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When English Isn’t The Dominant Language


Children being raised with more than one language isn’t a foreign concept to me. Working in a daycare that was populated mostly with upper-middle class families meant not only that I saw a lot of really nice homes when I babysat, but I also came in contact with very interesting parents who came from various backgrounds, often outside of North America. 
And working mostly with two year olds, I gained a lot of experience regarding language development, both of children whose first language was English as well as several whose first languages ranged from Italian to Hebrew to French.

Different children develop differently, as we all know, and language is no exception. In one group of kids I had  a little boy whose parents were Italian. They only spoke Italian at home and in the beginning the boy had a very hard time communicating at daycare. Mostly, he screamed all the time. When he was happy, excited, upset, angry: didn’t matter, he just shrieked. None of us spoke any Italian so we just had to keep reinforcing the English words that went along with the boy’s activities and feelings. If he was playing with the farm toys we’d say, “Oh, you’re playing with the farm. You like playing with the animals. That makes you happy.” 
It seems redundant, but eventually it worked and the boy stopped shrieking and started gesturing and eventually speaking in order to ask for toys or to tell us if he was unhappy or whatever else he needed.

On the other end of the spectrum, there was also a little girl whose mother was from France and spoke to her in French while her father was from Belgium and spoke to her in Dutch (I rarely saw the dad and had no clue about this until right before I moved to Belgium). You’d think she’d be even more confused than the Italian boy, seeing as she got two languages at home and a third in daycare, but on the contrary, she was actually super precocious with language. She was shy and quiet so it took a while before she spoke much in daycare, but eventually we realized she had a lot to say (with an adorable accent) both in English to us and French to her mother. She also began writing very early, albeit in French since her mother was teaching her at home.

So, when Tay was born, of course it made sense to raise him in both Dutch and English. You’d think it’d be fairly easy, right?
English is my first language, Dutch is Piet’s first language. I should speak to Tay in English, Piet in Dutch. Obviously in the daycare, Tay’s caretakers speak Dutch.

But it actually wasn’t really all that easy.

Thing is, Piet and I default to English at home. It’s the language we first communicated in when we met and despite the fact that it probably would’ve helped my Dutch when I first moved here and we did attempt speaking to each other in Dutch at first, we always ended up defaulting back to English.

Outside of our house though, I’ve made it a strong point to insist on speaking Dutch.
Otherwise I doubt my Dutch would be as good as it is now. Because as soon as a Belgian figures out that you speak English, you can pretty much forget about that person speaking to you in Dutch. Mostly they assume (and are often right, but not always ahem) that their English (or often their French if you’re a francophone) will always be better than your Dutch and they’re actually helping you by speaking your own language.

I’m so accustomed to pretending I don’t speak anything but Dutch, that it has become difficult to speak in English to anyone outside of a few Portugese friends and my husband.
And with Piet speaking Dutch at home with Tay, I automatically started speaking much more Dutch at home as well.
Tay responding only to Dutch and rarely to English (aside from “no” which he figured out fast and listens to better than the Dutch “nee”) enforced my speaking to him in Dutch because it hurts to be a new mother whose child doesn’t respond when they speak. At 10 months, if I spoke in Dutch, he interacted and responded. In English, not really.

So that’s how it came about that, maybe 2 months ago, Piet told me I really had to start speaking in English to Tay.
And I’ve had to force myself to do it and still often switch back to Dutch if we’re in public or family gatherings.
Tay now understands a lot of what I say. He’s finally starting to say “bye bye” occasionally instead of “da da” although his other 15 or so words are all Dutch. He knows “bottle” and “eat” in both languages, although he says neither. He uses signs we taught him but he’ll make the sign in response to the words in both English and Dutch.

It’s bound to remain complicated, since Piet will continue speaking to Tay in Dutch once we move to America. Piet and I may speak in Dutch as well so that he stays in the habit of using it and so my Dutch doesn’t get too rusty. But I’ll still be trying to speak in English to Tay.

Most of the time.

Unless we need to keep a secret from his Grandma and Grandpa.


Cold November Rain


You’d think the knowledge that I’ll be moving home soon would eliminate my pesky homesickness right?

I mean, this time next year I’ll be looking forward to a long weekend, the Macys parade, football and leftover cranberries and stuffing. I’ll be cuddled up with my husband and son, possibly watching snow falling outside, enjoying the mini-vacation that preludes December and New Years festivities.

But now, here, in the present, I’m having another autumn devoid of cornstalks and hayrides. No scarecrows, no mounds of little pumpkins and gourds, no rich tapestry of red and gold leaves.
Halloween isn’t an anticipated night of costumes, candy and trick-or-treating.
Thanksgiving doesn’t exist to break the bleak weather with the warm glow of family and gratitude.
This hits me every year around the end of November. This constant lump in my throat, this longing for home.

December in Belgium is a festive month, kicking off with Sinterklaas on the 6th and continuing through Christmas, New Years and often not fully settling back down until the end of January.
Those days are full of spiced wine, rich foods, sweet treats, outdoor Christmas markets (which I adore), and overall good cheer. Those are the days I’ll probably miss in America where repetetive music, gaudy lights and commercialism have redefined “holiday spirit.”

But now, here, in the present, I stare out the window, imagining my family: my mother spending the whole day preparing the turkey, my father cleaning the house for the guests, my brother and sister-in-law, my grandpa, my aunt, uncle and cousins arriving in a flurry of bulky coats, settling down around the table to squabble over the crispy corner pieces of baked stuffing or to praise this year’s new recipe, my grandpa snoring in front of the television while the other men yell at the football game and the women clear the table and do the dishes.

I think of those things, images hovering over me like a warm fleece blanket, a blanket that never quite settles on my shoulders, a blanket that waits for me across hundreds of miles of Atlantic Ocean.

And the lump stays stuck in my throat.

Holy Crap, She’s Back


On an almost daily basis I walk a tightrope between things I will miss when we leave Belgium and things that I will be so SO happy to get away from.

Just this morning, on my way to an appointment, I was crossing a small bridge over the canal that runs by our neighborhood and I noticed that there were complete spiderwebs hanging between almost every rail on the bridge. They were still wet from the morning dew, so they were shining and looking beautiful as they caught the morning sun.

(Do note that had I seen any of the spiders responsible for the whimsical bridge decoration, I’d be singing a totally different tune because I’m borderline arachnophobic)

As I crossed the bridge I also saw several ducks having a morning swim and feeding in the canal. The water was clear enough to see their orange feet paddling beneath their bodies and the quacking and antics of ducks chasing their food made me smile.

I’ll miss that.

When we move in with my parents, we won’t be walking distance from anything. They live in a housing plan that was built in an industrial zone. You have to drive to get to anywhere other than a slag field, a school bus depot or the local cable company.
Something I imagine Piet and I will be looking for once we can buy a house of our own, will be a home that is in walking or biking distance of local parks, grocery stores, etc.

After my appointment I went to the city center and went to go look for a new toy for Tay, who really loves playing with our keys and becomes very distressed when we have to pry the keys from his grubby little mitts. I found some child appropriate toy keys, went to the counter to pay, said “hello” to the woman who was standing behind the counter and she looked at me, ignored me, and turned to her colleague, saying how she still had to vacuum. So I stood there, waiting to pay while cashier number one gathered up her stuff and walked away to go vacuum (which she had not been doing when I entered the store and passed her when I went upstairs, nor when I looked for and located the toy, nor when I came back down and greeted her and tried to pay for the toy), while cashier number two had to stop whatever she was doing, come over and ring me up.

And to that I say: Fuck you, you uppity bitch! You are a cashier. Your job is to ring up my stuff, take my money and give me any change there might be. You don’t have to smile or be nice or even give me a bag. But part of your job description is definitely “taking customer’s money.”
And the most annoying thing was that the twit still hadn’t even picked up the vacuum by the time I paid and was walking out of the store.

In about 4 hours I had gone from wistfully regretting the impending absence of morning strolls over web-bedecked bridges and frolicking water fowl to wishing with all my heart for a place where cashiers actually crack a smile and do not avoid taking the customer’s money by ignoring the customer’s greeting and then pretending to go vacuum.

I may have manic depression, but if I do, I blame Belgium for giving it to me.

Anyway, that said, the weather was nice and warm so I opted to walk home rather than take the bus (public transportation in Belgium is yet another contradictory can of worms and if I actually get back into the blogging habit, remind me to write about it some time).
On the way I stopped at a little organic store and bought some coconut water and other assorted stuff. A bit farther towards home I spotted a bakery, popped in and grabbed a loaf of fresh bread, continued on a bit further to a vegetable store to pick up some salad stuff for lunch tomorrow and then I finally came home and unpacked my stuff.

Oh to be liberated of chain stores and the dreaded titan Walmart.
I really love that I can walk home and on every single route I can find at least one, if not several bakeries, a smattering of fruit and veggie stores and couple butchers, all independantly owned and run, with their own personalities and specialties.
We don’t have a car anymore (long story) so I buy groceries every 3 days or so and I really like the fact that I don’t just take a car, grab a huge cart and load up on mass produced, over marketed garbage.

Don’t get me wrong.
I can do that here if I want to (or I could when we had the car), but it’s actually much easier not to.

So by the time I arrived back home, I had added yet another thing to my “stuff I’ll miss” list and was brainstorming on where I’d like to do my grocery shopping once we return to Pittsburgh.

It’s not so far away anymore, is it?


Five Months


Here we are, five months later and I’ve just spent the last few days looking at all of your first pictures while we were still in the hospital.
You were so skinny and small and your hair was so dark. It may sound strange but you didn’t have your own smell yet. Every time I lifted you up to my face I only smelled a scent I’ll only ever think of as what my insides must smell like.

And now you are such a big boy.
You’re growing so fast and taking it all in stride. Your hair is starting to fill out nicely, although it’s gotten much lighter so it’s hard to see sometimes, but it’s there and silky soft. You have such a round, adorable face, with the most expressive, twinkling eyes. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen eyes that shine like yours do.
You squeal and giggle and laugh and play peekaboo.
You look at books and shake rattles and adore watching Luna when she comes into the room.
You are fascinated by patterns on burp cloths and clothing and furniture. Anything with a pattern you immediately try to grab and examine.
You love jumping in your bouncer and and being sung to.
You prefer sweet potatoes and fruit puree, the Nuby teething ring and your stuffed duck with the spinning ball in its belly.

Just this past week (the first of the month, to be exact) you started sitting by yourself for the first time. And predictably, you only fell over when I realized I should be taping it and went to get the camera.

You’re my little man and Daddy’s patatje and when I lift you to my face now for kisses or cuddles, I breathe in your very own smell. The scent that fills your bedroom and makes you even more individual and special and beautiful.

I love you so, so much.


In Place of the Crying


Lately there’s been significantly less crying and a lot more of this going on:

We’ve been getting tons of beautiful smiles all week and now Tay’s starting to realize there’s a world outside of bottles and blankies.

"I heard that. Shut up and give me my bottle, woman!"

The Birth Story


On July 5th I was officially a week past my delivery date.

In Belgium they typically wait 10 days to induce overdue mothers, but my gynecologist, after doing my exam, feeling that I was still only 1 cm dialated and hardly effaced (the exact same as the week before) and seeing that I had lost about 5 pounds that same week, decided to go ahead and schedule me for induction on the evening of July 6.

The point was to induce slowly as it was my first pregnancy and those labors can take much longer, they were trying to keep it as gradual as possible. Piet brought me in at 9 pm and I was given my first pitocin insert around 10 pm. Piet spent the night and woke up around 5 am the next morning. No labor had started, nothing had changed, so I got my second insert, which got things moving fairly quickly after that. Piet went home to shower and do some quick errands and I noticed some definite contractions starting around 6 am. By 7:30 I couldn’t read my book anymore and I was still waiting for Piet to come back, so I called him. Fortunately he had just entered the hospital and was on his way back up to my room.
The contractions escalated quickly after that and I was given an oral tablet to keep the labor going. Pretty soon I was having contractions less than a minute apart and the pain was pretty much beyond what I’d initially thought it would be. The midwife who was checking in on me kind of encouraged an epidural, which I’d hoped to avoid, but eventually I agreed to having one.
Really, the pain got so bad I would just start crying and be pretty much unable to focus at all on breathing, which obviously wouldn’t be productive when it came time to push the baby out, so I said yes to the epidural. Because the contractions had sped up and intensified so much, the decision was that another pill wasn’t neccessary, but once I had the epidural they were going to give me a drip of something to keep the contractions going (epidurals can slow the contractions and since mine had to be induced in the first place…you get where I’m going I guess).

For the epidural to be inserted I had to scoot across the bed, sitting with my back facing the anesthesiologist and hunch over as much as possible, I guess to give the most access to my spine as possible. The midwife was in front of me, basically bracing me and pushing down on my shoulders (cause I really wasn’t able to hunch much over 41 weeks of pregnant belly and boobs that have swollen to an H cup) while also helping me breathe during contractions since I couldn’t move while the needle was being inserted.
So there I was, by that point already stripped down to just a hospital gown and a port in my wrist, the midwife in front of me and the anesthesiologist behind me, reinserting the epidural (I felt the first insertion attempt so she removed it, gave me more anesthetic and tried again) and all of a sudden I got a contraction.
Suddenly fluid started pouring out and no matter how much I tried to stop, it just kept coming.
“Oh no, I’m peeing all over the nurse,” was my first thought, but then I realized my water had actually broken.
At this point, with a tube in my spine, a woman trying to fold me in half, my uterus spasming and what felt like a gallon of liquid spreading out underneath me, I admit, I was unable to come up with the right word for amneotic fluid in Dutch, so I just groaned.
“Are you thirsty?” the midwife asked?
I shook my head and kept repeating, “water, water” trying to think of how to say that my water broke in Dutch until finally Piet said, “Just say it in English.”
So I did, although at that point it really didn’t matter. The epidural was in and I was hooked up to a monitor to measure the baby’s heartbeat and my contractions. When the midwife removed the soaked pad from underneath me I noted it was yellow and thought “dammit, I did pee on her.” Until Piet asked about the color and they told us the baby had just pooped in-utero basically, which happens often when a baby goes past 40 weeks.

Anyway, I was hooked up to a monitor and when the epidural took effect the bay’s heartrate dropped down below 100 bpm for a minute or two. They decided to wait for his heartrate to regulate before opening the drip to stimulate contractions. After ten minutes or so they started the drip and his heartrate dropped again so they stopped the drip and we waited.

In the meantime the midwife had checked the state of things and I’d effaced and dilated to 4 centimeters but an hour later when my gynecologist came in to check again, my contractions were still 4 minutes apart and I hadn’t dilated any further. Between the lack of progress and the way the baby had reacted to the epidural and the contraction stimulant, the gynecologist recomended I have a c-section.

I’d gone into this pregnancy hoping to have a natural childbirth. No epidural, if possible, no c-section, if I could help it. Now here I was, overdue, induced, with an epidural and being told I should have a c-section.

I don’t ever do anything in my life the easy way, even if I honestly intend to.

Anyway, within minutes arrangements had been made in a surgery room, two extra midwives had come in, put pressure stocking on my legs, taken the internal sensor off of the baby’s head, hooked up whatever bags I would need dripping through my port, given Piet some scrubs and before I could really wrap my brain around the turn of events I was being whisked off to the operating room.

They moved me over to the operating table and they set up a sheet so I couldn’t see anything below my chest. By the time the oxygen mask was on my face I was as close to an anxiety attack as I’ve been in a long long time, although with my arms strapped down and the majority of my body numb there wasn’t much I could do but cry . Some of the nurses reassured me and then Piet came and sat by my head and stroked my hair while I tried as hard as I could to calm down.

Having a cesaerian section was probably one of the most surreal experiences of my life.

Being able to feel pressure while the noises of cutting and suction eminated from the other side of the sheet made me gag. Knowing what was going on, despite not being able to feel it was still terrifying. Waiting to finally, finally hear my baby crying was torture.
Wanting so badly to see Piet and have him hold my hand through the operation while my arms were strapped down and all I could see where surgical masks was awful.

But then I heard them tell Piet to grab his camera and they told me the baby would be out in just a second and I heard the shutter snap and then our baby crying.

And the tears of angst suddenly morphed into sobs of complete and total relief and joy.
Piet leaned over and whispered that our son was out and healthy. They cleaned him up and Piet brought him over to me to see, although I couldn’t hold him until they’d sewn me up.

At this point the story gets a little fuzzy for me as I began to get feeling back while they were closing me up and the anesthesiologist gave me something and I promptly passed out on the table until they were wheeling me down to recovery.

And that’s how our son was born, on July 7th at 1:04 pm weighing 3.64 kilograms and measuring 50 centimeters. I won’t be using his real name on the blog and I think I’ll call him Tay here, but I’ll be posting a few pictures and maybe you’ll be able to see his real name that way.