Saturday, May 17, 2008

On grandmas

Let me preface this post by saying that I think my mother-in-law has never really liked me all that much. At most, she has tolerated my presence in esposo's life, though I did gain some points, I think, by having a son. (An heir! Passing on the family name! and all that nonsense.) Anyway, she never really came to visit esposo and I all that much before son was born (and thank God for that!), but after he came along, there was always some reason/excuse for her to come over. After a while, I didn't mind it so much, because she really and truly does love our son, and I always had a pretty good relationship with my grandmother, and I wanted my son to have the same thing. Plus he keeps her busy and I can kind of do my own thing without her being underfoot.

It was difficult for her for a long time, because she doesn't speak English and our son's first language is English, not Spanish. I recall one time, when our son was first babbling and learning to speak, that she said to esposo, "I have no idea what he's saying!" and esposo said, "Well, don't worry, neither do we!" It was pretty funny at the time. Then, as his language skills improved, he'd get very frustrated with her when she didn't understand him. We explained over and over that Grandma speaks Spanish and you speak English, so you have to try to help her learn some English, and you learn some Spanish from her. That way you can talk to each other. I'd say within the last six to eight months, his Spanish has improved by leaps and bounds. At first, he would only speak Spanish with his Grandma, refusing to speak Spanish with anyone else. Now, though, it's pretty cool to see that not only is his Spanish very good, but he will speak Spanish with other kids who don't speak English. For example, I was at my friend A.'s house a couple of weeks ago; she speaks French, Spanish and English, and her middle son (who is about my son's age) speaks French and Spanish. Her older son speaks French, English and Spanish (at five years old; and yes, I am impressed!). At first, my son tried English with A.'s middle son, and that didn't work, so he switched to Spanish. They played for a while, conversing in Spanish all the while, and then the older son came home from school, and my son started speaking with him in English. I find the whole language acquisition process completely fascinating. I wondered, before my son was born, if kids who grew up in a multi-lingual household ever got confused, or if they understood the concept of "this is English, this is Spanish." Now that I see how my son is going through the process, I can see that he does understand the concept of two separate languages. When he goes into "Spanglish," I see that it is an attempt to try to say something in one language or the other that he doesn't quite know, using language rules that he does know. For example, this morning, he said to me, "Can I have un esnacka?" which was pretty funny! (I don't even know the Spanish word for "snack." The sign at the grocery store says "Snacks," so maybe there isn't a direct translation.) A lot of the time he will say to his Grandma, "Give me eso," though I think the more he gains Spanish, the less Spanglish he'll use.

Back to Grandma. It has been so beneficial to our son to have her around, in many ways. As far as the Spanish is concerned, son just picks up more and more every time he's around her, because he has no choice but to learn and use Spanish. Plus, he adores his Grandma, and he likes spending time with her, so that in itself has been great, as I have no relatives here in Costa Rica, and very few relatives anywhere to begin with. Ok, she and I will probably never be close friends (certainly I will never really be accepted as part of the family, no matter how long esposo and I are married), but she accepts and loves my son unconditionally, and what mother could ask for more?

P.S. Can I just add here that the woman is a coffee-drinking machine? Jeez Louise, I've never seen anyone drink so much black coffee in my life! I do like one, two at most cups with Silk and sugar a day; she's making a pot in the morning, a pot in the afternoon, and it's usually down to drops by the time I smell it, so I end up having to make my own. It's kind of incredible! And she's in her 60s. And she falls asleep by 8. Me, I'd be bouncing off walls, floors, ceilings with that much caffeine in me.


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