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Aug 26, 2010

Where is everybody?

Our summer vacation in Europe was generally a success. I was a little bit concerned about the kids' reaction to new environments, especially because Daddy was not traveling with us. For them, the only piece of consistency was being with me. Other than that, we expected to visit 2 different houses, try a whole set of new activities, speak in 2 languages other than English and meet a variety of people the kids had barely met (but who were eager to interact with them). Not to mention the whole issue with long travel and jetlag. In short, it could have been a recipe for disaster, and I was expecting at least similar issues than the ones we experienced during our Christmas visit.

Overall, though, things went a lot smoother. Granted, we had some unavoidable issues with jetlag. Other than that, Daniel seemed to adjust very well. He asked for Daddy a lot for the first few days, but he didn't make a big deal out of his absence. He enjoyed all the activities we proposed and proactively asked for more (e.g. riding a boat as we drove by the beautiful Neckar river, going to the swimming pool several times). Even in France, where he had to meet 13 family members and other occasional visitors, he did really well. Most of the time, he seemed confident, enthusiastic and didn't throw the kinds of tantrums we saw over Christmas. Relief!

Interestingly enough, though, he seemed to become more needy and unstable as time went by. I think there was only a limited number of new experiences and people he could process without blinking. Over time, he wanted more alone-time with Mommy, and he became very preoccupied about where everybody was and where we were going. Due to vacation schedules, some of our family members had had to leave our vacation home days before us, just when Daniel had gotten used to them. This later generated concerns every time someone left the house, even to do a quick shopping trip. He wondered if they were gone for good. Daniel started asking "where is XXX" all the time. Also, with all the new activities we ended up doing, he also wondered more and more "where are we going?" This became his daily litany. On the way back home, he must have asked this question every 3 minutes, even though I think he understood from the beginning that we were going home (although, when I was asking him where he thought we were going, he didn't always have the right answer). I think it was either too much to process at that point, or Daniel wanted to be reassured all the time given that his self-confidence was low. It got to the point where I got very tired of answering the same question over and over again, but I tried to remind myself that it was Daniel's way of processing the new changes. He didn't do it on purpose to bother us, he just needed the explanations. And we needed to help him if we wanted to avoid other types of reaction to his stress.

Even now that we have been back for a few days, Daniel regularly asks where we are going on the way to school, a route he knows by heart. I am hoping that, as we settle in in our routine again, Daniel will go back to feeling self confident again, so that he can turn his questions to new things he wants to learn. (I am sure, though, that I might regret wishing this once I have to answer the "why" questions 10 times in a row!) In the meantime, I need to be patient, and to be glad that, overall, it was the best Europe vacation Daniel has had so far.

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Aug 23, 2010

Trilingualism update at 2.5 years

We just came back from a great vacation visiting family in France and Germany. We all had a fabulous time. It was great to catch up with family and the kids -especially Daniel- enjoyed new experiences such as swimming in the sea, taking a ferry, seeing fireworks for the first time, etc...

During our stay, I was particularly interested in observing Daniel's progress in French and German, since he was going to be immersed in these languages for several days, and interacting with people who don't speak English.

Progress at the beginning was slow. I remember rehearsing with Daniel how to ask his cousins to play with him in German, if he needed to. While the sentence was quite simple and while he knew all the German words separately, he just couldn't repeat the sentence correctly. He tried several times with good efforts, but each time he got the words mixed up or ended up finishing the sentence in English (OK, granted, he had come from a 10-hour flight and his brain might not have been in prime shape). It just seemed as though he wasn't able to process anything else than English to make sentences. This was in line with what we had observed before.

However, over time, German and then French started to sink in better.
Daniel started repeating sentences that were said in front of him, in the correct language (as opposed to translating them in English as he had been doing for several months).
His progress was mostly limited to repeating recent sentences, though. When "flying solo", Daniel still resorted to English as his primary language.

For instance, once we were in a train and his German-speaking grandmother talked to another mom to explain that the tunnel she had mentioned to her daughter was still far away ("der Tunnel ist noch weit weg"). Daniel heard this, and as often, wanted to contribute to the conversation. He repeated the sentence he heard from his grandmother -in German-, but added his own interpretation, to demonstrate he understood -in English. The final sentence ended up being: "der Tunnel ist noch weit weg. The tunnel is far, far away. We can't see it yet. We have to wait." Good logic... Wrong language!

In France, we had a similar experience, where Daniel started repeating sentences he heard in French more and more often. At the end of the 10 days, he was even able to "improvise" and use sentences he had heard in French several hours/days before. He was really good at reminding his cousin of things he wasn't supposed to do even when no adult was saying it (e.g. don't throw your spoon -> Ne jete pas la cuillere). He must have heard the sentence often enough at the beginning of the stay to remember it. And it was great to see that Daniel could use negatives in French. Until now, he might have used the right French verb when talking to me, but he added an English "no" to communicate the negative. Now, he was able to say a full negative sentence in French, although the use was limited to a specific set of instances. Also, we noticed that Daniel was including a lot more French words in his sentences, even though he never used them with me in the US. It was very encouraging to see that he had the vocabulary, he just needed to have an incentive to use it.

Now, we are back in the US and Daniel is again surrounded by English-speakers most of the day. I am not sure how long the German and French immersion will last, probably not long. But it's encouraging that, within a few days in each country, Daniel was able to make some progress. It seemed as if the German and French vocabulary and grammar were dormant in his brain, and they were able to come to the surface within a few days. As we settle back in the US, we are noticing that the French and German vocabulary are still coming up from time to time. Daniel still primarily speaks to us in English, but when he notices that we don't understand (in a loud environment for instance), he will look for the corresponding word in French or German to make himself understood better. It's great to see that he is aware of the different options, and he is trying to adapt to his audience if they don't understand him the first time.

Another example Daniel's new awareness of trilingualism was when we were listening to announcements in a tourist tour we did (that came in English, French and German). Once the French announcement came, Daniel recognized that the lady spoke "like mama". This was a very encouraging comment for me. Once Daniel is more aware of the 3 languages he knows, he should be able to focus on the right one depending on the audience he talks to.

We look forward to the next reunion with family to see what progress Daniel will make by then.

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Aug 7, 2010

Europe trip update - jet lag with kids

I survived my first solo (intercontinental) flight with 2 kids, aged 2.5 years and 3 months! The trip itself went quite well. It was a night flight, which helped a lot. Once the kids fell asleep (with some difficulties for Charlotte due to the over-stimulation of the new environment), they both slept through the flight. It was even one of the most quiet flights I had been in in a long time.
It was great to come and visit family. The kids loved being with the grand parents and they enjoyed the extra attention. Daniel had the grandest time, with all the activities planned, from visiting the zoo to riding the bus and trains, going on a boat trip, etc...all very exciting! He did really well during the days despite several bumpy nights due to jetlag.
Jetlag definitely is the bitter side of the trip. And, contrary to what doctors say, it affects babies a lot. That is, unless you are unlucky to have a baby who never settles into a day/night rhythm. With 9 hours time difference between California and Germany, the kids definitely had a hard time adjusting and we lost the great night schedules we had been enjoying at home..

Poor Charlotte had no idea what was happening to her. She would wake up happily in the middle of the night and be ready to play, like she did at home during the day. She didn't appreciate to be put back in bed right after feeding, and cried several times up to an hour when this happened. It took 3-4 days for her to stop crying when put back to bed at night, but she never reached the point where she slept through the night -European time- as she had been doing in the US for 7 weeks. Hopefully, she will be able to readjust to her natural schedule quickly when we come back home, and I need to go back to work.

Daniel was easier to handle, fortunately, as he can respond well to incentives ("you have to try to sleep in order to be fit for the zoo") and understand "rules" ("stay in bed until the sun comes up"). I had also tried to explain beforehand that we would have some problems with sleeping, although I don't think Daniel understood the reasons why. At least, i felt that he wasn't as surprised as Charlotte. That said, he still had a hard time adjusting and got impatient when he still couldn't fall back to sleep after laying quiet in bed for an hour or more. It also didn't help that he would hear his sister wake up and cry in the room next door, and saw that Mama went to take care of her. This triggered his own crying spell, and It sometimes felt that the kids were taking turns waking each other up. Unfair!

Somehow though, despite the many rough nights, I didn't experience this vacation to be exhausting. The first time we had come to Europe with Daniel at 3 months ( same age as Charlotte right now), I had a much harder time. I was disappointed to lose the precious nigh routine we had finally achieved at home. And I felt bad about the long and unavoidable crying at night. This time around, I was a lot more prepared to go through this. I also know that, even if the cries sound really desperate, the baby won't be traumatized. Daniel is a very happy and flexible baby, he loves coming to see the grandparents in Germany. So, jet lag and the sleeping discomfort isn't affecting his memories of the great vacations he has had in the past.

I still hope that things will get better over time. It's not very relaxing to enjoy less sleep on vacation than at home!

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