Friday, June 30, 2006

Words words words

At seventeen months (today, in fact), Small Boy doesn’t talk much. Oh, he babbles all the time and has long one-sided conversations with the car keys, the television remote, our cordless phone, his toy phone, and his chop-stick; but you’d be hard pressed to find a word in there that an adult Swiss, German, or English speaker would actually recognize as a word. Since boys generally begin speaking later than girls, and since bilingual children generally begin speaking later than monolingual children, and since we’re raising a bilingual boy in what is essentially a tri-lingual environment, I try not to worry about this too much. But given that I’m such a motor-mouth I do find it curious and, indeed, a tiny bit worrisome.

A lot of parents of bilingual children will tell you that their children didn’t start talking until the end of their second year, but I’ve seen some literature that suggests that the delay for bilingual children relative to monolingual children is actually closer to the delay for boys relative to girls; that is, about four to six weeks rather than the much longer delay assumed by conventional wisdom. I can’t explain this discrepancy, and I tend to trust parents’ assessments of their own children, so when my friends with bilingual children tell me their children didn’t start speaking until quite late – compared to where they "should be" on a developmental assessment chart, anyway – I tend to believe them. And in light of the linguistic chaos Small Boy negotiates on any given day, I figure I can afford to cut him some slack in the Onset of Speech department.

R and I are taking a one-parent one-language approach: each parent speaks one and only one language with the child. It sounds straightforward, and for the most part it is, but consider: although I speak only English with the Boy I often speak German (not Dialekt) in front of him - with my in-laws, in a store or restaurant, when we visit the Mütterberaterin, with some of the mothers in play group. He hears me switching back and forth, and that must be confusing on some level. I know he knows the difference between the two languages, because sometimes he gives me a funny look when he hears me suddenly and unexpectedly speaking German (if I’m with an English speaking girlfriend and we run into a non-English speaking friend in the street, for example). It must be even more confusing when he watches R switch from Dialekt with him to English with me, unless we’re at his parents’ in which case he speaks Dialekt with Small Boy and German with me, unless his parents aren’t in the room and then we might speak English or German, depending; but if the two of them are visiting his parents without me R stays in Dialekt the whole time. I get confused just writing all of that so I can only imagine what Small Boy’s mental map of the world must look like. So really, I’ve tried not to worry about the delay.

But that doesn’t mean that I’m not pretty jazzed that Small Boy has suddenly discovered words. Not many, and nothing complicated, but he’s got a fistful of words now, words to describe the things near and dear to his heart. Wawa for water; baww for ball; bawoo for balloon; tuh for sun; tahr for star; memeh for musik; and bam for both buses and trams (and who can expect a 17-month old to tell the difference between a bus and a tram anyway?). Anybody who knows German might notice something about those words. They’re all cognates or close enough to them; water/Wasser, ball/Ball, balloon/Balloon, sun/Sonne, star/Stern, music/Musik, bus/Bus, tram/Tram. There are some exceptions in his little vocabulary: ah dahn for all done when he’s finished eating and dahn for down (and yes, the dahn in ah dahn and the dahn in dahn do sound different) are clearly English, and R and I haven’t heard him use their Swiss equivalents. But buhmuh for flowers is clearly Swiss (Blumen). To date his vocabulary seems to be English or English-Swiss sound-alikes except for that buhmuh. And that Swiss word is telling: his Grossmütti always brings him flowers and he loves making a big show of sticking his face in them and sniffing them - I can hear him inhaling from across the room. Grossmütti must say Blumen a hundred times for every time I say flowers, but I think more than just the repetition of the word it’s that he connects flowers to Grossmütti and her world, and her world is Swiss.

If I’m right, it’s a good sign. He’s learning language in context, using the words that make the most sense to him, making associations, building a mental world and figuring out where things belong in his own world.

At 17 months Small Boy doesn’t talk much, but he’s got a fistful of words now. He’s got wawa and he’s got tahr and he’s got buhmuh.


My son is instinctively bilingual.


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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Look! It's the Washington Monument!

I'm aware that this blog is all over the place. It's called The Xpat Files, but I don't think I'm a very good expat blogger. I certainly don't do anywhere near as good a job explaining Switzerland as Sandra does explaining Korea, or Mausi Germany, for example. Heck, if you want to read about life in Switzerland I should in all good conscience just redirect you to This Non-American Life. I'm not really an infertility blog either; lord knows I'm no Julie or Karen. I claim to be an aspiring writer, but I don't post my work, such as it is in this Era of Sleeplessness, like Christina. I appear to suffer from a blogging identity crisis -what is it that I want to be - and lack of direction that mirrors my life outside the computer. So if I have readers who wonder just what sort of blog this is supposed to be, the answer is I don’t know either. But rest assured that at least you’re getting a true reflection of my real world self. I may be scattered, but I come by it honestly.

I’m trying to fit the different pieces of my life - expat, mother, writer, wife, sometime weaver dealing with secondary infertility - into a coherent, dare I hope for pleasing, whole both online and off. Based on available evidence, I’m not entirely sure the project is going all that well, either online or off, but I’ll keep plugging away at it because, really, what the alternative? So I’m jagged around the edges, so the puzzle pieces don’t quite fit together yet. That’s okay. I tell myself that it’s okay. Most days, in my heart of hearts, I have to confess that I don’t think it’s okay, that I think I should be there already, wherever there is. Published author, self-important political speech writer (hey, I lived in DC, I considered it. Not, probably, as hard as I should have, but I considered it), accomplished weaver with a twelve-shaft loom, whatever. Somewhere. I should be somewhere by now, right? I should have something to show for it all. I have tried over the years to find some comfort, some truth, in the saying “the journey is the destination,” but I grew up with “the journey sucks and furthermore the destination will only disappoint you” sort of parents, so this effort has only been partly successful. (Besides, when the journey includes needles and gonadotropins sometimes it does, in fact, suck. Unless it ends at Small Boy. In which case it’s pretty okay.)

I’m trying to figure it all out. And I’m scattered. I know that. And all of those scattered pieces are going to show up sooner or later on this blog. And that means that sometimes, like now, you’re going to get blind-sided by a post about fertility treatment. I can’t not write about it. Infertility has been the most visible landmark on my horizon for three and a half years now, appearing around every bend in the road, lingering in the rearview mirror no matter how many miles I think I have put between myself and it. For those of you who know D.C., it’s like the Washington Monument – it seems like you can see the damn thing from everywhere. There’s just no getting away from it.

Now instead of running away from it, I’m running back towards it. Dr. L recommends a frozen embryo transfer (FET); he has a lot of confidence in The Hockey Team. (Actually, I went into that appointment assuming that we were obligated to use any frozen embryos before we created more with a fresh cycle. I don’t know where I picked up that little piece of misinformation, but it seems like the sort of regulation Switzerland would impose. I was wrong. I would be allowed to do a fresh cycle but Dr. L feels good about an FET, and I do too.) It will be a medicated cycle (no needles this time around, however) and following transfer I’ll use the same round of progesterone support – Crinone (again, thank heavens, no needles)– as last time. I’m superstitious – since last time gave us Small Boy I’m all for not changing a thing that doesn’t have to be changed.

In order to get all of this started, I need to wean Small Boy. I have mixed feelings about that but since I don’t have a choice, I’m trying not to waste my time on mixed feelings. I try not to think that if the FETs fail and we never have a second child I will have cut short the only breast-feeding relationship I will ever have in my life. No, I try not to think that. I try not to think about my secret belief that my experience nursing Small Boy, which has been so blissfully easy and problem-free from just moments after his birth, which has been a source of endless comfort and delight for both of us, was nature’s apology for the less than easy act of getting pregnant. That, after all of the trouble, I deserved at least that much; and that it’s ending now. I try not to think about that.

Of course, while not thinking about it I have also managed to not act on it – there is no way he’ll be weaned by my next period, which means we can’t begin with an FET then. So we’ll start the month after that, except Dr. L is on vacation; the month after that the lab where members of The Hockey Team wait to be called up to the Big Leagues is closed; the month after that Dr L is gone again; the month after that R and I had hoped to take Small Boy to Yellowstone Park, to the headwaters of the Madison River, to his birthright; and suddenly it’s October. How is it possible that we left Dr. L’s office with the assurance that we could start immediately and we’re going to end up starting in October?

The journey is not the destination. My destination is a second child, and it just got farther away.

Is that the Washington Monument I see?


Envy is an ugly thing

I'm not sure I can be friends with the new dad after all. Turns out his son is one of those kids. Sleeps twelve hours at night, takes two-and-a-half hour naps every afternoon. You know, one of those kids. I'm not sure I have the emotional energy to stave off the surge of bitter jealousy tinged with resentment that would come flooding into my life as a reult of prolonged exposure to the well-rested parent of one of those kids.

Who knew I was so petty?

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The first haircut

Every once in a while, at a cafe or playing in the park, somebody would ask me how old Small Boy is. They'd look at him, and say, Wie alt ist sie? Which, for you non-German speakers, translates to how old is she. This always struck me as completely odd, because I think Small Boy pretty clearly looks like a boy. Plus, when in doubt, German gives you a socially and gramatically acceptable way to ask about a child of undetermined gender. Child, in German, takes the neutral. Das Kind. So it's perfectly acceptable to ask Wie alt ist es? How old is it? Seems like the safe course to take if you can't figure out if a kid is a boy or a girl. And really, Small Boy's pretty boy like.

Until you look at the hair.

I guess we let it go a little long, huh?

So on Saturday, in addition to getting a new forward-facing car seat because he'd outgrown his infant car seat, Small Boy got his first haircut. (Yes, we did the car seat and the haircut back-to-back. Yes, it was like beating myself over the head with a hammer emblazened with the words MY BABY IS GROWING UP. Yes, I cried.)

This is the result.

After the initial tears (mine; not, to my great surprise, Boy's), I have to admit, I love the haircut.

Small Boy looks a lot like my brother in this picture. It's interesting, my brother married a German woman - US citizen but pure German blood lines on both sides of her family - and both of his children look very much like our side of the family. I married a true Swiss - in 400 years I'm literally the first non-Swiss on the family tree - and Small Boy looks very much like my side of the family. I think it's like in horse-breeding: our US-mutt genes - a bit Irish, a bit Swedish, a bit English, a bit Czech - came in and kicked the pants off those pure European blood lines. They'd gone a bit soft, you know? But it's strange to think that here I am, this stereotypical US Mischling no more than 25% of any one thing, and my son is 50% Swiss. As strange as it must be for my mother-in-law, who lives 20 minutes from the village of her birth, to think that her grandson has two passports.


Saturday, June 03, 2006

Lost in translation

I walked past the bookstore on my way to Dr L’s office yesterday* and noticed that Natalie Goldberg has a new writers’ book out, Schreiben in Cafes (Writing in Cafes). On closer inspection, I saw that Natalie Goldberg does not have a new book out. Schreiben in Cafes is the German title for Writing Down the Bones. (And Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird in German is Wort für Wort.) This happens to me a lot; last year I thought Barbara Kingsolver had written a new novel, Im Land der Schmetterling (In the Land of the Butterflies), but it turned out to be the German title for Prodigal Summer. Sometimes the titles fool me, like with the Kingsolver book. Often, they just annoy me. The German name for the movie Legally Blond is Natürlich blond – naturally blond, which kind of takes all the clever zing out of the name, doesn’t it? Why would a person do that? And The Cider House Rules in German is Gottes Werk und Teufels Beitrag, which the best I can awkwardly translate is God’s Creation and the Devil’s Contribution. Really. Why would a person do that? The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time in German is Supergute Tage oder Die sonderbare Welt des Christopher Boone (Super Good Days or The Strange World of Christopher Boone). If you’ve read Curious Incident at least the title makes sense, but of course they obliterated the allusion to Sherlock Holmes by changing the title, didn’t they?

I don’t know why I get so peeved about these title changes but they really, truly annoy me. Into Thin Air is published in German as In eisige Höhen, which is literally In Icy Altitude (or Heights) but I suppose could be more literarily translated as In the Icy Realm or something (anybody have any suggestions?). R says In eisige Höhen makes him think of a high cold mountain top, which is of course right, but into thin air has so many layered meanings in English. Climbing Everest literally takes you into the thin air but also the climbers who perish on Everest might be said to have vanished into thin air. A double meaning I’m sure Krakauer had very much in mind when writing, and naming, his book.

There are things I love about German – I love the efficiency of some German words. Stillpause, for example. In Germany and Switzerland breast-feeding mothers are entitled by law to breaks during the day during which they can nurse their child or pump breast milk (they’re also entitled to a clean and private place to do this, i.e. not banished to the bathroom or something) and it’s called a Stillpause. What would we even call that in English, how many words would that take? A breast-feeding break, I guess. Nursing time? Somehow Stillpause strikes me as more elegant. But sometimes, when I see these mangled book titles, I wonder why German speakers seem to try to beat the capacity for subtlety out of a language that, stereotypes aside, does have that capacity.

Gottes Werk und Teufels Beitrag, indeed.

* Yes I realize I haven’t said anything about our appointment. I got overwhelmed with information; a bit panicked, frankly, by how quickly we could begin an FET – as soon as my next period, which is less than three weeks from now (and that is more than you ever wanted to know about me); and R and I haven’t really talked about the appointment yet so I don’t want to share my thoughts with the Internets before I share them with my husband. I’ll say only this: it would be a medicated cycle, so I have to wean Small Boy before we can do anything. Hm. Yes. Well.

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