Oh Punaise

It’s been months. Lots has happened and at the same time not much has happened, compared to last year anyway.

My parents came back at the end of July. We spent a few days in the north of the Dordogne and went to Lascaux where I tried to keep Littlest engaged (not too hard really) and Even Littler snuggled on his grandpa in the baby carrier. Then the four of us went down south for a rock-climbing trip with friends. Even Littler mastered his crawling skills on the uneven terrain at the bouldering sites (Targassonne). One of our friends commented that in 20 years Even Littler will probably be on Man versus Wild. It’s true that people tend to worry that he’ll hit his head on things or tumble when I know from experience that he’s pretty tough and been practicing not doing such things for months.

He turned one at the end of the summer and started walking a couple weeks after that. He’s slowly getting steadier and faster, going up or down a step without crawling. He likes to bring us a book and ask to look at it. I get the feeling though that he wants to see one specific thing in each book because he’s rarely interested in the whole story right now.

Littlest went back to school (Grand Section) and this year with both his teachers they are doing 30 minutes of English a day. I of course didn’t learn this until the parent meeting at the end of September. Apparently he loves it (says, again, the teacher—Littlest would never tell us such a thing…).

His American accent is perfect. His syntax is sometimes a little weird, copy-and-pasted from French or some invention of his own. Like when we take turns during a game, instead of saying, “It’s your turn,” he’ll say, “It’s at you.” And he hasn’t figured out questions: “Have you got can see me?” for example is pretty typical. So my little bilingual experiment number one is still giving me interesting data.

He turned five two days ago. We were going to take him to Paris today but the SNCF struck again (see what I did there?). Fortunately it was a surprise and we hadn’t even told him before we got the message that our train back was canceled, so we had to cancel the trip, for now at least.

In any case we are going to the US for Christmas, planning a couple days in NYC since my parents now live only two hours away. Littlest is looking forward to it. I’m hoping there won’t be any strikes to get in our way and that we won’t be too exhausted. But it’s high time we saw my parents’ new house and my nephew who was born in … January 2020… who I have yet to meet.

My Bilingual Child/Experiment Number 1: Age 4 1/2

Something wonderful has been happening lately. Littlest has been starting and maintaining conversations with me in English! He still speaks very often to me in French, but I’d go as far as to say it’s about half English these days. He even likes to speak English with his grandparents, cousins, and friends on Facetime.

He got very mad at me recently when I interpreted something he was saying wrong during one of these calls so I’ve decided to try hard to not interpret anything anymore. It’ll be a hard reflex to fight since I’ve been interpreting toddler talk for a couple of years now, and also I have a tendency/have had to interpret between family members for so long.

He’s definitely figured out who speaks English and who speaks French so I also won’t be telling him to speak English with certain people anymore.

It’s remarkable but it’s also clearly sensitive. I don’t want to discourage or embarrass him. Speech is so personal and so validating. He’s had to find his voice in two languages and he was a late talker in the first place.

As for Even Littler, he mostly just says “Wah.” He has 7 teeth and is crawling, pulling up, and climbing over things so I think he’s set to follow in Littlest’s footsteps of being more into gross motor skills than language.

Update

Nothing exciting is going on in our lives, really, because of COVID, of course. But life does continue and mostly, little boys do continue to grow and change.

Littlest has shown some more skills in English lately, saying a sentence here and there to me entirely in English. We never have a full conversation in English, but then, we rarely have actually full conversations period since he’s four and his brain wanders off in random directions when you ask him more than one question about his day. Most of the sentences he makes start with There’s (a)/It’s but recently he tried out I got and he even said to me once “My skin is dry.” Otherwise there’s a lot of mixing, like when he asks to go to the playground (“Je veux aller au playground Mama”) or narrates with his toy figurines (“Nous on est take a nap”). So my little bilingual experiment (=son) is still progressing.

As for Even Littler, he’s now mobile, not exactly crawling, but slithering and wiggling faster and faster across the floor. Littlest is getting a good hold on which toys he’s allowed to touch and which are dangerous and need to be taken away. He would be pretty good at watching him if he (Littlest) weren’t always so interested in following us around. Sometimes I wish he would just stay put playing next to him since I trust him to alert me to a major problem if I’m briefly in another room.

In the hopes that travel will be again possible in the not too too distant future (but who knows when), I’m applying for his French passport this week and we’re heading up to Paris to do his birth declaration and US passport next week. We had planned to do a little more than that but with the new lockdown it will just be a short trip.

We started this week on an upstairs renovation that we dreamt up during lockdown last year: a room in the attic above our living room. This part of our house is pretty old, so the attic is large and would make for a room you can easily stand up in. Unfortunately we haven’t found a contractor to do the work that we don’t want to do yet (=insulating, putting in a skylight) so J took things into his own hands this week and did the hole in the ceiling, which Littlest found VERY interested.

Otherwise I’ve starting poking around the agrégation subjects again and my plan to do the externe exam again next year is still holding. I’ll probably sign up for a distance course with the CNED like I did for the CAPES ten years ago, though I had mixed feelings about its quality. At least I’ll be able to work at my own pace.

Hello from Deconfinement

We deconfined in France last Monday and it has been actually really nice, even though I still spend most of my time at home and have seen like six more people than usual. Here’s how things are going for each of us:

J: He went back to work last Monday since companies are finally opening for the inspections he does. He was home for lunch on Monday, Thursday, and Friday which was nice. He gets masks for work that he has trouble wearing because of his glasses.

Littlest: Littlest went back to school yesterday, after spending two nights at his grandparents’ as well which he loved. His school wrote to us about two weeks ago asking if we wanted to send him back because it’s nationally on a voluntary basis. I said yes for lots of reasons:

  1. I love his school and was really hoping he would be able to go back before the end of this school year, his first.
  2. He no longer wanted to do much of anything with us during lockdown. Of all the fantastic activities his teacher e-mailed us, we managed to do half of one or two per week. And then he started not even wanting to go out in the yard, or follow us down to the basement. It was like all stimulation was emptying from his life.
  3. Work with him around was very limited. Even when J was home, I could only really work during nap time. And with J going back to work, any skipped nap would be stressful.

I was nervous about sending him back given the frankly age-inappropriate, strict health protocol for schools: no sharing toys, staying 1 meter away from everyone, no touching classmates or the teachers or caregivers…

But I compared it to how I felt back in August, when the entire French pre-school culture was brand new to me and I felt nervous about all of it. Littlest adapted great then and this seems to be the same. There are a tiny number of them in his group. He was only accepted back because I’m a teacher—spots are very limited. He’s alternating between the PS teacher (his) and the MS teacher (probably his teacher next year) and they are both lovely. It has been almost joyful seeing him back at the school, smiling and talking to people who aren’t me, even if they are generally 1 meter apart and their slide in the recess yard is marked off limits (and parents stand waiting at the gate, distanced by markers on the ground). Things are really different at the school—he has his own table with his own pile of toys and books and puzzles. But they seem to be still making things wonderful. (I just hope they aren’t feeling overworked.)

Me: FREEDOM! No, I’m kidding. In between running Littlest back and forth from school—including lunchtime these past two days—I’ve been able to dedicate myself more to teaching online. AND I found out I’m admissible for the agrégation externe—the upper-level competitive exam for the public school system. Since the interne orals have been pushed to September or October when I will have mini-me number 2 in my arms, I’m going to give the public exam my all (these orals are still supposed to happen this summer). So this study time is precious. I’ve been more in touch with my school since I’m a substitute union representative and the 6th and 7th graders are starting back next week, so we’re monitoring the conditions of their return. But all national decisions for lycée students have been pushed to the end of May, so I am skeptical that we will actually go back for classes.

I will technically be in the third trimester of pregnancy at the beginning of June, which puts me on the official list of vulnerable people. However I still feel like, if our students come back in some way, I’d like to be there. Obviously health protocol and possibly my doctor’s advice could weigh in if that decision has to be made.

Also, we found out that Littlest will be having a little brother. The nursery is pretty much finished and Littlest likes visiting it. He talks about becoming a big brother and other baby things and it is very cute.

On a side note, one positive of this time during lockdown is that I noticed Littlest’s English changing. He’s started attempting and making sentences, and choosing to say things in English when he also knows the word in French, or even saying it in English after saying it in French.

He retains complex explanations that I figured were going in one ear and out the other when I gave them. He has a little Playmobil 123 cow that has an udder, so I explained to him once that the milk we drink comes out of it, though the milk for the baby will come out of me. He didn’t say anything back at the time but gave his dad the equivalent explanation in French a few days later!

His French has gotten better too which is also interesting though less life-affirming for me. The other morning we were all sitting in the living room when he turned to his dad and out of the blue told him he hadn’t yet cut his beard. (It was true.)

I remember thinking before J went back to work last Sunday night that this strange but also special time, just the three of us, was over. I wondered how that would feel. So far it feels good but I do thing some remarkable things happened during it.

Words from My Bilingual Toddler

I feel like Littlest has been going through a bit of a word explosion for the past few months and it’s really fun. He’s also doing a little bit of 2-word combinations, mostly “___ + encore” or “Il y a + _____ ” and once he actually put them together to say “Y a encore bobo?” (Guess what he was asking about…)

He likes repeating almost everything but some words he’s been having success with recently are:

  • car
  • froid
  • doggy
  • his name
  • chaussettes/socks
  • milk (that final k comes out as a p usually)
  • please
  • baleine (from the book L’Enfant et la baleine/The Storm Whale)
  • kitty cat (sounds like ki-ka)
  • ballon
  • yes (this is very exciting, at least if it continues)

Other words/expressions seem to be pretty well mastered:

  • guépard (for his Cheetah lovey—it sounds like “apa” though)
  • ducky (for his stuffed duck car companion)
  • puppy (car companion in the other car—a Fisher Price dog that sings things in an asinine voice but that he loves)
  • ompa (for Grandpa)
  • Mamie, Papi, Mémé
  • the names of the two other kids my mother-in-law takes care of
  • bim (when anything falls or gets bonked)
  • book
  • à boire
  • binky (for his pacifier)
  • booboo/bobo (can’t tell which one he’s saying)
  • uh-oh
  • cheese
  • bye-bye/au revoir
  • coucou
  • baby/bébé (probably more the French one)
  • night-night
  • Nanna
  • non
  • cassé (he’s obsessed by things that are broken or torn)
  • caché (sounds pretty much the same as cassé)
  • allez (whenever he sees anyone or a picture of someone climbing)
  • ça
  • bravo (sounds like “abvo”)
  • lots of animal sounds (moo, woof-woof, meow-meow, neigh…)

Bizarrely, the difference between Papa and Mama is proving difficult for him and for the past few months we have both been Papa. With some insistence he seems to be reworking Mama/Maman into his vocabulary but there’s still a lot of progress to be made.

He’s also way into the motion-based nursery rhymes I’ve been singing to him since he was really little:

  • Head, shoulders, knees, and toes: He’s mostly good at putting this hands on his head, and going between his knees and his toes, or showing his ears.
  • The itsy bitsy spider: can’t figure out the thumb-to-forefinger thing yet but he loves this one the most, I think.
  • Pat-a-cake: He mostly likes the baby-rocking gesture at the end

Stay tuned for more real life bilingual experimentation in a few months.

2

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Experimenting with cars

What up everybody Littlest is TURNING TWO TOMORROW.

His speech has been evolving lately. It’s been one of the slower milestones for him though he’s always been an intense climber and stander-upper (that’s the technical term). All the milestone articles and apps have been out of sync with him, suggesting that he should be doing things that seemed to not be on his radar. His speech comprehension has always seemed pretty on track so I decided not to worry. Maybe his two-year check-up will prove me wrong and we’ll be referred to a speech therapist but for now it seems like some interesting things are happening.

He’s repeating things we ask him to, such as “cheese” and “blue” and yesterday “Paddy” (!!!!). We have a little truck that says his name and a few months ago he’d try to repeat it but it came out “Papa.” Wild progress has been made on that second syllable and now he says something resembling either his actual name or Paddy.

He’s mastered “bye-bye” for a while though he doesn’t have much of a diphthong so it comes out mostly “bah-bah.” Now he’s added “coucou” to his repertoire and enjoys saying it to every stranger we walk by whether they’re looking or not. He likes to give kisses though always says bye-bye afterward regardless of whether anyone is going anywhere.

It’s interesting though however (to me anyway) that he doesn’t have any alveolar consonants yet (t’s, d’s). Even “non” comes out as though he’s a little Franco-Italian: “gnan!” and “cheese” is definitely hard to make out if you don’t know what he’s saying since it sounds like “gyeezh.” His s’s are still very German; ça sounds like “cha” and içi “ichi.” No one he knows speaks German or Italian so I don’t know where gets it.

The repeating is fun though sometimes he just repeats the intonation and the actual sounds are gibberish.

He is also typically very sweet with other kids, handing toys over or showing younger kids things they can play with. It’s adorable though I don’t see a whole lot of it since it mostly happens at the nanny’s. We’ll have to have more play dates.

So all the presents are wrapped, J is going to make his cake tonight, and we’ll have an aunt, an uncle, and a friend over tomorrow to celebrate a joyful year two with our Mister Wister.