Monday, July 21, 2008

The Nanny Horror Picture show (is finally OVER!)

I blogged in the past about Milo’s garde partagée with another little boy, a very frequent solution for the Parisian working parents who are often denied day care because there simply aren’t enough.
Milo’s garde lasted almost 2 years, and ended when Zeno was born, I went back to work and the nanny refused to look after Zeno as well. Milo was then 2 and a half, so he went to a private day care for 6 months, before starting kinder garden. Despite the abrupt conclusion of this first experience, we enthusiastically tried the same system with Zeno, together with a neighbour family living in the same building, parents of a little girl same age as Zeno. We got along well and there were all the premises for a successful venture (especially since living in the same building made things MUCH easier from a logistical point of view). This time around bad luck stroke in finding the right nanny. We changed 4 nannies during the first 5 months, which was simply traumatising (for us, as the kids did not seem to mind the carousel of care-givers), and I will spare you the appalling reasons for which we had each time to start from scratch. Those were awful months where I spent ALL of my free time dealing with this: making phone calls, arranging interviews, dedicating time to trials, consulting with the other mum at least 5 times a day on any of the above, getting to know someone new, opening our house and life to them to just, after a few weeks, throw it all away.…I was exhausted and was getting really hopeless.
Nanny number 4 seemed finally a decent bet: in her early 40s, gay personality, mother of 4 older children, hence all of the experience we could possibly desire. After a good start, the lady, nevertheless, took some serious risks during the first few months, despite the fact that we had discussed in detail our expectations as well as undesired behaviours. But, above all, she begun collecting mysterious illnesses at the rate of a week per month, never justified by any doctor. Every time she did not show up, it would devastate our work week: the Belgianite and I had to take time off alternatively and repeatedly, to the point that it was getting simply ridiculous; I was paying dearly someone, to end up being with my kids! I burned my holidays for the year by April and things at work were getting tense. Not to mention, I was a nervous wrack! It was just not worth it. So, after 13 months, we called it the quits and decided to put Zeno in the same day care Milo went to. This took a lot of consideration and pondering, as we did not want to leave the other family abruptly (they, however, had 2 sets of grandparents nearby that could always jump in when needed). We observed the firing procedure and gave them a month notice. The news were far from being well received.

The bitter-sweet aftertaste of this experience is due to the fact that none of these people (the nannies and the parents) we were in very close contact with for over 2 years, seem to have understood the amount of stress this whole ordeal has meant to us; it also baffles me that keeping in touch does not seem to be on their agenda. Our kids have grown up together, shared daily life, games, meals, important milestones of their early development. These nannies have seen them crawl, then walk, then talk, have received much of their affection (not to mention much of our money...). But for the nannies it is just a job and for the other families we were probably just a mean to save money. This coldness, in retrospective, is quite disturbing.

Perhaps the system is just too complicated to guarantee everybody's happiness; despite what I have been reading on parenting magazines, in reality all the people I have met that had engaged in the garde partagée have experienced some level of frustration and discomfort. I was ready to pay that price (a little). but I wasn't expecting all the doors to shut closed once the adventure was over. Is it the big city individualistic attitude? Is it a facet of culture shock? The French distance vs. the Italian relational bonanza? One thing is certain: I am done with it!

I feel very reliefed we found a way out eventually and I’m very comfortable with the new arrangement. Zeno adapted in no time to the new day care, loving the plurality of interaction and all of the additional activities. His French is skyrocketing too (the last nanny was a foreigner and her French was not very easy to understand.)

In the meantime we met Sofie, a bright, young motivated student who has a gift for dealing with kids. She picks up Milo and Zeno from school during the week and plays with them until I get home. Milo and Zeno fell in love with her instantly, it all flows naturally. I say we deserve her!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Multilingual dreaming

Milo is starting to recall his dreams in the morning; usually he would tell them to me, while cuddling in our big bed for a few minutes before getting up for breakfast, and he would tell them in Italian…like last week:

Milo: “Ho fatto un sogno stranissimo, mamma: Zeno ha preso il mio doudou e l’ha buttato nel mare. Poi papa é entrato in acqua e l’ha cercato. Ma…alla fine sono andato io a cercarlo e l’ho trovato, l’acqua non era profonda.”

(I made a really strange dream: Zeno had thrown my teddy bear in the sea, Papa went to look for it, and then finally it was me who found it, in the shallow waters).

This morning for the first time he told us of his first bilingual dream:

Milo: “Ho sognato che chiedevo a papa:
“Papa mi dai un cerotto?”
E lui mi diceva: “Wacht en betje! Ik moet geven medicament van Zeno!”

(In Italian: I dreamt that I asked papa for a bandage and he replied (switching now to Dutch): Wait a little! I am giving Zeno his medicine!)

Let’s leave aside any interpretation and let’s stick to the linguistic issues!
He totally imitated the Belgianite while relaying his line; he seemed amused and proud to have remembered his dream and when we asked him to say it one more time, he repeated it exactly the same. We cracked up at his cuteness, but also felt somewhat reassured: his multilingualism must be pretty deep anchored if his unconscious releases it so faithfully in his dreams.

I made me remember that when I moved to the USA at age 19, with a very shacky English baggage, it took me about 3-4 months to gain fluency and I felt so consciously the day I recalled my first dream in English.

I haven't had time to research this but I wonder f there is any scientific study conducted on the way languages we speak are reflected in our dreams. Any clue, readers?

French mistakes

Yesterday we ate salmon and I explained Milo that the salmon is a very strong fish that likes to swim upstream. This morning he was eager to share this new bit of knowledge with his nanny Sofie, but he lacked some vocabulary. I heard him say:

“Tu sais, Sofie, le salmón (instead of saumon) est un poisson très fort, et…et…l’eau vais comme ça et lui il nage comme ça (he mimics with his hands the fish going in the opposite direction of the water)”.

Sofie was changing Zeno’s pamper, an activity that requires much attention as Zeno makes it as easy as trying to put a diaper to a wild octopus…so between that and Milo’s metaphors, she was not getting at all what he was talking about, which frustrated him. So I decided to jump in to give him a little hand, and I said in French:

“Oui, Milo, le saumon est très fort et il nage contre la courant …”

Sofie got the picture and once she managed to put the octopus down, she picked up on the conversation. I was then summoned by the Belgianite in the bathroom, to learn that it’s ‘le courant,’ i.e. masculine and not feminine, as I pronounced it (I admit I was uncounsciously translating from the Italian ‘la corrente,’ which is indeed feminine).

As much I am fluent in French, I am aware that I still make the occasional mistake…should I be more restrictive with my use of French around the kids ? Somehow I feel Milo already has a strong enough base, and in terms of the pronunciation, he does not hesitate to correct me if I miss a nasal « e » or « oi » sound ; however I hear the Belgianite, we need to be careful not to pass on our mistakes!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Summer update

Zeno is literally exploding linguistically: on one hand he repeats almost everything he hears, in any language; on the other he is visibly trying to make sense out of his (multi)linguistic surroundings.

On his second birthday we sang 'HAPPY BIRTHDAY' in Italian, then in Dutch and finally in English (we left the French for his friends at the day-care). The next day he was singing to himself: "Atta-nanna to youuuuu, atta-nanna to youuuuuu!"

He is producing a few mixed sentences:
capelli mouillées (IT/FR)
ancora bigol (IT/DU)
merci mamma (FR/IT)
guarda Milo: cassé (IT/FR)

but also some good ones in any of his three languages:
"guarda mamma, vieni: dudu caduto!"
"pas ca, pas ca, fini!"
"piace podódoio” " (for non mi piace il pomodoro= I don't like tomatoes)
and the everlasting: "Cos'é mamma? Cos'é?" (What is it?)
"Dov'é Milo?" (Where is Milo).

His exchanges with Milo are 70% in Italian, with the rest in Dutch, if they're playing next to Papa, or in French at the park or during the day with the nanny.
Milo is clearly setting the language and deciding when to switch; Zeno tags along.

He obviously understands it all, but he is finally trying to sort each word and put it in the right linguistic basket.

Milo's encounter with another set of American friends reinforced his interest in English; they brought him some CDs with kids’ songs and we've been listening to Old MacDonald and other great classics! He made less of an effort to speak, this time, but he picked up several words and showed off a laconic thank you and goodbye a few times! I'm thinking of finding a playgroup for him in the fall, but it has to be something he can attend without me, otherwise he won't speak up.

School is over and my little MTKs are spending now their days with their new babysitter, a Franco-Spanish languages student. We could not find a better fit! She's intrigued with the Italian spoken by the kids and at the same time Milo is intrigued with her Spanish. So they feed each other language items all day long, using French as a common base. Milo has been asking me, on her days off, how we say this and that in Spanish! But yesterday, on my day off work, at some point he said full of melancholy: "I feel like speaking in French to Sofie…”

His meta-linguisitic awareness keep blowing me away: yesterday I was cleaning up the toys in the kids’ room and Milo spontaneously joined me to help; he was trying to tell me something but I was so absorbed in the task (and tired) that I did not realize I replied in English:

Milo: “ Mamma…”
Me: “…yes?”
Milo: “ Mamma!!!”
Me: “…yes?! What?”
Milo: “ Mamma: ti voglio parlare in Italiano!” (I want to speak Italian with you!)

So later I randomly asked him:
Me: “Milo pensi che ci parleremo in Inglese un giorno?” (do you think one day we’ll speak English with one another?)
Milo: “Non credo…a meno che non ci sposiamo, ma tu sei gia’ con Papa’…non possiamo sposarci.” (I don’t think so, unless we get married, which we cannot because you are with Dad)
Me: “Ma Milo, le lingue non c’entrano con l’amore…” (but languages have nothing to do with love…)
Milo: “Ma si, sposiamo le lingue!” (yes, let’s marry the languages)

I just left it at that, it was too cute and intricated to get into…It’s pretty obvious that Milo thinks that the Belgianite and I speak English because we are in love!

He’s been very playful with languages and has increasingly accepted me speaking French, to the point that we have a little game when I prepare dinner: he plays a traveller arriving in a restaurant, and I’m the French chef. So I greet him, ask him where he’s been and if he’s hungry and he tells me all about his recent trip to Italy to visit his grandparents. All this in French and with an obvious acting tone to it, both of us enjoying the role playing. Then I offer him to stay for the night, if he does not mind sharing the room with another fellow traveller, little Rascal Zeno (who in the meantime gets the gist of the travelling conversation and shows up with his back pack, thinking we are about to go somewhere!).

Apart from these occasional playful moments, Milo is strict with using Italian with me; on rare occasions he has been using French to tell me something related to school, which apparently is fairly common with bilingual kids. He code-switches automatically within the conversation. I let him express his thoughts and then I simply rephrase them in Italian, but so far it must have happened only a handful of times.