My children know 2 languages. This sometimes still amazes me, since by the time I started learning languages it was too late for me to be properly bilingual. They know they speak two languages, and have for a long time. They call it ‘having two words’.
I am, frankly, also amazed by how well they do it. We speak a lot of Polish at home and they go to a Polish preschool, but their English is better than it has ever been, and after our trip to Australia they have even started to play together in English. Maybe it’s because my parents have always been around for a few months of the year to give them more exposure.
They switch languages effortlessly depending on who they talk to.They know what the languages are called and if they don’t know a word they ask (Mummy, how you say ‘restauracja’ in English?) Their development in both languages seems to be pretty normal for their age- I can’t see any discernible delays, though I don’t have much to compare them with as far as their English goes.
Sometimes they mix the names of the languages up (mummy, how you say ‘remont’ in Polish?). They have a bit of an accent when they speak English which led our friend Laura to comment that they sound like Russian film villains. Sometimes they use phrases (lonely as a finger) or grammar structures (I too want one) from Polish when they speak English. Overall, though, I’m satisfied with their ability to communicate in my language.
I expect it to become more difficult when they get into the Polish school system and start to find me less important and spend more time with their friends. I also realise that I will be faced with the responsibility of teaching them to read in English, which is daunting. But for the moment, it’s working better than I expected.
This time I’ve decided not to be stingy with my list, and give both of you the full ten. Here are yours.
- You are sucking up information like a sponge and processing the world with your own logic. When we tell you you can’t run with a fork because we saw a picture on the internet of a kid who did that and had to have it surgically removed from his nose, you file the information away. One day, we get into the tram and see a woman with a nose stud. Mummy, you say, that Pani mustabeen running with a fork.
- You draw beautifully. Snails in a car, a snowman with a scarf, a beautiful graphic of a giraffe made of an L with 2 dots for eyes, bespectacled portraits of Daddy and Jaś. All entirely recognisable
- You are getting socially braver and don’t have to be bribed with cake to go to preschool on your own when Janek is sick.
- You ride your bike like a little professional, with madness and pure joy in your eyes.
- You have started to tell your own stories sometimes at bedtime. They inevitably contain a dog, and an adventure that ends with a nice warm cocoa (your words) and going to sleep.
- You recently took great pleasure in informing me that Babcia is Daddy’s mummy. I can see how this messes with your head and it’s so funny.
- You totally love books and remember whole chunks of text after what seems to be a single read.
- You are eating by yourself quite happily with no coaxing . Though your choice of food is not always what I would wish for you.
- You are getting more and more attached to Marcin.
- You like making nonsense rhymes ( mummy-gummy is your favourite)
Less nice things
- Tantrums. In a word. At night, in the morning, in the middle of the day. Sometimes the things you want are so crazy that we have no choice but to do battle (for example when you threw yourself on the floor and kicked because you wanted to eat all the breakfast eggs for everyone by yourself.)
- You always want to have exactly what Janek has, and you’re not afraid to bite his ears off to get it. Your fights with him are getting incredibly violent.
- Wanting to be carried home from preschool because you don’t feel like walking or riding your bike.
- When we don’t have something you want and you say go to the shop and buy some. It makes me want to lecture you for hours about children in Africa.
- The mess you make
- The late hour at which you deign to go to bed
- The way you demand that someone scratch your back for what feels like 5 hours before you will go to sleep. I hate scratching you.
- Watching you ride your bike down the hill as fast as you can, knowing you are going to fall off and being powerless to stop you.
- Still worrying about your shyness, although you’re much more forthcoming than you were.
- Your erratic affections- when you scream all the way to our friend’s place in the taxi because you don’t want me sitting near you, but Marcin
- The way you are constantly pretending to be an animal- a stork, a baby chick, Uncle Hugo’s dog Cruz.
- You are finally starting to report what goes on at preschool. I love this development, even when it means hearing in great detail about who ate their soup and who didn’t (Marcinek never eats his and as a consequence he is going to be small and his teeth are going to fall out.)
- The way you gesticulate madly when you’re saying something that excites you, and your eyes go huge and googly and you giggle with pure amazement.
- The way you sleep like a log, muttering to yourself but deeply unconscious.
- How you ran up to Grandpa Joe at the airport and flung your arms around him and gave him the biggest hug in the world.
- You are starting to develop your social life and preferences at preschool- you apparently don’t like to play with boys with doodles, only with girls.
- You are still a great big dog lover and I still love watching you approach them.
- Your fascination with our workplaces, and how you say that preschool is your work. I worked hard today, Mummy, you tell me. What, eating soup? I ask . No! you say, as if I am the biggest fool on earth . Sleeping!
- You talk and think a lot about The Stralia- you know already that some part of your life is there.
- The way you ask insane and unanswerable questions and then goggle up at us through your glasses as though you have absolute faith that we know the answer.
Less nice things
- The fighting with Maja, and how you know you are just a bit bigger and you say to her through hysterical tears, I’m going to LIE on you.
- When you refuse to eat anything because you’re a baby chicken and they don’t have arms.
- Your selective muteness at the eye doctor.
- You weigh a ton and carrying you is no longer a joke.
- The way you scream when it’s time to wash your hair.
- The mess.
- Your food sensitivities.
- You won’t poo without company.
- You wet your pants pretty regularly.
- When you say you’re going to wash the dishes and you climb up to the sink and soak yourself and use gallons of water and when it’s all over one plate has been partially smeared at with a sponge.
In the bakery near the preschool where we go to buy buns sometimes, there is a customer service relic from PRL days- bouffant, name badge, perpetual scowl. Marcin goes in to get some breakfast on our way to drop the kids off in the morning, and I wait outside. When he comes out I as, How’s Pani Teresa’s mood today?
Stable, he answers. And gives a violent, outraged snort to show what this means. I laugh all the way to preschool.
The kids’ hilarious identifications of Australian birds- besides the ‘funny stork’ (a ibis), there’s also a ‘funny crow’ ( a currawong), a ‘big seagull’ (a pelican) and lots of ‘pawwots’ (this covers the whole range from a honeyeater to a cockatoo.)
After a few days, I feel poorly and take to my bed. In practice, this means lying on the couch under the shed overhang in Franki’s garden, shrouded in a sheet to keep the flies off, fevering the afternoon away with dreams about a boy I knew in primary school who was later killed in a car accident. My companions throughout the afternoon are a flock of rowdy parrots, oblivious to my corpse-like presence, feasting on the grevillea tree and bickering with each other.
Driving up Mount Tambourine after a swim, stuck in a line of impatient drivers, we look up and see a wedgetail eagle cruising down to land on a tree by the road. I have never seen one up really close and when I see its hooked, predatory beak and hairy legs, I ask Franki in all serious if she’s sure it’s not a vulture.
We’re at the house of J., a friend whose father died last month. We’re good friends but the subject of this bereavement is a difficult one- it’s surprisingly hard to say, so, how are you feeling now your dad’s dead?
We’re sitting in the kitchen, me and Marcin and J. and his wife, all the non-bereaved a bit shifty-eyed but determined not to pretend it hasn’t happened, and the conversation is lurching along, grief, what to do about it, etc. J. doesn’t really want to discuss it, so we’re skirting around him a bit, but still going, slightly braver for the wine but out of our depth . Their kids come into the kitchen and start sniffing around for something to eat and J. asks them what they’re going to have for dinner. Chocolate wafers, says Zosia. Oh, OK. says J. You’d better have two, then.
In Newcastle, we stay with our friends Chris and Laura. Of all the people we know, these are the ones who shared the biggest part of our cycling trip 5 years ago- we saw Angkor Wat and the Great Wall of China with them, lounged on a Thai island and unexpectedly ran across each other in the foamy streets of Vientiane when we thought we had already seen each other for the last time. Now we are all thoroughly domesticated, having produced 4 children between us in the space of 3 years. Of course, we talk baby farming, but not only. For 2 days we can have those lovely meandering conversations which happen around the obligations of the day. Sometimes we don’t say anything.
Maja and Janek fall in love with their son Hugo, and insist on going everywhere holding his hands, flanking him. They refer to him as HIM. Mummy, I want to hold hands with HIM. Hugo is not averse, as they race about the museum and leap into the fountain in one long glorious chain of 3 year old exuberance.
In Sydney, we are caught up in a social whirl. Our friend Kat organises a barbeque for us and I talk late into the night with old friends. I am so involved in this day-long conversation that when a mad, cyclonic storm blows up in the afternoon I don’t even notice it.
Some of what goes on this trip is mere maintenance, hoping to keep friendships going for another couple of years until we come again. I’ve spent too much time being sick to fulfil the whole ambitious plan of visits. So instead, sometimes there’s only a phone call, or a short, harried picnic, just to say, we love you, wait for us until next time.