Tuesday, February 28, 2006

IT'S A(nother) BOY!

The sonogram this morning gave us a 95% of probability: Milo is getting a little brother! Lots of intense emotions stirred in my soul during this priviledged encounter: the profile of the little one appeared neatly on the monitor, we saw him sucking his thumb while the doctor measured his cranium and legs and abdomen etc. Then he seemed to be scratching his nose, playing with his tiny and already wonderfully designed hands...a boy...an encounter with our destiny: one path we will not walk on, another path opens wide ahead of us! Life with two boys! Cars, airplanes, wrestling, footballs, robots, computers, blues and greens, action, sports...I'm sinking gently in the feeling, starting to feel like a Queen Bee! It was so precious meeting you , little boy, now we are gonna find you a lovely name!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Multi Tongue Kids joins 'The Expat Blog'

Happy to announce we just got listed in the France section of Expat Blog, a great site collecting blogs from expats worldwide, but not only: very useful resources and forums where all sorts of information is available to those who are about to expatriate, or simply want to dream about life on the other side of the planet!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Multicultural Patriotism : is there such a thing ?

I have been following closely the Torino Winter Olympics, for various reasons: I’m an ex professional athlete and always admired the Olympians; I’m originally from the Piedmont region and am proud of the great job it is doing hosting such an exciting and world-class event; the company I work for is a sponsor and I have enjoyed discovering this aspect of Olympic support as well as the realms of sports marketing. But, above all, these winter Olympics are making me ponder about patriotism.

Milo’s dad and I had this discussion the other night: I was explaining him how Italians feel particularly patriotic during major international sport events, how I never really learnt the Italian national anthem until a few years ago, however if a Soccer World Cup or an Olympic game was up, I have always warm-heartedly cheered for my country (like every night in the last ten days).

Milo’s dad said he never really felt particularly patriotic (although he’s nicknamed ‘The Ambassador (of Belgium),’ since he’s one of the proudest Belgians I have ever met!). Belgium being a country dealing with an uneasy tension between the Walloon and the Flemish communities, and also having a tri-parliamentary structure (a significant Germano-phone community is represented as well), clearly has little room for patriotism. He also explained how showing off Flemish pride, by waving flags and shouting hymns, has been considered a behavior typical of the (extreme) right wing. So, no flag, no hymn for him growing up.

I remember starting wondering about patriotism when I first landed the US at age 19: I was amazed at the omnipresence of the American flag in front of public buildings (such as the post office, the mall, etc.). The national anthem would be played before every game at intercollegiate sports. My volleyball team was not exempt, and I always felt a little awkward about it. I was the only one in the roster without her hand on her heart. It’s easy to understand that North America has played well the patriotism factor to provide a common denominator to all the diverse cultures present on its sole. And still, there is something nice about the anthem and about feeling very much part of one nation.

I attended Seton Hall University, in NJ and was on the volleyball team. At the time, another fellow Italian, Marco Lokar, was on the (more media visible) basketball team. Something occurred to him in those years which took my definition of patriotism to another level. When the first war in Iraq broke, you might remember, Americans massively supported operation Desert Storm by displaying and wearing a yellow ribbon. Within the sports arena, athletes at all levels begun wearing an American flag stitched to their uniform. Marco refused to, on the ground that he was a pacifist, that he was not supporting the war and was not supporting just the American troops but his heart was behind all soldiers involved in the conflict, on both sides. On February 2, 1991, Seton Hall played St John’s University at Madison Square Garden in NY City and the public and the media picked on his “lack of solidarity”. This caused a nation wide debate and created a huge upheaval, which resulted with him leaving the country a few weeks later, after having received several threatening phone calls and serious menaces (see this article on Sports Illustrated for the full story and a very moving profile of Marco Lokar, who happens to be also a true multicultural man with Slovenian and Italian roots).

Shortly after this incident all the sports teams were summoned by the athletic department director who wished no more negative media attention stirring (there were quite some foreign athletes, in my team I was along with an Argentinian and a Puerto Rican). He asked us to think it over and to decide as a team whether we would want to wear the flag or not. I was less idealistic than Marco, although I knew him and respected him. We have had several conversations on the topic. Italy was also engaged with troops in the Gulf. The volleyball team played the following games displaying the American flag on the uniform. This episode has more to do with moral values than with patriotism, however it was the first time I clearly felt “I am not from here” and realized the power of such notions even in a country like the United States, where individual freedoms (such as free thinking!) are at the base of its democracy.

But besides identifying with a flag and a song, what does it mean to feel patriotic today and is patriotism a value that will make sense for our multicultural children? Wikipedia says: “The word patriotism is used to describe emotions and attitudes, political views, symbolism, and specific acts, with respect to a political community - its territory, history, culture, values, and symbol.”

Milo’s dad asked me if I really felt Italian and why. I did not think much about it and words poured out of my mouth. I do feel Italian, even though at this point I lived half of my life abroad and have embraced many American values, like working ethics and style, or a certain positive openness. But I feel very much attached to the cultural heritage of my country. When I’m at the opera and I listen to a performance in Italian, it’s sheer pleasure; something tickles in my genes. The same for certain literature pieces, or for aesthetics, design, for certain foods, certain landscapes. It’s what I hope to convey to Milo from my side: a precise sense of belonging, a certain sensitivity, which extends to nurturing friendship and relationship with others; the importance of the family nucleus, of celebrations; the sacred sense of hospitality. Perhaps I am mixing too many things at once. I don’t know if that means being patriotic.

Would I die for my country? I honestly think that today nobody should die, for any country. And I have not been a good citizen, as I have barely voted ever since I have been of age. Does that make me less patriotic? Does it make my pride for the Italian men’s Cross-Country Skiing gold medal and my sadness for the ice dancing Italian couple placed 6th less valuable? Am I less patriotic because, finally, I decide to pursue a career abroad, and don’t plan on living in Italy any longer? Or because I am not a soccer fan and never spent a Sunday of my life glued to the TV screen following the ligue games?

I can’t help wondering what Milo’s feelings will be. If we end up settling in France, will he inevitably feel French, even if he will be regularly staying in Italy and Belgium and other places? If he will have any sport ambition, will it matter to him which national team he will integrate? Will he feel a chill when he will listen to Charles Aznavour the way I sigh when I listen to Eugenio Finardi or Lucio Battisti? Where will he feel comfortable, where will he belong? I have already explored the theme of Third Culture Kids in another post, which relates to these issues as well. I struggle trying to imagine his feelings, how his identity will be permeated by the exposure to three cultures. There is something reassuring in knowing you come from one place, with deep and specific roots. He will be certainly enriched by the fact that his roots are spread around, but will this mean that patriotism will mean next to nothing to him?

Will there ever be a strong feeling of European-wide patriotism? At present times, it seems, Euro skepticism is more voiced. I felt “European” for the first time in graduate school, in California. The university had a high incidence of foreign students, equally spread among Europeans and Asians. Although I remember it as the most fulfilling and enriching multicultural experience in my life, I also remember very strongly that the Europeans immediately clung together and so did the Asians. We recognized in each other a certain common sensitivity for things, we had the same reactions. My friend Holger from those years recently emailed me his dismay for the current world events, and mentioned nostalgically how back then “people from all over would get along so well with each other.” (I also think it had to do with socio-economics, we were all coming from similar middle class miens and this made it certainly easy to interact. I don’t mean to make a classist remark here, but it is a considerable fact).

In conclusion, this will be one fascinating learning experience in watching Milo grow into an independent man. I cannot but wish that patriotism for him will have only positive connotations of olympic breath.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Olympic performance update

The Winter Olympics are passionately ongoing, and so are our Multilingual Olympics, trying very much to stay in schedule and perform at our best!

  • Among new words learn from Milo there are snow, please, friend, all with its Italian, French and Dutch counterpart. He’s actually sponging up vocabulary every day, he tunes in at whatever is being said and repeats virtually everything, which I believe it’s quite normal at 21 months. He does not repeat much of the English conversation he catches between myself and Milo’s dad, however his pronounciation in Italian is starting to have a distinct Anglophone accent.
    He has a harder time repeating certain sounds, so he make s up his own interpretation. A few example:
    -His name, Milo: he has been calling himself ‘Memo’, and lately that has shifted to ‘Mímio’ (we found it adorable and already elected it as his nickname, being Milo already so short!).
    -Amico (friend): he gets the meaning of the word, but says ‘pepípio’. He gets the right number of sillables and the musicality of the word, but he substitutes certain sounds with labial sounds.
    -Biro (pen) and other words with the “r”: he can’t roll the r, so he stretches the preceding vowel (biiiio)
    -Luce (light) is uu-chi
  • On a good note, he’s more and more aware of the different identities that the same object has in our household. He proudly recites main, manina and handje (hand respectively FR, IT and D), or avion, aereo, vliegtuig (airplane).
  • My Dutch efforts have stalled a little and I need to brush up; here are my next phrases for the week:
    Heel leuk u te ontmoeten (I'm very glad to meet you)
    Ik versta het niet (I don't understand)
    Ik begrijp het heel goed (I understand perfectly)
  • The Italian conversations are also slagging behind, somehow it does not come natural. I guess we just have to go to Italy more often, then!

While we were watching the opening ceremony held in Torino on Friday, as the athletes were parading we cheered enthusiastically for all of them (I always get tear-eyed on these occasions!); however, when Italy paraded at last, I could not resist a spur of nationalistic pride and I involved Milo in a typical supporting cheer:

"I-TA-LIA! I-TA-LIA!" we screamed rhythmically, clapping our hands and stumping our feet.
Apparently, he enjoyed it: ever since, from time to time he shouts out “I-TA-LIA”! He even taught it to Antoine this morning (I hope his parents won’t think we’re brain washing their kid!).
The Belgian delegation paraded with a mere 8 athletes; if Milo will be any good in sports, then perhaps we will see him competing with the Belgian flag in 2022?!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

La betise, or the art of making mistakes

The word of the week for Milo is betise, which French parents use to indicate something a kid does that he should have not done, like breaking an object, touching something forbidden etc.

He must have had his share with the nanny this week, because as soon as he does one, he labels it himself immediately: “Betich!” he says seriously, as he’s throwing his apple on the floor during lunch.
“Betich!” he declares while he spills his water on the sofa.
“Betiiiiich” he stresses while he takes is crayon and attempts decorating the white walls, after I told him not to for the 100th time.

The translation in English would be ‘silly thing.’ In Italian we don’t have a specific word, we’d say ‘stupidaggine’ (silly thing) or ‘marachella’ (naughtly thing).

I asked Milo’s dad how would he say that in Dutch. He claims they don’t have that particular word because Flemish kids simply don’t do betise!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Multi Tongue Kids joins 'The Paris Blog' !

If you want to have an off-beat peek at the scene in Paris these days, check out The Paris Blog (formerly In Paris Now), a group blog in English about life in Paris, edited by Laurie. The variety of topics covered is such that the entertainment value is guaranteed!

Excerpts from MULTI TONGUE KIDS' entries will be shared regularly, linking back to the home site ('The Garde Partagée' entry has already been posted on Feb. 10, re-titled Two-Timing Nanny, complete with a lovely picture!).

Friday, February 10, 2006

Olympic Day 1

The Opening Ceremony will be held tonight at the dinner table!
Some crepes flambées au Grand Marnier will symbolize the arrival of the Olympic Torch!
Napkins displaying the flags of our countries (Italy, Belgium, France and an honorary USA one as well) will remind us of our multicultural richness!
We will all swear to competing honestly and at the best of our possibilities, on De Cubertain’s credo that the important is to participate!
We’ll parade in the living room with our flags!
We’ll greet the imaginary spectators and feel moved to be there!

As for the challenges:

-My Dutch greeting of the day is: Ik spreek maar een klein beetje Nederlands (I only speak a little Dutch).

-Milo’s word will be: snow (neve (IT), nege (FR) and I have to check in Dutch)

-As far as the conversation in Italian, I hope to have something fun to report on next week!

Altius, Citius, Fortius!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Olympic challenge : 2006 Multilingual Children’s Olympics

The Turin Winter Olympics will start in 3 days (on February 10) and will last for 2 weeks. I salute the Olympic spirit and embrace the Olympic Challenge proposed by the Multilingual Children Association, to engage in a two weeks of MULTILINGUAL CHILDREN OLYMPICS!

Our goals:

- We will teach Milo 1 new word a day in Dutch, Italian and French.
- I will learn basic Dutch greetings and small talks phrases.
- Milo’s Dad will carry one conversation a day in Italian with me.

Stay tuned for a gold medal performance!

Feel free to sign up for the challenge by visiting the Multilingual Children’s Association website. (Hosted in California, it has been founded by a Swedish woman who’s raising her daughters bilingual. This site fills a great gap in terms of information, resources and centralized forums among multilingual parents).

Multilingualism, way to go!

Check out this article form the CBS News site citing the opinion of British Language Analyst David Graddol, who says multilingualism is the way of the future; while English has played the role of the great common denominator, less and less people worldwide will be English native speakers by 2050 and new generations of bilingual and multilingual speakers will gradually take over the linguistic map. Sounds good, doesn't it?

Friday, February 03, 2006

The advantages of the Garde Partagée - Part II

In our particular case, what this arrangement has provided is a fully French environment and person of reference for Milo, in order to apply correctly the OPOL method.

In fact, our nanny is originally from Morocco, and if we didn’t already have all these languages to deal with, I would have been keen on her speaking Arabic to Milo. But we commonly decided that she sticks to French, so during the day Milo is in a 100% francophone environment.

This has been proving very fruitful: this week Milo pronounced his first full sentence in French:
“Elle est partie ma maman ?" (Has my mum left?)
It was originally “Elle est partie ta maman” (Has YOUR mum left), since it was Antoine who posed the question and Milo kept on repeating it. The nanny eventually corrected him and personalized it!

At night the nanny keeps me up to date on new words learnt and topic addressed, so that we can provide the Italian and Dutch counterpart, and viceversa on Monday mornings. So far we feel he has progressed rather homogeneously in all three languages.

Sometimes I wonder, had I been a stay at home mummy, the advantages would have been others, of course, but how would we have handled the French language acquisition?

This is the issue that a couple of friends are currently facing, and they decided to sacrifice their own languages, unfortunately. Here’s the case study:

The Mum is Egyptian and speaks Arabic, Italian and French fluently. The father is Anglo-Italian and has been raised in both English and Italian. Their 20 month old Gabriel is looked after at home by his mum (together with his 3 months old sister) and is being raised in French primarily. The parents switch easily between Italian and French among one another. They fear that if he does not hear French enough he’ll have a hard time once he’ll enter school. Hopefully he’ll pick up all of the other languages later on.

Milo and Antoine: an adventure called 'garde partagée' (part I of II)

When I was six month pregnant, I had to go to the city hall and sign up for a daycare waiting list for Milo. It was a very weird sensation: the baby was not even born yet, and there I was, crossing my fingers and begging an inflexible adjoint maire for a place in one of the half a dozen daycares available in our neighborhood. The demand being immense, we did not get a spot. So, like many other Parisians who do not wish to interrupt one of the parent’s career, we opted for another home made solution: la garde partagée (literally ‘split guard’). The concept is easy: two families share a nanny, who looks after two babies, taking turns: one week at each baby's house. The only requirement is for the families to live very close by, in order to save on transfer time in the mornings and evenings, and to agree on most financial, logistical, nutritional or educational issues that such a venture might arise.

We started when Milo was 8 months, and we found rather easily a family already equipped with a super nanny (there’s an abundant numbers of websites where parents can investigate the issue and touch base with other parents).

It has been exactly one year now, and we are totally satisfied about this experience, especially because we have been lucky to find a star of a nanny. Milo has been looked after together with Antoine, a French boy six months his senior.

Milo and Antoine have become like little brothers, they share their days, toys and escapades to the park, socializing among one another.The financial weight is important, although the French government allows for a substantial tax write off for hiring home personnel. The advantages are numerous: Milo did not have to adapt to a totally new environment (in our case the arrangement is that the kids are always at out place), they get individualized care and attention, they are not constantly exposed to the millions of bacteria and microbes that circulate in daycare, if they fall sick the nanny comes anyway and I am not obliged to stay at home, etc.

Antoine’s 6 months leverage has been an accelerating factor in Milo’s physical development, while now it's a great one for his verbal development in French. It's fun to hear the two exchanging full sentences, often about nonsense...They look after each other, they learn how to share and to do things together, they fight, they cuddle, just like two siblings!

When I come home at night, competition peaks for attention! Antoine has become part of the family and I naturally greet him as such, but Milo is VERY possessive of his mummy, and has made clear numerous times that he has got attention priority!

The cultural exchange is even: I have been singing to them little Italian rhyming songs, and Antoine is also now capable of singing them in flawless Italian!

The harmony between the two is guaranteed by the nanny, who happens to have a very charming and solar personality, and from day one has interacted with them a lot, playing and truly teaching them not only words and games, but also manners.During the weekend we are always impressed to see how Milo asks about his little friend and the vice-Mum, they have become very much part of his life, and when we go on trips, finding them back is a source of joy for him! This arrangement has made my going back to work much easier, although the first months I was naturally very apprehensive. It is a great human experience.

Next September Antoine will start kindergaden but only in the mornings (and on Wednesdays schools are shut in France!), so we will continue the adventure until at least December. After that I hope some school will accept Milo, even if he will not be three yet; I am already investigating the matte, a year in advance: life in a metropolis gives the expression “planning ahead” another meaning!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Signaling pain

A vicious gastrointeritis virus is taking Paris by the storm these days, and Milo caught it. He was suspiciously quiet all day yesterday and as soon as I got home and the nanny left, he suddenly begun throwing up on himself. It was the first time this happened to him and I could sense his preoccupation in trying to understand what was it all about. But the main evolution lays in the fact that, for the first time, he signaled his pain and where he felt it.
“Mamma…bibi, bibi...” he moaned several times, while rubbing his belly.
Another step forward toward efficient communication!