Reflux, rest, and reengaging.

It has been too long since I’ve written! Nelson has been battling with acid reflux which has been quite tragic for him, and his poor little parents haven’t been getting a lot of sleep or free time away from soothing our poor baby as a result. We were able to get him back to his happy self though, and aside from enjoying the flood of smiles he had been saving up, I should also have time to be back to regular updates.

While things were rough for poor Nelson and I was sleep deprived, my French speaking really dropped off. To some extent it is hard for me to tell if I was speaking less French, or just feeling like I was speaking less because it was so repetitive. I typically read him books and talk about all the different things we encounter, but in these past couple weeks I was instead always comforting him. I sang Au Clair de la Lune about two hundred times in two weeks, so there was French coming out of my mouth, but I got so delirious that I was smashing verses together and probably not even singing words at times.

These past few weeks were also the first time I noticed myself code switching unintentionally. I feel like that is a little triumph. Everything I read about raising bilingual children talks about code switching– the dangers, the joys, the utility. To me it seemed so impossible, I was so far from comfortable enough with French to slip in and out of it effortlessly. I would sometimes say things in English, but just because I really didn’t know the word or phrase at all. Now I flow between English and French without knowing it quite often– and surprisingly, more often than not, it is the French that encroaches on the English. When I am around other English speakers and trying to speak English to the baby (a policy that I am reevaluating, I will almost certainly post soon about that!) the French just marches right in. Aside from the feeling of really being a REAL bilingual parent, it also makes me scared. The English does sometimes encroach on the French, and as tired as I was last week I often wouldn’t notice. Before we had a diagnosis for Nelson’s reflux I was worried about the entire bilingualism project. I was so tired that sometimes I wasn’t capable of putting together sentences in French, and what I was saying was so repetitive that I was afraid everything I know would just disappear *poof* into a cloud of little baby tears.

I think I learned a lot from these past two weeks. There were times before where I felt like I wasn’t doing enough, but this round I didn’t even have time to pause and evaluate. Life just happened. I felt like I was being swept along in a very fast current, and I was grabbing on to anything to keep the language anchored. But things were also moving fast enough that there was no time for guilt. I felt good about what I could do and what I was trying to do and tried to remind myself that this too would pass. Once things got better, I got right back in to it, and it felt so good to be speaking and reading and challenging myself and progressing again. It doesn’t always have to be perfect. It is the baseline, the habits that will make or break Nelson’s bilingualism and mine.

One other fantastic thing came from all of this. I was so happy to be back to speaking French that on Monday I introduced myself, in French, to a woman who is also a regular at the baby singalong that Nelson and I go to at the library. She always volunteers “bon matin” into the good morning song, and I had been meaning to introduce myself to her forever (one of my many anxiety-provoking-I-should-be-speaking-French situations). We had a real conversation, in French. She’s from Haiti, she asked me if I was from France, we talked about raising bilingual children, and about how her grandson has four different languages between his parents and grandparents (lucky kiddo!) and they fight about what he should learn and how. Oh, and she asked me if I was from France. I’ve basically been smiles and sunshine since!


Slow motion

Tummy time

If Nelson can get through tummy time, the bilingual experiment can survive this week.

This week was the first time since I became a new parent that I felt really, truly, tired to my bones.  Alex was in the midst of final exams and papers, so I was on full time baby duty while Daddy pulled all-nighters in the computer lab.  Had it been a normal week it wouldn’t have been so bad, but has been a needy little one this week, in need of constant consoling.  I laugh at myself reading the bright-eyed optimism of my last post.

I don’t know how to feel about this past week.  The first couple days after my last post I was an engine going full steam ahead.  I was writing journal entires to get corrected on, I was listening to an hour of French talk radio a day while he napped, I was pounding away at French flashcards, and at night I would watch an episode of a TV show in French.  I felt like a superhero.  It was great, though probably not sustainable even in the best of conditions.

From that starting point, I felt like the past seven days had been a disastrous backslide, though now taking stock for the blog I feel more like we are just moving in slow motion.  While I have been alone with him he only hears French, except the occasional sentence I let slip out because I am too tired to notice which language I am speaking.  But where before I was constantly chatty, this week I’ve spent a lot of time just staring at him or saying simple and repetitive things:  “Je t’aime toujours mon petit lapin.”  “Ce ne’est pas le fin du monde ma puce.”  “Ciel, quelle moue !”*  Where I once had many topics of conversation, this week I struggled to describe what we would be doing that day or what items of clothing I was putting on his (very unwilling) little body.  I also spent a lot more time out with other mommies, speaking English.  Not for the English, but for my overall sanity– one can only spend so much time cooped up in an apartment with an unhappy baby, and for some reason the little rabbit is a lot happier when we are out and about.  I brought a book with us, and would sometimes read to him in French if I found myself between new parent support groups and coffees with friends, but still some days I would barely manage two hours in slow, repetitive, zombie French.

I don’t know wether I should regard this week as a success or a failure.  I fell short of my most recently stated goal for sure.  I keep trying to remind myself that I far exceeded what I would have thought possible 8 weeks ago while I stared at my very pregnant belly wondering what the future would hold, when I thought I would speak French for maybe an hour a day and build up from there.  But I also feel like those old goals are outdated, based on insufficient knowledge, and established before I experienced the joy and frustration of living life with my baby in a language in which I can’t fully express myself.  I guess in the end this week doesn’t really matter, what matters is the general trend, the slow compounding of hours on hours until him and I either wind up fluent or drown in a sea of linguistic dispair.  I think I am sounding melodramatic– I assure you, it is mostly the lack of sleep.

I am trying to make myself accept that there will be ups and downs.  Really, it won’t just be this past week where the bilingual project is in slow motion.  Tuesday Nelson and I fly to Florida for my best friend and cousin’s graduation, and to get out of Alex’s hair while he prepares for his qualifying exam for his doctorate.  I’ve never heard anyone say that traveling with an infant is easy, and we’re going to be spending another week without Daddy’s help.  The trick will be coming back to full speed after the world settles down.

So for now, I am focusing on the small triumphs.  Even zombie French is French, and I did manage to get through some flashcards!



**”I love you, always, my little rabbit.”  “It isn’t the end of the world sweetheart.”  “My, my, what a pout!”