All or Nothing

Posted by:  |  Category: Bicultural Vida, Daily Blog


Photo credit: E. Yoshio

I’ve always thought I was a laid-back kind of gal.  I don’t think I’m much of a control freak.  My motto might as well be, “Go with the flow.”  At my wedding, my bridesmaids wore whatever they wanted to.  The day before, my sister-in-law picked up a truckload of whatever flowers looked nice at a flower stand and my guests made our floral arrangements, and my bouquet.  My husband and I met our realtor at a bar and figured, hey, why not?

So I was completely unprepared for the fact that when it came to my children’s language learning, I had very, very strong ideas.  Had I voiced them all, I think I would have been downright insufferable.  For the first few years, my children had a Spanish-speaking nanny.  She didn’t even speak English—and I liked that, because it meant she wouldn’t be tempted to speak English to them, even though it also meant she and my husband couldn’t communicate very well.  Before autism came along and thrust us into the public school system, I didn’t think my boys needed preschool, and that staying home longer would be better for their Spanish in the long run.  I was stricter than I thought I would be, correcting their Spanish perhaps more than I needed to and rarely speaking English when we were out in public, even to be polite.  They rarely got to watch television shows or listen to music in English.

I don’t think being strict about it is a bad thing.  In hindsight, though, I think I fell prey to all-or-nothing thinking.  And I know it’s because I wanted my boys to learn Spanish so very, very badly.  Because maybe if I wasn’t rigorous enough about something important, I would blow it.  And reading about the experience of other people who are in the same boat has made me realize I’m not alone.  (It’s one of the reasons I like SpanglishBaby’s Ask the Expert column so much.)

I’ve come to realize it’s not an all-or-nothing game, though, and that has started to become obvious in some pretty cool ways.  For example, even in the beginning I could not bring myself to be strict when it came to reading.  Early on, I toyed with the idea of only reading to my children in Spanish.  But then they would bring me books in English to read, and the very thought of saying no to a child who wanted me to read a book just seemed wrong.  So I decided I would never to say no to a story, regardless of what language it was in.  This meant that about half of the time, I read to them in English, but I wondered all the while if I wasn’t shooting myself in the foot by doing so.

One day, though, just a few weeks ago, I noticed something.  My boys have become much chattier during story time and there’s a lot more back-and-forth going on when I read.  They ask questions (Mama, ¿qué dice aquí?).  They comment on what’s happening in the story (¡El niño está tomando leche!).  And they do it all in Spanish—even when the book is in English.  We carry on entire conversations about the story, and then get back to the English.  Even though I know they can switch languages with ease, I wasn’t expecting this to happen, and I love it.  What I really love is how something that worried me turned out not to be an issue at all.

It feels like such a fine line we walk sometimes.  On one hand, I want to keep things consistent.  On the other, sometimes I really just want to mix it up, for all of our sakes.  But right now, I’m feeling encouraged and have cast aside the all-or-nothing mindset.  We might even watch Toy Story in English when they find it under the Christmas tree.  Because honestly sometimes I get sick of the dubbed versions.  If we watch it in English, well, it won’t be the end of the world.  And we may even be able to have a long conversation about it.  In Spanish.

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