Wednesday, 13 August 2014

two months later....

In an effort to avoid writing this post, I left comments for other bloggers whose blogs I haven't visited in a long time. This blog used to be my lifeline...but now it's been over 2 months since my last post !  I'm starting to think that maybe it means I'm finally settling into my expat life, mother of 2 bilingual children, etc etc.

Lots has happened in two months. I'll try to go through it little by little in a logical way...and maybe I'll even save some for a separate post.

The school year came to an end with the most wonderful experience I've ever had in the French school system. I got a thank you. An actual, meaningful and wholehearted thank you and a beautiful bouquet. Since my kids started school, I've gone into their classes every year to do English. Last year's teacher didn't even say a simple merci so I was understandably peeved. It's not for the glory that I do it but this year's experience was much better. The kids and teacher were great. That was in November. At the kids' end of year performance (the most amazing kids' performance I've ever seen - the kids did synchronized swimming in the school's gym. it was hysterical!), the teacher said she wanted to thank a few people and I was one of them. I was so touched. Madame D restored my faith (and hope) in the teachers my children will face in the future.

Then in July, I celebrated 17 years in France. That's almost half my life and a very long time for someone who first came to spend 3 months here. I realize that the longer I stay here, the more American I feel but the less American I become. what I mean is that I cling to certain things and to my American identity, yet I'm so detached from American society that I can no longer relate to all things American. Do you know what I mean? And I think it's the American part of me that's kept me afloat this year because it's been a tough one (or two).

I didn't talk about it at all on the blog, but I've been fighting depression the past couple years (more life a mid-life crystallization than a mid-life crisis)  and this year I finally got my head above water and I was swimming really hard! In fact, I overdid it this year. My goal this year is strike a balance between family, school, friends, work, volunteering, teaching, exercising...oh wait, I think I already lost.

And on that note, I'll end this post. I actually want to give an update on my bilingual children. But if I do that now, I may not post for another 2 months.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Big kids or little adults?

It's been a while...a long while. The time that used to go into  inspiration for this blog is now pouring into creating interesting classes for little kids and baking cookies. And more cookies. And more cookies. And although I'm happy to have the outlet and passion and creative energy flowing, I do miss my blog. 

But the one thing I don't want is this blog to turn into some mundane American expat in France here is a funny pile of dog shit kind of blog. And I feel like that's all I'm living at the moment. Hey, someone peed on my garage again. Hey, the shop assistant was an asshole again. Hey, I just don't understand the French and how that neo-nazi racist xenophone could have been elected to the European Parliament! And so on and so forth....

But there is stuff going on that I want to write about. And I want to get feedback if there's still anyone out there who still looks at my lonely little blog. 

See, my daughter just turned 8. And it turns out that little kids are mean in all languages. Raising a kid is hard. Being different is hard. I've been a kid but I was a kid like everyone else. I wasn't a half American- half French mix growing up bilingually. And to top it off, my mother didn't show up at school wheeling strange things to eat and speaking a strange language to all my friends. And flat out embarrassing me because she didn't get it. Oh wait, that sounds like stuff my mom did without the extra language. So maybe Suzanne's life isn't so different from mine!

My dear English friend and I have a theory about our kids - they are just different. They are less harsh, more fun and definitely less cut throat than their French counterparts. Maybe it's their anglosaxone sides. And maybe it's just me and my friend....but whichever it is, it can't be easy to be different. Not visibly different like with a huge scar or a birth mark but just different in the way you talk and think. I've realized that language forms your thinking pattern. Look at my daughter for instance when she asks for something in French - she uses English structure. The way you form your sentences must form your brain and personality and vice versa. 

So what do you say to your 8 year old when she comes home saying Alice says they aren't friends anymore or niki calls her a machine a manger or when nino makes fun of her for just learning how to  ride a bike? How do you make your kid strong without always putting emphasis on the difference that is being bicultural and bilingual? My first reaction is always to say, well does he speak English? Has she ever lived in a different country for 2 months? But I realize that maybe that's not the right way to go about it. Maybe the emphasis shouldn't be on "be proud of your difference"  and "never forget how special you are" but rather "people are mean in all languages" and "you are a wonderful person and I love you more than anything". 

Meanness is universal. And I wish I could take back the mean things I did to people who were below me in the pecking order. I wish I could appologize for taking out my own social frustration on people who were geekier than I was. And I hope I can teach my daughter - and son- to be graceful in the face of teasing and just absorb it like a sponge but spit it right out without leaving a trace. I wish French kids weren't mean but they are. Kids are kids. And kids are little adults - or are adults just big kids? - and kids are mean. 

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

My mother's tongue

Two months....has it really been that long? I have been forsaking this blog, although I do think about it often. But my brain power goes to many other activities at the moment like baking, teaching and generally trying to stay sane...

That said, here's a little update on my Franco-American adventures.

Suzanne (almost 8!)  has a space in the bilingual section of the public school. At first, we were worried that it wouldn't happen, that she wouldn't want to go, that the level of English wouldn't be good. But, although it's an experimental programme, we are convinced. Last week, Suzanne and I sat in on a class and she came away smiling (albeit nervous and scared too!). She is both excited at the thought of learning more in English, being with other bilingual kids, and going to a new school. But she's also nervous about leaving her friends and starting a new school. One great thing is that she already has a friend who will be in the same class as her. As the minority language parent, I came away from last week's meeting at the school with a big smile on my face and the rare feeling that parents get when you KNOW you have made a good parenting decision. Not only will it be good for Suzanne to learn to read and write English (at the moment she is teaching herself), but it will be good for her to be around other bilingual kids so she can be proud (she is already but she's also different) and it will help her self-confidence which is pretty low at times. As for the school, I am happy that the kids are all mixed together and the bilinguals are taken out 3 hours a week. So it's the best of the public school education with a twist. And, as a non-French person constantly grappling and fighting with the rigid French structure, I find it an added bonus that the school will be less "French" and more open. The thing that has perturbed me the most since my kids started school is how rigid and strict it is. The classe bilingue provides a different point of view and way of educating the kids because they share experiences with schools in England. Yay! She's come a long way since the word lists I used to post on this blog 7 years ago....for more information on the bilingual french-English class in Lille, you can leave a message. 

Max (4 1/2) is all boy, is into superheros, star wars and collecting sticks. He is now solidly bilingual, which was a main issue for his first 18 months. He continues to mix up his grammar between French and English equally. In some way it's reassuring that his French is speckled with English because it means the English is ingrained in his head. Max always preferred French whereas Suzanne preferred English. At the moment, he is having trouble with "jusqu'à" for example - I'm getting taller. I am jusqu'à your chest.  And he does similar things in French using English structure like Ou est-ce qu'on va à? Literally, where are we going to? My husband and I are often too immune to these slip ups that we have to remind each other to make the correction in the other's language. Max continues to express himself in an extremely precise way, in black and white terms with no shades of grey. The fact that he is bilingual seems to help him because he gets frustrated quickly. His two languages allow him to express his frustration and relieve some of the tension that builds up in his brain.

So after almost 8 years of strict OPOL child rearing, what are my thoughts? Recently, I had an interesting discussion with a Slovak friend who was impressed with how bilingual my kids are. And I really attribute it to how strict I was for the first couple of years. The kids continue to only speak English to me and I find that I have to remind them to speak French in front of their French since speaking French to me is just so unnatural (and vice versa).

All in all, I'm really proud of their progress and proud of how my husband and I persisted. I see other people who weren't so strict and the results are glaringly different. There is also another factor that I'm considering more and more : I see that male friends who speak the minority language don't have as much success as female friends. It's not called a mother tongue for nothing.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

What it feels like to be made fun of by a 7 year old

I think about this blog often, I really do. But I just don't get those early morning flashes of inspiration I used to get. Those flashes now go to my new venture which I will write more about some other time.

That  said, I have a lot to report about my bilingual babies who are no longer babies, but are real people now! They are sometimes annoying people, sometimes funny people, but they are always my favorite people.

The bilingual barriers are breaking down while other ones are built up. It's still a constant battle, but an enjoyable one that I no longer worry about losing. I'm not ready to say yet that I won, but I can definitely say that I am on the winner's team :)

Suzanne is now 7 1/2 years old and full of surprises. When she opens her mouth to speak English, she sounds like a small version of me, New Jersey drawl and all. Although her English speaking has never been a problem, she was very daunted by reading in French so I didn't try to teach her to read of write in English. But now, she has taught herself. Much of it is based on French phonetics, but she's doing it and we owe a lot of thanks to the magazine, I love English for Kids which we started getting at the public library. She loves reading the magazine while listening to the CDs at the same time.

Max is 4 1/2. His Germanic accent in both of his languages has evolved. He now speaks with a perfect little French accent in both French and English. My husband and I have various theories about why this is : maybe he's copying his father (who doesn't have a French accent in English), maybe he's lazy, maybe he doesn't have good ears, or maybe he's more focused on the precision of the word choice than on the actual pronunciation.

The hardest part at the moment is making the time to read to them in English. Nightly reading in English has always been a keystone for me and the kids. But with homework, later working hours, and the kids growing up, it's getting harder and harder to find the time. This is more of a weak point in Max's English education than Suzanne's since she got a solid 5 years of it while Max only had 3.

Another point that is becoming increasingly difficult for me is homework. I struggle about how to do homework with Suzanne : English or French? I am a real OPOL purist and speaking French to my kids just seems wrong. But I've had to adapt. For example, when Suzanne has math homework, I can't very well say "eighty-five + thirty = one hundred and fifteen" when she's still trying to figure out the difference between "quatre-vingt-cinq" and "quatre-vingt quinze" (85 and 95, respectively). BUT (and there's always a but), when I do her homework with her, she comments on my accent which she finds very amusing. So it's hard to keep your concentration and authority in a foreign language when your 7 year old is making fun of you...

Monday, 20 January 2014

MLK day 2014

Every year on MLK day, I find myself reflecting on how to teach my children about American culture what it means to ME be an American. And it's no coincidence if MLKday provides me with an annual time for reflection. 

I didn't realize it until recently, but MLK day was a national holiday in 1984. I was 9 years old when we first started celebrating it as a national holiday. I was in 4th grade so MLK day was always part of my life. 

Over the past few years, I've tried to explain Martin Luther King Jr (2011) to my daughter and also to her entire class. But it loses a lot of the relevance and importance when they 1) live in a country where past historical atrocities are still brushed under the rug, 2)there never was any segregation and 3) it's just not part of the culture. 

So this year for MLK day, I will once again talk to my kids about the importance of accepting difference and being kind to everyone. And I'll also read them this book and hope they get why it's an important part of being American. 

Monday, 30 December 2013

If you're 'appy and you know it eat a cookie

I could have written this article...but I didn't. Pamela Druckerman did.

It's some reflections after going into her child's French classroom for a lesson on america and being American. 

Over the past 2 months, I went into both of my kids' classrooms once a week. For the little ones, I read silly stories like red hat, green hat by Sandra boynton and taught them silly songs in English like go away big green monster. 

For the ce1 (2nd grade) I tried to focus a little on American culture and history for the first couple lessons. Then I decided to just go with it. One lazy day, I went in with an empty jar and some paper cookies and we played "who stole the cookie from the cookie jar?" 

At first, I was a little worried because the kids weren't participating and I felt like a big dope in front of thirty kids singing by myself. Bu once they got going, they were awesome. They were actually having FUN ans SMILING, two things I do not necessarily associate with French school. 

And you know what? Suzanne's usually very good but strict teacher loved it! She loved it so much that she kept the jar and is going to do it with the class on a regular basis. And as she says in her article, there's something to be said for the fun quotient of Americans school that just doesn't exist in france. I'm not saying that's American school is all good, because it's not. But somehow, French school children forget to be children. And that's just sad....

At the end of my last lesson, the kids each got a fresh cookie. And you know what? They all said pleas and thank you. That just shows that you can learn and have fun at the same time. 

But I'll also add that ms. Druckerman's article does not reflect the excessive kumbaya spirit in many American schools or the fact that French kids score higher than American. So they are doing something very an American in France raising two Franco-American kids, I honestly do regret my kids not having the quintessential American school experience: the school bus, the lunch box, recess...but at the same time, I can give them all the good American-ness at home but I can't  give them the quality education they are getting at their little school in Lille, France. 

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Tu-ing me softly

I have one of those faces. When I don't smile, I look mean or unapproachable or cold. People often interpret my lack of smile as aloofness or cockiness. But they usually don't realize that I'm actually a quiet and shy observer. 

Of course I wouldn't expect my kids' teachers to know this about me. And I couldn't expect my kids' teachers to know that this is exacerbated by my "American-ness" ie being a little "too" brusque and a little "too" direct. 

When I went into my daughter's CP class last year, I didn't expect much. But I did expect a thank you from the teacher. Which I NEVER got. Yes, that's right. She never said thank you. I took that as a personal attack on my lessons, even though I got positive feedback from parents and kids alike. OBVIOUSLY, I'm imagined her saying bad things about me and what a snob I was ! 

So this year, I was understandably hesitant when I offered to go into the CE1 class (the teacher is the directrice) . And when she accepted very heartily, I was relieved. Maybe I had done a good job last year?! And when she asked the entire class to say "thank you" after the first lesson, I was touched. And when her inspector attended my second lesson and gave positive feedback, I was gleaming. And I was vindicated. 

Then last Saturday at the school's Christmas party, I was behind the snack bar and last year's teacher came up. She used the informal tu form with me, called me by my first name, and told the woman next to her how delicious my cookies were and had I made any for the bake sale because they wer eoh so delicious. I instantly smelled an ass-kisser. But beyond the self-satisfaction I've gotten with knowing I did a good job at my daughter's school, I'm just totally and thoroughly confused about the whole tu versus vous thing. Every time I think I've understood, I realize that I don't understand anything! And I can't bring myself to tu her because, well, I'm still holding a grudge for one...

But WHY is she tu-ing me all of a sudden? Is it because she realizes my dedication to the school, because she now understands I'm not just some crazy American, does she see me as an equal, does she think she'll gain something from me, or is she just actually a nice person who's smile-less face and shy demeanor are wrongly interpreted as aloof over-confidence? 

I may never know....

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