Monday, July 21, 2014

Fun in Oregon

If you're like me, you might not know that "Oregon" actually more closely rhymes with "fun" than "on." That was one of the first things I learned upon arriving in the state in late June for our most recent family vacation. More importantly, I learned that Oregon is a beautiful and fun-filled destination for a family adventure with our intrepid traveler, Elliot.

Highlights of the week or so we split between coastal town Cannon Beach and hipster hangout Portland include:

  • Tidal pools: When I think of starfish, I used to think of dried-up, sand-colored creatures. No longer. Since we had the opportunity to wade through the tidal pools that form around the 220-foot high Haystack Rock during low tide periods, I now know that starfish come in colors including orange and purple. We marveled at the number of shellfish attached to the rocks and the brilliant colors of the anemones. And, we got to look through telescopes and see nesting puffins high up in the rocks.
  •  Hiking: Buying Elliot his very first pair of hiking boots before our trip was a flash of inspiration. One day, he hiked three miles! Up and down hills, through mud, over tree roots and rocks went out nimble-footed almost five-year-old. Whenever there was an opportunity to further explore, Elliot took it...whether is was using a downed tree as a pathway or seeing how many tree trunk hole "animal shelters" he could squeeze into.
  • Portland Blues Festival: Tim, Elliot and I love live music, and when we're on vacation, we really enjoy attending local events. The waterfront Portland Blues Festival was a great chance to blend in with the Portlanders and listen to some tunes on a beautiful night. And, we just happened to catch Los Lonely Boys, a band we actually know!
  •  Ice cream: No vacation would be complete without ice cream, and the ice cream we enjoyed in Portland was especially memorable. We went to two artisan ice cream shops where we sampled homemade flavors like bourbon coffee (not Elliot), strawberry balsamic and ooey-gooey brownie. One advertised flavor none of us was brave enough to try was habanero goat cheese marionberry!
Throughout our trip, Elliot literally skipped and danced with delight while playing on the (chilly) beach, wandering through the Japanese Gardens, exploring the zoo and just meandering down the streets. So, we knew he was having fun...and so were we. And that's the most important part of any vacation.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Preschool Graduation: Didn't Know We'd Both Cry

"Fiesta. Fiesta. Fiesta" said the banner decorating the outdoor space. A line of preschoolers filed out of the school, wearing what I soon learned were homemade antenna and butterfly wings. All but Elliot. Like the rest of the kids, he carried the graduation cap he'd decorated. Unlike the rest of them, he started to cry almost as soon as he saw me.

The class of squirmy preschoolers assembled under a shade canopy to prepare to sing for their parents, who were standing a short distance away. All but me. My sniffling son refused to be more than an inch away from me, which meant that he sat atop me while the kids sang songs about how much fun they'd had at preschool and spreading their butterfly wings. All except Elliot. From my behind-his-back vantage point, I could see that his mouth moved a little, but no sound came out. Despite his lack of participation, I started to get quite emotional when they sang the "adios amigos" song.

Then, came the actual graduation. As his or her name was called, each child ran under a banner that the children had painted and received a diploma and a goodie bag. Guess who graduated along with her preschooler? That's right: me.

Poor Elliot. He'd been acting out of sorts the last few days, and I suspected it was because he sort of understood the fact that his preschool experience is coming to an end. (Well, except that it really isn't. He'll continue to go just two mornings a week for the rest of the summer. But, our favorite teacher won't be there...and neither will many of his friends.)

 But, I didn't realize that he'd be quite so emotional. I've been feeling quite nostalgic about the end of Elliot's preschool career, so I knew I'd cry this morning. I wasn't expecting tears from him. My poor baby.

Eventually, Elliot started feeling better and we were able to give his two teachers a "thank you" present and pose for pictures with both of them. He continued to feel better as he ate watermelon and lollipops, and was in fine shape by the time the kids lined up to whack the piƱata. 

When we got home, he proudly modeled his graduation cap and butterfly wings for me.  It made me happy to see Elliot finally looking so happy and proud as he flapped around the kitchen. And then, I started bawling when I read the wonderfully kind note his teachers had written to and about him.

I know that Elliot will have a lot of transitions and milestones in his life, and one day, preschool graduation will seem small in comparison. But for now, the face that he's leaving his beloved first teacher and a familiar environment and heading off to a "junior kindergarten" program in the fall seems like a big deal.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

June Multilingual Blogging Carnival: Non-Native Bilingualism

"Can a monolingual parent raise a bilingual child?"

That's the question posed in this month's Multilingual Blogging Carnival. I thought about not participating this month. After all, I've been speaking Spanish since high school so I don't exactly consider myself monolingual. But, I read further and realized the question was also about parents speaking a non-native or non-fluent language.

I speak a high level of non-native Spanish. When in a Spanish-speaking country, natives have often asked where I'm from and seem surprised to learn I'm American. But, I didn't even start learning the language until age 13, and I probably couldn't really carry on much of a conversation until my second year of college Spanish. My parents and siblings speak no Spanish at all. My husband Tim has picked up a few key phrases, but that's about it. And, while I'm often told my Spanish is good, it's nowhere near the level of a native speaker who grew up with the benefit of knowing all the day-to-day words, rather than having to constantly look them up on her iPhone.

Despite the drawbacks of not have a Latina heritage, grandparents to reinforce the language or relatives "back home" to visit, I am doing my best to raise a bilingual child. So far, I think it's going pretty well. While Elliot is definitely English-dominant, he understands everything in Spanish and is able to have conversations in the language. But, as his time in his Spanish immersion preschool draws to a close (and he'll be immersed in an English-only school this fall), I'm starting to wonder: how will I keep it up?

I have decided I need to...

  • Speak more Spanish. Duh. This is a no-brainer, especially to the parents of bilinguals/monolinguals who strictly speak only one language. I've never done that with Elliot, and don't see starting now. Instead, my son and I switch back and forth from Spanish to English throughout the day -- sometimes, in the same conversation. Of course, he does sometimes answer me in English when I speak to him in Spanish. On the other hand, he will speak to me in Spanish in the middle of a conversation in I think we must be doing something right. However, I know I need to speak more Spanish with him, and I know I can't be his only source of input.
  •  Find a Spanish-language educational experience: When his time at the Spanish immersion preschool comes to an end in a few months, I hope to enroll him in a Saturday morning Spanish school that's focused on reading and writing in Spanish (and would be a great way to meet other Spanish-speaking local kids). But, since it's specifically for native speakers, I'm not sure if he'll pass the evaluation. If that doesn't pan out, I will look for other local or Skype-based educational opportunities.
  • Increase his exposure to media in Spanish: We've already got books and music in Spanish pretty well covered. I recently decided to let him start using my Kindle occasionally, and have only downloaded kids' apps in Spanish. I do need to figure out how to find Spanish-language YouTube content that he enjoys as much as Mighty Machines.
  •  Plan for future immersion experiences: Especially after seeing the positive impact of just 10 days in Costa Rica earlier this year, I'm convinced that immersion travel will benefit Elliot greatly. I'm not quite sure when or where, but I definitely see our family spending chunks of time in Spanish-speaking countries.
So, can a non-native speaker raise a bilingual child. In my case, it's too soon to say. My answer at this point is a hopeful "I sure hope so!."

For more perspectives on the question, please visit Trilingual Mama on June 29.