Portuguese, definitely Portuguese, but from Brazil, I conclude.
I give myself a high five (in my mind, lest you think I’m weird) for my clever linguistic detective skills.
As I sit chugging my diet Coke (“chug” being the operative word: D. and I had pulled an all-nighter with E.) and waiting for my family to pick up their food at Chik-Fil-A, I can’t help eavesdropping on the woman at the next table.
(D. makes fun of me for being una cotilla as soon as I hear someone in the crowd speaking a language other than English.)
The woman is having lunch with her three young children, and I can’t help listening in as she and her kids toggle back and forth in a mix of English and Portuguese.
Since she had kindly helped bring over some of our ordered food, I feel the stranger boundary has been broken, and so as soon as we make eye-contact, I venture, “Are you from Brazil?”
“Yes,” she smiles. Her face lights up.
Unable to help myself, “Did I hear you speaking to your children in Portuguese?”
“Yes, I try. But, it gets harder and harder as they get older,” she confesses.
At least fifty follow-up questions come to my mind. What gets harder? Why? What language do you speak with your husband? What’s your family’s language policy? Is there a large Brazilian community in your city? What advice can you give an inexperienced mamá like me? (Can you tell I’m a new blogger?! Pull it together, Audrey.)
Unfortunately, our conversation is cut short by a crying baby.
I can feel her eyes on us as D. and I negotiate what to do with E., ¿dónde le cambiamos el pañal? ¿por qué está llorando? ¿crees que tiene sueño?
I hope I didn’t come across as nosy, I worry, as I cart E. off to the bathroom, leaving the rest of my diet Coke to languish unfinished.
Twenty minutes later, I leave the restaurant with a crying baby and a strange feeling somewhere between my heart and my gut. (No, it wasn’t the food.)
Driving home, I replay the lunch scene over and over in my mind: the interchange of Portuguese, English, and sometimes “Portuguish” as the children chat about their vacation assignments in between bites of chicken nuggets.
How hard is “harder?” What if E. refuses to speak to me in Spanish? If I don’t know a word? If my daughter corrects my grammar and laughs at my accent? What if I can’t do “harder?” If, if, if, if.
I’d allow my mind free reign to construct every possible what-if question known to parentkind, but we pull into the drive way and my baby needs a snack, a lullaby, and a nap.
We make it upstairs to her room just before Armageddon meltdown occurs, and as I place E. in her crib, I sing, as I always do, the words of her favorite nana (lullaby), “Cinco Lobitos.” I barely make it through the first verse when she rolls over, smiling and pointing at me. Then she’s gone, off to sleep.
That smile. That smile that tells mamá that sé que me cuidas, gracias, and te quiero. That smile that makes my what-ifs go away.
What’s dangerous, I remind myself, about those what-if questions is that they can never be answered because I can never go to the future. All I have is today with my daughter. So, instead of envisioning my future self in the place of that mother of three at the Chik Fil-A, whose life story I don’t even know, and therefore cannot judge, I will envision myself today and what I can do and say to my daughter TODAY. I will celebrate the gift of language that I can give her today. What E. will learn or not learn of Spanish (or, English), what she will say or not say when she can speak, and how this whole experiment – because it is an experiment – with bilingual parenting will turn out, well, I don’t control that. I’ve only got today.
Lo que me queda por delante, ¡pues a por ello! (“What I’ve still got ahead of me, well, bring it on!)
What are some of your own struggles in your journey through bilingual parenting? How have you resolved to live in the today? Drop me a line. I’d love to hear from you because remember, this new mamá could use all the advice she can get.
Also, be sure to check out some of the great organizations, blogs, and books under the Resources tab. Hope they’re helpful to you. They sure have been helpful to me and D.
Oh, and by the way, notice anything different about the blog? I didn’t feel like the previous format was quite me, so I spent yesterday playing around a bit with templates. What do you think?
¡Feliz fin de semana, amig@s!