Libros, Lullabies, and the Language of Parenting

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Cathedral in Zamora. D. en el Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid. Me en el País Vasco.

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).

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Playa de la Concha, San Sebastián.

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.

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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.

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I have this ENTIRE CD memorized.

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!

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Our (okay, mine) go-to car jams: the soundtrack to the Bible!

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.

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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.

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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.

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http://www.Babyradio.es is our favorite on-line radio station from Spain.

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.

28 thoughts on “Libros, Lullabies, and the Language of Parenting

  1. This is such a lovely post- we are also raising our children to be bilingual, and with my husband as the Spanish speaker, I also remember learning how to say the simplest words like bib and pacifier and breastfeeding, etc;). I adore your nicknames of renacuajo and pitufa!!!! 🙂 Our favorites are: mi colibrí, chiquita/o, preciosa, y campeón for my son:).

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  8. ¡Sí, sí, sí! I love this post! I totally relate to learning the “mommy vocabulary” in Spanish. This kind of language is exactly what I am aiming to help Spanish parents learn in English. I will be sharing this post! ¡Gracias!

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  20. Being new to your interesting blog: why did you choose not to use your native tongue with your child? I mean, as you said, you didn’t take the easiest way out… Or is there a blog post I should read about this? 🙂

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    • Great question. I’m really glad you’re interested to know. I would encourage you to read the following posts:
      1. On becoming Españolita (under REFLECTIONS)
      2. Nuestra Familia (first post under FAMILIES) + Update on Nuestra Familia (under FAMILIES)

      Let me know if you still have any other questions about it!
      P.S. You don’t have to be a native speaker to raise your children bilingually! 😉

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      • True, one doesn’t have to be a native speaker to teach a child another language. However, if the child is not exposed to native speakers enough, the non – native parent, as well as he/she may have learned the new language, may end up teaching the child “funny” ways of speaking it as mostly the mother tongue interferes with the new language anyway. And, yes, I’ve witnessed this happening, even with a child who’s mother was highly motivated and worked hard for the child’s bilinguality. Of course, then one might ask if it matters that the language the child uses may not sound native, it is still another language and they are always a skill. The child I mentioned earlier did not identify with the people of the language group representing the mothers language nor did it become the language of his emotions. He thought the language spoken by his father (and his mother’s native tongue) and the majority in his surrounding was his native tongue. However, he had a huge advantage getting a job in an area high in unemployment because of his language skills and when about 20 he was happy his mum made the effort. There are so many options 🙂

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      • You bring up several important considerations for parents raising children in more than one language. I wholeheartedly agree with you that parents, whether native or not, MUST expose their children to multiple speakers of the minority language. In my case, that means I ensure my daughter has daily exposure to her native father, Skype with relatives in Spain; weekly Spanish play dates; and why we are planning on spending a month in Spain. Thanks again for commenting!!

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      • Thanks! It’s HARD work indeed! But as I watch my daughter respond to the questions her Spanish monolingual grandparents ask, I know it’s worth it. She’s connecting with her family and will have an amazing skill in the 21st century.

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