From September to June, we’re all about structure around here. My boys have been in preschool since they were two. We have home visits from teachers once a week, there’s a never-ending flurry of notes back and forth in communication logs, we have speech therapy and appointments with the psychiatrist. So it’s no wonder that once June hits, I’m ready for all of us to take it a little easier. I take on less work, or more work that I can do from home. Bedtime is later—much later—than usual so we can all sleep in. We go to the park, or stay inside where it’s nice and cool, whatever strikes our fancy. The boys are enrolled in a very low-key summer camp at our neighborhood preschool a few days a week. Spanish isn’t spoken there, and that’s not even a factor—I chose the school because it’s a block away and convenient.
When we go on our yearly trip to Costa Rica, we relax the rules even more. Last year I arrived at my mother’s a week after they did only to discover that they were hopelessly hooked on just about every show on Discovery Kids. I shrugged that one off, because at least the shows were all in Spanish (and I grew to love Los Backyardigans, myself). They were also hooked on néctar de pera, which tastes more like pure sugar than any kind of fruit, and begged for a box every time we went to the supermercado. I gave in, because, well, at least they haven’t discovered the pop-top cans of leche condensada yet. And even though I’m usually laid back and don’t obsess too much about the rules, I must say that completely letting go of a few things made for a much more enjoyable vacation.
It was bedtime just a few nights ago, and I was prattling on and on as we prepared to settle into bed and read stories, when Primo suddenly burst into tears.
Quiero que Mama hable inglés.
I wasn’t quite sure I’d understood what he’d said, so I asked him: ¿No quieres que Mama hable español?
No. More tears and sniffling.
It wasn’t an act of defiance or rebellion, and he was so obviously distraught and I was so baffled by his reaction that I did the only thing that came to mind. I relaxed our rule, our one strict rule in this house.
“That’s okay, sweetheart. We can speak in English if you want to.”
He picked a story in English, and we read that. His brother picked a story in Spanish, and we read that. Thankfully, there was no drama.
I didn’t want to force the issue, but I wanted to say something, and I wanted it to be the right thing. Gently, I told him how much I love speaking Spanish with him. I couldn’t help but ask him if he liked speaking Spanish, too.
Four-year-olds are fickle and unpredictable, and this hasn’t come up again. I think all Primo wanted that night was for me to read a story in English, even though I never refuse to read to them in English if they want me to. But it was my first experience with one of my sons rejecting the language outright, and it got me to thinking about how to deal with it. A gentle touch helps with my sensitive boy, for sure. Bringing up children to be bilingual, it’s such a work in progress. Even with so many resources out there, I’m just feeling my way as I go along.
And I never thought I’d be all for bending the Spanish-only rule, but in this case, I really think it helped.