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Friday, 24 February 2012

Multilingualism and power struggles

For every family, there comes a time when the children show a preference for one parent. At the same age, the children want to make it clear that they have opinions of their own. Those two phases can manifest in different ways. The preference for one parent becomes visible if the child chooses only one parent for attention and hugs. The other parent is then being ignored for a while. Then, the roles change.

Children can express their opinions in many different ways as well. For example, they suddenly refuse to eat certain things. or they want to wear a certain dress to daycare and wouldn't be persuaded otherwise. Or they want certain things prepared in a certain way. 

Multilingual children have another way to show their preference for one parent or to give voice to their opinions: language. Did your child start saying "Neee" to you, instead of your usual language? Children are clever, and they know they can use the majority language to their advantage, especially if the parents don't speak it. It seems those children feel that the majority language (in our case, Dutch),  is something that belongs to them, and to them alone.

I think this is the motivation behind Ka's behaviour when she is preferring my husband. She shows me a pig, and says, in German: "Schwein!" I tell her: "Yes, Klara. Papa says Schwein, and mama says świnia". Klara then looks at me, and announces with great pride: „Klara Schwein!” by which she means: „Klara says Schwein”. Right now, to her, daddy's language is  the cooler one.

To manage this, a great deal of patience, and diplomacy is needed. First, we have to understand that children of 2 years of age can do so many things: they can walk, and run, and explore! But they're not allowed to do everything they want to, and not being able to decide for themselves is extremely frustrating for them.

There are countless rules that a child cannot understand because to him or her, they make no sense. And so the child starts to think that everything is forbidden. And they have to vent their frustration somehow. If they want to get back at their parents, any thing will do. Even what the parents hold sacred because it's a part of their identity: their language. 

The way the OPOL method works is that one language is assigned to one parent. But what happens if the parent is currently out of favor? Most likely, so will his or her language. On the other hand, this is one of upsides of this method because a good relationship with the parents can lead to a positive relationship with their language(s). 

If you are currently the parent that fell from grace, maybe it can help to realize that this is a phase. You will soon be "mommy" or "daddy" again. You will be cool again. In such moments, I keep reminding myself that K. will speak Polish again at some point. 

Secondly, it's a good thing to always speak in positive terms about the majority language (in our case, Dutch), and to learn to speak it. That way, the child sees that they can't really use the language against his or her  parents, because the parents accept and respect the majority language which will sooner or later become a part of the child's identity.

I noticed this funny thing - that Klara not only preferred her daddy, but also his language - a while ago, and decided to write  a post about it. However, none of my clever books mentions this. Maybe I am over-interpreting things? Or maybe she was just working on her German, and needed her daddy for more input? I can now see, a few months later, that I had been very upset about this, but I am not anymore. But please let me know, if you have similar experiences!
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Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Why I do not worry about Cinderella eating my daughter

I have many American friends. Their girls like to wear Disney Princesses costumes and pretend that they are Rapunzels or Cinderellas. And they look soo cute in their outfits! During one of the playgroup meetings we started talking about the book “Cinderella ate my daughter” by Peggy Orenstein. I didn’t read it, so I asked my friend to explain it to me.

She said that it was a book which describes how Princesses and the colour pink affect the way girls should think a real girl should look like. The toy industry of course, works hard to influence this image, making the parents buy outfits and accessories for their girls. This is described as a danger to girls because they then think that the way they look is more important than who they are.

I don’t agree. First, girls would want to behave like a girly girl at some point. They would want to wear beautiful dresses, and have everybody admire them. And second, if you actually have a closer look at the Disney princesses, you’ll see that they are not at all defenceless little girls. So why not teach your girls that it’s actually not the dress that makes a princess a real princess? Take for example Mulan. Brave, original, and clever. Belle? She saw beauty in the Beast, remember? Cinderella? Hard-working, humble and kind. Why is that not a good thing for a girl to have? Jasmina? She married a common man. Ariel? She went out of her way to be with somebody she loved. How courageous is that? Read this article for more if you are interested. Those princesses could be role models and are meant as such.

Now, enter my own daughter K. She doesn’t have a princess dress because we didn’t expose her to TV yet. And the reason why we didn’t expose her to TV yet is not that we think it’s a bad idea, it’s because we don’t have a TV. But K. wants to wear dresses and she loves it when I put ribbons in her hair. She also has a baby doll so that she can have “her own” baby. She helps me with the dish-washer, with cooking (including nibbling on the ingredients) and does her best to care for her little sister J. She can be sweet, caring and thoughtful.

K also plays with Duplo, is learning numbers and letters, she wears trousers sometimes, and looks awfully cute in them. She loves animals, but not ponies and puppies and kitties. For her, it’s tigers and crocodiles and sharks, oh my! Where I thought that children had an instinctive fear of spiders, K. loves them. She has me draw a whole spider family for her: Mama spider, Papa spider, J. spider, both Grandmas and Granddads spiders, uncles spiders.

I once made a lapbook for her so that she could learn numbers. It had pockets with numbers on them and if you lifted the pockets, you could see the number of dots corresponding to the number on the pocket. K. couldn’t care less about that toy until I had a brilliant idea and turned the dots into spiders by adding eyes and legs. She was excited and now wants to count all the spiders. 

So first, I think that if your child acts like a Disney princess, it might actually be a good thing. And no, I am not afraid that Cinderella will eat my daughter. I am more worried about the fact, that K., in onw of her wilder moments, might just eat Cinderella. 
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Friday, 17 February 2012

On co-sleeping

Another post I've translated from German. While I say we are not  co-sleeping, we actually co-sleep but we do not bed-share.

I don't mind if children share a bed with their parents. Some families do it and everybody is happy: the children are happy because they are in bed with their parents and feel safe. The parents love it because they enjoy the physical presence of their children. This is perfectly fine!

When I was pregnant with K, I wanted her to sleep in her own bed. All the books said it was safer and better for the child. But then she was born, and cried more than I had expected. Of course, I put her in her own bed to sleep, but I didn't get any sleep. And so I took her to my bed for the first few nights. This helped a lot. At some point, the crying became less and less, and I put her back to her bed after every feeding. This worked fine. She slept well, and I recovered.

Although K. slept in her own bed, she woke up in the night for feedings till we decided to stop by mutual consent at 14 months. She then slept so well that I was excited. And then I got pregnant, we moved to another apartment, and this is when we got the idea that she should have her own room. This worked well, she didn't seem to care where she was sleeping. Shortly after J's birth K. cried a lot, and we put her bed into our room. That was fine as well. 

We did the same thing with J: the first nights she slept with me, and then in her own bed.  She also slept well, and seems to be a happy, content baby. She is still sleeping in our room. For us, this proved to be a good compromise: we have our bed to ourselves but the children are close-by in case they need us. 

But I couldn't share a bed with my children. First, children, in spite of their small size- or maybe because of it- have  a great need for space. A king's bed should be big enough to make place for two adults and two children, right? Wrong. Somehow the bed seems to be made of little legs, and feet, and arms, and heads. And the poor adults have no space left in their own bed.And I need my sleep. And I can forget my sleep when my children share my bed. 

But there is another reason for not bed-sharing. I've found that to me, their presence is a  great source of enjoyment. And the enjoyment is such that I wouldn't be able to sleep. I would be happy that K. wants to cuddle with me, and marvel at how warm and soft she is. I would think of all the new things she has learned to say or do. I would stare into J's  little face and couldn't help but wonder at how a human being can be so absolutely perfect. I would count her toes and fingers and marvel at the simple fact that there are 10 of each. I would look at her nose and think that such a nose, it should be forbidden due to its overwhelming cuteness. Those ears, they can hear everything, and those little eyes, they see. I would admire all of this but I would not sleep. 

And my need for sleep is not compatible with having children. That is a fact.

Update: for a while K. wouldn't fall asleep anywhere but in our bed. For a while, we let her, but it was pretty hard. So, right now, we're back to sharing a room, but not a bed. Seems to work for us. 

What works for you? Do your children share your bed? Do they have their own rooms? Where do they sleep?
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Thursday, 16 February 2012

Geert Wilder’s new idea: “Report-a-Pole”

Geert Wilders is at it again. His newest idea involves launching a website that allows proper Dutch citizens to report bad, bad, bad Poles, Romanians, and other citizens of East and Central European countries if they had, in any way, offended said proper Dutch citizens, for example by working where a proper Dutch person should be working. And for lower wages! Ah, the nerve!

The website is well organised. If you click on “Meld uw verhaal hier” (“Tell us your story”), it will lead you to a form you can fill in. You can even  say how, where and when has the Polish person offended you. Of course, I am talking about Polish people, but it applies to other citizens of Middle and Eastern Europe. It is so easy! A few clicks and you can report your neighbour that you hate so much! After all, he is Polish!

In today’s Metro (update: I wrote this post a few days ago), the PVV has announced that thousands of proper Dutch people flocked to complain about the bad, bad Poles! This is not good. After all, Poles do not have a good reputation in Western Europe, and this doesn’t help. Yes, it is said that Polish people are lazy and drunk on top of being thieves, but of lately, another picture of a Pole has emerged: that of a hard - working, intelligent person. Or that of a sexy plumber. Either one is better than lazy and drunk.

I try to be a good person, whether I’m Polish or not. And, because I live abroad, I have a duty to behave at my best. I am not at home; I am a guest in the Netherlands. But not everybody sees it like that. However, I think behaviour has nothing to do with nationality, but with what kind of person you are.

I have found out about this new website through a friend of mine who linked an article on his Facebook wall. There, an interesting discussion followed. Somebody asked what we could do to counter this action. I wrote, referring to what one of the commenters said about the article, that we could launch a similar website to report Dutch people. It turned out this wasn’t such a good idea. Because as somebody pointed out, if we should start such a website, why not launch similar websites for other nationalities, thus making it possible to report anybody for anything? Taking eye for an eye (online in this case) is not the answer, it’s only being dragged down to Geert Wilder’s level.

So, what is a Pole to do? Well, for once, we could behave as if we were guests because that’s what we are. We should learn Dutch. We should learn about Dutch traditions and customs. We should read Dutch newspapers, or watch Dutch TV. Our children can go to Dutch schools or bilingual schools with Dutch. Integration is not assimilation, so we don’t have to worry about losing our roots unless we choose to.

On the other hand, maybe Dutch people could stop blaming things like economic crisis on Poles? We are not responsible for your crisis. Don’t make assumption about the whole nation after meeting only one Polish person. Don’t assume that just because there’s a cliché about someone that it is true. Please remember that you have benefited tremendously from the expats working for you! 

If a Polish person assaults you or steals your things, the right authority to report them to is the police. Not because they are Polish, but because they committed a crime. A website to complain about people because they are Polish will not do the trick. If anything, it will create more misunderstanding and more problems.
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Sunday, 12 February 2012

Going to surprise...

The big cities of the Netherlands are located close to each other, making it extremely easy to go from one town to another. This is especially the case in the province Zuid Holland where we live. 

From our place, we can reach Rotterdam in 15 minutes; Leiden in 20; Utrecht in 30 minutes, and Amsterdam in under one hour. The train connections are pretty good. You can even go further, beyond the border: to Brussels, Antwerp, even  Paris. But then of course, if you want to see Paris, it is highly recommended to stay there for a night, preferably longer.

It is then not necessarily surprising that every weekend, we decided to spontaneously go somewhere. Sometimes I knew where we where going. But more often than not, my question "Where are we going?" was answered with "Surprise!". I was not allowed to look at my train ticket so I wouldn't spoil the surprise. And I didn't want to look at it. I liked going to "Surprise". 

Sometimes, "Surprise" ended up being Rotterdam. Other times, it was Amsterdam or Leiden, or somewhere else. But we always did something exciting: we saw a museum or a botanic garden. And as we had one child at that time, everything was easy. We only had to pack the stroller with baby food and jackets, and diapers, but that was no problem. We saw, we visited, we admired, and we learned. We also went for walks. That was fun!

But along the way, we had another child, and K. needed more fresh air and movement. Since then, going to "Surprise" has become more difficult. The first time we went to Leiden with the two of them was difficult. K. had a bad day and J. cried. We came back home tired and miserable. Since then, we've been trying to keep our travel destinations interesting for K. With a little luck, she slept and we had a a few minutes to sit down in a nice restaurant and eat something without somebody asking for our food. Or we could use this time to see something. But sometimes, she didn't sleep during the day, and that was OK as well. Because she then ate with us. Most of the times, she behaved.

But we don't go to "Surprise" all that often now. And even if we do, our choices have become more limited. Usually,  going to "Surprise", means going to the Zoo in Rotterdam, which I am actually totally in love with. I also have this inexplicable fascination with Rotterdam so I always enjoy going there.

I hope that the girls will be big enough so that we can go to "Surprise" again. And if we do it, we want to do it right: we want to see a museum, to walk around and admire a new place, to explore the unknown. 

But to my surprise I have found that you can still go to "Surprise" with two little children and have tons of fun! The Netherlands have a lot to offer to children. For inspiration, you can look up this helpful Pinterest board!

Have you ever been to "Surprise"? Where did you end up going? Did you enjoy it?
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Thursday, 9 February 2012

My happy baby J.

At almost 11 months, my little J. cannot crawl, or scoot, or walk yet. She can sit, but not very well, and has to support her body with her hands while doing it. She can go in circles while on her belly, and that’s about it. But she is an extremely happy, content baby. She loves everybody, smiles and laughs a lot. She revels in my touch and just loves it when somebody lifts her arms and feet. She is very cuddly, and alert and interested in music.

When I expressed my concern about her not crawling at her daycare, the nannies told me that J. is such a contented baby. They told me: “She’s thinking ‘why should I ever care to crawl. I am lying here on my belly, and I really enjoy that!’”. They told me that every baby is different and that she is very active and alert, and will learn to crawl when she’s ready. This is nice to hear.
I love J's sweet babbling! She says “babababa”, “dadadada”, “yayayaya”, and “mamamama”. And, in the last few weeks that “mamamama” has turned into “Ma.Ma.Ma”. And then into: “Mama. Mama. Mama”. I am so over the moon! My little girl cannot walk yet but she can say “Mama”. This is music to my ears.

With K., I had to wait forever to hear that. Her first word had been “tata” (Polish for “daddy”), and she said “mama” when she was exactly 2 years and 3 days old. Now, this is not to say that I love J. more than K. This is not true. But the girls are very different. K. loves to move around, to run and tumble, and play. She is very good at doing puzzles, and is extremely interested in letters and numbers. She has the Will of Steel, and she is cute and extremely charming. The latter, of course does not get in the way of the former.

I like to think that she enjoys my company. She likes to do things with us, and to go places with us. She can be helpful and sweet, but she is not cuddly. Cuddling to K. is what “Soft Kitty” is to Sheldon. “It’s only for when you’re sick”. It’s also for when you are sleepy and tired or when you just had a temper tantrum. Other than that, no. And even when she wants to cuddle, she wants to be cuddled in a certain way. And I love that, too. She knows what she wants and lets everybody know that she wants it.

But it’s nice to have a child who truly enjoys being cuddled just for the sake of it. J. loves when I talk to her and she loves music. If I’m to make any assumptions now, K. is the scientist, J. is the artist. I think it’s fantastic to have 2 girls, so close in age, yet with so different characters, skills, and abilities. But right now I am in a state of total love for my baby daughter. She said “Mama”. 
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Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Are multilingual kids special needs kids?

If you ask a Dutch person what they think of bi-or multilingualism, they’d probably answer that it’s a great thing to have. They’d probably mention the opportunities that come with speaking two languages and belonging to two cultures. However, my experiences with the Dutch approach to multilingualism, as well as my discussions with friends in similar situations show quite a different picture.

I remember when I took K. to our appointment with the Consultatiebureau to get her speech development checked. And while they know K. grows up with three languages, the nurse looked rather shocked. Luckily, she was clever. When she saw that K. didn’t understand all instructions in Dutch, she had me repeat them in Polish. She then understood that K’s speech development is fine. But not everybody is so lucky.

An expat friend of mine is married to a Dutch man. They have a 3-year old daughter, a bright clever girl who speaks 2 languages and understands a third one. But to the nurse at the Consultatiebureau this doesn’t seem so impressive. To her, the girl’s Dutch is never enough. Although the mother explains at every appointment that her daughter is bilingual and that therefore her speech development doesn’t follow the same path as other children’s, she is told every time that her child’s Dutch level is not enough.

This brings me to my point. It seems that while the Dutch consider multilinguality a good thing, they have no idea how to handle it at health institutions or schools. Also, not all languages were created equal. While English and French (and maybe German) enjoy a high prestige in the Netherlands, more “exotic” languages (like Polish) are considered weird and a hindrance to a succsesful integration. Multilingual children are measured by the same standards as monolingual children. And while at some point, they usually catch up on their Dutch peers as far as language is concerned, at the beginning they are at a disadvantage.

So are multilingual children special needs children, like those with Autism, ADHD, etc.? Yes and no. Multlilinguality has clear benefits to a child’s development, like a better understanding of how language works, and a it will be a big help when the child starts learning future languages. But in a society where integration is considered a priority, and where only a few languages are held in high esteem, those children are seen as "different". 

Also, the lack of good reputation of a language can prevent the child from learning it, thus making the child monolingual where they had a great chance to speak two or more languages. Multilingual children sometimes have to go to “special” (i.e. bilingual) schools, have additional training, and spend more time on languages than other children their age. Parents who want to raise multilingual children have to spend more time on language activities with their children than Dutch parents. Often, they are confronted with institutions that have no idea about how multilingualism actually works.

So yes, multilingual children are special needs children, but in a positive sense, more like very bright children who need assistance to fully uncover their potential. And I think the additional effort that comes with having a multilingual child is totally worth it.

One other thing. Eowyn Crisfield of On Rasing Bilingual Children proclaimed 2012 the Year of Talking About Bilingualism. The discussion I had with a Polish woman in the library yesterday makes it clear that it is indeed important that we talk about bilingualism. There are so many myths and misunderstandings surrounding this area of language development. So let’s talk about it: let’s blog about it, let’s share our stories and experiences, let’s discuss it. This is another thing we have in common with parents who have children with special needs: we need lots of help and support. I know I do. 
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