An American Teaching French – One Child at a Time

This post is written for this month’s Multilingual Blogging Carnival, hosted by Discovering the World Through My Son’s Eyes. Check out the link for more great posts!

I got lazy last year. Having our daughter in a French immersion preschool made it so easy. French surrounded her. Everything she learned was in French. French was cool, because everyone else was doing it.

Now, I have to step up my game. I’m trying to find ways to keep French active in our lives. But my fears are coming to fruition: my daughter is starting to resist French.

No one around us speaks it, here in Colorado. Her schoolmates all speak English, and now that’s all she wants to speak. We haven’t connected with the French community here, though we remain hopeful about finding it.

Bringing Up Baby Bilingual has been my reference bible for French activities in this area. I know there are a surprising number of opportunities here, we just have to look a little harder than we did in San Diego. Here’s what we’re doing so far:

We have attended story times. I feel like a desperate twenty-something dude in a club on a Saturday night, frequenting these story times, eavesdropping on conversations, trying to find another mom, hopefully speaking French to her kids, who might be willing to fork over her digits and set up a play date.

Meanwhile, since we don’t have any French-speaking friends here yet, and since my husband is putting in a lot of hours at work, it’s on me to make sure French is a part of our kids’ daily lives. Here’s the real kicker: I’m resisting it. I hate to admit it, but it’s true. Because I’m not truly me in French (see this post). My affection for my kids comes in the form of “honey” and “sweetheart”, not “mon petit chou” (my little cabbage. Ewww.). A French teacher once pointed out to me that “honey” is gross to her, because it’s sticky and messy. I suppose I can see her point. I do find myself, for whatever reason, resorting to French when I need to be stern with my kids. “Assieds-toi !” When my son stands in the bathtub and starts jumping around.  “On y va ! Vite !” When we’re late. French sounds scarier to me, and they jump to attention when I speak in French where they ignore me in English. I can already see their conversations as adults: “And when Mom started in on us in French, that’s when we knew we were in trouble!” Come to think of it, perhaps this is not the association I want to build….

Our bilingual bookshelf

Our bilingual bookshelf

We have plenty of French books, and I struggle here too because I focus too much on making sure I’m pronouncing everything correctly rather than immersing us in the story with an animated reading, the way I do so easily in English. Still, I’m trying. The more familiar each text becomes, the more fun I am when I read it, and the more attention my kids give me when I pull one of these books out.

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Music. We listen to French music all the time. My daughter asks me to play, “Dansons la Capucine” every time we get into the car. French music is her music, anything in English is “Mommy music.” Sometimes she’ll tolerate a Mumford and Sons song or two before saying, “Mommy, I want French music! Dansons la Capucine!”

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I’ve ambitiously (Naively? Stupidly?) offered to do French activities and story times at my daughter’s preschool for any kids who are interested. I’m scaring myself with this one. The mere thought of trying to put together a French lesson for a bunch of 3 and 4 year olds is giving me performance anxiety. If you know me, you know I don’t do anything half-way. I’m all in. Type A perfectionism overachiever at its most intense. I don’t cut myself any slack. I’ll nitpick at myself for mispronouncing one of those ridiculous vowel sounds until I’ve convinced myself that I’m unworthy of even attempting French. Stuart Smalley, care for a session in front of the mirror with me?

I know they say a language can’t be taught through TV, however, my daughter adores La Maison de Mickey and asks to watch it daily. So, a few times a week, I turn on an episode (Thank you, Roku). She does, in fact, pick up a few new words each time. We talk about the show in French, then we all do the Mickey dance together.

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The other day, she pulled out a stack of French flashcards and handed them to me. “Mommy, can you do these with me so I can learn French so I can talk to my cousins?” Again, flashcards get a bad rap, but I wasn’t about to deny her a learning opportunity. I was pleased to see that she remembered a ton of vocabulary words in French. I often ask her to tell me what different things are in French. My husband and I try to both speak French when we are all together, and when the kids say something in English, we translate it into French, then ask them to repeat it. Incidentally, my son’s first French word is, “Coucou !” Translation – a form of “hello” mainly used with families and children.

As for my own learning, I’m planning to crash a French class or two at the University of Colorado in Boulder next semester. When I’m excited about the language, I can pass that on to my kids. Taking classes always makes me happy – if someone would pay me to be a student for the rest of my life, I’d take that job in a heartbeat. I remain determined that my kids learn French, and that it is not a secret language they share with their Papa only.

I believe that plugging into the French-speaking community here is our best hope for ensuring that our daughter and son, and me too, speak French fluently. Like many things, this will take time. And I still dream of a summer in France, maybe in a few years, when the kids are older, where the kids and I all take French lessons. Actually, I’d be fine with a yearly French immersion. Complete with lots of bike rides, croissants, and crepes. That would work for me.

Trader Joe's croissants for now... whenever TJ's opens in Colorado!

Trader Joe’s croissants for now… whenever TJ’s opens in Colorado!

As always, we remain determined, if a bit daunted, to raise our children bilingually and biculturally.

Après la déluge, and be careful what you wish for!

DSC01012“And when the skies fill up with clouds, I want something to happen. Thunderstorm, snow…. Anything is better than gray clouds that just sit there, doing nothing but being gray clouds blocking the sun.”

That would be a direct quote from my previous entry.

Yikes.

We arrived in Colorado along with the downpour and worst flooding this area has seen in decades. The storage facility where everything we owned was stored flooded; lucky for us the angels that are our moving company loaded our things into a van and got them out of there before the waters hit the facility. I am forever grateful. Overall, the worst of it for us was that we had packed for hot days filled with hiking the national parks of southern Utah, and instead found ourselves shivering in our car with the heater cranked up. We got lucky, much luckier than many here.

A wet but beautiful Zion

A wet but beautiful Zion

We’ve settled in, are back online, and now trying to reestablish: find preschools, activities, make friends, and for my husband, start work. I discovered this blog a year or two ago, and I’m counting on Bringing Up Baby Bilingual to help us find the French community in Colorado. (Looking forward to meeting you in person, Sarah!)

Did I mention it is ridiculously beautiful here? Stunning. Green, open, the Flatiron Mountain range soaring upward in the west… I feel a peace that I haven’t felt for years. I belong in a place like this.

Doo, doo, doo lookin' out my backdoor!

Doo, doo, doo lookin’ out my backdoor!

People are incredibly friendly and relaxed here. Wow, are-you-for-real friendly. Smiles are genuine and easy, people don’t hesitate to pause for a chat. The neighborhood we landed in has neighbors that actually do stuff, together. Block parties, camping trips, an Oktoberfest this weekend…. They have a Google calendar to plan their events. They banded together to help out flood victims. Many of them have stopped by to welcome us and make sure we got on the mailing list so we’d be included. This is old school Americana and I can’t believe our luck! Plus, Louisville, our new home, has the cutest little downtown with several yummy restaurants we’ve been systematically trying out.

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Café de Paris - a touch of France in Louisville, perhaps?

Café de Paris – a touch of France in Louisville, perhaps?

We made the mandatory visits to Ikea and Bed Bath and Beyond. We cruised down the freeway through the Denver suburbs to Ikea with our jaws dropped. Everyone here drives the speed limit. Not over. Right at it. In San Diego, we push it by a minimum of 15 miles an hour everywhere. We grumbled that people were moving so slow, then had to laugh at ourselves. Isn’t this part of why we came here? To be in less of a hurry? Reduce our pace from frantic to chill? In Target, I wandered through empty aisles where I never once had to maneuver around a traffic jam of carts nor squeeze by two or three people to grab what I needed from a shelf. When I got to the check out line, where I went straight to the conveyer belt and did not have to wait behind a minimum of five people, a party of two got in line behind me and the cashier sighed, “Ohmigod it’s crazy in here today.” I looked around. “Crazy? Really? This is crazy?” She sighed again. “Yes, I think we just don’t have enough cashiers or something.” Same thing at the post office today; I entered and did a happy dance because there were only two people in front of me. They guy behind me said under his breath, “Oh, no, a line.”

We visited our local park where a small group of 8 or 9 year olds were playing, scooters strewn over the patio and no parent in sight. My initial reaction was concern – where are their parents? Who lets their kids go to a park without supervision? What if they get hurt? Kidnapped? I could never…. And disappointment: how will I ever meet other moms if they aren’t taking their kiddos to the park? Then I caught myself and realized: this is how it is supposed to be. This is how my childhood was, the childhood I now idealize. Where I hopped on my bike and cruised the neighborhood, and the rule was I had to be home at dusk, or when my mom called out my name for supper. This is why we wanted to move here.

Where we hung out our last night in San Diego

Where we hung out our last night in San Diego

Transitions are hard. San Diego in our rear view mirror was a strange sensation, though we’ve been mentally preparing for it for almost two years now. It’s finally sinking in; this is our new home, we aren’t going back. I crave El Zarape, I wake up thinking I’ll take the kids to Kate Sessions Park to see our friends, or hike Torrey Pines. I miss my peeps. Yet, here, I’ve reunited with some dear long-term friends, and best of all – I’m back in touch with my soul. The soul that belongs in mountains with a book, a cup of hot cocoa, a fire in the fireplace, and hiking shoes at the ready.

Dare I say, bring on the snow?

Au revoir, Pacific Beach

Au revoir, Pacific Beach

Leaving California and Heading for Colorado!

It’s official! We are moving to Colorado, the Boulder area. My hubby found his dream job with Google and we are heading east very soon!

We’ve often questioned whether we belong in San Diego. We like it here, there’s so much to like. Yet despite both of us being here more than a decade, we’ve never felt rooted. It’s never become home. For me, my heart belongs in the mountains; I need to be able to get to a place where I hear wind through trees rather than rushing cars, where I see something towering far over me that isn’t a building but rather nature’s majesty. For my husband, he’s ready for a new adventure.

If our experience with Google so far is any indication, this is going to be an amazing company to be a part of. We feel like a dream is coming true.

Yet parting can be such sweet sorrow. We’ve spent the last few weeks saying goodbye to friends and our favorite San Diego spots. It hits me with intensity, the strangeness of moving. Places and people that have been a part of my everyday life for years will soon be places and people I won’t see at all.

Here is what I will miss the most:

My friends. We know some great people in San Diego. Some are friends I met soon after I moved here who became and remained an important part of my life, some are friends we’ve only known a short while but who have been dear to us, each goodbye has, well, sucked. I really hate goodbyes.

My writer’s group. We’ve been together for eight years. Eight. Writing, sharing our writing, sharing our hopes and dreams and frustrations around writing, and getting to know each other in a way that is so intimately close and so unlike any other relationship. We are an eclectic group – each one of us very different from the others – yet it works. It’s worked for years. I love these people. They are family to me. Saying goodbye to them was so strange; it felt as if I would see them again in two weeks, just as it’s always been. But it was goodbye.

My book club. A fabulous group of strong, intelligent women who I have enjoyed reading with and discussing ideas with. Plus, they are also all fabulous cooks, and our book club meetings were always accompanied by fantastic meals.

San Diego French American School. Our daughter, and we by extension, had such a great experience here for her PK0 year. The teachers were talented and caring, the school fostered a wonderful sense of community, and our daughter’s French showed great progress. I wish there could be a French immersion school like this everywhere, but alas. There is not. We’re going to have to work harder to find French connections in Colorado. I know they are there, but they won’t likely land in our laps the easy way they did here.

Diversity. There is so much in San Diego. People, food, cultures, things to do. I love it. I take it for granted that my social circle comes in all colors, celebrates a variety of holidays, and has opened my mind and made me a better person.

On a sunny day, San Diego, with its Mediterranean climate and vegetation, fabulous food everywhere (this town is becoming a real foodie town and we love that), tons of things to do, it’s like being on vacation, only it’s all right there, accessible every time. I’ll miss the ocean views, the bougainvillea, the red tile roofs, and the palm trees towering high overhead.

What I won’t miss:

The cost of living. This is our main driver. We don’t want to kill ourselves to afford a home. And over half of San Diegans send their kids to either private or charter schools. That leads to suffering public schools and expensive living.

And on that note, I won’t miss the ducks. Not the bird. I wish I could claim this analogy was my own making, but it’s not. Someone I knew once said that San Diego is full of ducks. They glide across the water, looking so smooth, so controlled, they’ve got their beemers, their jags, their feathers are slicked back, they are wearing the right clothes and the right accessories… but underneath, their little feet are paddling like crazy, trying to keep up the show, trying to keep the water from pushing them where they don’t want to go. Keeping up with the Joneses can be hard to avoid here. I don’t want to keep up. I don’t want to be thinking about whether my make up is fresh when I go to the grocery store, I want to be kicking back with a microbrew and my bare feet curled under me.

I will not miss my frizzy hair. Given even a tiny bit of humidity, my hair adopts a style that was popular only in 1973. It isn’t pretty. Product, straightening irons, straightening treatments, you name it; I’ve tried it. A ponytail works best. Two months after I moved to San Diego, I called my mom. “I’m going to have to leave. This place is terrible for my hair.” So now, I’ll go to a dry climate similar to what I grew up in, and my hair and I might get along. Cracked, dry knuckles vs. frizzy hair… I’m now investing the money I spent on straightening treatments into hand lotion.

May Grays and June Gloom that spread their arms into April, July, and August. “Sunny” southern California isn’t nearly as sunny as Colorado. I’m an Arizona girl. If I go 2, 3 days without sunlight and blue skies, seasonal affective disorder kicks in. My husband laughs at me; after the gray Paris weather, San Diego is great for him. I remind him that one May we had a total of three days where we saw the sun. Three. I want blue skies. And when the skies fill up with clouds, I want something to happen. Thunderstorm, snow…. Anything is better than gray clouds that just sit there, doing nothing but being gray clouds blocking the sun.

I won’t miss the density. I realize San Diego isn’t a true “city” by the standards of many, but it’s much denser than the places I spent my formative years. In my twenties, I craved density. I wanted people surrounding me, something going on and something to do on any day at any hour. I wanted to walk out my door and be where things were happening. Now, I crave wide open spaces. For my husband, after growing up in Paris, a few trees qualifies as getting out into nature. We tried an urban hike here recently. Well, he called it a hike, and was delighted to be “getting out, away from it all.” I just grumbled. “The freeway is right there,” and I pointed to where, less than a football field length away, cars were flying by. I need more.

We’re excited about Colorado. Boulder is beautiful, and the Rocky Mountains have been beckoning for a long time. We have some good friends in Colorado, which will make for a softer landing. We are excited about the life we envision having there. But we aren’t leaving San Diego blasting Tom Petty’s “Last Dance With Mary Jane,” the part that says, “Tired of myself, tired of this town!” I’ve done that one before, with other places I’ve left. I’m older now. I hope wiser. Certainly my views are more nuanced. This time, it’s subdued. Bittersweet.

To San Diego: Thank you for these past 12 years. They’ve been mostly fantastic, sometimes sucky, and never dull. To Colorado: we’re on our way. Hope you are ready for us. Hope we are ready for you.