I never thought it would be strange to speak to my child in my native language; in fact, it's been challenging to meet my goal of barraging Griffin with French, especially when we're together all day long! (See my most recent column in Multilingual Living Magazine for the full scoop on my struggle as a non-native speaker trying to raise my baby bilingually. It's one of the cover stories this time!)
But now, after three and a half months of being a maman, this must be starting to come more easily, because it feels weird to speak English to him now.
Yes, I do speak English around him when I'm with non-francophone family and friends (in other words, just about everyone); I'm not trying to disguise the fact that I speak and understand English. (To my delight, my nephew Carl has never protested that he and I only speak French together, even though he knows I'm an Anglophone--but many parents have to pretend that they don't understand the dominant language so that their kids will keep addressing them in the parents' language.)
However, I rarely address my son directly in English, unless my comments are actually directed towards other people--like to explain, say, why he's not wearing any pants ("Griffin, you've got to stop with these leaky diapers already!") or to make a request ("Griffin, don't you think that Daddy should bring Maman a glass of wine?").
And since his daddy doesn't speak French (yet!), when we sing to him together--such an important activity--we sing in English. But I don't sing songs in English by myself. That's hard enough, when so many fantastic songs that appeal to children exist and hold sentimental value for me; what's even harder is not reading to him in English.
But I've discovered one situation for which to make an exception to this rule: baby storytime at the library. The Lafayette Public Library has just begun a new program called "Book Babies." The babies--and I do mean babies, for no toddlers are allowed--and their grown-ups meet once a week for half an hour of songs, rhymes, fingerplays, and sharing board books geared towards babies. It's very interactive--we sing along with the librarian, help the babies clap, raise their arms to say "so big!", pretend our fingers are fleas crawling up and down their bodies, share books with them, give them horsey rides on our knees, and so on. Just imagine a roomful of infants and crawlers poking each other, shaking baby-sized maracas, gnawing on peek-a-boo books, and staring wide-eyed at the crazy lady ringing bells in Winnie-the-Pooh's face! It's been so successful that this month-long experiment will continue through the summer.
So you see, it would be rude for me to attend this storytime and refuse to participate; it would be pretentious to disregard the directions and conversations in English in order to translate them into French. (Not that I could translate many of these nursery rhymes and fingerplays on the fly anyway--"eensie weensie"? "waterspout"? How the heck do you say that in French?)
Therefore, every Wednesday morning, I toss aside the French so we can hang out with the other bibliobabies. And it feels quite strange to make that switch! Even though Griffin's clearly too young to care which language he's hearing from whom, I have the sensation that I'm breaking the law but have immunity because of a loophole. It's a little exciting, a little dangerous.
But w hat if I like it too much? What if I find myself informing him "I'm a little teapot" instead of "Je suis une petite théière?" What if I say to myself, "Oh, it's just a board book. One round of Bear Snores On won't hurt anybody"? Will I be able to resist when my mom pressures me into taking a hit of Eric Carle? What if The Very Hungry Caterpillar is just a gateway story to all my other beloved children's books and I start sneaking around to expose Griffin to English, hiding the evidence behind the couch or in the laundry room, denying to my friends and family that I've been reading and singing in English, saying that I'm taking Griffin to the grocery store but instead going to Borders and coming home late with bloodshot eyes and the incriminating evidence of papercuts on our fingers, until I need more and more and more songs and stories in English with my son to feel good?!
Help me be strong, dear readers. You are my support group!