Can I just whine for a second? Not like over the top melodrama, but just a little bit of “do ya feel me?” Because raising bilingual kids, while not necessarily harder than I expected, has been maybe a bit more emotional than I anticipated.
Gabriella recently asked me to watch Clifford the Big Red Dog. So I put it on in Spanish because Netflix lets you do those sorts ofthings.
Then she started: “Mom, I can’t hear them. I don’t understand it. Mom, I want an English show. An Eeeeeenglishhhh show, Mommy!” And I felt defeated.
I mean, seriously, when everything with a preschooler is a battle, TV is supposed to be the truce. The one thing we both agree on for a moment of peace.
That day I told her to keep trying and pay attention. She eventually settled in and later told me what it was about. Then, she asked, “Now can I watch an English one?” Like that one didn’t really count.
And I totally knew this would happen. I knew she’d be more comfortable in English. Despite Papa speaking Spanish, irregardless of Spanish-speaking caretakers, no matter Spanish church, I knew English would be her primary language.
Still, I harbored dreams that she’d hesitate over high school exams that ask demographic questions like “What is your first language?” I envisioned her wavering because I’m equally fluent in the two languages of my household, she’d think.
But alas, I know that’s not the case. Even when Billy asks her questions in Spanish, she already responds in English. I mean, I knew that would happen. It happens to everyone. I didn’t assume we were this wild aberration of bilingual education. Still, if my heart could cry, little tears would be pooling.
She’s such a communicator, which I love (even when I want to amputate my own ears with a butter knife) because I see myself in her. Maybe one day, she too will have an elementary school teacher who will utter the phrase "verbal diarrea." Thanks for that, Ms. Kincaid!
But her passion to communicate means her Spanish fails her. Sure, there are moments when she pushes her face into her brother’s bellowing, “Come tu comida!” And I can hardly tell her to get back into her own chair because I’m cheering on the inside. But I know it’s not enough.
There’s an episode of Modern Family where Gloria hires a Spanish tutor for her son Manny. He is very unenthusiastic because he wants to take French, claiming “Spanish just doesn’t come naturally to me.”
Gloria is heart-broken and later admits that she hates having no one to talk with in her first language. The show responds with her husband Jay deciding to learn, but Manny is let off the hook. And for me, there was still sadness in that resolution.
I have spent so much time with young adults who lament how little they know of their parents’ language, their heritage language. I don’t want my kids to experience that loss one day, but perhaps it is somewhat unavoidable.
I haven’t given up hope, and in fact, we've been exploring bilingual elementary school options. I know this challenge is par for the course for any bilingual family. And I know we will experience it all again with Isaac, who currently shouts agua and vamanos along with bubbles and ball.
Let me close with a shout out to all my fellow parents wading in the multilingual pool. Keep going! We can do this! It’s not all neat and tidy, and it definitely requires commitment and re-commitment. But our children, whatever their level of fluency one day, will be grateful that we didn’t give up.
That’s what I tell myself anyway. Do ya feel me?