One Overly Analytical Mother's Obsessive Musings about Raising Small Children

Saturday, October 30, 2010

When NY Firefighters Read Arabic Books: Thoughts on Raising Bilingual Kids

My husband and I are attempting to raise our two young children to speak both English and Arabic. Attempting is the operative word here because raising bilingual kids is one heck of a difficult task. You have to make a conscious and conscientious effort every single day. Even when the entire world around you is speaking English, you have to speak in the other, or second, language.

Foreign language acquisition experts argue that the best time to learn a new language is in early childhood. The earlier the better. The baby's developing ear attunes itself to hear the sounds of language, as the child learns how to actually verbalize, or copy, those sounds. There's an anecdote that goes something like this: If you haven't heard the particular sounds of a language by the age of two, unless you have a very attuned ear, it will be nearly impossible for you to ever reproduce those sounds with native accuracy in adulthood because your ear literally cannot hear those sounds in order for you to verbalize them.

But the experts also tell us that children do a remarkably good job of keeping all of this in their little heads. Sometimes they have a hard time sorting out which language is which, or which alphabet is which, but eventually it will all make sense. It's not unusual for a bilingual kid to start talking a little bit later than "normal" (whatever that is). I have to remind myself that now because my daughter isn't saying a whole lot, even though she should be. But when she does, I can't seem to understand it--it's as if she's speaking both Arabic and English. For example, one of her favorite foods is a tomato, which is "bandoora" in Arabic. During mealtime, she'll point to a tomato, and say something like "doo--ta," as if she's combining the two languages into one mishmash of the two.

Not to put even more pressure on parents who are also attempting this feat of raising bilingual kids. Do it now or forever lose your window of opportunity!

The day to day realities of raising bilingual kids range from the hilarious to the gently thought provoking. Of course, there's a lot to think about when one of the languages belongs to an ethnicity that Americans associate with terrorism. My kids are too young to know about September 11. They do not know that, as a result of 9/11, some Americans harbor prejudice and fear against Arabs. They do not even know that not everybody else is like them. Not everybody else has a daddy who is from somewhere else, speaks another language, and eats tabbouli and olives for breakfast. Because they are too young to know any different, all of these things are normal to them. And why not?

But now and then we'll have a moment that causes me to chuckle....and then to really think. The other day, I was reading a bedtime story to my son who is infatuated with fire trucks and firefighters. The picture book we were reading was about a New York City fire department, and some of the things that they do. In one of the last pictures, it showed a group of weary firefighters relaxing after a hard day of putting out fires. One of the firefighters was reading a book, and his small book's page was a bunch of squiggles. My son looked at that and said: "Is that an Arabic book, mommy?" It made perfect sense, though. Before I learned how to read Arabic, I too thought that Arabic looked like a bunch of squiggles and dots. When we were kids, my sister and I used to pretend to "write Arabic" by making lots of squiggles, dots, and loops. Everything looked all flow-ey, punctuation was backwards, and you read from right to left. How weird is that?! That's not a's just squiggles. 

 But seriously. I think of the NYFD and I think: these are the people who were on the front lines, who not only had to deal with the immediate destruction of the Twin Towers, but also with the toxic aftermath. They put their lives in danger to save people who were in danger. They saw the death of their fellow firefighters during the attacks, and are now discovering lingering health problems as a result of their heroism. I don't know for sure, but I don't think that NY firefighters kick back after a hard day and read Arabic books. Ten years out, things still feel too raw. Too edgy. The way that being Arab still causes people to look at you out of the corner of their eyes and wonder if you have a bomb in your diaper bag. I just hope that by the time my son is old enough actually to be a firefighter, reading an Arabic book in the firehouse won't be cause for alarm.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Why Am I Still Wearing Maternity Clothes?

When I was pregnant for the first time, I couldn't wait until I got a little bump so that I could wear maternity clothes. By the time I was pregnant for the second time, however, that novelty had worn off, even though there was something oddly comforting in only having three pairs of pants and four tops to choose from. Even though I kept wearing the same few things over and over, I knew that I would do so for a finite period, and then boom!  I'd return to my fashionable digs again.

This brings me to the question: Now that my daughter is sixteen months old, why am I still wearing maternity clothes? I can--finally--fit into my jeans (only three pairs), but more often than not, I'm reaching for those long maternity tops to pair with the jeans. Have I "let myself go?" Become just another of those tired-faced moms who can't be bothered with what they wear? Am I just "so over" the need to look fashionable? To match? To appear in public without stains and other toddler...residue?

At first it was a  question of nursing and of baby spit up and orange baby poop that leaked through two layers of baby clothes. Who wants to wear something nice only to have a baby spit up all over it? I needed clothing that facilitated frequent nursing also. Except for the rare mishap, those days of spit up and explosive baby poop look like they're in the past. I do not go through outfits at the same pace as my baby does but I still am dirty and stained by day's end. So my "good" clothes are still packed away in bags in the storage closet. You know, the stuff with tags that read:  "dry clean only;" "hand wash only;" "lambswool;" "silk;" or the rare "cashmere." And then I have a few things that have tags that actually say "do not wash." What? I bought a pair of summer wool pants from Mango that actually say that. You've got to be kidding me. I never wear those now.

But I think that it's time to move beyond maternity clothes. Last weekend I gathered all the maternity clothes together, washed them, put them in a huge bag, and took them to Goodwill. I also put the Mango wool "do not ever wash" pants in there. This has left my closet looking rather empty because other than the maternity clothes, I haven't bought new clothes for about four years. No kidding. I walked into the Gap the other day and saw stirrup pants on display. Does anybody want to wear stirrup pants...again? Weren't they bad enough the first time around? After four years of wearing the same stuff to death, I think it's time to acquire some new digs that will be fashionable and suitable for mothering two kids who love to play outside in the dirt, eat messily with their hands and then use mom as the "human napkin."

So, readers and fellow moms-who-are-more-together-than-I, I need some advice from you. Without sounding like a whiny teenager, what can I wear? What can I wear that will withstand being washed at least once a week? That will repel toddler stains (dirt, food, and other mystery stains)? That will still look halfway decent?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Potty Training: 1, 2, and 3!

I love overhearing other people's conversations. Like most writers, I'm a shameless eaves-dropper, a lurking listener who loves to overhear a good dish. Trouble is, sometimes I overhear a conversation that tempts me to pipe in, which I know I can't because then I'd be caught out.

But here's what happened. I was at the park the other day and overheard two mothers talking about their kids. No, they weren't really talking, but doing that sort of pretending-not-to-be-bragging-about-my-amazingly-gifted-child thing that mothers can do. One mother said to the other with a pleading look in her face: "I'm not sure what to do about little Y!  She potty trained herself when she was two and a half. She goes to the bathroom all by herself, and even gets up at night to go pee and then goes right back to sleep without even disturbing us!"  The other mother was nodding, obviously waiting for the punchline that would indicate that there was something wrong going on here. "My problem is that little Y does so much for herself but that she oftentimes does things in the wrong way! She puts her own shoes on, but puts boots instead of sandals on; she dresses herself but wants to wear summer clothes when it's cold out!"  Finally, she gets to her query: "How do I direct her without being, well, directive?"

I'm discovering that I have quite the inner grouch these days. I was a lurking listener who wanted to jump into the conversation, and to give this mother a little bit of perspective. What, for instance, did this little scenario have to do with her little Y's miraculous feats of potty training? Absolutely nothing. I wanted, really, really wanted, to give this mother a counter example, which would really put things into perspective.

My son will be four years old this December. This past summer, through much cajoling, M&Ms, Jelly Belly candies, and gummy worms, we accomplished the feat of getting him to pee in the toilet. Now he does so, but insists on standing up, and is in such a rush to pee and be done with things, that his, er, aim is often all over the place. Sometimes the rim of the toilet bowl will carry the remnants of his excursions but I've learned that I also have to peek onto the floor next to the bowl as well. I know that he  has washed his hands when the hand towel is tossed onto the floor. We go through about three pairs of underwear and pants a day because, you see, the kid is too busy to pee, and often finds himself rushing to get to the bathroom in time. I cannot take him to the bathroom, either, because the more I try to get him to pee, the more he holds it and will not pee, just to make a point. For goodness sake, this is a kid who might get a UTI just out of spite!

This brings me to number two. Forget about it! When the kid needs to, he asks for a "nappy" to do his business. I decided this week that we need to move on, and try using the toilet for number two. I picked my bribe carefully: a LEGO fire truck that he was desperate to have was promised if he would just "go poopy in the potty" for three days in a row. This ended up backfiring hugely and there was a kicking-and-screaming-ruckus. You would have thought that the boy was being waterboarded in an American prison in Iraq. Now the boy won't even ask for a nappy to poop in, and instead holds his poop all day until bedtime, when he gets a nighttime diaper. As soon as the diaper is on him, he goes poop. I've traumatized him, you see.

Number three is using the potty at nighttime. I think that children who are accustomed to nursing to sleep develop deep associations between sleep and drinking milk and perhaps, drinking in general. My son drinks sippy cups and juice/milk boxes as though he is nursing: with the spout over his tongue, and all in one great, bit gulp. Even though he's now almost four, he gets a faraway look in his eyes and I know that, for the moment, he's not to be disturbed because he's "nursing."  The only way that I was able to wean my son off nursing to sleep (this happened when he was 22 months) was by substituting a sippy cup of milk. He is stubbornly clinging to the milk at night routine, which means that he is peeing all night long. My husband and I are afraid to forego the nighttime diapers because we know that he will just pee all over the bed, which he oftentimes does anyway, wtih the diaper that frequenly overfills its capacity. Remember, these are super-absorbent nighttime diapers.

I know, I know. I keep trying to remember those consoling adages:  All in due time. He is a boy after all, and some boys are notoriously late in their potty learning. The more you push, the more they pull. But all I seem to want for Christmas, my birthday, Thanksgiving, Halloween, and every other holiday is for this kid to just do this one thing that to some parents, seems so simply achieved.

Then again, maybe I need to just let go of this, take off the pressure, and accept the fact that I'll be potty training him and his baby sister at the same time next year.