Sunday, January 17, 2010

cavorting with Carl--but no bugs allowed!

February 2006

In the months after Griffin entered our world and turned it topsy-turvy, I missed many things previously taken for granted--the sensation of being in control of my life, the very real possibility of seven or eight uninterrupted hours of sleep most nights, theatre and dinner dates with my hubby, bras not designed for lactation. But I also missed my Thursday afternoons with Carl (born January 31, 2006).

October 2006

We would sing and play and eat and take walks, all en francais! By the time Carl first bonked me on the head and pronounced it a "tete!" (head), I was a goner. Head over heels with my nephew and with the idea of helping him learn a second language. Imagine my delight when he was regularly saying two- and three-word sentences in French at 18 months!

March 2007

I had been taking care of my nephew one afternoon a week for almost two years. (In fact, I went into labor a couple of hours after coming home from Carl's house the day before Griffin was born, around the time that the following photo was taken!)

January 2008

Watching Carl was so valuable for me on so many levels--I learned what it was like to spend hours at a time with an infant, then a toddler; I developed more patience, persuasiveness, and creativity; I became the recipient of countless beaming grins and hugs, giggles and kisses, rocking chair cuddles and silly sing-alongs. And lucky me--I experienced all this while sharing and teaching and learning in French.

March 2008

But once Griffin arrived (January 26, 2008), I couldn't spend five hours at a time one-on-one with Carl. My afternoons of babysitting stopped, and with them, Carl's French "lessons" with me (as well as my intention to blog regularly--oh well. I'm back now!). Our families saw each other less often, and Griffin was usually the center of attention when we did get together. Carl's spoken language (in English) rocketed, and he started attending preschool.

French slipped to the side, though he never actually rebelled against it or wanted me to speak English to him instead. Throughout most of 2008 and 2009, when I did see him and speak French, he showed no interest in responding in French. (Now he's at the point where he'll announce, "I can speak some French," or sing "Frere Jacques," or inform me, "Tatie, that's a camion, not a voiture" when we're playing cars together.)

October 2008

A while back (don't ask me how long--the first 15 months or so of Griffin's life seem just a blur to me now), Elizabeth (Carl's mom, my husband's sister) and I decided to try to get the boys together once a week. She'd watch them for two hours at her house, and I'd have them the next week at mine. At first, these playdates were painful: Carl was frustrated that Griffin didn't/wouldn't do what he wanted him to; I was frustrated that both boys wouldn't sit quietly and let me read to them in French; Griffin was frustrated because Carl and I were frustrated. At times I would stare at the clock, amazed that only 45 minutes had passed, dismayed that I had to keep them entertained and me sane for over an hour longer. (I remain in awe of single parents, parents of muliples, parents who have one baby and one or more other children, in fact. You guys rock.)

January 2009

I remember one morning last year in particular, when Griffin was walking and talking and Carl was a preschooler. In a fit of optimism brought on by a rare full night's sleep and a pang when thinking about my days as a full-time university instructor, I planned out a French lesson for the boys, all about bugs. I gathered books about bugs (La chenille qui faisait des trous, a nonfiction imagerie called Les insectes), my hand-made puppets for teaching The Very Hungry Caterpillar, bug toys (a hand-me-down stuffed butterfly that giggles, a wooden caterpillar, a butterfly teether), nursery rhymes featuring bugs ("Elle a des pois sur son manteau"), songs about butterflies ("Papillon vole, vole, vole gracieusement" by Muriel), and so forth. Envisioning watching the boys "fly" around the house while chanting my favorite French rhyme about ladybugs...

Elle a des pois sur son manteau
Et deux antennes sur son chapeau
Des petites ailes
Pour se faire belle
C'est Madame la Coccinelle!
...thrilled me. I was going to be able to continue to teach French to Carl after all! Carl and Griffin would grow up speaking French together!

Well, that one morning flopped so spectacularly that I haven't deliberately tried to teach Carl anything since! He wouldn't even color the pictures of insects I had prepared, much less repeat vocabulary words after me, make the toy butterfly soar whenever he heard papillon in the butterfly song, or sit still while I read the caterpillar book aloud.

Still, Carl doesn't protest when I speak French to him--and he was visibly surprised and indignant when he realized that Griffin understands words and phrases that he doesn't! (Like when the three of us are reading together, and I ask where a certain thing is in the picture, and Griffin will point to it right away while Carl's still trying to figure out what I mean.)

April 2009
So I'll keep trying to make learning French fun but keep the didactic bits low-key around Carl for now. As Elizabeth has noted, something's working, because he does speak French (or talk about speaking French) now and then. If anything changes, I'll let you all know!
October 2009

1 comment:

  1. I am so impressed that you stuck with the French with Griffin! That's so amazing! I am trying to work back in a little German, having given it up when my brain cells finally died around the time of my seventh child's birth.