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Apr 25, 2009

"Mommy!", the sweetest sound in the world?

What mom isn't eager to hear her sweet baby call her "mommy"? This is usually one of the first words a baby can speak, and when the baby can call for his mom, it reinforces the deep connection between the 2... At least, that what I felt when baby D. started calling "mama" at about 11 months. From then on, I really felt special, for better or worse (there was no way ignoring his cry at night anymore, when he was so clearly asking for "mama")

Yesterday, however, I was shocked when baby D., very excited to see me at his daycare, called me ... "mommy". The proper English name, but not the name I am teaching him in French. To my dismay, calling me "mommy" has already become his new habit. How to respond?

In a sense, I am proud of him. First, this is one of the first times where he really clearly articulates the "i" sound. Most importantly, I am impressed that he had made the connection that I was the equivalent to him of what other moms are to his friends. I had never taught him to call me with the same name he hears his friends call their moms. He understood the connection himself.
4 months ago, when visiting family, baby D. had struggled to understand how to call people. At that time, he had just mastered 3 words: "wawa" (dog), "papa" and "mama". He had learned that every dog-looking dog could be called a "wawa", and the logic of generalization worked well. But every time he was trying to call a man "papa" or a woman "mama", we were telling him it was wrong. The same logic didn't apply, and this became confusing to him... to a point where he would call everyone around him "mama". As we came back home, with fewer people around, the notion of "papa" and "mama" was reaffirmed, and the confusion disappeared. Baby D. started working on adding a lot of new words to his repertoire... until "mommy" became part of his active vocabulary, and replaced the "correct" word he was using before with me. It's great baby D. got the logic of generalization right this time. (If all other kids call their moms "mommy", I should be able to do it too!) I can't say it's wrong here, but what to do now?

This is a question I have started to ask myself as some of baby D's new words are only in English (all done, more, apple, book) or in German (Uhr, Blume). I don't want to discourage him by ignoring his great progress in language development. On the other side, I want him to learn the proper French words as well, and to connect the right words in the right language. Experts say that parents should always stick to one language as going back and forth between languages is even more confusing for kids. For now, I usually try to respond positively to the word he speaks (in whichever language) when he is right, but I make sure to repeat the corresponding word in French. Not sure if it's sticking quite yet: Truck is still "ta-te" despite me repeating "camion" at least 10 times per day... a sounds baby D. should be able to reproduce by now but shows no interest in even trying. Now, I will probably need to do the same with "mommy"/"mama" in the hope of re-teaching baby D. the right French word here.
I think I should set my expectations that this type of situation will re-occur with other words (or the same words for that matter), as baby D. comes across new learning opportunities. A lot of parents with similar experiences warn that raising kids with several languages requires patience, perseverance and trust. I think I am just starting to discover what they mean...

UPDATE: At 19 months, Daniel has completely mastered the words "mommy" vs "mama", "daddy" vs "papa". He knows to use the French/German words with me and my husband, even to describe another friend's parents to us (e.g. "le papa de Nina"). When talking about me to his English-speaking daycare teacher, he will clearly say "mommy" but can turn to me quickly and call me "mama" right away. He gets it!

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Apr 16, 2009

Toddlers and memory

For the last few weeks, Baby D. has shown strong interest in vehicles, and developed an active vocabulary to talk about cars, trucks, firetrucks, tractors, buses, planes (most words are based on the corresponding French words, but the sounds are still very rough). No real surprise here: It sounds like boys tend to develop an affinity for vehicles at an early age.
This makes car trips a lot more fun now. Baby D looks for vehicles he knows and points excitedly to any bus, firetruck or else, respectively shouting "ba", "pa-po", etc. He repeats the exercise over and over again, without getting tired of it. (interestingly, until about a month ago, he couldn't help but fall asleep in the car at the end of a long day at daycare... but now, sleeping has become a lower priority against playing the vehicle game)
While language skills are expected to grow exponentially at this age, what I find most fascinating is the underlying memory capacity of such small beings.

On the way to daycare, we drive by an intersection where a truck has been parked for a few weeks. Day after day, Baby D. has been seeing the truck and happily recognizing it as "ta-teh". Over the last few days, not only has Baby D. been able to describe the truck, but he has started to anticipate seeing it, about half a mile before we arrive at the intersection. As a first time parent, I still can't believe that baby D. has enough memory of the road to daycare to anticipate when he should see the truck. This is a lot of information to coordinate in such a small head!
Similarly, I have been impressed by a few other events in the last days.
When getting out of the house, we saw a cat ("miao") in the neighbor's driveway. Cats are another of Baby D.'s current interests. Since we were in a hurry, we didn't spend much time looking at the cat. I quickly put Baby D. in his car seat and started driving out of the driveway: backwards, turn left, turn right. At the end of this maneuvering exercise, I was about to drive in front of the neighbor's driveway. Despite all the turns and the few minutes that had passed since we saw the cat, Baby D. turned his head to the right direction in order to have a look at the cat one more time from the car. I couldn't believe he would still remember that there was a cat nearby and where to look for it from the moving car.

I am very impressed at how quickly these memory and concentration abilities are developing. A few months ago, Baby D. wouldn't even consider sitting down to read a book. He was all about walking, climbing, exploring. But now, books seem to be very interesting, especially the ones where he can reinforce his growing vocabulary. Baby D. already masters a few books very well: he can point to objects when we name them, and he has words (sometimes his own) for most of them. Yesterday, Baby D. took it one step further: he read himself a book, completely unprompted. Sitting on the couch by himself, he grabbed a book closeby, opened it and started pointing and naming the objects featured in front of him. What a drastic progress in such a few months! With these new concentration and memories abilities, no wonder that language skills increase exponentially in babies' second year. It will be interesting to see what Baby D. learns next!

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Apr 10, 2009

Looking for the perfect shoe online

Since the day I became a mom, it became clear that the idea of spending an afternoon at the mall, trying on clothes store after store would become a memory of the past. I didn't have the energy to organize a shopping trip with the baby, and even less interest in spending time away from him. Shopping trips to the mall were replaced to long online shopping sessions late at night.

It wasn't a drastic change in fact. I had been shopping online for years, and my work forced me to be a somewhat savvy online shopper. So I didn't mind.... until I needed to find the perfect shoe to wear for my sister's wedding. I already had the dress and I had a very specific idea of the shoe I needed: the color, the height, the style, etc... Easy, I thought: Online stores have large assortments, easy filtering tools, reviews. I should find the perfect shoe in no time!
Well, not that fast. It turns out that assessing the exact color on a computer screen is quite difficult, and it didn't matter if the shoe fit 1,000s of other women if it doesn't fit me. So, I ended up buying 4 pairs of shoes one after the other and returning all of them. This process gave me the chance to compare my experiences with online returns.

Overall, I thought retailers did a good job in processing the returns and working through refunds and communication. This is big progress compared to recent years as far as I can tell (I used to be very skeptical about returns of items bought online from hearing about bad stories).
My main issue concerned the process of physically returning the items. For online-only retailers, I didn't really have the choice: I had to send back the shoes per mail. While I wish I didn't have to spend the time repacking everything, the mailing label was usually easy to organize. I guess that's all I could expect.

Retailers with both online and physical presence tend to have an advantage as they can accept returns in their stores. Those retailers who don't offer this service are not taking advantage of their full potential. First, customers are starting to expect to have this option when returning an item. It helps address the hassle of re-packing and mailing, and remove the uncertainty of not getting the refund quickly. So, there is a strong chance of disappointing customers if the option isn't available (this happened to me). Second, the subsequent store visit could generate additional impulse sales and increased loyalty that I am sure no retailer would want to miss.
That said, it's not a good customer experience either when multi-channel retailers push customers to return items in their stores to the point of making it difficult to return per mail (this happened to me as well). While this might be the best solution for them, they are missing the concept of convenience from the customer standpoint. What if there is no store around me? What if it's more convenient for me to drop a package at the post office? Retailers shouldn't make assumptions on behalf of customers about the easiest way to return items. They should just give us the choice.

I hope that online retailers will continue to work on making online returns as easy as possible, so that next time I (or many other customers for that matter) need to return an item, we don't have to spend time figuring out what options are available and arguing with Customer Service about what is the most convenient way of returning an item from a customer standpoint.

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Apr 3, 2009

First words

Since our son is being raised in 3 languages, we were particularly anxious to hear his first words. Which language would he prefer to use? Would he use words in the right context?

At 10 months, he finally uttered his first word. Language? None of the 3 we were teaching...
The word was "wawa", and as far as I know this doesn't have any meaning in neither English, French or German. But this represents the sounds dogs make, in French. So in a sense, he started with a French word (what a happy mom I should be!). It was interesting to notice that he started with an animal sound, instead of what I thought was the most typical mommy/mama or daddy/papa words.

While over time, he added more words to his vocabulary (including about 10 words that sounded like "bah" for bottle, bus, ball, bath, etc..), his interest for animals remained strong. And the naming pattern continued for several months. For the longest time, dogs were "wawa" although baby D definitely understood the word for dogs in all 3 languages early on. As he started learning about other animals (at around age 1), this pattern continued. Baby D would refer to the animals with their sounds, including the sound of frogs or birds (which I can't imagine are easy to produce for a young voice). Was it his way of simplifying his vocabulary since animal sounds are pretty similar to each other in all languages, while the true names can differ tremendously? He won't give us the answer...
What is encouraging is that he can point to images of the right animals when being asked in German, in French or English. So at least, he is able to understand, something he learned quixkly in the last 2 months. Time will tell when these words will finally become part of his active vocabulary.

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