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Monday, 21 November 2011

Sibling present at childbirth?

A friend asked me what did I do with K. when I went into labour with J. I answered: “We took her with us to the hospital”, because that’s exactly what we did. That answer seemed pretty obvious at first but then it got me thinking.
Actually, to avoid having to take K. to the hospital, we had planned a homebirth. But then, my water broke, and it was yellow. The midwife said that while this was no emergency, her rules required her to transport me to the hospital. And so we woke up K., put her into her car seat, and off to the hospital we went.

When we had the 36th week appointment with my midwives, we asked them whether it was possible to take K. to the hospital with us if it was necessary. They told us that this was no issue at all. And so, when we arrived, the midwife’s assistant didn’t give us any weird looks for taking such a small child to the hospital. She even brought a bed for K, who unfortunately refused to go to sleep. This was all too exciting.

I must say that K. behaved really well. She wasn’t fussy, she was smiling at the midwives, and showed a deep interest in the beeping machines. My husband was there, playing with her, and making sure she was not interrupting me. I actually liked having her there. Her presence reminded me why I was doing all this hard work: to have another sweet, perfect little baby girl.

Only after J. got out, all dirty and screaming, did K. look at her, and said: “No, no!”. She seemed not to realise what was going on, and was somewhat confused. Then my husband took K. home to sleep a little, and I stayed at the hospital with J. When they came to pick me up 12 hours later, K. saw her little sister again, all cleaned, and dressed up. This time, she seemed proud and happy to have a little sister. I was proud of her to make it through J's birth so well.

My friends reacted in different ways. One told me that she couldn’t imagine to have her son there during birth, as she was in lot of  pain while in labour with him. Another one said that she could have just left her daughter alone with her husband, and gone to the hospital herself, if she didn’t have anybody to look after her child. I was thinking about that, too, but then I decided against it. Another one said that she wouldn’t want her child at birth. Frankly, I didn’t give that one a lot of thought. But it’s a legitimate concern: after all, giving birth is not an easy experience and we don’t know how children react to it. And then, another one had a home birth, and her older daughter didn’t even wake up. So, different opinions, different approaches.

Also, I started asking myself questions. Like, what would happen, had there been any complications? What if the birth would have ended with a C-section? What if it had been more painful? What if I had more children? In the end I felt so lucky to have had a quick, easy labour without any problems and complications. I was also lucky because K. behaved really well and didn’t interrupt me at all.

But I wouldn’t have wanted K. to witness her own birth (38 hours in total, 3 hours of pushing, lots of bleeding, and a long recovery). I wouldn’t have wanted her to witness a C-section. I’m OK with her seeing a easy birth, but you never know. It might change into really stressful really fast.

And then, witnessing a birth might be easier for some children than for others. It depends on their age, their character, and family relations. Would I have done it again? Definitely, had I known that it’s going to be like this. Had things been any less perfect, definitely no.

For all of you pregnant ladies from my toddler group, in the Netherlands, taking your child to the hospital with you is an option you can consider. Otherwise, ask friends to take care of your older child. Ask family to come around your due date. Consider a homebirth. Consider leaving your husband with your child. You have many choices. Think about them, and make the decision that’s best for you and your children. 
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Wednesday, 16 November 2011

When it comes to parenting, you just can't win!

It is hard to be a parent. We are tired, and every day we have to make tons of important decisions that will impact the lives of our children forever. We also get tons of advice from family, friends, nurses, and also strangers. Often, Internet forums are the place to go. 

Imagine you are looking for help and support in those forums. You want to meet parents in a similar situation or ones that had experiences similar to yours and managed to solve their problems. However, sometimes you can meet another type of person. The type that criticizes, offends, and generally thinks that they are so much better than everybody else.

Whatever you do as a mother, you are always wrong. You had a natural birth? Wrong! You had a C-section? Wrong! You're nursing? Bad, bad, bad decision! You're formula-feeding?How could you? You're a mother and you work? You're egoistic and only think of your career. You've decided to stay at home with your children? You're stupid and only capable of mommy-talk. This happens in all aspects of being a mother: starting with pregnancy, birth, to raising children, and even nutrition. 

Seriously, people, I don't get it! Moms and dads are looking for help and all they get is the feeling that they're bad parents and that they never do enough for their children. Does it help them? Not really, because now they're feeling even more guilty than before. All their decisions are bad, their methods, parenting styles, ideas, they're bad, too! You can't win as a parent. Your decisions will be criticized, because suddenly strangers feel free to stick their noses into your life just because you have children.

Whatever you do, it will be wrong. but keep on doing it anyway, because the way I see it, you're probably doing a tremendous job!
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Monday, 14 November 2011

The Little Kid Info Fair 2011 in Delft

The Little Kid Info Fair took place on November 12th, 2011 at the UNESCO- IHE in Delft.
It was dedicated to parents of children between 0-4 years old. The Fair provided information about topics like childcare and primary education in the Netherlands. I had the chance to go there and have a look at the Fair. Many different companies and organisations concerned with children were represented. Among them were: Delft MaMa, Global Photos, Poppedijn, and many others. At their stands you could ask questions, get information leaflets, and meet friends. Cupcakes and tea/ coffee/juice were sold as well.

Apart from gaining information and networking, it was also possible to attend workshops about Primary Education in the Netherlands, Raising Bilingual Children, and Daycare and Preschools. The reason I actually went to that Fair was the workshop about Bilingual Education, by Eowyn Crisfield, teacher and self-proclaimed “renegade bilingualism advocate”.

I found this workshop extremely interesting. Most of what I heard was consistent with my instinct and knowledge about languages (and I studied languages and communication, after all), but it was great to have this confirmed by a specialist. In her speech, Eowyn Crisfield discussed the many myths and misconceptions surrounding bilingualism. She started with the importance of knowing the theory of bilingualism, for both the parents (so they know how language actually works) and others (so that parents can explain why they decided to raise their children bilingually). She then went on to talk about setting both communication and literacy goals for the children. Eowyn Crisfield advises everybody to prepare Family Language Plans specifying in detail which languages will be dealt with when, and how.

Then, it was time for questions. Interestingly, of all the families present, each had a different family situation: some were raising their children with just two languages, some with more. Some families intended to stay in the Netherlands for longer, others might be going back to their country. Those questions were answered in an individual manner. I found this talk very interesting, and came home even more convinced that we’re doing the right thing- and doing it the right way, too.

After the talk I went home to be greeted by a hungry J. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay longer. But I met friends there, and had a great cupcake with some orange juice. It was very nice, and educational as well!
All participants of the Fair had the chance to win a free photo shoot with Nomad Photos after filling in an evaluation questionnaire. The first 50 people to sign up for Eowyn Crisfield’s blog could win a free Family Language Plan. Maybe I’ll be lucky?

Here are some more links to the companies and organisations represented at the Fair with short descriptions:

Delft MaMa: is a non-profit organisation launched by Lucy Cunningham helping international mothers and mothers-to- be get settled in the Netherlands. They provide support and information for such moms, but also playgroups and regular meetings are organised. Those playgroups are a great way to make new friends, and meet some extremely interesting people as well.

Global Parents: started by Lynn Morrisson and Emilie Yane Lopes, it’s a great source of information about all things Dutch. Pregnancy and birth, childcare, a whole community of parents, and personal stories and experiences. A daycare finder for all the Netherlands and a review section for products and places are included as well. Also check out Nomad Photos , their sister site. If you’re looking for maternity photos, a family photo shoot, or just a gift certificate to give to a friend, they’re all possible.

Piekaaboe is a cute little shop in the old part of Delft. They sell baby and maternity clothing, toys and nursing accessories. Their maternity clothes are beautiful, and I’m actually still wearing some of them. The only thing that I would criticise about this place is that it’s rather little, and it’s hard to go there with a stroller.

Poppedijn is a toy shop specialising in toys made of natural materials and fabrics. Although I have never been there, it seems to me that they have a big variety of toys, books and accessories for children of all ages.

Information about speaker Eowyn Crisfield: she is a English teacher, language consultant and speaker for Passionate Parenting where she gives workshops about Raising Bilingual Children. She also provides services for schools and companies, advocating for bilingual education. She blogs at: http://onraisingbilingualchildren.wordpress.com/.
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Wednesday, 2 November 2011

M is for multilingualism, D is for dilemma

I would never have considered the idea of teaching K. letters when she was 2 years old. I have read so much on hothouse parenting and how you should never push your child to do something they're not ready for. Reading and writing, I thought, they can learn at school. "Let her play" was what I was thinking.

But one day I was wearing a t-shirt. It had "POLO JEANS" written on it with big, purple letters. K, was fascinated by the weird forms. She couldn't ask me about them, but she could use her finger to point at the letters. The "O's" were particularly exciting. At some point I started explaining: "This is an O. And this is an A". I focused on the vowels because they were easier to explain: Ooo, Aaaa, Eeee. Easy.

I showed her that she can find letters in books as well. And I showed her a "K", and I told her: "This is K. It's the letter your name starts with". She loved this! She then requested to know the letters of all other family members. And so I showed her: "This is T for tata" (daddy in Polish), and "This is M for mama". Then I added "B is for babcia" (grandma), and "D is for dziadek" (grandpa). Then, Pieter and Robin, K.'s best friends, joined the group, representing the letters P and R, respectively. 

This worked beautifully! K. learned many letters in the shortest of time, and I was so proud of her! And then she also wanted her daddy to teach her letter. And this is where the difficulties started.

Because, the fact that something can have two names is one thing. But that the names for that thing can start with two different letters is another thing altogether. Because K. pointed at "T" and said "Papa". And "Papa" does not start with a T. "Tata" does. We were all very confused. 

We set out to find a solution, and then we found one: we were going to put together a list of all the words that mean the same thing and start with the same letter in both languages.That wasn't easy. It was hard to find such words because Polish and German are very different. Then it often happened that words were pronounced the same way, but the spelling was different, take "Giraffe/żyrafa and Computer/komputer as an example. 

Other things were easy, like names: (R)obin, (P)ieter, (O)li, (W)itek, (E)nder, (D)aniel. Some animals also came in handy: Löwe/lew, Tiger/tygrys. Easy! So were technology and instruments: (A)uto, helikopter/Hubschrauber, Gitarre/gitara. Some words were more difficult: What about „I“? „Instrument“? Too abstract. „Internet“? How do you explain that to a 2-year old?

This problem only got more complicated when K. showed me a "V" in a Dutch book. There is no "V" in the Polish alphabet. I knew the answer, of course: „V“ is for „Vater“ (father), and for „Vogel“ (bird) and there are many others. But, as we follow the OPOL (One Parent, One Language) method, I wanted to keep the alphabets seperate as well. Again, I thought of a solution, and then found one: „K.“- I told her- „This is Daddy's letter". She understood, and  went to her daddy, so he could teach her all about the letter "P".

It seems logical to us that, if there are mom's and dad's langauges, there should be "mom's and dad's letters, right? Therefore, my husband is responsible for : „V, X, Q, ß, ä, ö, ü“ and I take care of the weird Polish letters „ą, ę, ć, ł, ń, ó, ś, ż and ź“. 

For now, we have solved this problem. But I keep asking myself questions that require answers. For example, some sounds are pronounced differently in Polish and German. The Germans pronounce their„O's“ and „E's“ in a long, closed way, while in the Polish language those vowels are kept short and open ("oh")- in German as opposed to the Polish "O" that is similar to the "O" in the word "oven".

We also have to think when to teach K. (and later J.) to read and write. According to Tracey Tokuhama- Espinosa, children should not learn to read and write in 2 languages at the same time if those language use the same alphabet. But this is the case in Polish, German and Dutch. So, the question remains: Polish and German come before or after Dutch? And in what order? 

I wouldn't be asking myself all those questions if I had monolingual children. But multilingualism and multiliteracy (the ability to read and write in many languages) go hand in hand. And putting those two things together makes a lot of sense but is not easy.

On the other hand, it is exciting to follow K's language development. She makes progress, and she can talk about things in a way that blows my mind, although her vocabulary is still rather limited. So I hope that while she makes progress with speaking, she will make progress with reading and writing as well- in her own time. I am excited that she shows interest in letters at all!

Update: I wrote this almost a year ago. In the meantime, many things have changed. K. is becoming more and more vocal. She has learned many more letters, and almost knows the whole alphabet, just because she considers learning it to be fun. She sees letters everywhere (a zigzag is a "M" for mama to her, and any oval shape is an 'O" for Oli- her uncle). Also, I have noticed how worried and scholarly I sound in this post. Thankfully, I have long ago reminded myself that the goal now is not to teach her reading and writing right  (have I mentioned that she is almost 3?), but helping her to become familiar with shapes, and sounds of letters. She can now recognise simple words: Mama, her own name, her sister's name, the titles of her favourite poems. And for an almost 3 year old, that is awesome, and more than I could ever imagine!

How did you teach your child to read and write in many languages? I'll be happy to read about your experiences!
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