Are you still teaching your kids French?

I suppose the fact that I get asked this question is telling. The short answer is yes, we are. The longer answer is that, well, we’re trying, it’s a lot harder than we thought, but here’s an update:

A lot of the teaching falls on my husband, which is a heavy load to carry. He’s the fluent, native speaker of the house. He continues to speak to them mostly in French. But sometimes he slips. It’s hard for him, and as much as I jump on him when he resorts to English, I get it. He speaks English all day, he lives in English, so making the transition to French with them isn’t easy. The kids tend to answer him in English, and he’s not consistent about rephrasing what they’ve said in French for them to practice, which is a strategy we’ve found to be pretty effective. I get it – it stops the flow of the conversation, it feels like a battle. I’m on the sidelines either jumping in and doing the rephrasing for him which feels helicopter-y, or just letting the kids avoid French, which doesn’t feel good either.

When the kids were home with me more, I tended to do certain things in French: grocery shopping was a French activity. We tried to do some meals in French. I would often read French books or play games with them in French. But it’s gotten more complicated now that our daughter is in first grade – she’s gone 7 and 1/2 hours a day. That’s a long day for a 6-year-old. So when she comes home, she’s not exactly enthused by my, “Let’s play a game in French!” suggestions. Or, if I simply speak to her in French, she gives me a look that I know well – it’s my very own “are you kidding me right now?” look.

My son, the four-year-old, is even more resistant. My attempts with him are met with a wailing: “Awww, not in French!”

In homes where the stay-at-home parent, or the parent who spends more time with the children, speaks the minority language (the language not spoken in the community) the kids make better progress. I know this. But it’s a leap I haven’t made, and don’t necessarily want to. I’ve written before about how I feel like I am a different person in French, not 100% me, and with my kids being authentically and comfortably me is more important than perfection in French. Being a parent presents enough challenges without saddling myself with more. That said, I do still incorporate French when I can, and I still think it’s an important part of what I want to give to our kids.

What we are seeing is passive French speakers; they understand most everything, but their spoken French lags far behind.

However, all is not lost. When we traveled this summer to France, our kids had to speak in French. If they wanted to communicate with their cousins, aunt, uncle, and grandparents, they had to do it. And they did. Especially my 6-year-old, who had a year at a French preschool to help her knowledge and confidence. They came away having improved their French, and since then they’ve resisted less. They seem to be approaching an age where they get it – they see that French has a purpose rather than being one more thing Mommy and Papa make them do.

We were also able to enroll our daughter in a one week French summer camp here in Boulder, and it was fabulous. She LOVED her teacher and came home every day excited about speaking French, about what she had learned and even wanting to teach her brother:

 

I still teach French at my son’s preschool, and he’s finally getting into it. Up until this year, he chose to play outside rather than come to one of Mom’s French classes. But now he, along with a dozen or so regulars, come faithfully each week. These kids love it – it is so fun to see their enthusiasm! Every day when I pick up my son, a few little faces turn up to me, small hands grab my own, and they eagerly ask, “Are you doing French today?” Most of them can now say a few words in French, and some of them can sing entire songs.

While in France this last summer, my daughter found some of her cousin’s old comic books and fell in love. Her favorite: Picsou (Scrooge McDuck). While she can’t yet read them herself, we kept catching her “reading” to her little brother. So we brought one home, and her Mimi and Papy bought her a subscription for her birthday. She has gone from never wanting to read in French to wanting to read Picsou with Papa most nights.

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My son is enjoying teaching his classmates how to count and say “Bonjour” with the right accent. And just this weekend, we were with a group of kids that were asked if they spoke any languages other than English. My kids proudly shot up their hands and said they spoke French.

So while our progress isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t resemble my imagined utopian bilingual home where fluency is achieved in all areas of both languages and our kids are happy and compliant with it all (how delusional was I pre-kiddos!), we are still making progress. Objectives have changed. I now want them to enjoy French, to have enough of a base that they can continue to pursue it with a leg up from where they would have been if we were a monolingual household, and I want them to learn about and embrace their bicultural heritage. I’m going to call us successful thus far, and still working at it.

Wednesday Morning

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Wednesday morning, my four-year-old son drew me this picture and said, “Mama, in this picture, Hillary Clinton became president. So you don’t feel sad.”

Like many, I hardly slept after the election results came in. I was numb, disoriented. Living a nightmare. When my children woke up the next morning, I tried to put on a brave face.

“Everything will be ok. We will be ok.” I felt like I was lying. Nothing about this is okay.

The room where we watched the results come in feels tainted. As though a sinister fog lurks within, reminding me of the horror I felt Tuesday night, sucking my happiness away when I go near it. We’ve seen more than a few Harry Potter references this election. Here’s mine: Dementors are in my living room.

As I watched Hillary Clinton’s concession speech, tears rolled down my face. She was so graceful, so dignified, and despite the deep pain she was feeling and she knew we were all feeling, she still spoke words of unification and optimism. I cried. Because she is the president I so desperately wanted. The president that, in fact, the majority of Americans wanted. For those who don’t know about the U.S. electoral college, it is an antiquated system whereby the popular vote is tallied by state, and then the winner takes all the electoral votes (the number of votes per state based on population) in that state. This college handed us Bush when Gore won the popular vote in 2000. It has now handed us Trump.

I took my son to Noodles for lunch. The African-American woman behind the counter gave me the usual welcome greeting. Our eyes met. We both began to cry.

An uneasiness lodged into my gut about a year ago and stayed put. At first, like many, I dismissed Trump as a joke. He tried to do this in 2000 and it went nowhere. No one wants to listen to this buffoon, I thought. But then… he started winning primaries. I saw the rising tide of immigrants vs. locals clashing in Europe. The rising fear of terrorism while attacks happened in Paris, Nice, Brussels. Trump kept winning. He kept up his vitriolic speech inciting fear, racism, and violence. My husband kept saying there was no way Trump could win. Black Lives Matter emerged and was immediately invalidated by so many white people. Then Brexit happened. Trump smugly predicted his own campaign would be a Brexit, and while I hated him for it, I feared he might be right. I began Tuesday morning feeling optimistic, donning my pantsuit, smiling broadly. My husband again assured me that everything was going to go the way it should. But that uneasiness was still there.

Trump appeals to the worst in America. The fear. The anger. He ran an incredibly divisive campaign, marginalizing and vilifying huge segments of the American population. People claim to like Trump because he “tells it like it is.” As far as I can see, that’s code for America has become too brown, too gay, too feminist, and not Christian enough. These voters are tired of being talked down to, tired of their homes being called “flyover states,” tired of feeling like the ruling elite are making all the decisions. They want their grandfather’s world where they can have the same job for a lifetime and retire in middle class comfort. But that America doesn’t exist any more. The world has become smaller with globalization, technology, the internet. The world has become more diverse. Going back is impossible.

I too see a broken system. A system where a group of Republicans decided that their platform would be obstructionism when a black Democrat became president. A system that crashed the housing market and led to the loss of our home. But I was not about to be bamboozled by the Great Orange Con Man, a man who has never cared about anyone but himself.

In the end, none of the things that should have mattered, mattered. Never mind that Hillary Clinton was the most highly qualified and prepared candidate we’ve ever seen. That she spoke of inclusiveness with her “stronger together.” That she is a brilliant, level-headed woman who has spent her life working for this country, who is well-respected globally and is known for being a unifier, for working across the aisle. She saw America as I see it: a pretty great place that we can make better still. She acknowledged that America is a place where racism is still a problem that needs to be addressed. A place where women deserve respect. Where diversity is celebrated. Where the vulnerable are helped. While I made phone calls, knocked on doors, and threw my heart into the campaign to elect her, I realize not everyone sees in her the hero I do. The decades long HRC smear campaign began when as first lady of Arkansas she had the audacity to keep her maiden name. Trump made sure to regurgitate the lies and vitriol, to continue the right-wing’s “media is biased” conspiracy crap, and while many saw through it, for too many others, she represented the status quo, the establishment. Facts didn’t matter in our post-factual era. America decided a thin-skinned, lying bully was a better choice. After all, he could shout louder.

And while I’m angry and disheartened, I also recognize that dismissing entire groups with phrases beginning with “Republicans think…” “Conservatives are…” “Christians believe…” is not only wrong, it is a divisive starting point. Not all of America is racist, or misogynistic, or angry, or hateful. Nor are all of Trump’s voters. The single-issue voters were there, too. The ones who Trump pandered to when he claimed to be anti-abortion and vowed to appoint conservative judges. There are many others who are just sick of business as usual. It’s important to remember that there is much more to all of us than who we cast our vote for. I have friends and family who are lovely people, who voted for Trump. Still, it remains that a large segment of the population was willing to accept his racism, his ignorance, his hateful rhetoric, his absolute disregard for women and all the evidence that points to him being a serial sexual assaulter, and his propensity for saying things that normally would be associated with a fascist dictator. That is really freaking horrifying.

One of the most poignant photos I saw was of an older woman, dressed as a suffragette, holding a sign that read, “I can’t believe I’m still protesting this shit.” The fabric of America has been ripped open to expose our ugly innards, where racism, sexism, and xenophobia are alive and well. We are a nation deeply, perhaps irreparably, divided. While I will admit that fear of what is different is a natural reaction, the path we should be on is one where we try to understand each other, learn from each other. That is not the path that half of America chose. We are facing dark times right now. I’m scared. Many of us are. I haven’t even touched on foreign policy, the environment, or the economy.

 In both Clinton and Obama’s speeches Wednesday, they urged the American people to unify and support this next president, to ensure that we preserve our sacred tradition of peaceful transitions. I get it. Trump won the contest. I accept that he is our president. That is a reality I will have to learn to live with. I’ll get to a place where I can hope for the best. But I refuse to accept that Trump’s vision of America will be what defines our future. I refuse to accept the mainstreaming of misogyny, racism, ignorance, and violence. We’ve come too far as a country, and there is too much work yet to be done. We cannot, we will not, go backwards. I’m not sure how to unify with people who spout the same hateful rhetoric that has been given the green light by Trump. Honestly, I don’t want to. That shit needs to go away.

Many of us have joked about moving to Canada following this election. My husband and I had a couple serious conversations about our future and wanting what’s best for our children. Montreal and Sydney are looking pretty good. But here’s the thing. No reckless demagogue gets to take my country away from me.

I remember traveling during the Bush administration. How in Egypt, I was confronted by angry locals decrying Bush’s policies, American imperialism and racism. How in Europe, they sometimes wanted to argue with me about my country, even hurl insults and find in me someone to blame. Dear world: please don’t hate us. Because the majority of us voted for Clinton. I’ll say it again: THE MAJORITY OF US VOTED FOR CLINTON. Millions of others voted for third party candidates, not Trump. If only 18-25 year olds had voted, Clinton would have won by a landslide: 504 of 538 electoral college votes. So if you see one of us, cut us some slack. Ask questions if you want to. But don’t assume we are a reflection of Donald Trump. Because the America I know, the America I love is so much better than that. The America I know is diverse, welcoming, inclusive. The Americans I know are a compassionate and optimistic lot. So don’t hate us all. Please. Help us to overcome this. Because we need all the help we can get. We are hurting over here.

People are holding vigils. Protesting. Resisting. Hate crimes are rising. This is going to be ugly. But here’s where my hope lies. The darkest hour is just before dawn. Perhaps being laid raw by this horrible turn of events is what we needed in order to have the strength and fire to end it. I see it now, from my white-woman-living-in-a-blue-state-bubble, I see how bad it really is. The youth of America won’t stand for this. People of color, women, the LGBTQ community, won’t stand for this. And the majority of America is with us. Resistance has always played a role in progress in this country. The loudest voices won this battle. Now it is our turn to scream.

Wednesday, I grieved. Today I go back to work. I will do my part. Clinton’s Methodist roots give us this: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” This is my rallying cry.