Due to both my location (the wonderfully diverse Washington, D.C. area) and my occupation (Spanish interpreter), I have many friends who are also raising bilingual children. They are my support group, and when we get together the conversation invariably turns to our children’s bilingualism, our experiences and challenges.
I was chatting with one such friend and we started discussing the deluge of English in schools, how it will be hard to keep the Spanish going at home, how we’ll have to find a way to teach our children literacy skills in Spanish. And I made a comment, I don’t remember exactly how I put it, but it was something like, “Well, of course I want my kids to be able to read and write in Spanish, but if they don’t learn to do it all that well, I’ll be okay with that.”
“Not me,” my friend replied. “I’m going to make sure my daughter learns well enough that she can go to college in Latin America if she wants to.” Her response was so immediate and unequivocal that it took me by surprise.
That conversation took place a while ago, but it’s stuck with me. I remember going home afterward and doing a lot of soul searching. I was so impressed by my friend’s conviction—and I have no doubt she will succeed either—but it made me ask myself, shouldn’t my convictions be that firm, too? After all, I’m not in this halfheartedly, and I sure am trying my darnest to teach my boys Spanish. Why did I make such a wishy-washy comment? What are my goals, exactly, and how do we reach them?
Part of it, I realized, was that I remember very clearly what it was like learning Spanish as a child in the U.S. Or rather, I remember when I started to rebel against it. My friends didn’t speak it, it made me stand out, I had an accent and often couldn’t come up with the words I needed. Sometimes I wonder how well I would speak Spanish if my parents hadn’t packed up and moved us to Costa Rica when I was eight, and I wonder what my boys’ rebellion will look like when they reach that age. Right now, they’re four and I’m doing everything I can to make Spanish fun and enjoyable, but I also wonder how much I’m prepared to force the issue when they’re older.
Part of it is that I can be disorganized and I’m not much of a planner. Often, I’m just fine with winging it or going with the flow. I don’t think it had even occurred to me to set any goals.
And part of it is more complicated than that. Secondo has autism, and I’m constantly trying to strike a difficult balance because, as his mother, my job is to believe that he can do anything and help him along the way. And I do. But autism is a part of our reality. I refuse to believe that it limits him, but it’s been a game-changer, for sure. I need to be optimistic, but I need to be realistic, though being realistic cannot be synonymous with having lowered expectations. And all of it can mess with my mind sometimes.
What it boils down to for me is that I can’t think too far ahead. As cliché as it sounds, I need to take it one day at a time. When it comes to Secondo, I have way too little information I can use to make decisions about things that lie too far in the future. Right now I’m only thinking as far as meetings at school next week to talk about what his situation will be in September.
Which, in a way, is very liberating. At first, whenever I worried too much about the future, it paralyzed me completely (which it can still do, if I let myself dwell on things). But somehow, my perspective changed along the way. I’ve discovered I quite like being grounded in the present—for one thing, I can enjoy the present so much more.
I read about all kinds of wonderful Spanish immersion schools (often on this site), enrolling my children in such a program would have been a no-brainer before. In fact, I had my heart set on it, and I was prepared to convince or confront my husband about it if I needed to. Now I have no idea if that will be an option. That thought truly saddened me not too long ago, but now, it’s easy to shrug my shoulders about the whole thing. The only thing that matters is that Secondo is in the right school for him. Whether or not it’s an immersion program is not even important.
My new philosophy does not, however, mean that I will stop giving it all I’ve got when it comes to teaching him Spanish, but I will focus on today. Today, Secondo and I read stories in Spanish. Today, he played Juguemos en el bosque with his Abuelita, requested macarrones con queso for dinner and said ¡NO QUIERO! ¡NO QUIERO! ¡NO QUIERO! when I tried to make him take a bath. Today, Secondo sounded out a three-letter word—in English. And I really do believe he will be sounding out words in Spanish, too. It won’t be today, though—but maybe tomorrow.