Monday, January 25, 2010

My new Dutch tutor!

It was bath time ("bagnetto time") last weekend, and, out of the blue, Milo addressed me in Dutch:
"Brrr...mijn pijama is koud! Waarom heb je het niet op de radiator gelegd, mama?"
It was one of those shivering moments, when you realize something eventful is taking place but you are not quite sure what exactly,  nor why! I kept my cool, I looked behind my shoulder to check if, by any chance, he was addressing anyone else, but no: it was just me and him in the room! I had somewhat understood what he had said: the pajama was cold, why didn't I put it on the radiator, as I usually do in the winter months?
Bemused, I quickly tried to come up with an answer in Dutch, but simply did not have the words.
So I replied in Italian:
"Non lo so, tesoro, me ne sono dimenticata..." (I don't know, I forgot about it - I know, pretty damn dull!)
Milo insisted: "Volgende keer, vergeet het niet, alsjeblieft!" (next time don't forget, please!)
The little dude was obviosly in provocaton mode: the honey-combed voice confirmed my suspicions!
 I took a deep breath and tried my very best guttural sounds:
"Waarom spreche Nederlands met mama, kleine sloeber?!" (Why are you speaking Dutch to me, little rascal?)
"Ik weet het niet...dat is zo!" (I don't know..I feel like it)
"Si, ma se poi io non ti capisco?! Come la mettiamo?!" (What if I don't understand you?)
"Ik zal het je leren!" (Don't worry: I will teach you!)

And right there I felt my heart sqeezing with joy, pride, surprise, it was an unbelieveble milestone of (multilingual) parenting that I will never forget! I should have just hugged Milo right there and savor the moment, I should have known better that silence is gold, sometimes...

...instead, I had to add:
"Vuoi davvero che impari l'Olandese, eh?" (You really want me to learn Dutch, don't you?)
To which he replied , angel-like, still in Dutch:
"Papa heeft Italiaans geleerd!" (Papa has learnt Italian!)

That's when I made a mental note to never, ever forget to warm up his pajama again!

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Italian brothers...

Zeno: "Mamma, mi canti 'L'Italia Tedesca' ?"
Me: "Cosa? Che canzone è?"
Milo: " Vuole dire la canzone dei Fratelli dell'Italia..."
Me: "Ah, Fratelli d'Italia...l'Italia s'è DES-TA, non tedesca!"
Zeno: "L'Italia sedesca!"
Milo (singing): "Frateeeeelliiii d'IIIIItaaaaaliaaaaa..."
Me & Zeno: "...l'Itaaaaliaaaaa s'è deeeestaaaaa...."

The dialogue above concerns the Italian national anthem, which I have sang to my children since they were babys on and off, on various occasions.  I learnt the national anthem as an adult, as it is not sang in schools, but rather at football games in stadiums (which, by the way, I never attended!). But since I moved abroad , to the US first and to France next, I became sensistive to this artistic symbol of my country: I find it a beautyful song (despite an occasional recurring debate in Italy concerning the need to swap it with some aria by Verdi or Puccini), and its choppy-rythm version has served several times as a perfect diversion from a tantrum or a difficult situation with my 2 little princes! Moral of the story, they learnt it too, over time,  and they enjoy it just like any other song, although, due to it's aulic Italian (it was written in 1846 by Goffredo Mameli) they don't understand all the lyrics and I always get the odd question ("Chi è Scipio? Perchè Roma aveva una schiava? Chi era la Schiava? Perchè sono pronti a morire?"). I think on some level they think the song is about them, since it talks about Italian brothers! They feel concerned!
While the identification with the French culture and its symbolysm has inevitably begun (Milo's drawings of boats and airplains always showcase a French flag), my two boys also identify strongly with their Italian side. A few weeks ago Zeno was watching a DVD cartoon in French, and after a while he asked me to switch it to Italian, "...perché noi siamo Italiani!"
Also, last weekend in Milan upon landing at the airport, he marveled at the fact that everyone spoke Italian! ("Mamma, ma parlano tutti Italiano qui!").
They are very aware of their Belgian identity as well, we have both flags in their room, they can spot Italy and Belgium on the map,  and they know that they are italo-belgian, but the Belgianite being less fanatic of anthems and symbols, the most Belgian behaviour they have assimilated so far is the addiction to quality chocolate!
I wrote recently on the public debate on National Identity that has taken (dangerously as well as corageously) place in France in the last few months, and one of the measures that came out of this debate is to make mandatory the regular singing of the French national anthem ('La Marseillese') in public schools. So, I guess that's the next song they will learn.
I still have a hard time, though, projecting the way they will feel once grown up, in terms of national identity. Will the amount of time we will have spent in France be a key factor? Will this early identification with Italy  provide a strong root? Will they have the TCK syndrome, at ease everywhere and nowhere at the same time?
I guess, for the time being, the best I can do is teach them also the European anthem, the beautiful 'Ode to joy' (Beehtoven's 9th Synphony) . I'll choose the Latin lyrics, though!