while. I just hope to keep things in perspective to remember that other kids have done well with 3 languages, and everything Daniel learns now will become useful later, one way or the other. The small bumps are hopefully just that, small bumps.

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Sep 24, 2009

Grateful for the positive and negative

In this post, I am capturing Day 3 and Day 4 of the Gratitude Challenge. The goal for Day 3 is: write about something you feel grateful for today. Day 4's focus is on: Give thanks for something negative in your life.
Apparently, these 2 goals conflict with each other, but it turns out that they don't, really. Let me explain...

Yesterday (Day 3) was Wednesday, and one thing stood out in terms of what I was grateful for: being able to attend my weekly yoga class at night. The rest of the day was pretty good too: interesting work, playing with Daniel, connecting with friends, etc... And I am obviously grateful to have a great job, the most precious kid (OK, I am biased!) and a network of good friends. But I am really glad that, as a busy working mom, I am able to regularly add to my schedule 1.5 hour for myself, where I can unwind and take care of myself. I know this is not a given...

And I am particularly thankful for
- my husband for diligently keeping his Wednesdays nights open to take care of Daniel
- Daniel for usually being good with Bye-Byes, so that I don't feel too guilty (although I have to say that some days are harder than others, and I keep thinking of him while doing my stretch exercises - don't tell my teacher I am not always focused!)
- my teacher for inspiring me to come to class and do my best in this precious 1.5 hour, even though I usually feel tired, unfocused, and stressed about the work waiting for me at home.
- the many friends who share a passion for yoga and keep encouraging me and reminding me of the benefits of practicing regularly.

And this leads me to Day 4's challenge: being grateful for something negative in my life. I have to say that I had to think hard about this question. Overall, I am pretty happy with my life. The things I tend to complain about are trivial, and things someone as fortunate as me shouldn't even consider complaining about.
So, the only negative thing that might be worth talking about it is Time (or rather, the need to manage it very carefully and proactively). Time is definitely a key topic on my mind: from rushing through the morning routine, to constantly prioritizing my work projects to be done by 6pm sharp (or else I am late for pickup) and planning the best weekend schedules. I have to consciously determine my priorities and make time for the things that are important to me, otherwise they can be easily lost. I know a lot of moms know this feeling. And this lack of time and rush could be considered a negative in my life.

However, when I step back, I don't see it that way (although if you ask me at 7:30 tomorrow morning when I am chasing Daniel to get dressed for daycare, I might answer differently). I have always loved packed schedules. From the time I was a kid, I was in awe for my mom because she was the master of scheduling and efficiencies. She managed the entire family's schedule with ease and mastery, to allow my sisters and me to squeeze our many hobbies in the weekly calendars. I aimed to be able to do a lot of things at the same time and to excel at them. That's where my adrenalin would come from, and I loved it... still do!

So, in a sense, life with a kid isn't that different. Yes, I have less control over my own schedule (Daniel wakes me up in the weekend when I would rather sleep in, and he wants my undivided attention 100% of the time I am with him). But this doesn't seem like a big change for me, compared to the times when I would run from one hobby to the other every day. Actually, things have gotten more relaxing, even: During the times I am with Daniel, I rarely need to manage the time minute by minute to "get the most out of it". I let Daniel decide upon the agenda: drawing, reading, building towers, 5 minutes here, 10 minutes there... Performance and efficiency don't matter during these times. It's all about having a great time together and following his lead. And I take it as a break!
Coincidentally, a few months ago, I wrote a post explaining how our weekends have changed since Daniel was born, and how I actually appreciate them as they are, even though they don't leave much time for "exciting" adventures. I was drawing similar conclusions at the time, even without participating in the Gratitude Challenge.

So, to end, I am thankful for having a rich life, where time goes by fast, and to be able to share it with people that I love. Having the scarcity of time forces me to make conscious choices about what is important to me, and to proactively enjoy what I am living in the moment. And I wouldn't want to have it any other way.

Want to get inspired? Learn more about the Gratitude Challenge.

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Sep 22, 2009

ABC of Gratitude

As part of the Gratitude Challenge I am participating in for the next 21 days, I have been asked to put together an alphabet of Gratitude. It was an interesting exercise of introspection and a good way to revisit my knowledge of English (how many good words do I know, that start with "I"?). Here is my list:
Airplane: A great invention, that allows us to visit so much of the world and stay in touch with far-away friends and family in so little time.
Barcelona: A great city from many standpoints (lively, beach, food, culture), and where my husband and I met. Fond memories!
California: The place we have made our home for now. Far from family, but attractive enough for us to stay.
Daniel: My precious son who added so much to my life in just 20 months.
Europe: Where my roots and family are (especially France, where I grew up, and Germany, which is almost my second home). I love the European culture and I miss it here.
Family/Friends/Facebook: How convenient all these words start with the same letter. Family and Friends are very important to me. And Facebook has become a great tool to stay in touch and reconnect with a lot of them.
Guido: My partner of 10 years/husband of 5, team mate, soul mate and biggest supporter.
Health: So thankful for the fact that my family, and especially Daniel, is mostly healthy. I can't imagine how hard it must be for parents to take care of a sick child, and I know some don't have the choice.
ILW (initial leadership workshop): One of the first trainings I attended in my career, when I was a consultant. I learned so much about people's styles, leadership and being flexible. It impacted my day to day interactions with people forever.
Jugo: My favorite drink when backpacking in South America. I craved so many jugos after hiking in the wilderness for 6 days and just drinking stream water.
Kilimanjaro: My most challenging adventure so far. Getting to the top of the mountain was tough. But it was also very rewarding, and it made me really appreciate the team work and support with my husband.
Love: what would be life without it?
Music: I have always enjoyed music. It's a great way to connect people, and keep spirits up.
New: I love change and trying new things. My life would be so boring without new things happening all the time
Open mind: Very important concept when visiting different places, and meeting new people. Helps take new experiences positively.
Patience: My 20-month old recently started to understand the word "wait", which made our job as parents so much easier. It also reminded me that patience is an important quality in life, even for adults.
Q as in Avenue Q: The last musical I watched (a few years ago). It was so much fun and refreshing. I definitely need to see more like this one.
Reality: It's easy to get drawn into dreaming about better things and complaining about how things are. When stepping back, though, I realize that my reality is not that bad after all, it's actually pretty good, and I should be thankful for it.
Sun: One of the reasons I love California. Couldn't live without it.
Tinyprints: The company I work for, and that I am very proud of for putting together the Gratitude Challenge, and just making customers happy when celebrating key life events.
Universe: Actually, I rather wanted to say Earth or World, but both E and W were taken... So here we land with universe, as my way to be grateful for a beautiful world we have and need to protect.
Vacation: Yes, even if I love my job, I love vacations too. A time to reconnect with family, see new things and most importantly, sleep!
Welcome: A word I have been lucky to hear a lot as I moved a lot across countries and continents. Trying hard to reciprocate when I see people that are just settling in around us.
Xtra day/hour: Every time I find myself having more time than expected (to sleep, play with Daniel or even work), I am so happy. Time has definitely become the scarce resource in my life.
Yes! Having a positive attitude and being willing to say "yes" more often than "no" can be so powerful.
Zoom & camera: nothing better to capture the precious moments with my son, before he grows up (much too fast for my taste).


Want to get inspired? Learn more about the Gratitude Challenge.

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Sep 21, 2009

Honoring World Gratitude Day

Today is September 21, World Gratitude Day. I am lucky to work in a company that recognizes the importance of being grateful and of seeing the positive side of life. After all, this is what Tinyprints delivers every day: nice, customized cards, that allow people to share their happiest moments with their friends and families.
Tinyprints started the Gratitude Challenge movement in August, with 30 bloggers who were asked to take note of the brighter side of life for 21 days. The stories were powerful, and the video below captures some of the highlights.



Now it's my turn to start the challenge. So for 21 days (and hopefully beyond), I will be paying -more- attention to the little things that make life so worth living. Stay tuned, and feel free to join the challenge too!

What I hope to achieve during this challenge is a little bit more awareness for the positive things in my life, big and small. It's very easy to get caught up in the stress of work, the difficulties in balancing job and family, and all the little things that make life less than perfect. And while it's good to think about how things could be better (assuming one can make a difference), it's healthy to be able to sit back and appreciate the positive. Hopefully, after this journey, gratitude will be more of a habit, allowing me to step back and think positive, even in the middle of crisis.

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Sep 17, 2009

English, German, French: what's the score?

My initial title for this post was going to be: The day the airplane replaced l'avion (airplane in French). This shift in Daniel's language happened a few days ago and it shocked me enough that I knew I needed to write about it.
"Avion" had been part of Daniel's vocabulary for at least 6 months, since we flew a few times early in the year. Since then, he would point to planes in the sky or in a book, and happily say "avion" (OK, actually it sounded more like "avi", but it was close enough for now). I felt that this word had to be anchored well enough in his brain by now, that it wouldn't go away. Well, I was mistaken. A few days ago, Daniel showed me an "airplane"! I was heart-broken! Gone with the French word!
In a way, I have to accept it. Daniel spends a lot more time at daycare, in an English environment, than hearing me or Guido speak in either French or German. It is inevitable that he is going to be most fluent in English. I just need to live with it, I guess.
However, as I was thinking more about Daniel's current language level, at 20 months, I realized that the picture is a lot more balanced. There is - still- hope.
Daniel's vocabulary in French and German is still growing quite fast. And, more importantly, he seems to start to distinguish which language belongs where. It's still too early to say for sure, but there were a few instances where Daniel seemed to have consciously used the right word.
Such as the time when we were visiting friends and Daniel had found a bus toy in the house. He came to me, showing me the "bus" (pronounced the French way), and then turned to the kid's mom and talked about the "bus" (pronounced in English). I have a hard time to believe it was coincidence, especially because "bus" has been a challenging word for Daniel.
Also, when I picked Daniel up at daycare today, he described to me pictures that hang in his classrooms, all in French ("tombe", "dodo", "camion" - a word that he also took a long time to learn in French). I am sure Daniel is not using these French words to describe the images when talking to his teachers. So he knows how to adapt his vocabulary with me.
So, at this point, it sounds like the score is still quite balanced. Let's see how this continues when Daniel makes sentences, which he is starting to do. Finding the right words from the same language will be even more challenging. Right now, we often hear things like "more eau", "big camion", etc... This phase promises to be interesting.

****
Update: Right after I wrote this post, Daniel demonstrated that he is actually doing very well in French, and really starting to differentiate between languages. His daycare teacher had offered us to borrow his favorite book for the evening, claiming that Daniel kept asking to read this specific book over and over at daycare. This was a "good night" book with pictures of various animals and their babies sleeping. Daniel loved reading the book at home too. But this time, he was the one reading the book to me. And while he was used to hearing about the animals in this particular book in English, he showed them to be IN FRENCH. He even called the book "dodo-book" and not "night-night book" as he says at daycare. And this happened completely naturally, without me having to model anything. I was so proud and relieved!

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Sep 13, 2009

Toddler personalities and interests

I remember my first dinner with friends after Daniel was born, when he was about 3 weeks old. My friends asked me if I was already seeing personality emerge in this little baby that was barely opening his eyes and whose most frequent sounds were crying. At the time, I had to say that I didn't have any sense for what Daniel would develop into.
I just knew that genetically, there was a good chance that he would be somewhat technical (his dad is an engineer, coming from a family of scientists), and I was hoping he would carry some of my interest for music. Other than that, everything was up in the air.

Now, at 20 months, Daniel's personality and interests have clearly emerged. At around 12 months, he started showing a fascination for vehicles and everything technical, which has grown stronger since then. I really think that these are interests he developed by himself, as we didn't do anything to push him (we are usually behind in terms of buying age-appropriate toys. We take note for things he shows interest in before adding more toys to his collection). Daniel's teacher at daycare also mentioned that Daniel is the technical toddler in her class, always interested in learning how things work. Fortunately, he also seems to be interested in music, enjoying the weekly music class and starting to sing and dance a lot at home.

So, when I dropped Daniel at daycare the other day, it was very telling to see that he rushed to play with the cars that were waiting in a corner: driving up and down, seeing if we can make a car push the other, etc... Unfortunately, the teacher's plan for that morning time was to have kids do painting activities outside. It took a few minutes to convince Daniel to let his cars go and join his friends to paint. By the time I was ready to leave (after spending just a few minutes putting the sippy cup in the fridge and filling in the daily sheet), Daniel was already "all done" with painting, ready to go back inside, back to the cars.

I didn't have the time to wait and see how the teacher responded. But I left thinking that Daniel is really starting to express a personality, and that I am slowly getting a sense for what he is becoming: possibly a little replica of us (his dad?), with similar interests. Neither my husband or I are good at drawing or creative arts, and it sounds like it's not Daniel's passion either.

Factor of genetic or the environment? Given that Daniel is exposed to the same exact activities and toys as the rest of his friends at daycare (where he spends most of his awake time), I tend to believe that his personality is mostly related to genetic... But who knows, I am not an expert, and Daniel is only 20-months old.

Anyone wants to guess what Daniel will be when he is older?

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Sep 6, 2009

An impressive tantrum experience

A few days ago I experienced an interesting tantrum from Daniel, our 19-month old son. Although the term "tantrum" has a lot of negative connotations, both for parents of toddlers and for people that might witness them from afar, I actually saw this one in a positive light. As I discovered, the tantrum highlighted Daniel's strong memory and sense of association, and I was really impressed when I realized how this had come together.

We were driving back from daycare, and Daniel was in a very good mood. He was describing what he was seeing on the street (bikes, trucks, trees, etc...) and singing. That is, until we reached the last big intersection before arriving home. My happy Daniel turned into a crying, agitated baby who didn't seem to respond to any comforting action.
At that intersection, we need to drive straight to go to our house. The road to the left leads to a shopping center with a Safeway, a Starbucks, a bakery and a couple of restaurants (which we don't frequent often). As I made my way across the intersection, Daniel started pointing to the left, yelling "miam, miam" and crying.

I first thought that he was starting to be hungry and expressed that we might need to go shopping at Safeway to buy food. I quickly tried to reassure him that we had plenty of food at home, and that he could get a snack as soon as we arrive. This didn't seem to help. Once we arrived at home, I encouraged him to get out of the car, so that we could quickly get into the house and get food. But he hung into his car seat, still crying, and pointing to the direction we were coming from. I had to carry him into the house, my only resort to get him out of the car that night. Once at home, I offered a couple of food items, but he didn't take any of them... He was holding the door, still crying and expressing that he wanted to get out. Nothing seemed to calm him down, even the pacifier that I ended up offering him (although he isn't supposed to take a pacifier during the day).

I could probably have waited until he calmed down by himself... This is, after all, what experts recommend. But I was intrigued by what Daniel was after. I knew he liked shopping (Safeway has these carts with plastic cars attached to them, which Daniel enjoys a lot), but I had never seen him be proactive to ask to go shopping. It was even more surprising because I hadn't said anything to bring up the topic. In the car, we had mostly chatted about trucks! How could he so suddenly remember the shopping center and want to go there so badly? I wanted to know if Daniel was really looking for a specific food from Safeway - and how he would find it if we were there- or if we just wanted to drive the cars in the shopping carts (but then, why say "miam, miam"?)

I knew I risked starting bad habits, but I was too intrigued. So I took Daniel back into the car and drove to the shopping center. To my surprise, when we arrived, Daniel didn't seem to care about Safeway nor the shopping carts. He had calmed down a bit when he saw where we were driving, but started to be agitated again once I passed the few couples of restaurants to park right in front of Safeway. This time, I didn't have any problem getting Daniel to jump out of the car. He ran past the Safeway and, determined, ran to the door of a Mexican restaurant at the corner of the shopping center. Yes, he wanted to have dinner in that Mexican restaurant, a place we hadn't gone to in 3-4 months!
I couldn't believe Daniel was remembering this restaurant from so long ago, and that he was so determined to eat there as to ignore all other things I had tried previously to calm him down. What a memory and a focus!

I should probably be concerned whether this is going to become a pattern for future tantrums: Daniel remembering past experiences and asking to repeat them, seemingly at random. That wouldn't be too fun, wouldn't it? But for now, I was just impressed at the memory and the determination. Yes, Daniel is growing fast and I can't help but being in awe with the new learnings every day.

To finish the story, Daniel thankfully didn't seem to mind whether we stayed a the restaurant for 2 minutes or a complete dinner. I ordered a bag of chips to go and we went back home right away. Daniel only ate 2-3 chips and he was happy, so really he wasn't that hungry. He just wanted to see the restaurant. Kids!
Since then, Daniel has been in a very good mood (even doing great for an entire afternoon with a new baby sitter while we were at a wedding). He continues to impress me with his learning every day. I still hope that tantrums will be infrequent episodes for now. Crossing my fingers!

Have you experienced similar situations?

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Sep 1, 2009

Not alone in this "raising bilingual kids" project

Since I became pregnant, over 2 years ago, my husband and I have been wondering how it would be to raise a trilingual kid (he is German, I am French and we live in the US). I did a lot of research and read quite a few books. In them I learned all the benefits of teaching kids various languages at an early age, and how the brain develops when stimulated by different languages. But I felt I was missing the hands-on information I would need on a day-to-day basis such as:
* how do you respond when your kid learns a new word in the language you are NOT teaching? encourage or ignore?
* how do you handle being with other people that don't speak your language?
* how big of a deal is it for Daniel if he hears me speak to my husband in German and to my friends in English? I know the ideal is that I should stick to French all the time. But what if it's not realistic?
* and many more questions that I expect will come when Daniel grows older.
None of the books were getting into this level of specificity, and I felt that we were a little bit on our own.

Fortunately, after doing more research online, I stumbled upon this Carnival of Bilingualism article, that is a collection of other blog articles about the topic: Parents sharing their various experiences with kids at different stages of learning and in various circumstances. There was so much useful information for me to find in these articles, and so many similarities with my own experiences. I already feel a lot more knowledgeable and less isolated. And the best part? This Carnival is going to happen once a month going forward. So by the time Daniel can really speak, I should be a lot more prepared for what his world will look like.
I am very happy I am raising Daniel in the age where blogs have become popular, and when people from all over the world can find each other and share information about a common topic of interest. Even if we each might feel a little bit different in our own local communities, we are not alone, after all. And that's quite encouraging.

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Aug 26, 2009

Seeing the positive in a bad day

Today could have been marked as a bad day. Not an awful day (nothing disastrous happened), but bad in the sense that a lot of small things went wrong.
It started with Daniel waking up with fever for the third day in a row. While his fever was much lower than in the 2 previous days (and his energy level was back to normal), the fever was high enough for him not to be allowed to daycare. From then, the stress started: calling the baby sitter, calling day-care, negotiating coverage schedule between my husband and me, reassuring Daniel who was to disappointed not to go to daycare today, etc...
The plan was for me to stay home with Daniel in the morning, the babysitter would take over around lunch time, and my husband would do the late afternoon shift. Although I wouldn't be in the office until noon, I was hoping to get some easy work done from home while watching for Daniel: email, phone calls, etc...

It didn't sound too bad at the beginning. But it turns out that, right at the time of an important meeting, my VPN and phone decided to freeze on me, making it impossible for me to contact the team. I lost 10 minutes of precious time at a bad moment. I also somehow managed to hurt my back again (third time in 6 weeks!), not sure how... But I can say I don't recommend it when being around an active, short and heavy 19-month old. The morning was definitely on the bad side.
To top it all, our baby-sitter showed up over an hour late. On the way to work (rushing), I stopped by a gas station, where the payment system was down. I had to drop by the cashier and pay cash, losing another 10 minutes. Needless to say, I wasn't feeling so happy about the day so far when I arrived at work.

But then, miraculously, the effect of the Gratitude Challenge kicked in. It is a 21-day project, sponsored by my company Tinyprints, where people are encouraged to see the positive side of life and blog about their experience. I am not an official participant, but I have been reading the posts and feeling very inspired. I am not sure if the change in my perspective had to do with seeing my colleagues who are Gratitude Challenge participants, or if it was from listening to customer calls and seeing how positive the experiences were. In any case, I realized that it was my opportunity to see the glass half full in my situation... And it worked!

After all, I shouldn't complain because
1. Daniel's sickness is nothing alarming, and he will be back to normal in no time.
2. I got to spend a few more hours with my son, at a time when he really needed me (Daniel is usually quite happy when he is with a babysitter, but when sick, he only wants to see "mama"). Also, I didn't have to rush to get ready to leave home early in the morning. I could enjoy drinking my coffee and having breakfast while sitting, a luxury these days!
3. My phone and email connections were up most of the morning, and I got some work done. And I have to say that technology is a life-saver when it comes to efficiencies and being able to work in different places.
4. We have a great baby-sitter who was flexible on a short notice, and helped us a lot during these 3 days... even if she missed one hour yesterday.
5. I saved money on the baby-sitter cost!
6. I was able to get rid of all the heavy coins in my wallet at the gas station.
7. I work in a cool company (Tinyprints), I love my job, and I am proud of the customer service with offer.
8. Since I didn't have to pick up Daniel from daycare, I could stay at work longer and get a lot of work done in the evening.
9. I am still looking for a positive twist on my back pain, but I could say that this reinforced my motivation to continue practicing yoga, despite my busy schedule. I will probably need to find a more robust solution to cure my back, though. Not sure how exactly.

So, after all, my day wasn't too bad. I am so grateful to the Gratitude Challenge for reminding me to see the positive side of things. It is great that the participants are able to share their experiences on blogs, so that the spirit can benefit readers too. I hope the impact will last past the last day of the challenge. I am sure I will have some other not-so-good days in the future, and I will need to remember how to turn my perspective around...

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Aug 22, 2009

Transitions...

I have been meaning to write a post called "Transition" for a while, where I would primarily have talked about the new job I just started a few weeks ago, and that I am very excited about (more about this below). However, as I was finally ready to write about this yesterday, I realized that there is another transition going on in our family, this one affecting Daniel, and it's probably going to be more challenging, both for him and for me.
As it turns out, back to school stress doesn't start at kindergarten or even pre-school level... Daniel's daycare, the Children's Pre-School Center (which includes both an infant daycare and a pre-school, and is great by the way - I talked about it here), also has their own fall class changes.

This makes sense: as the oldest kids leave, spots open up in the pre-school classes for children to move up, and this then trickles down to the younger classes. The approach is to try to move as many children as possible at the same time in the fall, so that they stay together as they progress from class to class. The challenge is how to apply this in the toddler class, where Daniel is currently in. At the infant and toddler stage, it wouldn't make sense to batch all kids born in the same year in one group... A 13-month and a 23-month kid still have very little in common. So the transition to these classrooms is a lot more fluid, depending on development stages.

As Daniel was an early walker, a decent communicator, and a good eater (he eats everything), he was able to move to the toddler class at 12 months already, back in January. He adapted very easily, and quickly made friends, especially with the kids that are 6-8 months older than him.
By now, these friends are part of his life. Every morning, he runs happily to the door, ready to leave for daycare, calling out his friends' names. In the car on the way back, he tells me about his day with his friends (Granted, it's mostly babbling I don't understand, but I can recognize his friends' names in the sentences). When we were gone for a few days to Yellowstone, he asked for his friends a lot. He definitely has established strong bonds with them and misses them when he isn't around them. in the rare instances when I am not the last parent picking up Daniel, I can see these interactions with my own eyes. And yes, there is so much laughing, playing silly games, hugging. So cute at this age!

Daniel and his friends from daycare, May 2009

The problem is that, because his friends are 6-8 months older, they belong to the cohort that is moving up to the next class as part of the fall transition. Daniel will be staying behind for a few more months at least.

Objectively, this makes sense. Daniel isn't at the same development stage as his friends, from a language, fine motor skill and maturity standpoint. He isn't ready for pre-school yet, and this is OK. He is only 19-months after all.

There has been a lot of communication about this transition over the last months, so we have had the time to think about it and prepare for it.... So I thought. Yesterday, we got the latest email, informing all parents of the immediate logistics of the transition, and I realized all of a sudden that this is happening NEXT WEEK!

And I panicked! How am I going to explain to Daniel that most of his closest friends won't be here with him anymore? Just the thought of Daniel missing them all the time, the same way he missed them in Yellowstone for 5 days, is breaking my heart. I know kids are resilient, and that he will certainly make friends with the new toddlers that will join the class. Still, it will probably be the first time Daniel is faced with losing his good friends, right after working so hard on understanding the concept of friendship. I can't stand it... The transition doesn't only affect kids that are moving to a new classroom after all. It's definitely going to be a huge change for Daniel. Wondering who is going to have the most difficult time next week, Daniel, his friends or me?

As for my job change, this is good news all around. At least, one easy transition.
I joined Tinyprints 2 weeks ago, and I am very excited. I love the company and the products they sell. Who wouldn't fall for all the cute baby announcement cards or birthday invitations they sell? Also, they just launched Photo-books, which I am particularly excited about as I think this will become our annual Christmas tradition to grandparents who don't see Daniel very often. I had heard about the great culture of the team, and so far I haven't been disappointed. They welcomed me very well, and it didn't hurt that I was able to attend 2 parties in my first 2 weeks (a Marketing get together and the annual company picnic). Also, they just launched the Gratitude Challenge, a 21-day effort for people to take note of the nice things in their lives. I think it's very cool, the stories are so inspiring! Another side benefit is that my commute is a lot shorter. I can't complain...

If only Daniel's transition next week was that easy...


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Aug 18, 2009

Waiting for papa

My husband has been traveling this week, and I have been wondering how Daniel would take it. It's not the first time his dad is out of town, but it's probably been 9 or 10 months since my husband was gone for a full week. Since the last time it happened, the relationship between Daniel and his dad has become much stronger. I expected Daniel to miss his dad a lot. At the same time, I didn't expect Daniel to be old enough to clearly understand the concept of business travel. Recipe for potential disaster, I thought...

I have been surprised at Daniel's reaction so far, and at the level of maturity he has shown. As we came back home last night (first night without his dad), Daniel asked for "papa". I explained to him that "papa est parti, il a pris l'avion pour aller bien loin. Mais il pense beaucoup a Daniel et va revenir dans quelques jours" (Daddy is out, he took the plane to go far away. But he thinks of Daniel and he will be back in a few days).
As Daniel was processing this information, he repeated a couple of times "avion" (plane), demonstrating a plane taking off with his hands, and "gone" (he used to say the French word "parti" before, but since he learned to say the sound "g" "gone" has become the new word....the way he says it is so sweet, I don't mind). It happens somewhat regularly that my husband comes home late during the week, so I didn't think that spending an evening without dad would be the issue. And sure enough, the evening went well. Daniel didn't ask for "papa" any more.

As he woke up the next morning, Daniel asked for "papa" again. Usually "papa" is always back in the morning, even when he wasn't here in the evening before. So, I had to explain why "papa" wasn't here in the morning this time. I pretty much repeated the same explanation as the night before. "Papa est parti, il a pris l'avion pour aller bien loin. Mais il pense beaucoup a Daniel et va revenir dans quelques jours". And this is where Daniel's reaction impressed me. Beyond saying, "avion" and "gone" again, he just looked at me, with his resigned expression, hands open, and just said "wait".
That's right: we have to wait and daddy will be back. There is nothing else to do. No crying, no arguing, nothing... Just the mature response of a 19-month old who just started to understand the concept of waiting.

Yes, Daniel, be prepared, this notion will become very handy for the rest of your life. Glad you understand...

UPDATE: As the week progressed, Daniel did quite well, dealing with missing his dad. He seemed to understand what was going on at some level. However, his daycare teachers mentioned that he kept pointing at the family pictures hanging in the classroom and calling out "papa". This wasn't his usual behavior, and a sign that he was still processing the fact that his dad was gone.
When I put Daniel to bed last night (a few hours before my husband came home), I explained that "papa" would be back home when he wakes up in the morning. He seemed to happy and relieved. I think he understood. This morning, it was so great when they saw each other again! Everyone was so happy!


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Aug 16, 2009

19-month old baby & pacifier: one step forward or one step back?

Our 19-month old baby has always loved his pacifier(s). In the early days (as soon as 5 days old), we felt that it was a good relief since he would be able to calm his newborn emotions quickly as soon as we gave him the pacifier. We also thought that, by using the pacifier, Daniel would avoid sucking his finger with all the advantages that this represents.
Over time, the pacifier became one of the most important objects in Daniel's life: one of the first 5 words he learned to speak ("tetine" in French), and the only cuddle object he would want when going to sleep (except that he needs 4-5 at the same time, since he needs to have some in his hands as well to fall asleep). We tried replacing the pacifier with teddy bears, cuddle blankets, etc... without success.

Over the last several months, we had managed to limit the use of the pacifier to the sleeping time. Daniel was only allowed the pacifier in his crib, and he understands that he needs to leave the pacifier behind when getting up. We were moving towards the right direction.
Interestingly, over the last few weeks, Daniel has started to ask for his pacifier during the day again. He is even ready to go back to his crib outside of his sleeping times, just to be able to get the comfort of his pacifier. He never falls asleep, just rolls happily in his crib, talking to himself and playing with the many pacifiers around him. He is usually ready to get out of bed after 10 minutes, but this happens 4-5 times a day!

This is a little bit of a concern for us. Are we moving backward?
We asked Daniel's daycare providers if they had seen a similar behavior at daycare. They confirmed the trend. While the cots they use for nap are not available outside of nap time, Daniel now asks for his pacifier during the day and he proactively goes to rest on a pillow with it.
Daniel's teachers are not too worried so far, though. They observed that Daniel only asks for his pacifier when he is upset and when he needs to calm down. This is true at home too. Their explanation is that Daniel is developing self-awareness and that he knows that his pacifier is a tool for him to get over his emotions. Instead of throwing tantrums, he might just ask for his pacifiers to process frustrations.
This is a neat explanation, and I hope it is correct. This would mean progress, right? It would be great if this phase with the pacifier was a replacement to the tantrum phase for Daniel. I am not eager to experience tantrums, although we have seen a few of them already. We probably won't be able to avoid it alltogether.

In any case, what I really hope is that, as soon as Daniel has gotten better at processing frustration, he might be able to stop using pacifiers. This would be great. Wondering how long we have to wait?

Has anyone else experience the same toddler behavior? How did you handle it?

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Aug 14, 2009

My 19-month old is teaching me German!

Ok, ok, not really teaching me German quite yet. But Daniel read me a book in German!
I mean that he has come to a point, where he know his books* by heart, from reading them so many times. Instead of waiting patiently for me to show him the different pictures and explain what they represent, or for me to ask him "where do you see XX?", he now rushes through the book*, happily pointing to every single item, shouting the corresponding name. So far so good, very good actually... (whisper: as long as it's in French)
Except that this morning, he went through this one book* exclusively in German! And it had some hard words in it, such as "Fuchs" (fox), "Licht" (light), "schmutzig" (dirty), etc... Good I know enough German to keep up (and recognize the words after all... They don't always sound too accurate, especially the last one!)

Should this be that surprising? After all, my husband reads to Daniel in German a lot.

So his German vocabulary is increasing rapidly. Still, I had thought so far that Daniel hears a good balance of French and German, and that he is somehow starting to associate the right language with the right parent. And in general, I still think (hope?) it's true. Daniel has a lot of French vocabulary, but he learns a lot of words outside of books.

As it turns out, I hadn't spent a lot of time reading this particular book* with Daniel lately, while my husband had. So, Daniel might not have had the opportunity to learn the corresponding vocabulary in French yet. Poor guy, he didn't have any other option than reading in German!

In this situation, my competitive spirit kicked in. I am not going to let my husband be a full book ahead of me in teaching Daniel language. I need to catch up! So, tonight, I read many books* with Daniel... It's fortunate that he enjoys books a lot, so we had a great time together, while I felt good about reinforcing his French skills.

Wondering if Daniel might reach a point where too much language is too much if we try to cram so much vocabulary in his little head? He seems to be doing great right now, adding so many new words every day. It's very encouraging. Hopefully, this will continue, and he will eventually be able to know better than to speak with me in German!

* A book collection we like a lot for toddlers is "Usborne look & say". Very easy to read: objects are presented with big images and in context. Easy for toddlers to carry and turn pages.

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Aug 9, 2009

Our last-minute vacation in Yellowstone National Park

As I unexpectedly got a week off in the middle of the summer (due to changing jobs), my husband and I decided to take a quick vacation to a place we had wanted to visit for a long time: Yellowstone National Park.

We started planning one week before our trip, in the middle of the summer vacation time, so we were concerned about the logistics. Fortunately, we were still able to find accommodation in the park itself, although this meant we had to change hotel every day. This turned out to be a good solution, as it allowed us to visit all parts of the park without having to backtrack to the same corner every night. Also, once we were there, we learned of the major roadworks between Grand Teton and Yellowstone. We were glad we didn't go with the solution of staying in Grand Teton for the whole time and "commuting" to Yellowstone, which we had considered at some point. (even without the roadworks, I wouldn't recommend)

Booking flights and rental car turned out not to be too difficult: we got the flights we needed at a decent price and didn't have issues with our rental car rservation (although they hadn't prepared the car seat for us when we arrived. We could have done without the additional frustration)

Based on our hotel reservations, our program was as follows (details can be found by clicking on the links below).
Day 1: SFO-Jackson,WY. Drive to Old Faithful via Grand Teton.
Day 2: Old Faithful-Canyon-Lake
Day 3: Lake-Tower Roosevelt-Lamar Valley-Mammoth Hot Springs
Day 4: Mammoth Hot Springs-Norris-Old Faithful.
Day 5: Old Faithful to Jackson, WY. Fly home.

Overall, we had a great time. It was very relaxing to be either outdoors hiking, driving in beautiful sceneries, or having dinner in old restaurants with nice views. And we didn't have cell phone reception for most of the time, so no risk of being bothered with email:-)

It was a good experience for Daniel too, as he learned a lot of new words (he is an expert in "steam" and "bison" now), saw big animals and played in rivers. He did well despite spending so much time in the car or in a carrying backpack. He is at an age where we can be entertained with stories or crayons (at restaurants). This made it easier than it would have been a few months ago, I think. However, he missed his friends from daycare, as he kept asking for them all the time. Good it was only a few days and he is now back into his happy routine.

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