On Bilingual Mothers who Are Not Really Bilingual

I’m Polish. Bred and raised. Yet my daughter (now almost 2.5 years old, as she says: she’s “two o’s”) wields only her own mother tongue (aka English) , except a few occasional: “kocham”, “czesc” or “dzieki”.

Since Arya’s day one, I have been feeling guilty about this fact although I consciously made a choice not to speak to her in Polish mostly out of of convenience (I don’t have Polish speakers around me to converse on a daily basis). The guilt is coming from the societal (and sociolinguistic) view on raising children in a bilingual family. I’ve heard million times: “You should speak to Arya in your language, it’s really bad you don’t”.

And for the whole list of the reasons I have learnt when studied linguistics I do know they are right. Yes, Bilingual children are smarter, geniuses and they know a second language by default.

For years now I t has been hard for me to speak Polish. I don’t speak Polish daily. My family doesn’t call me regularly for chats in my native tongue, I don’t work with Polish people, I don’t have many Polish friends who I meet often. I breathe, think and speak English (far from RP, but I still do). I have been for over 12 years now (even in the Uni before than we spoke English all the time because we studied in English). How am I supposed to suddenly switch? 

And yes the dark cloud of guilt follows me every day and I don’t need gurus on trains and occasional encounters telling me “YOU SHOULD” like I’m depriving my daughter of her basic rights. Go back to your lives and let me live with my guilt in my own world. I promise, Arya will speak Polish before I die.

 

Macabre Visions

I promise I will be back as soon as summer is over. I’ve been in too lazy mood for the past couple of months but this will have to change.

Now however I wanted to write about the topic that has been a part of my life since Arya was born – involuntary macabre visions.

Yes, everyone has heard about mother instinct and that the mind of a woman changes as soon as they become mothers but to me this was just a piece of dry information until I (FINELY, sorry but I cannot stress that enough) became a mother myself. 

Since Arya was little those horrible flashes of images hit me out of the blue, when I was walking with Arya in a buggy or leaving her for a second in her seat while turning my head to reach for something. Gruesome figments of my imagination where I saw Arya in exactly the same situation as we were at that moment and an accident or a scary incident with the most vivid details of this horror – all in the split of a second. The scenes were so horrid they were bringing chills on my skin and heart palpitating faster as if I was getting panic attacks. And each time different (because the actual situation was different) and each time as intense and lucid that it became my massive worry. I also started thinking that perhaps on some level I wanted these things happen or enjoyed them. Felt so embarrassed, scared but at the same time intrigued. I sort of knew what they were referring too, but as I always question everything about myself this was not an exception.

I once told Sanj about all this and he said in the most causal way as if I was trying to share with him that the we are married or that the rain falls from the sky: “Of course. This is mother instinct. You are a mother and you love your baby so much that your brain is constantly alerted.”

From then on I have understood it more and more and at the same I became so fascinated with it.

I always proclaimed how much animals we humans are and how amazing it is. But since Arya was born the experience of all this is so much more transcending me than ever. 

The fact that I have these gruesome thoughts is the higher level of intelligence which to us humans is still not fully explored. The fact that my mind puts the worst case scenario of the moment I am in with my baby in front of me especially when I’m completely oblivious of any possible danger around me and my baby is perfection. Not very pretty one but these signals simply keep a mother on her toes. 

Our primeval nature is more intelligent than we think and I can bet all my money that female primates have far more of such intelligent apparatuses in their minds.

If all that was only combined into one…

Last Phase until She’s 1

It’s amazing how drastic in changes the whole maternity year is (from the 1st day you welcomed your baby in this world until they become 1). One day of this whole crying and feeding and sleepless nights and smiles and play time drags for eternity but then you go to bed and you wonder how come over 9 months already have passed. 9 months! How?!!! When?!!! And you remember the mile stones, the moments, the “shrinking clothes”but you don’t remember the face, the gestures, the feeling of holding a tiny treasure in your arms. She was 3.250 when she was born. Bastian felt like a lead sculpture comparing to my little baby, too small for her newborn snowsuit. What did her face look like???? I don’t remember. I can’t see it. And you reach for your phone with a gazillion of photos you have taken from the time she was born. You flip through them and smile and get sad and smile again and maybe a tear shows up in the corner of your eye and you smile again… 

Arya is almost walking on her own now. Just a few more weeks, I recon and she will be chasing me, galloping on her little Bambi feet. It’s been such an intense time. And I can see how my “mummy persona” has developed together with Arya.

When she was born, for about 4 months I was like a mother hen laying an egg. Do not even come near me. No one. This is my baby and only I can hold her. Sleep deprived, swaggering on my feet but still standing – never let her off my sight. NEVER!!! Not even for a nanosecond. I also felt very lonely at that time. Lonely and spaced out. And I thought Arya was feeling lonely too. All by herself in this world. Came to me and Sanj on her own with no friends, not even a safety blanket or a favourite teddy bear. Alone. Unaware of anything around her. Brutally pushed into this world. I had this constant feeling of sorry towards her; I wanted to protect her and surround her with all the love and care I had in me. That was when I overdid with holding her. She slept between us (or on one of us a time) in our bed, she as carried by us and never left on her own – now I’m paying for it. But I don’t mind because I would never do it differently if I had a second chance.

The next four months I would call “proficiency time” – when I had my breast-feeding mastered, my senses mustered and the ability to judge Arya’s behaviour and emotions developed. I started going out with her to play groups and mum meetups and enjoyed her ability to socialise. This was also the time when I was the most exhausted, when not enough sleep was taking its toll and my body ached from constant carrying my baby (who was rapidly getting heavier each day) and pushing the buggy at the same time. A few outings without Arya were a torture (to me, because she probably was absolutely fine) but a must and each time I made it I patted myself on the shoulder because to me it was quite an achievement. As within those four months Arya grew into a quite inquisitive, impatient to walk and quite a foodie baby I had to learn to manage my energy, my patience and of course my day in order to survive until Sanj came home. The decision to wean off breast-milk was hard (funny how, before Arya was born, I had thought that I would breast feed only for 6 months; 8th month came and I was loving it) – it was hard because I so much wanted to keep this last ritual. I couldn’t part with it, say farewell and be free. I think I also wanted my baby to want me (aka my boob). 

Now I’m in the third phase (from 8 months until, possibly, when she’s 1) and again it feels so much different. I no longer have issues with weaning, in fact I actually want Arya to not be dependant on me for m to be able to “be me”, a singular. My energy level has never been higher and I am so looking forward to seeing my Bambi mature. Very often I have these dreams when she walks or talks to me or is simply a grown up girl and I love each and every bit of that dream.

I go out so much more often now and without any feeling of guilt or anxiety. I even have a part time nanny now. I have a nanny. Someone else stays with my baby. SOMEONE ELSE! It’s like a new era for me – a totally new me, out of the cocoon. Out of all the cocoons (first one was the depression cocoon, then pregnancy sickness and fear cocoon and then the challenging new mum time cocoon). Excited and strong, I embrace each day. And at nights I still secretly browse the photos from the past with a smile and a sad face, a smile and a sad face… 

Weaning Temporarily Off the Table

37.5 C degrees – this is the max temperature that comes up on the thermometer every time Arya is hot. It’s very odd because there are absolutely no signs of flu or cold and the heat comes in waves. Mainly at nights, even though my baby sleeps (although “sleeps” is a too strong word to describe the nocturnal pattern developed two nights ago) uncovered. I suspect it’s the symptom of the second stage of teething because I don’t think Arya is in pain, there are no rashes or blocked nose. Constant demand of the boob temporarily put the weaning in the corner. And it’s lying there in a foetal position waiting to be picked up back again. If she so strongly relies on the breast milk it means it’s a nature’s call and there must be something in it. I’m not going to oppose Mother Nature. She knows what she’s doing. Weaning is off the table for the time being.

It was going well. Although I changed the rules of this cruel game and instead of increasing the hours of the “no boob” period, as I initially planned, I decided to diminish the numbers of feeds during the day. And I must say – I went down to two and then the third one was around 19:00 so I counted it as the night feeding. I stopped being bothered that much about the times of breast-meals (however I always aimed for the first one to be after 12:00) and focused on managing the cycle to always end up with the magic number of 2. It had been going marvellously until the night before the last one when Arya started overheating and did not want to let go of the breast.

So now I’m two nights behind and can join the extras of the Walking Dead. The bouts of high temperature appear randomly and Arya then is very crabby (but the face – I can’t handle that face, it’s not “I’m fussy” face but “mummy I’m in pain please hug me” face and it breaks my heart) and the only thing that helps is holding her in my arms, she cuddles, gets calm and sometimes I can even get a tiny smile through the discomfort (or perhaps pain) and then she pats me on my chest to soothe her pain with the milk. I would say she’s awake perhaps only for an hour between the feeds and sleeps so this is definitely a major change. Her body is surely fighting with some bug and I’m only monitoring with anxiety if anything more serious develops. No chance however for putting her in bed so I could do anything else. The house looks like smitten with tornado and I’m sitting here (with Arya on my lap) looking around and cringing at the sight. It’s hard to let it go. Another training of patience.

Jinxed It

Recently the amount of energy that suddenly bunched up in me is so abundant I even struggle to fall asleep (my mind and body wants to keep on going). I wanna go out clubbing or to a theatre, for a late dinner, anything. Even on my own. I’m sure I will make friends with strangers because with a surplus of this energy you just run out of normal things you can do so then you turn to the crazy and the dangerous and the unheard of. It cropped up on me, literally, overnight – I wake up rested or at least without this “absolutely horrible sleep deprivation, mind debilitating sleepiness in my brain” , at nights Arya needs two or maximum three short breast milk top-ups (think tequila shots in a night club to keep you partying – this works exactly like that but in the opposite direction) and the same at daytime. There are therefore two explanations to my “new, reborn me”, possibly related – one: I breast-feed substantially less which means not everything I eat gets sucked out of me hence the energy; second: as Arya wakes me up fewer times I have more sleep ergo the surplus of energy.

I got so excited about this change that I started telling everyone that I’m feeling better, that hopefully this is another chapter in my life when I regained my brain functions and the power to survive throughout a day without falling on my face (although my body is still aching and don’t even get me started on my back but I try to do everything I can to not carry Arya since she’s now in the mode of mastering her walk). I just wanted to let everyone know that I’m OK now and that they will be ok too. It’s just a phase. It will pass. It will.

And last night – there it is. For some reason Arya got back to her restlessness. Although stripped down to her body shirt (and a nappy, of course) she felt boiling hot but not feverish. Constantly demanding the boob, not happy to sleep on her own. So we were back to square one. Brilliant. Obviously frustration sneaked in (to our whole trio). Sanj tried to walk around with her or to sleep in the other bedroom, hoping that if she doesn’t smell milk she will sleep fine. In my dreams! Well, not really in my dreams from last night because last night it was not only a horror in reality but also in my night visions – I had some terrifying hallucinations that some psycho murderers in hoods were threatening my family, that when I styled my my client, she suddenly left unhappy without even saying goodbye, and that I was out in shops without make-up. All SCARY!!! No joke.

Both Sanj and I had been waking up probably every 15 minutes for approximately another 15 minutes to pacify Arya. On top of that, Bastian (as it ALWAYS is the case at nights like this) was scratching the window to get in. How the hell he scratches the window I have no clue. Does he spread his paw fingers, shoots out the claws and DJs on the pane some cat music? And how is it possible that the window has absolutely no marks. Yet, the sound it unbearable and so irritating that you want to punch someone but it’s a night and you’re in bed and you can’t even scream because Arya will get even more upset. So then Sanj gets up , opens the window for the Lord and that vicious creature turns back waving his fluffy tail at you and leaves. Cruelty to animals my ass. It’s this monster who’s keeping us his hostages and tortures us for his own nocturnal entertainment…

I had some sleep (she said miserably). Sanj is knackered too I believe (I don’t know because I haven’t heard from him – his work is killing him; I sometimes wonder is it work or Arya at nights, or both the same amount; some men prefer to stay late in the office to avoid the baby drama but poor Sanj has such a hectic time at the moment that he probably wishes he could come back home to the crying, moaning daughter). And since this morning I might have seen Arya playing once… For 5 minutes. Not happy as she usually is. Constantly demanding the boob and being carried. Never see her like that before. Even when she was sick. It’s rather worrying but on the other hand I’m telling to myself that it’s just one of these odd days for the development. Some tuning of hormones, neurones and other “-ones” . In the meantime I barely ate and can’t move of the couch. Or perhaps I can, but I won’t risk it. I can’t afford to risk it. Just for the biscuit? Can’t risk it. My back and my energy level is on stake. This stake that burns for me as a witch in my past life.

Ok, I’m pretty sure I’m losing it now so I’d better end this post before some reader will call 911 thinking that i really need a psychiatric help.

I’m fine! I’m fine. It’s just a phase. There’s always “just a phase”.

New Era – When 2 becomes 1 and then 2 Back Again

The number of times I have been away from Arya you can probably count on one hand. The number of times when I have been away from Arya for more than 2 hours you can count on no hands, (until yesterday). Because it’s 0. The first time I left Sanj with her I probably sent a googlilion (yes, it is a number… Made up by me… And it refers to as many searches as Google can come up with for all the searched words and phrases ever searched on Google) texts to him asking if she’s ok. The first time was one of those: “I don’t wanna!!! I DON’T WANNA!!! I DON’T WANNA. But I have to” psycho moments which you can compare to the situation when your arm is chained to a block and suddenly you see a swarm of zombies approaching you, hunger in their dead eyes, and you grab a saw that just happens to lie there… casually… nearby and you come up to a conclusion (in a split of a second) that you either save your hand or your ass. And you choose the latter because according to the English idiom your ass is a metaphor for your life which is so philosophical in many ways but I won’t elaborate on that in this post. (This whole saving your hand or your ass is actually a thing, and it did happen, not to me personally, but as an observer… An audience, more like it, of the Walking Dead series, which I’m a massive fan of, by the way).So I went. For 45 minutes. 45 minutes and not a second longer. Phone in my hands and fingers warmed up to type. It was the day of Vogue Fashion Festival when Charlotte Olympia and Roksanda Illincic (my muse) talked on How to Make it Big in British Fashion and I, both excited and scared, was sitting there thinking How to Make it Big in Being a Mum and not to Feel Shitty about Yourself When You enjoy the Fashion Event.

Fashion has been my life since I was a teenager (before that not so much, unless you consider dressing like a tomboy throughout my whole primary school period a brave style move and my baby years – my mum’s amazing dressmaking skills, by the way – my mum was the biggest fashionista of all times when I was little, nowadays… I would say she’s better at planting her beloved plants whose names I cannot even pronounce), I have stacks of Vogue magazines in every corner of my house (Every now and then Sanj threatens me that he would burn them all because they take most of his precious space but quite frankly he even has issues with furniture taking too much space) and now do I have to choose between fashion and my greatest love of all – my daughter? Do I have to choose? Can I not love both and never feel guilty about it?

Each time I left my Arya it was something related to fashion (for my work – to be honest, but yes, for fashion). And each of these times, when I came back to her I could only see this judgement on her face. The imaginary (I hope) judgement – just a reflection of my own perception in her eyes. In reality it was probably a look of “give me milk, woman, it’s high time you give me your bloody boob to suck on and hurry up, woman. “

Today, when Arya is almost 9 months old and I can see she’s doing absolutely fine when staying with her daddy I somehow feel that this fear is slightly subsiding. And last night I went for a consultation with one of my clients and it seemed, as freaky as it sounds, like I’ve never been a mum, like I’m back to the times before pregnancy. Without a bump in front of me. Without a worry. About the bump or the crying. So frikking awkward but so liberating. A time of freedom. A time of me. In singular. As one unit. It felt so good. I needed it with every cell of my body, mind and heart…But I knew she was there in my life, that I was coming back to her (I didn’t lose my marbles, don’t you worry about that) and that was the difference from before. The purpose. The fulfilment. THE PEACE!

I think it’s a new era that is coming. The love while regaining myself.

Good Girl

 
Just as I’m allergic to colour labelling babies, the very common and so rooted generations feedback of “good girl”or “naughty girl” is also a “no no ” in my family. To me – it’s also negative branding that can result in long lasting harm.

Although Arya is still a baby and probably not understanding the difference, we use (Sanj tries, cause linguistic nuances are his Achilles heel) “well done” instead of “good girl” and I refuse to call any baby or child “naughty”.

Just because a baby cries, has a tantrum or pulls the tablecloth off the table he is far from misbehaving and every person who reads a bit on psychology knows that. The first two are the results of frustration or pain. The latter one – parent’s negligence. When a child “ACTS” naughtily this is a representation of a glitch in parenting, lack of communication between the child and parents, child’s confusion about parents/society expectations. Because what does it mean “naughty”? We very often use it too causally towards our children or others but what we consider “naughty” is not necessarily seen “naughty” by society and vice versa. Moreover, probably we do mean: “you act naughtily” and it’s just a semantic shortcut. I’ve heard “You’re such a naughty boy/girl” far too many times. In my eyes, the comment: “You are being naughty” causes much less harm than “You are naughty” as it refers to a current moment rather than a trait of a child. Although I’m not a biggest fan of this phrase either as every statement with “You ARE” is still assigning an attribute with a adjective that follows. I know it seems petty and while reading this post you feel like you were somehow redirected to some blog on linguistics but no, I have always understood the power of words (and how much I myself have to learn in this department from the application point of view). Having studied communication and information management, children psychology and teaching methodology and having experience as a teacher, nanny and now a mother, and, let’s not diminish the role of this – having been a child myself, I have observed and studied a huge impact of words on the behaviour of a human. No, I don’t consider myself an authority in any shape and form – I’m far from that. What I’m trying to say is that throughout years my hobby sort of interest has been focused on the correlation between communication and language on people’s behaviour and I shaped my opinions based on my various observations. I’ve noticed (among my family circles as well as my ex students of different ages) that the more the child heard “You are so naughty” the more he/she was engrossed in this label. Because think how hard it is for all of us to suddenly start acting differently when we already have an opinion coined about us. How hard it is for us to apply for a job in a completely different field than the one we’ve been in for years? No one is interested in the fact that you have a certain set of skills that you were mustering outside your job – the social perception is that if you have been an accountant for 10 years you probably are only good at that and that one thing only.

When one hears “YOU ARE NAUGHTY” repeatedly – most likely they will develop one of the two extreme patterns:

they will accept it and will expect it so if they are doing something wrong they are not disappointing anyone. They might wish to change it but don’t know how so they give up and continue “doing naughty things”.

Or they will persistently try to “be a good boy/girl”, by excelling in everything or trying to excel in everything and never be happy about the result. In the most extreme cases – this will understandably cause frustration, self-depreciation and constant dissatisfaction with ones life.

Both of these routes, however, will stem from one very same belief: “I AM NAUGHTY HENCE…”.

It’s a bit more complicated and a topic for a book but I hope this post gives at least some idea. Of course – this is only my point of view, which I admit, I imposed on San-Jay in regards to bringing our daughter. I want to stick to it and verbally reward or criticise the ACTION (explaining the reason) rather than tell Arya what SHE IS or what SHE ISN’T. Therefore she won’t hear from us: “good girl” or “naughty girl”.

I would love to hear your opinions and comments on this.