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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.

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

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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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