During the summer of 2013, like all previous summers during our marriage, D. and I spent a month in Spain visiting family. But, this summer was different from the others: it also marked our last vacation sans bebé. It was our “baby moon.” Four weeks sleeping in until ten, making plans at the last minute, and eating all of the comida that we miss while in the States (well, this time I couldn’t eat any jamón serrano).
I also had an epiphany during this trip: I had no clue how to hablar the language of mother.
Sure, I knew how to analizar el simbolismo de un poema. And, of course, I could converse about la cocina española. Spanish swear words? ¡No problema!
But, how to talk about pregnancy and birth? Nicknames for babies? Lullabies? Blank face.
“My water is breaking?” No clue.
“I don’t want an epidural.” Have to look that one up.
“Swaddle. Co-sleep. Baby carrier. Stroller. Teething. Honey Pie. Snuggle-bunny.” Uh, where’s my dictionary?
Aparte de su nombre, ¿Cómo la puedo llamar? ¿Qué tipo de apodos se suelen usar para los bebés? I asked D. (“Besides their actual name, what else do people call their children in Spain?”)
And so my Spanish “baby moon” turned into Operación Lenguaje de Maternidad. I bought books on pregnancy and birth. Not for the advice, but for the vocabulary.
I scoured the bookstores for CDs (Audrey, nadie compra CDs ya, D. would say. Who buys CDs anymore??), and I hunted for Spanish lullabies on YouTube.
I spent the last several months of my pregnancy (lovingly) harassing friends and family in Spain for educational material. And since E. was born, I’ve started following blogs by Spanish moms in order to expand my baby vocabulary and learn about parenting from the Spanish perspective. Not to mention I’ve memorized (and I mean, CADA. PALABRA.) all of the Spanish lullabies I could get my hands on!
As the nurse placed E. in my arms for the first time in that hospital room nine months ago, I made a commitment to my daughter: “I promise to be your mamá.”
That meant the language of love that I would I give E. would not be the same that had shaped me as a child.
Would there be hugs, kisses, snuggles, laughter? Of course! But, now it would be:
Abrazos, besitos, achuchones, risas, y TE QUIERO, E.
She would be – and is – mi renacuaja (tadpole). She’s my pitufa (don’t you see the resemblance below?!) Mi cielo, mi amor, mi vida.
Has a little “I love you, E.” ever slipped from my lips? ¡Por supuesto! (And, as D. has reminded me, that’s okay.)
But, in this adventure of raising my daughter bilingually, I’ve committed myself to showing her and talking to her about my love en español.
This is far from easy. And, it doesn’t come natural, that’s for sure. But, a commitment by definition requires determination and work. That is why D. and I together have adopted the “home – outside the home” strategy. Español con mamá y papá en casa. English with everyone else.
Parenting is hard, whatever and however many languages you speak. In what ways have you had to learn the language of parenting? I’d love to hear from you!
In closing, I leave you all with one of the many nanas (lullabies) that I have learned with – and for – E.
It’s her favorite.
The lyrics go like this:
Five little wolves
Has the mama wolf.
Five little wolves
Behind the broom.
Five she did birth;
Five she did raise.
And to all five she gave milk.