The Making of Lena C. – Her First Performance (and certainly not the last)

Back in August, I had a long conversation with our local primary school’s headmistress about possibly deferring our eldest daugther’s place and wait for another year. She had only just turned 4, and as a German, where children don’t start school until the age of 6, the thought of having to put her in a uniform and say good-bye for 6 hours a day kept me awake for a few nights. She didn’t even go for a wee in pre-school! What about her bunny rabbit? She is still my little baby! She will just drown in a sea of much older, taller, more confident kids. What was I going to do?

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Well, we decided to put her in with her peers from pre-school. And within three months, an incredible transformation took place that left us gobsmacked this afternoon. It was time for the annual Nativity Play in school, and Leni was going to be an angel. I was so nervous. Would she panic when she saw all those people? Would she cry? Would she refuse to go up the stage?

She was stood in the front row, back straight, chin up high, remembering all her words, singing like there was no tomorrow, smiling, waving, blowing kisses.

I’m glad nobody was taking pictures of me. Tears kept coming with every new Christmas song they performed… And I was so proud to see my beautiful girl up there, pink cheeks, beaming, enjoying every moment. Well done, my sweet Lala.

“Mummy, I think there’s a Mr Caterpillar coming!!” Or: Boy, do they keep you grounded.

We’re going out tonight! This is happening! We’re meeting our friends for a couple of pints and some punch, it’s Bonfire Night, the fire is on, the moon’s up, fireworks in the distance… We’re fun, and cool, and young and wild… Oh, wait.

“Mummy, I think there’s a Mr Caterpillar coming!!” My 4-year-old’s statement brings me back to reality and stops my lipstick mid-flow. Oh, this is just awesome, I think to myself. The girls next to me don’t know yet what they’re about to witness. They have no idea what Mr Caterpillar is code for. They’re caught in their own little world, giddishly slapping on bronzer and readjusting their hair. One receives a text. Click, click, click, click – the answer is hammered into her phone. Swoosh. More mascara. I am counting in my head. Plop.

“Mummy, fiiiiiiniiiiished.” Oh Lord. Enter: The smell. The girls interrupt their little make-up session and throw me a quick look. We’re the same age. Only difference: I’m a mum. And I have a girl who has just decided to turn a quick wee in the loo of a busy pub into a very private moment. I finish applying my lipstick and try and keep radiating awesomeness and Friday-night-glam, but I know the moment’s gone. The girls know. It’s smellable.

I squeeze myself into the tiny stall where my girl is awaiting me eagerly. “It was very big and smooth,” she announces proudly. She loves keeping me informed about consistency and nuances. A little part inside of me dies. It might me my rediscovered sensation of “This is happening, we’re fun, and cool, and young and wild…”.

While I’m trying to fulfill my duty as number one bottom-wiper and the toilet paper is runing alarmingly low, I can hear “Clunk, clunk” as the made-up girls with their perfect eyeliner and lips and hair chuck their lotions and potions back in their handbags rather unceremoniously. Nobody has to say anything. We’re sharing a room that’s probably 12 feet wide and 8 feet long. There is no way of breathing around the smell of the Mr Caterpillar now.

Quick flush. I pull up her knickers and tights. “Thanks, that’s much better,” she’s beaming. And so unaware. I giggle. I love her to bits. To hell with dignity.

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.