Another week in the life of the fictional bilingual mother. With very real emotions.
Not happy, not happy at all! How can people be so narrow-minded and right out rude?! This is going to be a long rant – I just have to write down my thoughts to get this wrath out of my system before hubby gets home, otherwise he will have to listen to it all.
Deep breath and here comes: I went to the playground by the park with D this morning and there were a few other mothers with their kiddos as well. Most of them I had seen before, but there was one mother who was new to me, so I went up to her to say hello. We talked about this and that and she seemed very nice: we chatted about our kids, exchanged the usual I-wish-the-weather-would-improve comments and we both confessed that we hadn’t ironed a piece of clothing in months. We were on the same page. Or so I thought.
D was playing with the other kids and all of a sudden she decided it would be appropriate to pour a bucket of watery sand in a little girl’s lap. Of course, I jumped in, told D that she shouldn’t do it and helped the poor little girl’s mother to clean the sand off. All in all, not that big a deal and nobody was overly upset. These things happen in play pens every day. I sat D down and talked to her why she shouldn’t have done what she did. As I always do, I of course did it in my language.
The “lecture” over and done with, D returned to play and I went back to chat to my new mum-friend. She was a bit quiet and then she asked me how long we had lived in this country. I answered and then she says: “Wouldn’t it be time for you to speak our language with your daughter by now?” I was completely baffled so did not respond straight away. She continued: “Don’t you think it is quite rude of you to speak a language with your daughter that the rest of us do not understand?”
I couldn’t believe what I had just heard, I also couldn’t believe how deeply offended I was by her comment. It was as if someone had told me “Go home. We don’t want you here!” I am pretty sure this is not how she wanted to make me feel, but the fact is, that is the impression I got. I was stunned to silence, although at the same time biting my lip so not to let any words come out of my mouth before I had properly consulted my better-knowing brain.
My new “friend” (yes, she was a “friend” in quotation marks by now) picked up our interrupted discussion about the usefulness of wet wipes as if nothing had happened. In her mind, nothing probably had. I don’t know how our conversation would have continued, but I was relieved when she had a call from her son’s school to say that he was not feeling well and she should pick him up. I never got the chance to address her comment, which was probably for the best just then. I will however not hold my peace forever.
Still reeling about what happened on Monday. Would like to go back to the park, as it is the best one close to us, but do not want to confront my adversary, not yet. I need more time to think of an appropriate, but calm and collected response.
I knew how I wanted to approach the “incident”, so we went back to the park. And yes, she was there with her daughter, and she greeted us with a cheerful “Glad to see you again!” and I think she genuinely meant it. We talked about this and that for a while, then I brought the conversation onto languages and how we bring our children up to become bilingual. Her comment was: “Oh, I wish my parents could have done the same to me – but they only know one language.” I then went on to describe how it is not always easy for me as the single speaker of the language to make sure that our kids learn and get used to always speaking it with me. “Mmmm, I understand” she commented, but still no sign of her realising where I was taking the discussion.
“For this reason,” I continued, “I have decided to always speak my language with the kids, even in front of other people. If necessary, I translate the relevant bits for others.” – at this point I think I heard the sound of a penny dropping – “I am sorry, if I didn’t translate my discussion with my girl to you Monday, but I thought it was obvious from the context what was being said.” I felt quite proud of myself for my little speech, to be honest, and even more so when the response was “Of course, I hadn’t thought about it in that way. I have never been in the situation myself, so I shouldn’t really comment on others’ language use, should I?” Then she went on to speak about something else.
She didn’t say sorry, and I decided not to expect it. After all, I don’t think she was intentionally rude. She admitted that she didn’t understand our situation and, likewise, I also couldn’t fully comprehend the environment she had grown up in. Anyway, hopefully she will never make a similar comment to anyone else. She can still be my friend – without quotation marks.