When you’re kinda thankful for American excess

When you’re kinda thankful for American excess

It’s been less than a year since we were last in the States, so the culture shock hasn’t hit us as hard this time around.  The kids have made some funny observations and proclamations about the US (“I hate America because it makes my nose bleeeeed!”), and of course jet lag was a beast, but for the most part, I felt like the transition this time around has felt a lot smoother.

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And then we drove past a shopping mall in Colorado and Isla shrieked with joy, “an American Girl BOOKSHOP!!!!!”  A few months ago, my sister sent her some of the old school American girl books, and she absolutely loves them.  So when she saw a huge store full of the books she adores, she was so excited.

I was a bit too old for the American girl craze when I was a kid, but my memory of them is a set of books about a little girl living through an important part of American history.  You could get a doll and the doll had several different outfits to go along with the different books in the set – a Christmas dress, a school outfit, and whatever else.  So I thought we could go in and see the doll that goes along with the books she’s already read, and maybe get her a new book.

Hello, culture shock.  This store is the epitome of the way America can take things to the absolute, most ridiculous extreme.  First of all, the salesgirl had absolutely no clue what we were talking about when we asked her about Felicity, the character Isla has been reading about.  Um, okay.  And then we saw the hair salon.  Four adult women, whose only job was to style their customer’s – A DOLL’S – hair.

It’s a little girl’s dream and a parent’s (read: wallet’s) nightmare.  We made a quick exit and headed into the mall.  At the entrance they had those little cars that you can push your kids around the mall in.  But instead of a steering wheel, so that your child can feel like he’s actually driving the car, there was a tablet.  For your toddler.  To play with.  While you walk around the mall.

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Hello, culture shock.  Hello, America.  Where something that was perfectly fine when it was simple gets take to the extreme.

It’s overwhelming. Super overwhelming.

But to be honest, sometimes I am really grateful for the extreme-ness of the good ‘ole Us of A.

Last Sunday night, we headed to a splash park with some friends.  To make a long, very bloody story short, Isla fell and needed stitches in her chin.

She’s had stitches before and it was an incredibly traumatic experience for her, so even the mention of them put her into a tailspin.  So we headed back to where we were staying so I could get Ruby and Luka dinner and Caleb and Isla headed over to Urgent Care to get her chin stitched.

But she was freaking out so much that they couldn’t stitch her without sedation, so they sent them to the ER.  There is a children’s hospital super close to where we were staying, so that’s where they went.

And this is the part of the story where I’m thankful for the way things in America just can’t be left simple.  As soon as they walked in the door, Isla was presented with gifts – a book and a craft to work on while she waited.  No need for wheelchairs in this hospital, a happy red wagon will wheel you to your room!  She had her choice of movies to watch while she was stitched up, but since she couldn’t settle down enough, a quick squirt of something in her nose knocked her out for the stitches…. and the rest of the night!

Compared to the last time she got stitches in Beirut… when I had to hold my 2 year old down screaming bloody murder because they wouldn’t give her any pain relief until after violently cleaning her wound… this was a dream (said the person who sat at home with the sleeping littles while Caleb did the whole ER thing!)  Now getting the stitches out…… that’s a whole ‘nother (6 hour long) story!

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TBT: Second English

TBT: Second English

TBT Post!

Because the promise I made to myself to blog once a week is apparently too hard to keep… instead of something new enjoy this randomly selected old post, originally published on March 21, 2014

beautiful feet: the blog version

Even though she was born and raised in Lebanon, Isla’s first and strongest language is English.

Honestly, we expected her to be both fluent in English and Arabic by this time.  We do live, after all, in an Arabic speaking country, and both her Daddy and I speak Arabic (though not fluently… yet! :))

There are two main reasons her English is much stronger.  One, Beirut.  English is so prevalent here, and Isla is clearly a foreigner, so people just assume she doesn’t speak Arabic.  Even though we insist that people use Arabic so that she can learn, they rarely do.  So her Arabic input has never been high enough.  When someone asks her a question in Arabic, she replies in English and they understand her, it just reinforces to her that she doesn’t actually need Arabic.

The second reason is her personality.  She is shy and she’s a perfectionist…

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Art party

Art party

Isla starts planning her birthday parties pretty much from the day after her previous birthday.  The planning kicks into gear around Ruby’s birthday, so for the past six months she has been coming up with projects, food and the guest list for her art party.

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We had so much fun at Ruby’s party earlier in the year with stations instead of organized games, and an art party was the perfect theme to do the same.  We set up stations all around the house and on the balcony with different projects the kids could work on

We had a creation station filled with all sorts of markers, stickers, and paper scraps for the kids to decorate a big folder to keep their projects in, a bubble painting station, sidewalk chalk, playdough, and a canvas painting station.  The kids all started at the creation station and then were free to wander about and create wherever and whatever they wanted.  We did do one group game because I just can’t help myself!

I  kept the food simple, but tried to make it really colorful like an artist’s palette.  I really wanted to do a rainbow cake, but didn’t want it to taste like chemicals, so I juiced different fruits and veggies and made a natural rainbow cake!  Some of the colors turned out better than others, and I was surprised at the depth of flavor each layer had.  It was really really good.

 

Caleb made the mistake of admitting that frosting a cake is a lot like laying cement, which he is really good at.  He had all these knives and tools and cold water and who knows what else to help him frost it.  I will not be frosting a cake ever again.

The kids had fun, I think the moms did too, and Isla felt special and loved.  Happy 6th birthday to our amazing girl!

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Isla’s Frozen party

Isla’s Frozen party

I kind of have this rule about birthday parties… I learned pretty quickly that small kids could care less about how well the food matches the theme of a party and it’s just not worth the effort to be creative with party food for a 4 or 5 year old’s birthday.

But as I was planning Isla’s Frozen party for her 5th birthday, there were just too many snack ideas that fit so perfectly, that I decided to break my rule and do a lot of food that fit the Frozen theme.

So we had carrots in the snow for Sven…

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… melted Olaf (mohalabieh pudding with pretzel arms and an orange candy nose)…

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… plus marshmallow snowdrops, Anna & Hans’ sandwiches, a plate full of Olaf’s arms (pretzels) and chips and salsa for the grown ups.

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I was quite proud of the food, but of course the only things the kids ate were the pretzels and the cake.  We were eating leftover sandwiches, carrots and mohalabieh for days.  Lesson learned.  We’re back to ordering mana2ish and putting out a bowl of pretzels and a bowl of fruit for party food from now on!  :)

Speaking of the cake, I decided to try my hand at one of those princess doll cakes.  I was really nervous it would be a flop, literally, so I made a bunch of cupcakes too, just in case.  But it was actually much easier than I was expecting.  I used a bundt cake on top of a small pie shaped cake.  Didn’t really carve it, just stuck Elsa in the middle and used frosting to shape the dress.

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Isla doesn’t like games where anyone loses or anything that puts her on the spot (pin the anything on anything, for example… she can’t handle everyone watching her and cries every time).  So we decided to do more activities instead of games.  We had play snow, ice painting, a frozen dancing game and a scavenger hunt using song lyrics from the movie.

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We also played Frozen Bingo, which was a huge bust – the kids got bored really quickly.  But my girls have played it nearly every day since then, so it wasn’t a complete loss.

Party food and games aside, my big five year old was most excited about having all her friends come over and celebrate… Isla was so happy and had a great day, which is really all that matters in the end!

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Happy birthday, Little Lu!

Personalities and language learning

Personalities and language learning

Before moving here, we just assumed that any kids we had would grow up speaking Arabic fluently.  We found out pretty quickly that living in the part of Beirut we do, it was going to take a lot more work for them to pick up the language than just the community exposure.

As soon as people see our girls’ light eyes and hair, they speak to them in English or French and are generally surprised to find out that they do in fact understand Arabic.  And even if I continue the conversation in Arabic, or prompt my kids to respond in Arabic, the conversation usually continues on in English.

Isla learned very quickly to tune out any Arabic around her, because chances were pretty high someone was going to repeat everything for her in English.  This worked great for her… she’s a perfectionist, afraid of trying new things, shy and definitely does not enjoy being put on the spot.  So for her to try out words in a language she knew she wasn’t as strong in was just not going to happen.  Plus she never needed to try, because someone was always more than willing to jump in and ask her the same question or tell her the same story in English.  So while her comprehension was decent, she had a really hard time composing sentences that weren’t just memorized phrases.

We’ve noticed huge progress in her Arabic in the past year and a half or so.  School has helped for sure, and she also had a tutor last year who worked on her spoken Arabic (different from the Arabic she was learning in school).  I think the biggest thing it gave her was confidence – that she actually does understand and she can speak and be understood – and she’s been using her language a whole lot more this past year than she has before.  It also helps that there are a few situations she’s regularly in now where English is not really an option for her, and I’ve been surprised and how willing she has been to try to speak Arabic, even if it isn’t perfect.

Then there is Ruby.  She and Isla couldn’t be more opposite personality wise and it’s been so interesting to see how this has affected second language development.  Ruby could care less if what she is saying is wrong, she just wants to talk to people.

So if Isla didn’t know how to say something in Arabic, she just wouldn’t talk.  Ruby however just says as much as she can in Arabic and then finishes the conversation in a very strangely accented English, which she thinks is Arabic.  It’s hilarious and slightly embarrassing at times…  We were in a shop the other day and Ruby was having a conversation with a nice old man.  She got stuck though when he asked why she wasn’t in school.  So she replied in Arabic, “because I…” and then switched to something that slightly resembled English but sort of sounded like she had her mouth stuffed full of marshmallows, “Ahhhh nooooot thruh yeeeaaas oooooooldd”  (I not three years old.)

I started laughing, but how do you explain to an 80 year old man that your two year old actually thinks she’s speaking Arabic?  Ruby just smiled at me and told me in English, “I telled him in Arabic that I not three yet.”
I’m actually glad that Ruby isn’t further along in her Arabic.  It’s really nice that not everyone around can understand when she asks me loudly, “why is that lady old???”…   but I do think that she’s going to jump into conversations much quicker than her sister did, just because she is willing to take the risk and try.

TCK in transition. But not really.

TCK in transition. But not really.

We’re taking a little vacation tomorrow.  So excited to have nothing to do but sit on the beach, swim in the pool and of course, take a trip to Ikea!

The girls are excited too… it’s been really interesting to see Isla “prepare” for this trip.  Our little TCK is getting to be a pro at transitions.  We’re so thankful that our organization takes the time to teach our kids how to come and go well, and how to find their identity when they don’t seem to fit anywhere.  But I think Isla is taking things a little overboard.

This trip isn’t a big deal.  A 30 minute plane ride and we will be gone less than two weeks but Isla just can’t comprehend that and she’s making her way across the transitions bridge.  She wanted to start packing her carry on a few days ago.  She collected all her dress ups, her jewelry and a picture of her with two of her friends from school so that “she won’t forget them.”

She’s so wound up about traveling that she is literally out of control of herself.  She can’t sleep, her emotions are all over the place, she’s just not herself.

When we actually do have big transitions coming up, we try our best to help her navigate them well… to leave well, to thrive in the chaos, etc etc.  But this?  This is just a vacation!  Not quite sure how to help her out here. Maybe some time in the sun is just what she needs.  :)

 

Second English

Second English

Even though she was born and raised in Lebanon, Isla’s first and strongest language is English.

Honestly, we expected her to be both fluent in English and Arabic by this time.  We do live, after all, in an Arabic speaking country, and both her Daddy and I speak Arabic (though not fluently… yet! :))

There are two main reasons her English is much stronger.  One, Beirut.  English is so prevalent here, and Isla is clearly a foreigner, so people just assume she doesn’t speak Arabic.  Even though we insist that people use Arabic so that she can learn, they rarely do.  So her Arabic input has never been high enough.  When someone asks her a question in Arabic, she replies in English and they understand her, it just reinforces to her that she doesn’t actually need Arabic.

The second reason is her personality.  She is shy and she’s a perfectionist, two character traits that make learning a language very difficult.  Caleb and I both attribute our relative success at learning Arabic to the fact that we weren’t afraid to just go out and speak, knowing we would make a million (and more!) mistakes.  But Isla wouldn’t even try to speak unless she knew she could say it perfectly, and even once she was sure, she was often too shy to talk.

While being in school has helped her a lot, most of the Arabic that she was speaking from school was Fussha.  So a good friend of ours has been tutoring her in Lebanese Arabic once a week.  It’s made an amazing difference, more in her confidence than anything else.  She’s much more comfortable speaking Arabic, which means she uses it more, which means she gets better and better.

Getting a good base in a second language makes it easier to learn a third and even fourth language.  I’m amazed at how good her French accent is, although she really only knows phrases and songs that she’s learned at school.

I also die every time she speaks school English.  Somehow her brain has differentiated between the English she hears at home and the English she uses at school, and her accent changes accordingly.  I don’t know if she’s even cognizant of it, but recently her school English has been getting stronger and stronger.  We’ve tried correcting her pronunciation a few times, but at this stage in the game it’s not worth the fight.  She’ll figure it out eventually when she goes through her “what do you mean I’m not actually Lebanese!?!” identity crisis at some point.

For now, we just enjoy listening to her speak English, Arabic, a bit of French and “second English.”  :)