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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

My best allies in bilingual education: les amies!

Why is it that I don’t schedule play-dates more often when every time I have one, I realize how fulfilling it is for both me and Zach? I was reminded of this again the other day when we went to the home of my French friend, Chantal and her two adorable little kids, two year old Sophie and five-year old Jean. We all hadn’t seen each other in several months, and I don’t know if it was technically a play-date, because it was as much a date for the moms as the kids. Group activities included bubbles and digging for dinosaurs, but for the most part, we segregated by generations. 
And though there were a few skirmishes over who got to hold Spiderman or ride the buggy, no one ended up bruised or bleeding and most importantly, Zach and his little buddy Jean were engaged with each other or with Jean’s toys, and seemed content to play without excessive adult intervention. Had I been alone, I would have struggled to fill the same amount of time without the help of videos, or submitting to endless superhero battles where I am relegated to being Bananaman (throws bananas at the bad guys). Not that we don’t have our fun (in fact, I secretly thrive on imaginative play and “becoming” different characters assigned to me by my little director), but group play somehow tends to be - at least in my experience - more dynamic and easier to sustain for long periods than when it’s just the two of us.
Also, how proud was I of my little francophone!  For almost three hours he communicated in French - with me, with the kids, with Chantal. Not a single time did I hear “no more French Mommy!”  It makes me wonder why I struggle to create a French environment when we’re alone since as soon as someone else is speaking it, he seems to take it in stride. Actually, now that I think about it this applies to most activities I suggest [does this mean he is going to be a general conformist or just my own personal rebel?] which are deftly thwarted with a “No mommy, i have a better idea” and for the French, “oh no, but so-and-so doesn’t speak French so we can’t speak French!”  
I was so impressed when Chantal encouraged him to try something on his plate he said, “j’ai déja essayé mais je n’aime pas.”  While I would have preferred a “no thank you, I’ve had enough,” I am not complaining. In fact, I probably would have been fine with “c’est dégoutant” (I am sort of machiavellian when it comes to his French manners -- my approach has pretty much become “as long as you’re speaking French, you can say anything you like” and cross my fingers I can undo the really offensive stuff at some point. ) 
And so, I highly recommend playdates, playdates, and more playdates. When you are a mother, girlfriends with kids are like oxygen. It is not always easy to find friends you really click with in your own language, and for me when it happens in French, it is like gold: socialization for moms and kids, and language learning all at the same time. I feel like I hit the jackpot with Chantal.  Despite her perfect English, she seems content to chatter with me in French, and she is funny, wonderful with the kids and the time just flies when we’re all together.  Both Zach and I left with improved language abilities and spirits, and to top it off we ate éclairs for dessert! La classe!  Thank you to Chantal and all my girlfriends and fellow moms of all nationalities for keeping me sane!
A plus!