children

Lodestone

I wake to

your call

in the night

we lie parallel

I I

two, at 2am

asleep

your nose

tucks beneath my shoulder

I’m your lodestone

head buried, body pivots

north

to 3 o’clock

how can one so small

be half my life

how can one so small

rob half my night

how can one so small

take up so much room

in the bed

 

Photo: https://unsplash.com/@hirsch

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A life in two languages

 

Flamingos at Zurich Zoo

Tell it to the birds? I didn’t have anything better to illustrate this post.

I’ve been thinking about language and identity again lately. Mostly, I guess, because I’ve finally managed to re-start German lessons (yay!). Himself and I are having a private tutor come once a week. It’s probably not quite enough for my ideal language-learning scenario. I’m starting to realise that when it comes to German, I want a bit of language S&M: I need to be tied down and whipped into shape with a fairly rigorous routine or my natural laziness / procrastination / fear of failure kicks in and I don’t do the homework. I probably need the “deadline pressure” of a more intensive course, because I’m also a people-pleaser who wants to get her gold star. Anyway… it’s a good start.

I’ve also been trying to get my thoughts straight about English and other languages and raising bilingual (or multilingual) children. I’m on a Facebook group about this and there are some interesting discussions. The ambition of some parents and the abilities of their children is truly astounding.

While there’s plenty of literature around now about the benefits of being bilingual, I was surprised to discover that up until fairly recently, bilingualism was considered detrimental to children … I guess they’re thinking of kids who don’t know the language struggling in schools and stuff? However, recent research all seems to suggest that bilingualism can help people become better problem-solvers and have more empathy, among other things. Here’s a post that debunks some theories about raising bilingual children.  And here’s a blog by Olga Mecking, a Polish woman living in the Netherlands, about some of the negative things people say to parents raising multilingual children. I like the latter because Mecking seems to subscribe to one of my own parenting mantras: Butt out of how other people are raising their kids!

There are still issues, however. I thought this blog post on code-switching by an Aboriginal writer (I’m afraid I don’t know her name!) was very thought-provoking about the power of language skills and how, even if you know a language well, being a less-competent speaker can reinforce negative perceptions, particularly if you’re part of a minority and/or ethnic group that people are already prejudiced against. I’ve also witnessed plenty of online snidery about people whose English spelling and grammar is not up to scratch. And while the ex-subeditor in me mostly agrees, the atrocious speller-of-German-words in me feels some despair at this. Of course, context plays a big part – I guess people aren’t excommunicating their friends who misspell your and you’re on fb status updates (or maybe they are) and it’s reasonable to expect, say, the teacher of your children to have a pretty good grasp of basic grammar and spelling! Anyway, it suffices to say: judgement based on language skills is definitely A Thing.

And this is not just something that happens to the disempowered. I had dinner with a Swiss friend recently who said that, when doing presentations at his work (a multinational consultancy), his “best weapon” is to have his colleague – a Londoner – do most of the talking. The Polish blogger I mentioned above also says in her post that some of the negativity she’s experienced from others in teaching her children her mother-tongue stems from negative perceptions about Poland and/or Polish people in Europe. This worries me a about speaking German too, which my mouth tends to totally mangle. But then again, I don’t feel like people are prejudiced against native English speakers in quite the same way.

Because, in terms of power and privilege, not all languages are equal, are they? In some ways, English is the Bully Language of the world: the one everyone needs, if not wants, to use to access a huge chunk of popular culture (music, movies, cartoons, video games…), get along in business, and use the internet. I was reading recently about how English is also the international language of the aviation industry (ie: those who build and maintain the planes), and who knows what other industries besides?! In this respect, English can feel like an oppressor that seems to exert an unfair dominance on many aspects of modern life. But English is also the language of cool. And protest – I see a lot of graffiti in English — “fuck cops” springs to mind, which I see often in Zuri.

Not that I’m complaining about winning the language lottery. Although, on some levels, being a native and only-English speaker makes me a bit sad. For one, I have try a lot harder to learn another language by the osmosis of popular culture (although being in a non-English-speaking country – sort of! – does help here). And then there’s the fact my “own” language will almost never be a “private” thing to me and my family – because everyone speaks a bit of English!

And yet, and yet… I do wonder.

I am starting to question if the sort of knowledge and understanding of English I have — as a native speaker, word spinner and language-lover —  is actually quite different to what a lot of English as a 2nd or 3rd language people have. Even so much as to almost call it a different beast. “Business English” or “Tourist English” as opposed to Anglophone English or even Australian English. That said, I have friends who are not native-English speakers whose language skills are, almost without exception, impressive to perfect. So English is certainly not an exclusive club only open to native speakers, by any means. In fact, having English as your mother tongue can even be a disadvantage, according to this article, which talks about how native-English speakers can run into trouble when doing business because their overly-deft use of the language alienates others.

However, for me, losing that deftness of language – skills I’ve spent my whole life honing and polishing – is a genuine concern. Because I do wonder if, by learning German and using German more and more, my English will suffer. Even if just a tiny bit, and that thought makes me feel unhappy. And I worry about this for my kids — I would hate to think of them ending up in a sort of Jack-of-all-trades,-master-of-none situation with several languages in their heads but no deep, wide and abiding knowledge of one in particular. (OK, probably unlikely to be an issue and certainly not at this stage!)

Back to the Bully Language thing: I hope I don’t sound like one of those Men’s Rights or White Rights assholes by complaining about this from my position of privilege. And hey, maybe I’m being a bit too precious about “my” language here. OK so it is one of my few marketable skills, but perhaps I should just chill the fuck out about it all. Is it true that you hold on tightest to something just as you’re about to let it go?

A disclaimer: I’ve been sitting on this post for more than a week now and I’m still not sure it perfectly expresses what I want to say, but it will have to do. I’ll no doubt revisit this topic again in future. In the meantime, I would be interested in your thoughts in the comments below, so… Publish and be damned!

21 unexpected benefits of being a sleep-deprived mother of two

Making music together

  1. I get things done in a crazy adrenaline rush with the idea that it might give me time for a nap later. Today I dropped my eldest at Kindy, took the empties to the bottle bank and completed my grocery shopping by 9am. I never take a nap later.
  2. I give less fucks about attempting my abominable German in shops now, and then switching halfway through to English anyway. Haben sie putzessig? Um… you know… für… putz-er-(mumble, mumble) cleaning?
  3. Sometimes I don’t even bother putting on makeup before leaving the house. This is a big deal for me.
  4. Likewise, I tend to choose one outfit and wear it all week. Maybe a fresh top here and there. Fuck it. Who am I trying to impress?
  5. When my husband’s away, I can get both kids through dinner-bath-story-bed in about one hour flat. If he’s around to help, it takes 3. Once they’re down, it’s wine o’clock.
  6. That said, I drink less. I just can’t handle the hangovers when I’m up several times in the night and there’s no lie-ins. So that’s a health benefit.
  7. I’m thin from all the anxiety. I may look haggard, I may eat poorly, but I am thin. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t appreciate that.
  8. Trips to the basement laundry room, rather than being a chore, are now a delightful “me-time” mini-break. Ditto for showers. 5 minutes when I can’t hear if someone’s chewing on the power cords or stealing each other’s toys. Bliss!
  9. When I see my friends, I can download information about everything I’ve been thinking, feeling and doing for the past week in about 30-minutes flat while we’re both kid-wrangling. My friend then does the same. We’re like socialising supercomputers. Or something.
  10. If I think I can hear my kid crying in the Kindergarten playground (it’s right next door to my house), I “just walk away” – maybe my heart is breaking but I gotta be callous and let him work it out himself. I’m so tired anyway: fuggeddabouddit.
  11. I used to be great at remembering birthdays, sending cards etc. Now they just whizz by and I don’t bother. Meh. Does the world need more Hallmark? I think not.
  12. Emails from friends are precious missives – I often read them several times over and look forward to sending my replies. Please write! 🙂
  13. I’ve become so efficient at clothes shopping – nup, nup, nup, yep that’ll do. At the moment, I no longer even consider dresses (because: breastfeeding), shoes with heels, “office wear”, anything with tight sleeves (can’t heft a baby with constricted arms) or anything too tight really, straight skirts (can’t sit on the ground), plain tops (show too much dirt), etc. It makes shopping very efficient, if rather boring. I don’t shop much for myself anymore.
  14. A night out is so rare, I get stupidly excited. I can’t believe I used to take this for granted! It’s almost worth having no social life in exchange for how wonderful it feels when I do finally get to go out of an evening. Almost.
  15. The precarious loveliness of small overtures – two playdates, a few yoga classes, a lot of information-sharing about our kids, and we’re becoming friends. We’re all just hanging by a thread, it feels like sometimes we just catch each other by the fingertips before one of us slips through the net.
  16. The look another mum gives you when you think you might have gone too far, but it’s fine because we’re all so exhausted and we understand.
  17. I’ve only got time to “play it forward” – I can’t remember enough day-to-day to return favours and I’d like to think we’re all helping each other as and when it’s needed. Plus, it’s SO NICE  when it comes back around.
  18. A true appreciation of the money vs. time/effort equation. Here in Switzerland I call it the “Going to Germany” conundrum (cheaper prices, but more time and effort).
  19. I’m learning to switch off my phone and shut down the laptop and try to spend “quality” time with the kids… um not right now as I’m writing this, obviously.
  20. Getting better at saying “no” or, at the very least, “not now”. It’s still hard and I don’t like it. But the saying-no-anxiety seems to melt away quicker with so much else on my plate!
  21. My emotions are much closer to the surface. I cry easily, whether it’s due to happiness, sadness, anger or stress. When I do something enjoyable (sightseeing, swimming, a good conversation, dinner out) I really love it. I may be finally learning to acknowledge my emotions. It’s a crazy time. I wouldn’t swap it.

Tunnel Vision

The $250 view (only seen once crisis averted)

When your kid is sick, your whole focus narrows down to a fine point. P was really unwell on Thursday so I had to do an emergency dash to the the Kids Medi Centre in town. I tried calling a couple of local pediatricians (you don’t take children to normal GPs here apparently) but none would see a “new” patient at short notice. I guess I need to get him on the books at one of these places for future situations. I am a bit rubbish with doctors though. Neither myself, HI nor P has been ill very much, thankfully, so we generally don’t think about it until it’s almost too late!

Anyway, I’m really glad this place exists. It is right at the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) so involved an unexpected tram trip into town. Usually this would be a pleasure, but tunnel vision meant I barely noticed my surroundings. Running around Bahnhofplatz like a crazed mother-bear trying to find the door to the bloody place before P spewed. The little gem held it in until we got to the reception, making for a dramatic entrance. ha ha ha – oh I have vomit on me.

We are still in the process of setting up our medical insurance here. Everyone legally has to take out health insurance within three months of arrival/ living permit being granted. The irony is, I had spent that very morning filling out the forms for ours. But since it’s not yet in place and I don’t have a Medical Card, I had to pay upfront for the doctor. CHF 218! (roughly = AUD / USD). OWCH. Then another CHF35 for the medicines, which I would also be able to claim on health insurance if we had it. Luckily, it will be backdated to 1 April, so I should get some of the money reimbursed.

Anyway – once P had thrown up and squirmed through the examination, he perked up a lot. So much so that by the time we were leaving the doctor, he didn’t want to go (because they had a cool fish tank in the waiting area). I was relieved, seeing the light at the end of the sick-toddler tunnel, so figured w’d hang out a bit and get our money’s worth by snapping some pics of the view. I guess their prime pozzy adds to the cost of treatment? And maybe there’s a charge for vomiting? Whatever. He is much better now, and that’s all I care about.