Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Milo, the powerful switch finder!


Paris, Orly Airport: on a cold January morning, we de-boarded the flight from Turin and we proceed to the baggage claim via an endless daedalus of corridors and moving walkways. I usually travel without the stroller, and carry my 15 kilos bundle of joy all the way until I can find a cart on which to seat him. This time, I enjoyed his independence spur and let him trot alongside me with pleasure. Upon approaching the first walkway, his eyes widened with interest and curiosity. Once boarded, he kept looking back and forth, as if he was trying to gauge the speed of travel! Descending went flawlessly, I was starting to think: "This is almost fun..," when I see Milo sprinting to the next walkway, dashing to the floor to press, under the rubber hand rail, a seemingly harmless red little button: it immediately stopped the moving walkway ahead of us, a 200 mt. stretch filled with passengers, who, tilted forward by inertia, cursed each in its own language and wondered what the heck was wrong with these Parisian airports! I threw my bag, ran to the button and pushed it feverishly several times hoping to reactivate the walkway, but of course this was only the stopping button! No airport security or officials were on sight: I grabbed my son, who looked very impressed and proud, and kept walking really fast to the baggage claim…


Two days later, on a still icy cold Sunday morning, Milo and I met two mums-girlfriends at a non-disclosed Parisian museum, for what was supposed to be a morning of culture and entertainment. They also brought along their 9 months and 4 months babies, so we are all equipped with bulgy strollers and the typical paraphernalia that mums travel with these days, not to mention coats, scarves and the whole fit. The museum in question is a small little renaissance jewel, and despite their lack of equipment to welcome handicapped visitors or mums with strollers, the staff was very keen on helping us enter the premises and overcome a series of staircases and passages. Milo was particularly excited by the venue and the presence of the two babies, and was giving the best of himself: he sang, he run around exploring every little alley or secret door, he wanted to climb every staircase in sight, he kept me busy the whole time; the other mums were also taking turns with breastfeeding stops, diaper changing sessions, stroller parking or rescuing, etc. It was everything but a relaxing visit and we hardly managed to pay attention to the paintings of the neo realist we had mainly gone there for…at one point we found a quiet room where there was only a large ancient tapestry hanging on one wall and a padded bench in the middle of the room. We gained the bench to rest a little and we could hardly start the conversation again, when we suddenly heard a mechanical noise and we noticed that the museum curtains were all suddenly lifting: the two guards of the room exchanged a slightly interrogative look and then turned toward a corner of the room, where, sure enough, little Milo had found the switch (behind a table and the above mentioned curtain) which controlled the curtains of the entire floor! Luckily the guards were more amused than bothered by Milo’s bravado, and we left soon after for a danger-free walk in the nearby park!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Expanding the family

On Christmas Eve, we shared the news over the phone with the rest of the family in Italy and Belgium:

"Milo, tell the grandparents what's in here!"I asked, tapping on my belly.
"Bebéeeeeeeee!" screamed enthusiastically our little wonder.

And so the adventure continues: Milo is getting a little sibling this summer! We are again excited and scared, joyful and terrorized , all at once, just like for the first time. Milo has been informed from the very beginning; he knows and understand what a bebé is. He probably does not get the full picture yet, but he has been incredibly attentive and tender, kissing my belly and saying "CIAO, CIAO!" to this bebé!

At the same time, seeing how he can be jealous if I pay attention to his friend Antoine, I am preparing myself for a big jealousy crisis!

In terms of the pregnanacy, so far so good, the first trimester is over, I survived nausea and blues (which I didn't have for Milo) and I feel back in my shoes.

Looking forward to another Multi Tongue Kid!

Monday, January 09, 2006

Milo and the doctors

Since Milo's birth we have seen at least 4 or 5 different pediatricians: for some reason we don't seem to find our fit. Lately we have been going to the same doctor, a middle-aged woman whom, I must say, has good no-non sense advises, but happens to have a very callous and austere personality, and has behaved extremely harshly with Milo. I can't say exactly when, he has developed a fear for the stethoscope and, as a consequence, for the lady. Just hearing the word 'doctor' makes him cry. To my astonishment, during our last visit the day he contracted chicken pox, she begun literally shouting at him, intimidating him to stop crying for nothing. Evidently, the lady had missed her Pedagogy 101 courses...
So, needles to say, here I am hunting for the next pediatrician.

I have lived myself with a phobia for everything that concerns the medical world all my life. I could not even have my tension taken without fainting or literally feeling I was going to die. Endless conversations with my parents on the subject never revealed any specific traumatizing episode in my childhood which might have cased this phobia. It's only during the pregnancy that I found the motivation to dig into it and grab the bull by the horn, facing my Achille's heel. A nurse trained in psychology helped me finding not necessarily the causes, but a way to overcome this fear. And ever since Milo's birth, the phobia has dissolved: miracles of motherhood!

Because of this, I have been very attentive to the way Milo lives these experiences, and it really breaks my heart to see him terrorized each time we need to go to the doctor. I have been thinking as a starter to buy a stethoscope and start leaving it around the house, so Milo might familiarize himself with the object, make it eventually a toy. But I also need an understanding counterpart, and I am surprised at how difficult it is to find a pediatrician who's at once gentle and competent.

Friday, January 06, 2006

La Befana

January 6 in Italy is known as the day of La Befana, an old witch flying on its broom, coming to every house during the night, and leaving a sock full of sweets to the good kids, and a sock full of charcoal for the bad kids. I still remember one year receiving stockings (!) filled with nougat, chocolates and tangerines!

There's also an old ryhme which all Italian kids learn for the occasion:

La Befana vien di notte
con le scarpe tutte rotte!
Viva, viva la Befana
che le feste porta via!

Befana comes at night
with her broken shoes
cheers for the Befana
who sweeps away all the festivities!

HAPPY BEFANA, everyone!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Counting with Milo

When I was pregnanat, Milo's dad woud periodically count to the belly up to five, in Dutch. It was his way to start communicationg with the baby. He continued doing so once Milo was born, parading him the fingers one by one. Ever since Milo has been talking, he's been waiting anxiously to collect the fruits of his hard work! But for some reason, only number 5 (vijf) seems to have stuck to him. So, no matter how many fingers Daddy shows him, Milo says "vijf!"

I'm less left brain and have not any particularly emphasis on numbers in Italian, but at bath time, I always say: "Uno, due, tre..." and then I lift Milo and put him in the tub. In Italian, it's 2 (due) which stuck to him. So if I show him any finger combination, it's always :"due!"

He's also starting to associate numbers with the written symbols, especially in the morning when he's waiting for his milk bottle to warm up in the microwave and he sees the clock displaying the decreasing seconds: it's either "due, due, due, due due!" or "vijf ,vijf ,vijf!" depending upon who is with him!

...This time the score is: Dutch vs Italian 5-2!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Putting the accent on…accents!

Giovanni’s comment on a previous post got me thinking about accents.

  • Why is it that certain accents are pleasant to the ear and others are not?
  • Why is it that the French love the British accent (meaning, a British person speaking French with a British accent) while they detest the German one?
  • And why is it so ear-acking for the rest of the international community hearing a French speaking English or an American speaking French?
  • Why is it considered funny that Japanese can hardly pronounce the “r”?

Certain idiosyncrasis also applies at a more micro level, within languages…

  • When I moved to California, after 4 years on the East Coast, I suddenly realized that people back East had an accent (I finally got all those NY “coffee” jockes).

  • I have been in France for four years and I am finally recognizing the southern French or the Canadian accent from the Parisian: defintely not the same cup of tea.

Almost every single foreigner I got to meet in my life has told me: “I love the way Italian sound! It’s so musical!” But do they realize that there are dramatically different ways of speaking Italian? Italy is subdivided into 20 regions that little more than 2 centuries ago where single states. Therefore the accents in each reagion are significantly different. It’s really a matter of intonation, you can be saying the same phrase, but singing a completely different song. For political correctness reasons I'll abstain to say which ones I like and which ones I don't, but here are some descriptions:

  • I’m from the North West region of Piemonte, and already at the same latitude, the way people from Milano and the Venice region speak catches my ears. We are talking about 2 hours away!
  • In Toscana people speak with a distinctive accent, hardly pronoucing their Cs (they aspire them into Hs): Coca Cola in Firenze becomes “hoha hola”!
  • The Romans have this curious habit of chopping words and putting the accent on the second to the last vowel. Mangiare becomes 'magná,' dormire becomes 'dormí,' etc. It is very charismatic and it has an intrinsic humorous and contagious value (when you are in Rome after a while you cannot help yourself from doing the same, while the Romans cannot stand a non-Roman talking like them, it really disgusts them!)
  • From Rome onwards, the differences are even stronger. It’s not just a matter of accent anymore, often in the southern regions the dialect takes over the Italian language, and these dialects are languages in its own.

My Flemish beau has become astonishling fluent in Italian in the last few years, yet he does not feel like speaking in Italian with me because...he does not recognize me when I speak Italian! It sounds horrible, but I understand him: I am not particularly fond of his Dutch tonalities either! I guess our English softens the respective extreme nuances of our native languages. We spoke English to each other when we met and fell in love, so to hear one another speak another language is like discovering a new person.

Milo is starting to have a somewhat anglophone accent when pronouncing French words with an “r” and some Italian words. A few weeks ago he learnt how to say “mum left” in French (Maman est parti) and he pronounces parti like a British would do! I suspect what I hear as an anglophone accent it's actually the Dutch influence.

Why does this happens and what determines one language vs another to have a stronger influence on a multilingual kid?

The mistery continues…

Monday, January 02, 2006

Milo, the Père Noël and a week long affair with Noddy

The week preceding Christmas I have been sick and felt like I was running around with my head cut off...the excitement that precedes the festivities was mixed with anxiety and fatigue. Everything seemed strange...Milo has been particularly defensive with the occasional Santa Clauses met around town in shops or restaurants: he would look at them suspiciously and refused firmly any contact: "No! No'!"he would shout, looking at them straight in the eyes, as they approached to offer a candy or to shake his little hand. The Père Noël is definitely not this thing!

It has been indeed an unforgettable holiday season: Milo caught chicken pox 2 days before Christmas, his dad and I caught the most vicious flu virus in the whole of France, we had to cancel our trip to Italy and were stranded in deserted and icy cold Paris for the whole week. It was actually a very lovely, intimate Christmas, despite the coughing, the sneezing and poor Milo's red dots all over! We treated ourselves to many healthy naps, lovely home made meals and baking, we played with crayons and pongo, played the piano and we finally tackled all those films and books that were piling up here and there. Milo was simply happy to have Mum and Dad all for himself for an entire week, and his language skills literally exploded. We can really communicate with him now!

He has been fascinated with the kitchen, he loves to help us doing the dishes or mixing the ingredients! He imitates us randomly, opens and closes the fridge while mumbling: "Questo, questo...(This, this..)" ; he's becoming aware of temperatures, so if I'm cooking, he does not fail to proclaim: "Fuoco! Brucia! Attento!(Fire! It burns! Watch out!)" before I can even say so! He uses brucia also for the shower water, if too hot. On the contrary, if his food is not warm enough he says in French:"pas chaud."

Drinking water has finally three clear identities to him: a boir, remains his instinctual way to name it. Then he looks at dad and says water, and then he offers me a timid acva, for 'acqua.'

When out on the town he loves to greet people and to wave at the shop keepers or randomly. Until now he has been saying mainly "Ciao!", but this week I remarked that he had started saying things like "Budu! Budu!": it took me a while to get that it was his version of "Bonjour"!

He is taking the habit of repeating only the end of the longest words in Italian, which is actually very cute: he says "oppo" for sciroppo, "tale" for Buon Natale, "accio" for in braccio.

His oedipian phase is getting better, he still falls asleep rather late at night (between 9:30 and 10:30) but he sleeps trough the night most of the times. However, he's very sensitive if he sees his dad hugging me: then he runs over and pulls me away by the legs with such a rage...

One rule we broke for the occasion was the amount of TV watching allowed per day...we literally overdosed. Milo got hooked to Noddy, known in France as Oui-Oui (which, in French, is pronounced with the accent on the "i", while Milo calls him "úui-úui"...). Despite the fact that Milo had only two episodes in DVD, he watched them over and over for at least 14000 times; just hearing the jingle raises hair on my scalp...Toward the end of the week luckily the affair faded, and he shifted his interest to L'Ane Trotro, which is very hard to pronounce for him due to the "r"... so now, in the morning after his biberon, he runs enthusiastically to the TV screaming "Tlo-tlo, Tlo-tlo!" I have been trying to work on the Italian rolling "r" with him but until now he hasn't 'been very motivated, Tro Tro might be my ally (although I am ready to accept the possibility that Milo might end up like most Italian kids raised in French, with the French dominant "r"... ).

He has also grown fond of a new character, a little rabbit called Milo: we have the DVD in Italian and in French and he's really amused by the rabbit with his very same name. And I must confess, we like it too!