The magic of being bilingual.

On the way to gan this morning, Koala spotted a firetruck on the road. Obviously, this made his morning, and for the rest of the way cried out in excitement, “Fire truck! Fire truck woke up! Fire truck is here!”

He was still talking about it as we walked up to the gan door, so to get him moving a little faster, I said, “Why don’t you go inside and tell your friends about the fire truck!”

That got me wondering. Would he tell them in English? Would they understand? Does he talk about fire trucks in Hebrew? Does he get as excited? Does he get more?

We reached the door and I kissed him good bye. He flew from my arms, burst into the room, and with everyone’s attention yelled: “!מכבי אש! מכבי אש”

So there’s that.

In the last few months I’ve noticed more articles about bilingual advantages. Maybe because it’s clearly on my mind daily and maybe because new studies are constantly being reported.

Here’s a quick summary of the science: Why Bilinguals Are Smarter (NYTimes).

Here’s an excellent post about the socio-national-political-academic advantages: Teach your kids English (Times of Israel)

 

 

Fadichot leaking all over the place.

Every other week or so when I pick up Koala from his gan, his ganenet passes me the pants I dressed him in that day and I look down and see him wearing the poofy red replacement pants we keep there.

Always with the same explanation: “He leaked again so we changed him…”

I guess I figured his diaper wasn’t changed enough or he was getting water all over himself. At least, it always sounded that way.

Today, my husband went to pick him up and got the same story. Only, he actually understood what the ganenet had been trying to tell me for months:

His pants are too big and fall down his legs.

She said: “Nozel lo.” I heard: “He leaks.” But apparently, she was being poetic and saying that his pants are sliding down his legs because they’re too big.

And I kept sending him in them every week.

Why didn’t she ever tell me they were gadol midai???

Immigrant parenting fail: 2840635 Me: 0.

Immigrant parenting fail.

Ok, maybe I don’t exactly fail yet. But I’m headed in that direction.

I attended an event tonight for the ‘gan mothers’ for which I had to push myself to go, and, not surprisingly, a room full of women + socializing + not knowing anyone + doing it in Hebrew is a mess of a combination.

And I’m totally freaked out. I want to be strong for my kid(s). I want to speak up for them. I want to give them the kind of sticking-up-for that was given to me.

I don’t want to be speechless or tongue-tied.

Currently, I don’t know how to do that.

I don’t think I’m cut out for this in English. I’m definitely not cut out for it in Hebrew. Not without a lot of work. How much is enough?

What have I done?

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t freaked.

Though the truth is it’s only starting to dawn on me how awe-some and terrifying it is.

I’m beginning to comprehend what I’ve done. It really is dawning; first the expectation of the rise, and then the initial tips of the rays. Pretty soon I think I’ll need the sunglasses.

With Koala proving to us more and more – by the day – how much his toddler vocabulary includes Hebrew words, I find myself stepping back and holding on to the counter for stability. I’m raising my child in Israel. Another country. Not where I grew up. Not where English is society’s first language.

It took an Israeli friend at our house on Shabbat to realize this. Sure, the huz and I  have joked about his sudden bursts of ‘mayim!’ or ‘dai!’ but when a fellow native speaker hung around him this weekend, we started to realize that a lot of the gibberish we take for granted was actually Hebrew words like ‘rega’ or ‘sicah.’

And all the questions I used to casually wonder about come crashing down on me…

Will he have a thick accent in English? Will he be able to fully express himself to my parents? Will he shun everything related to my home-culture? Will he embrace it too much?

When I mentioned the weekend as a humorous anecdote to Koala’s ganenet today, she looked at me quizzically and replied, “Ma at rotza? Hu Yisraeli.”

As he tackles more and more words, I come to realize more and more I’m an immigrant parent.

Two mothers.

My mother is a split personality. As long as I’ve known her, this has been the case.

She can speak two languages fluently: her mother tongue, English, a language that rolls off her tongue like rain dripping down a car window in the summer; and Hebrew, a language she has been tripping over since they started offering it as a plaything in kindergarten.

When I watch her speaking to her friends, I’m completely engulfed in the security and warmth of my mother, who can wrap words around concepts and make sentences into stories. When I read the notes she leaves me under my pillow, or in my notebooks, I read the words of my mother, the writer, the poet, the thinker.

When I watch her speak to my teachers, or my friends, or my friends’ mothers, I watch a different woman. This one is timid; she doesn’t have much to say. She’s an immigrant, an outsider. She has five or six phrases she pulls out for whatever the occasion. Head-nodding replaces the verbal building-blocks I’ve seen in English. Body language suffices for the story-telling sentences.

I think to her, ‘But you know a good story that could add to this conversation. You have advice you could offer. Surely you’re just lazy to string the words together, to make an effort. Yes, you’re a latecomer. Yes, there’s more to you than grammatical error. You know it, but no one else does. You don’t let them. You’re too proud to make mistakes.’

But make mistakes, momma. Make mistakes for me.