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.
Janek and Maja have just turned 2. The night before they were born, I was watching Skyfall with Marcin in Złoty Tarasy and intentionally avoiding meditating on what awaited me. 24 hours later, I was off my head on morphine and a mother of 2. This system (no baby one day, baby the next) never fails to amaze me.
And they’re still here, 2 years later, changed beyond all recognition. The fact of them stretches out to colour a time before they ever existed- sometimes when I think about the cycling trip we made to Poland, I catch myself wondering where they were- what did we do with them while we were sleeping in an Iranian caravanserai or crossing a pass in Tajikistan? The things they have learnt in these 2 years stun me- I don’t know if they will ever have another time in their life where they come to grips with so many new skills.
It seems clear to me that I love them more now than I did then. The fact that I just let somebody else take care of them on their first night on earth now horrifies me, to the point where I would like to have another baby just to redeem myself. When I think about the 10 days we spent in hospital together after their birth, my memory is full of horror-film special effects- the dressing gowns, the groans and wails, the night walking, the fear and confusion in the air. The icicles dangling in the yellow lamplight. And so forth. The sight of newborns, with their veiled, sleepy eyes and creaky wails, fills me with a complicated mix of tenderness and fear.
In these two years, I have spent plenty of time feeling either judged or self-righteous. Who knew that parenting was such a competition? Maybe it’s because there’s so much at stake that the thought that you’re doing it all wrong is unbearable. There’s a small, sneaky satisfaction that I can’t deny in seeing someone else lose patience with their child, or palm them off with an electronic device to get a bit of peace and quiet. If I had any plans to become a better person, I would start by trying to eliminate this Schadenfreude.
I have been slacking on the blog front. For the whole of July I have been teaching 5 hours a day, and I am stretched in so many ways that I can hardly believe I am still standing at the end of the week. I spend all day (beginning at around 4:30 in the morning) in a ferment of lesson planning and teaching, and come home to the whirl of dinner-bathtime-bedtime. After which I fall into bed myself and the whole cycle begins again.
I’m happy and relieved to find the teaching exciting instead of terrifying. I have a class of 11 young Belarusians who amaze me and amuse me (“Rose, your tights remind me of a rabbit”) every day. Their neurons are also firing madly, so we are in it together. They do not realise the extent to which I am experimenting on them-I feel like I need to try out any new trick I can think of while I have such an energetic and responsive audience.
So much of this is new. For the first time I am developing warm and constructive relationships with my colleagues. For the first time I am farming out my children all week long, so that I hardly see them. Sometimes I hear their sleepy early morning jabbering building as I exit the flat in the morning- more often, everyone is still sleeping when I leave. I know that my parents (who have the kids 3 days a week and often do overtime on weekends) are stretched as well, and I barely see them either. I call in the afternoon to remind them I’ll be late and hear the sounds of their secret life together-we’re just in the kitchen having our nana, says my father, and then, he’s escaping too! We’ve got two Trobriand Islanders, and they’re not wearing their leg ropes!
I don’t plan to live like this on a permanent basis, though I know that many people do and somehow manage. But I don’t feel guilty either. For this month, I can wallow in work and see how it feels.
This is what my mother used to tell us when our constant competitive childhood ranking (his is better, his is bigger, she got more!) was getting her goat. It sounds like a piece of wisdom inherited from her own mother, and possibly used for the same purpose.
I make them anyway. It’s a constant source of amazement to me, how different my children are. I could touch each of their bodies with one finger and know whose it was- Janek’s dense wombat-flesh, Maja’s springy little muscles. I watch their different kinds of bravery- Maja, who hides behind my leg and wards off strangers with a murderous scowl, has no qualms about sliding headfirst down the slippery-dip. Janek is devoid of any fear whatsoever of unknown humans, and goes about the playground stretching out his arms to other people’s Babcias, saying try!try! (this is what they say when they want to do something and need help).
Their absolute and irrefutable difference has saved me endless mothering guilt, in particular over Janek’s eczema, which I would otherwise think was my fault. It’s one of the biggest advantages of twins- seeing the way they turn out to be themselves, regardless.