In Conversation with my 4-year old

What nobody ever tells you is that when you have children, the deepest topics can jump you right in the face while doing the most mundane things – in our case, brushing  hair. I was trying to get our big girl ready for holiday club, conscious of the time and my looming deadlines, when…

L: “Mummy, are you still growing?”

Me: “I stopped growing a long time ago. Grown-ups stop growing at some point. But the funny thing is, then they start shrinking, the older they get!”

L: “And then you turn into a baby again?”

(Benjamin Button springs to mind.)

Me: “No, darling… We just… we… at some point, we then go to heaven.”

L: “But not you! Or me!!….”

(Oh, crap.)

Me: “After a hopefully very happy and long life… Well, yes. That is how this  works.”

L: “Can Hasi come?” Hasi is the not-so-white not-so-fluffy-one-ear-bunny that goes everywhere.

(How did we get from there to here in under a minute? My cheeks are burning, I’m welling up. I wasn’t prepared for a life and death conversation. She seems surprisingly OK with the whole thing. All I can master is a quick ponytail. Then I hug her for what feels like an eternity.)

L: “Why are there drops coming out of your eyes?”

Me: “Because I am so, so happy to have you, my baby.”

L: “I’m happy too. And remember! Where the baking team!” (smiling)

Holiday club, deadlines, being late… Nothing matters right now. When I wave her good-bye, I feel so connected to her. And grateful. My 4-year-old has the most amazing capacity to show me what truly is important in life. The Here and Now. I check my watch. 5 hours to go till we pick her up. I am planning on taking time off to make brownies with her today.

 

 

 

“I’m sorry Mummy is so short with you today…”

…”but I’ve been reading the news. Do you remember the last time we spoke about the big family of countries, the EU? Where your Mummy’s country, and France, Spain, and many others belong to? Do you remember we talked about the vote in England? And do you remember England decided they no longer wanted to belong to that family? Well, that’s what makes Mummy so sad today.”

“But I don’t want to leave the big family!”

“I know. And many, many people here feel the same way. But don’t worry, OK? As long as we’re all together, we’ll always be fine.” My big girl nods, smiles and gives me a big hug. My heart is aching, I feel like I’m running out of air. This is not what a Sunday morning should look like. Or any day, for that matter. And by that point, we were both still in pyjamas, and I hadn’t even had a cup of coffee. It was 07:40am, and I was drained and emotionally exhausted already.

It was the morning after I had learnt about an incident in our nearest town, where a German national had been subjected to physical and verbal attacks. It was the morning after I had spoken to British friends who’d been asked on holiday why England was so racist. Why something like Brexit could ever happen. Why they don’t see that history is just about to repeat itself. My friends were trying to provide an answer. They voted Remain, and all they could think of in the heat of the moment was to apologise. “It’s the ill-informed xenophobic people who are trying to ‘Take the Country Back’. We’ve been led to believe that everything will be rosier post-Brexit. No more refugees – more jobs for us! Less crowded A&Es. Less poverty, less crime. And all that money that was spent on our EU membership – well that, of course, was to go straight into the pots of the NHS! It was a fiction, one that was well-spun and selling well.”

Brexit has split the country, entire families. I have spoken to people in London who feel uneasy now, saying civil unrest is just around the corner. This is just the beginning. Once Article 50 takes effect and the terms for the UK are dictated by the remaining EU member states, an anti-Germany sentiment will spark targeted hate crimes.

I am worried about my children’s future – I fear they will be ashamed of their German heritage when they get older. One of my neighbours, son to a German mother in post-war Britain, was beaten up in school for having a German accent. He then erased all German from his memory and tried to blend in as much as he could. This will not happen to my girls. My girls must never feel embarassed about their German family, their bilingualism. Their German passports should never be a badge of shame – nor should their British passport abroad.

I grew up with my grandparents’ war stories. When I was five or six, I was told about the kind English allies that came and gave them sweets and saved their country. When my husband and I got engaged, my Grandfather welcomed him into the family by saying, “Isn’t this wonderful? A German and an Englishman. This was unthinkable seventy years ago. Our countries are growing together by marriages like yours.”

This togetherness between post-war England and Germany isn’t anymore. The marriage lies in ruins, a couple that has been through a lot, that barely communicates these days. Tea is had in separate rooms, separate beds the norm these days. A couple that no longer shows affection, but a dry peck on the cheek on special occasions. This is where we are at the moment.

No wonder Mummy is a bit upset right now.

 

 

 

 

Going on Holiday With a Toddler – And No Pushchair

Last week, we went on our first flight with our girls aged 4 years and 16 months. I won’t lie – I did not sleep well the night before! I was getting really worried about all the things that might happen on the plane – screaming baby,  annoyed passengers, having to manoeuvre them back and forth through the narrow aisle for Number One’s and Two’s, nappy changes in a space the size of a stamp…

What did not concern me, not for one moment, was the fact that (to the horror of most parents, as we would soon discover) we would not be flying with a pushchair. In fact, we don’t own one. We sold ours over a year ago as we weren’t using it at all. The only reason we had a pushchair in the first place was that the 5-in-1 package deal for the car seat included a moses basket, the pram and various accessories and was way cheaper than the single car seat.

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So we went on holiday from Bournemouth International (which always makes me giggle) to Palma de Mallorca, where we would then pick up our hire car with fitted child seats. It turned out that most people at the airport and during transit were incredibly nice and even the important-looking business people sat one row behind ours would regularly interrupt their important-sounding discussions about Brexit and the decline of the Pound in order to keep our girls entertained by playing Peek-A-Boo and handing them a vast array of distraction material ranging from empty plastic bottles to crayons. While we did have a nervous bladder amongst us which kept us busy for the best part of an hour, the flight was over soon and the relief (passengers and parents alike) was palpable. One lady from the plane even approached us on our way to the exit and smiled: “Your girls are gorgeous. You all did so well.” Flight – CHECK.IMG_4213

Once we got off the plane, I quickly strapped the little one in our TULA carrier, which is, I should add, suitable for both front and back, allowing us some flexibility depending on her mood and sleepiness. When we queued for passport control, a mother pushing a pram noticed our lightweight option and shrieked: “So you’re telling me you don’t have a pram with you? Not at all?!” and hastened to add: “I could never ever do that. I quite like the fact that I can just park her somewhere, especially in a restaurant!” Whilst we watched other parents trying to juggle a pram, a trolley and one or even two other toddlers, we whisked through the airport, picked up our luggage and went on to our (amazing and completely child-friendly, btw) hotel in Cala d’Or, about an hour’s drive away from Palma.

During our 5-day stay, our daily programme consisted of going to the pool, ambling along the nearby beach and marina, going on day trips to some Mallorcan sights and, of course, having breakfast and dinner at the hotel buffet. Every day, our little one (who has just started walking) was happily carried in her carrier whilst feasting on some Spanish ice-cream, snoozing or chatting away. To keep her head in the shade while she was asleep, we gently covered her head and face with the removable carrier hood. Not once did I or my husband feel that we could have done with a pushchair! It was such a special time, and so much fun to watch the girls in a new environment.

What’s great about traveling with a carrier:

  • Less weight and less space needed whilst traveling (ie. cost-saving)
  • More agility in narrow and crowded places such as airports, towns, supermarkets
  • Staircases are no problem
  • Amazing bonding experience with your child (there’s nothing better in this world than feeling the weight of your little one’s head against your shoulders, her little fingers play with your hair, her soft breathing against your neck…)

What’s not completely great:IMG_4168

  • Having ice-cream running down your neck!🙂
  • You need someone to carry a small extra bag for nappies, drinks etc. which would otherwise just go under your pushchair
  • You can’t “park” your child eg. when going out for dinner, which was OK for us as she’s a happy bunny in a high chair anyway (as long as you keep throwing her food!)
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Doesn’t she look like the baby from Hangover ?!🙂

So for us, traveling with only a toddler carrier worked extremely well. It is fair to say that this option is much easier when you travel with a partner with whom you can share the carrying and who can help strapping the baby on your back (although I have a special Ninja technique for lifting her onto my back which I have practiced on my bed hundreds of times, ha!). As a family on our first plane trip who loves going on walks, hikes and adventures, I felt like we chose the option that suited us best. Traveling without a pushchair – CHECK!

What’s next? We are planning on discovering at least one amazing place a year (carrier only, of course!😉 …).

Italy for a gourmet feast (I’m feeling inspired by my new favourite novel “Us” by David Nicholls), Spain for more food (and some great museums and parks), the South of France (because it’s awesome), and one day, hopefully, we will take the girls back to Mexico to show them where Mummy and Daddy used to live. One step at a time though!

Wishing you happy holidays wherever you are,

Katie x

 

 

Encouraging Languages With Children

I noticed the other day that I haven’t written anything for ages. 9 months in real time, probably equating to just about 9 million years in internet time… Between raising our children and work, there hasn’t been much time for extracurricular fun stuff such as blogging! But boy, we have been busy in all that time. Trips to France, Cornwall, Germany, a conference, two language courses taught, a client meeting in Yorkshire (where I got to indulge my favourite accent of all time), new customers, roughly 1.5 million translated and proofread words between us…

Before our eldest daughter was born, I had this vision. I would only speak to her in German. We would have a specific hand puppet for our daily French lessons, and another one for our occasional Spanish sing songs.

Now, almost four years later, I found it was time for a reality check.

Do I exclusively speak to her in German? Absolutely NOT. The reality is, it very much depends on the topic, on the situation and on which mood I find myself in.

Being submerged in an English-speaking environment (preschool, hobbies, relatives, friends, TV, music, and the list goes on) it is her natural response to adopt English as the dominant and active language, and German as the passive one. She will understand everything you say and ask her to do in German, and give simple responses when pushed: “Möchtest du deinen Pulli oder deinen Bademantel?“ (Would you like your jumper or your dressing gown?). Also, she will relay a German sentence in English within the bat of an eyelid: „Sagst du dem Papa bitte, dass die Mama in zwei Minuten kommt?“ – “Daddy, Mummy says she will come in two minutes.“

Her very first words were: See (lake), Fasan (pheasant), Meer (sea), Vogel (bird), Katze (cat), Mauer (wall) – you get a hint of how we live down here! –  as well as vital words such as: alleine (on my own), ranschieben (to push in), Kino (cinema), Fernbedienung (remote control), backen (to bake), Pommes (chips). When she hit nursery age, she would come home with a new English word every day. And they would soon add up to proper sentences! From not understanding one single word in English (aged 21 months) to having her first language changed from German to English in her nursery file (“Her English is on par with, if not better than her peers’ “), it was only a matter of 5 months.

In all that time, we encouraged German and Spanish through nursery rhymes and childrens songs. And Spanish came in very handy to talk about birthday presents or other surprises, until we were asked one night at the dinner table to “stop speaking Spanitch“ and to “speak normal already“. Normal being English and German.

At around 3 years of age, she was then able to identify individual languages and ask “How do we say … in German, Mummy?“. Using her toy bunny Hasi, who goes everywhere with her at all times, we started introducing more and more Spanish. It happens that we sometimes sit at the breakfast table and repeat fruit & veg or various drinks with Hasi in Spanish, which is always a  good laugh. The key to language learning, as I have often said to my students of various ages, is fun. The more positive your approach to the subject, the easier it will be to remember new words. Because our eldest has so many positive emotions connected with her bunny, but also with French (holidays in France!) and Spanish (great friends from Mexico who came to stay with us), language learning is fun and a great means for us to teach geography as the same time (we look at a map together and say: “People here, in Spain, they will say Hola!“).

Songs, books, puppets and travelling – those, I  would say, have been the keys to introducing additional languages from a very young age. Also, it is important to not feel under pressure to speak all languages in equal measures (I did feel like I was failing when I wouldn’t speak what I considered to be enough German in a day). Children are sponges, and they will just soak up new words without even knowing.

Sugar… Yes please?

A little Background

On 1st May this year, so just over 3 months ago, I decided to give up processed sugar for good. What?! Yes, you heard me!

Why would anyone do this to themselves, you might ask? Well, let me tell you about my little journey so far…

It all started with the primary aim of post-pregnancy weight loss. I joined a three-week programme called DropIt21 which is based on clean eating (no carbs, no sugar, no caffeine, no dairy, no alcohol,…) and daily exercise. After surviving the first three days without coffee and my baking (my body had completely gone Cold Turkey by that point!), I became used to substituting:

Flourless blueberry pancake if ever I craved something sweet, or some almonds and strawberries as a treat after dinner.

After those three weeks (and around 18 pounds lighter), going back to my old life didn’t seem an option at all. Instead, I completely changed my lifestyle – from rich evening meals followed by a tub of ice cream to the world of Paleo, baby!🙂

What’s changed?

  1. Wellbeing / Health. Cutting out sugar (and caffeine) has helped me overcome my constant fatigue (no more sugar crashes!) and has proven to be one of the most amazing decisions I’ve made so far. While I used to suffer from throbbing ears, headaches and tiredness, I now get up early, have a fairly even amount of energy during the day, exercise regularly and have a deep sleep (sprogs permitting🙂 ).
  2. Cooking.  While we used to love pasta, rice, couscous, pizza etc., we now almost exclusively cook Paleo-style dishes from our favourite cook book Nom Nom Paleo by Michelle Tam. We have substituted flour with coconut flour (soooo delicious), have started making our own muesli bars (no processed sugar, just dates and coconut). We have started experimenting and including new recipes – we make burgers, salsas, curries, flatbread and so on, all healthy, from scratch and carb / sugar free.
  3. Awareness. I will be honest – I had no idea that nearly everything we consume contains processed sugar. It has been an amazing journey to uncover all the nasties in our regular diet. Our toddler loves our home-made bars and sometimes prefers them over chocolate, and we make our own delicious ice cream now, which she adores!
  4. Food shopping costs. Whereas I thought that our weekly food shop would be far more expensive due to all those products bought at the local wholefood shop (coconut flour, macadamia nuts, dates, ghee, …), they have not increased significantly. The costs even out due to less carbs, sugar, alcohol and dairy in the trolley. Also – no more expensive takeaways!🙂
  5. Attitude towards food. I love food. Simple as that! But while before, I wasn’t fully aware of what I was shoving in my face all the time, I now feel empowered and in control. I decide what I eat, there are no more cravings for chocolate. A strawberry tastes so sweet to me now, and a date is almost too sweet to eat! We shop more consciously, try out new ingredients, new recipes, new styles of cooking… It’s been a fantastic life-changer.
  6. Ease of eating out. While this new lifestyle has been such an enriching and rewarding experience, having a non-mainstream diet can have its downsides. Eating out is a little more complicated nowadays and I have to allow for some flexibility (I can get a decaff in my favourite coffee place, but I’ll drink it with regular milk instead of soya). With a little planning and prepping, we don’t have to grab a bite when we’re out and about and there’s nothing “Paleo” in sight.

Personally, this year has been all about discovering and nurturing my mind, heart and body. By embarking on this journey, I have found a balanced way of living for myself which I hope to continue for as long as possible. To be continued…wheelKathrin x

Raising bilingual children

I haven’t blogged for a while due to lack of time – and whenever I did sit down to start writing, words failed me. What could I possibly write about? This blog’s topic is close to my heart as it involves my parenting and two children, predominantly my toddler (the 4-month old hasn’t said much yet).

Before Lena was born, I read all sorts of tips and tricks of how to raise bilingual children. I was horrified when I read of parents who were saying that their youngsters had stopped using one language and only responded in the other, or that they even kicked their parents for “not speaking the right language”! I was convinced that we would be different one day.

Now, three years into the experiment of raising bilingual child No. 1, it is time for a reality check.

What have we done to foster bilingualism so far?

We’re using both languages, English and German, on a daily basis. We try to read as many stories in both languages as possible, and use puppets to reinforce vocabulary in a fun way. Frankly, German is omnipresent in this house.

What are the results?

Our toddler speaks English fluently and is able to form complex sentences using the correct tenses. According to professionals, she is more advanced linguistically than any other of her peers. Now, this didn’t come overnight, I should add. Her active language development was delayed by a couple of months, considering that when she joined nursery a year ago, she did not speak any English at all.

With regard to her German, this is a different story. Her passive understanding is immaculate. We can explain things to her, ask her to do something, read stories, even reason with her in German without any communication problems. In terms of her active use of German, it has become quite evident that English is her preferred and dominant language. She will use German words in an English sentence if she hasn’t learned the English word so far – “Mummy, I want to wear my Bademantel (dressing gown) please!”

What are the challenges?

Bilingualism needs to be reinforced constantly. We often catch ourselves speaking too much English and then fall back into German; also, it is tempting to just answer in English when asked a question in English. We are permanently aware of our language, and when speaking in German, we try to speak High German to avoid teaching a dialect or words we consider to be too colloquial. In an ideal world, she will one day be able to go and live in Germany without sounding (too) foreign🙂

What are the benefits?

Lots of fun and laughter!🙂 When I counted to 10 in German the other day, I was told off by our toddler because I wasn’t counting “properly”, ie. in English! You become smarter by challenging the functionality of your brain, your memory improves, you have a special skill on your CV, you can socialise in other countries, have better communication skills… The list is endless!

A word of warning!

As a parent of bilingual/multilingual children, you believe that there’s nothing more fun in the world than flashcards in various languages…who needs Barbie dolls for Christmas when you can have magnetic vocabulary cards?🙂

8 THINGS EVERY PARENT RAISING BILINGUAL KIDS IS GUILTY OF DOING…

1) You think flash cards and vocabulary games are fun.

2) You spend most days on Pinterest trying to enhance the experience of language learning.

3) You spend most of your salary in the bookstore.

4) You look for more languages your child could learn next.

5) You find yourself fretting about your child’s linguistic progress, comparing her with her peers.

6) You find yourself justifying why your child mixes up words.

7) You are chief interpreter for friends and family!

8) You are having a secret conversation with your partner in one language, assuming your toddler will not understand you (e.g. normally relating to their bed- or bath time), and out of nowhere comes the voice of protest. You always assume you can get away with more than is actually possible.

Kathrin xLeni Kindi

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