Saturday, 2 April 2011

Warding off the crazy.

I don't know where to begin...

For the record, the reason I'm writing this and reaching out to cyberspace is because it's too early on a Saturday morning to call my bilingual guru, my other friends didn't answer their phones, it's too late in LA, too early in it's just me and the sticky computer keys.

As a parent, you try to do what's best for your kids. You want them to be themselves. you want them to learn the best of you while trying to shelter the worst of you from them. But, I think most intelligent parents know that there's no way to keep all the crazy from them. There's no way your kids will not inherit some of your own crazy, no matter how hard you work at it, no matter how many years of therapy you do, no matter how much interspection you do...

Before the kids were born, I had a long talk with myself (and my therapist) and decided on a couple basic tenets : 1) I will always tell my kids I love them no matter what 2) I will not yell at them for breaking things unless it was an act of stupid kidness and 3) I will not hide when I am upset or crying.

The thought behind all this was that my kids not only know unconditional love but that they also know that I'm a person too and have feelings and cry, without getting mad for nothing. You can of course read into this and think what you may about my upbringing. And I'd just like to say that, yes, my parents made mistakes like all parents. But I know they didn't do it on purpose. And a lot of my "crazy" is just how I am.

The first time I saw Suzanne, she was anxious and wired. From the start, she was more like me : a little high strung, a little too easily overwhelmed...Max, on the other hand, has been all or nothing since birth. His first morning, I woke up in the hospital with him in his bassinet next to me, my finger in his mouth. This calmed him instantly in the middle of the night; the same treatment only made Suzanne scream more. MAx has two states: on and off. Suzanne seems to being buzzing all the time - you can never turn her completely off, but you can turn her down.

Over the past couple weeks, something's been amiss with Suzanne. She was uncontrollably a few weeks ago. I finally think I figured out it has to do with young love (the boy she likes kissed her but now says he didn't - I learned the story by listening to her tell her best friend). She's also had a couple of serious tantrum, what I can only describe as 5 year old panic attacks: she clenches up her fists, squeezes her eyes tight and starts to shake. It's happened two times and I can tell you that Jeorme and I are more than worried. I think we both understand her feeling of being overwhelmed and neither of us want her to have that kind of crazy....

And so, of course, I begin wondering if the OPOL system in our family, the fact that she's bilingual and therefore different, is not only putting too much pressure on her but also stigmatizing her at school. Yesterday she told us at dinner that sometimes her friends ask her how to say something in English but she can't find the words. We both told her it was normal and we acknowledged that being bilingual isn't easy but she'll be so happy later. And I know she will.

But right now, all I want to do is cry because I feel like I'm doing something completely wrong. I'm damaging my daughter before my very eyes and I can't stop it because I am who I am. I can see her absorbing my crazy. I wonder if I can do it another way to ward off future panic attacks. And I wonder if bilingualism is contributing to her state of panic....


Pardon My French said...

Okay, definitely sounds like she's having a rough time and thus you are, too. I'm totally doling out my own brand of crazy to my daughter so I can understand where you're coming from. My best friend from home always makes me laugh by saying, "Yes, we'll f*#% them up but it'll be in our own special way." It brings the stress level down a little bit.

It's so difficult at this age to figure out what's going on with kids because sometimes they don't even consciously know what's bothering them. I worry too about the stigma later on but from what you described it doesn't sound like she's getting picked on at school. And in my experience as an ESL teacher back in the states, the few OPOL kids I worked with did extremely well (vast majority had native language only at home). The ones I worried about had other stuff going on but that wasn't related to bilingualism.

To me it sounds like (oh no, here comes the assvice but please bear with me) she could be highly verbal as well as gifted, and those qualities tend to go with sensitive children, I think. If she's one of the highly gifted, sensitive children then bilingualism isn't going to be the problem, but she might need extra reassurance when it comes to things like forgetting words and getting it "right." It also makes it likely that young love issues would affect her more than others, but this is not my field of expertise by any means - just a possibility as I see it.

You and Suzanne have a very special bond thanks to your efforts. I have an old school Sesame Street book on making mistakes, so if I can think of the name (brain fart in action) I'll send it to you so you can snuggle up and read it together. It goes for both of you, because Lord knows we all screw up as parents but you seem pretty awesome and so does Suzanne. Give yourself a break because you're obviously a very devoted, thoughtful parent! (And I'm going to work on that, too...)

Anonymous said...

Oh Reb, I know it's hard. But like the previous poster, I don't think it's bilingualism. My first is seriously high strung (and in the States they think he's the smartest thing ever) and he gets the same thing with people asking him how to say stuff in English or, better yet, they ask him to say anything in English and he's stumped. He doesn't like not knowing the answer either. I remind him he goes to school to learn and to practice all kinds of things. But he's a little headcase and he's a lot like me. He would flip pretty much every day as I collected him from school for a long time. He had all this emotion building up all day and I got it, full force, when I picked him up. Over time we've worked out ways for him to deal with this and it's mostly gone away now. I think he would have had this even if we just spoke French at home. We do deep breaths, counting to 10, talking about how stuff feels, etc.

And yeah, his brother is nothing like him. He's a smart kid too but much more relaxed. Those poor first-borns (says the poor first-born) do suffer so. The second kids suffer as well, but so far chez nous, far less dramatically.

I'm trying to think of the bilingual people I've known in my life and if they were damaged by it. I don't think it's possible -- unless you were to suddenly switch languages or something and deprive her of her mother tongue with a jolt. Someone told me once, a long time ago, "be gentle with yourself." Hah, I need to remember that myself! Thanks for that.

I hope you are feeling better now and I hope you can find some ways to help Suzanne express her feelings.


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