Today’s guest blogger is Erin C. Once upon a time in Washington DC, she co-hosted JournalCon 2003, but hasn’t blogged in years. She now spends her days getting her grass skirt to cover her Spanx in Hawaii. Her super power is swallowing pills without drinking water.
Before I had kids, when I knew everything about parenting, I used to say that my prospective kid would grow up speaking another language. S/he would be bilingual from birth, short-circuiting American stereotypes and probably being hired by the UN just out of junior high. However, unlike other parenting ideas I had, (family sing-alongs and faceless Waldorf dolls, I’m looking at you) I really did it. Yeah, my kid speaks another language. But it’s not as great as it sounds.
First of all, the second language that he speaks is Russian. That’s because someone else hired the Klingon-speaking nanny! Just kidding, it’s because my second language is Russian, and I had to start somewhere.
Second, it means you have to speak to them in the second language all the time. If you take a poll of all your friends with kids, 100% of them will think it’s a great idea for their kid to speak a second language. But only about 2% of them will want to yell at their kid down the cereal aisle in that second language. When you do it all the time, you become That Mom That Only Speaks to Her Kid in Latvian.
Third, if you live in the US, it means that you might need to dig deep for resources. I live in Hawaii, which means you have to look further than your nearest cab driver for a Russian. I have been lucky enough to find some amazing sitters and a wonderful set of Russian grandparents who watch him right now, but it’s not as easy as dropping him off at Kiddie Kare. I have also paid ridiculous shipping rates on kids’ books from Brighton Beach and given shopping lists to all my friends traveling back and forth to Russia.
Fourth, your family might have problems with it. My mother complained about not knowing what he was saying, and muttered darkly about him never learning his name if we continued to call him by his Russian nickname. (For the record, he knows his English name too, and also speaks English.) My husband mentioned that at some point, we were going to have to break it to him that we’re not Russians and he might have ‘adjustment issues.’
Finally, it means giving my baby a really different childhood than the one I had. He loves cartoons that I never knew about (his current favorite is based on an Italian socialist propaganda film and stars a mischievous onion who Fights the Power) and says “oy!” when he falls down. He sings songs I didn’t know but learned from mp3s and calls his train Tomás. He calls me mamichka; I’m the Russian mother I never had!
It’s all worth it, though, when I hear him use his verbs of motion correctly, something I spent three semesters cramming into my brain. He distinguishes between dark and light blue, two different words in Russian, every time. On Halloween, he says ‘boo’ with an Eastern European accent. Will he turn on me when he’s 15 and complain that I ruined his life by making him speak Russian? Probably. Too bad- as we say in Russian, “На всех не угоди́шь,” or “You can’t please everyone!”