Bilingual is Better

{Photo courtesy of Kim Lane}

I’m sitting here writing this post from my mother’s home in Costa Rica, on what is our third annual summer trip here. Our plan is to keep coming for one month every year, and I’ve been curious to see what changes I might see year to year as my children get older. Yet, as I reread the post I wrote this time last year I had to laugh because everything I wrote then applies this year, too — I almost feel like I could have just hit copy/paste and been done with it.

The short version: There was family. Friends. Good food. Soccer. Lots of TV shows in Spanish. And that just about sums it up for this year, too. Our routine is the same, the people are the same, the television shows are the same, which is actually very soothing and relaxing.

But some things are different, too. Some of the changes are subtle, so it’s taken some reflecting on my part to put my finger on what’s different from last year.

  • This time around both of my boys were so excited about the trip they could hardly stand it.  I started to talk about it one month before we came, which in hindsight was a little too early because that was all they could talk about and I had to remind them every day that we were not leaving for Costa Rica until the end of June.  (It was a loooong month.)
  • For the first time, I’ve felt like my boys really needed the trip this year. For all the Spanish they got at home during their first three years, they’ve just finished their third year of preschool and the constant exposure to English shows. English really is their first language now, and although they used to speak some Spanish to each other they rarely do so anymore. Though I was expecting this to be the case, I must admit I was starting to a little antsy and was counting the days until July so we could focus on all Spanish, all the time.

{Photo courtesy of Kim Lane}

  • This time, they remember things from last year. We did a lot of talking about the upcoming trip beforehand, but I was surprised by how much they remembered once we got here: my mother’s house number, my brother’s car, the name of the grocery store. When we headed to the grocery store, they made a beeline for their beloved néctar de pera (that stuff is like a drug). They remembered the television channel they watch and their favorite shows, and I love knowing that all of these little things have taken up residence in their memories.
  • I’m hanging back a bit more. Back home, there’s always a plan when it comes to working on the boys’ speech and social skills, details that are hammered out in their Individualized Education Program, ideas we discuss with our psychiatrist, and they all involve a lot of parental participation, modeling appropriate behavior and language and the like. And while it’s all useful and necessary, it can be exhausting. Here, I’m more relaxed. I watch as Secondo makes the rounds in the shallow swimming pool and chats people up, and though my inclination is to go help him out or at least get close enough to hear what he’s saying, I stay where I am. The other day I took him for a haircut and heard him adamantly inform the barber, ¡No! ¡No me gustan las tijeras! I decided to let him take care of that one himself — I don’t know exactly how, but my stubborn Secondo met his match in the barber, and they worked it out on their own.

And finally, they’ve gotten to know their family better. The first couple of trips here, back in the days of limited eye contact and little speech, the boys often came across as quite aloof, even to family. Now, the autism and speech delays mean that my boys can have a hard time expressing how they feel and they often have a unique way of expressing themselves when they try.

This morning, though, there was no mistaking Secondo’s sobbing as his relatives piled in the car to leave and then pulled away: Vengan aquí, por favor. Yo quiero que vengan conmigo, por favor. Me gusta que estén aquí, por favor. And then, to me, a perfectly constructed statement: Estoy triste porque no estoy con mi familia.

And I promised him the only thing I could, that they’ll be back, that we’ll be back.

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