Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Your Words Are Music to My Ears

Today I am thankful for my daughter’s ability to speak well. How quickly I’ve forgotten those
months of frustration when Cookie desperately wanted something but couldn’t get me to
understand, and collapsed into screaming fits from frustration. Now the screaming fits come
because I say no to her perfectly articulated requests. Success.

Speech has been a preoccupation of mine. My sister is a speech language pathologist who
works with school-aged children, so her tales of children who have limited words or sounds, or who just can’t speak at all, fill me with terror. I decided against baby signing for fear of delaying speech. There’s a theory that children who know how to sign resist speaking because it’s easier to ask for something in a language they already know. Studies have proven this theory unfounded, but anecdotally, before I had Cookie, every child I knew who had learned signing was delayed in speech. Perhaps they were still in the “normal” range, but their parents panicked and struggled to get them to speak.

No such problems with us. Cookie was right on schedule, and at under two-and-a-half she
recently shocked her grandmother by telling her, “Actually, I’d like to go to the park now.” So I’m proud and relieved and satisfied. Until…

My sister-in-law tells us about a child she knows who is just about Cookie’s age and “fluent”
in three languages. And about two others slightly older who are fluent in Mandarin (they are
most definitely not Chinese). My reaction is physical — I feel phantom hackles rise on my back; my body flushes with an angry heat. The competitive aspect of raising a child infuriates me so much that even the slightest allusion to what someone else’s kid is doing brilliantly immediately brings about this reaction. These comparisons are pointless, and they depend on factors almost entirely outside our control, like culture and economic status and geography. And I’m sure in many cases they make little difference on the end result. How many Mandarin-speaking toddlers will go on to be diplomats or CEOs of multinational companies? Just look at children’s pageants: kids are rewarded for being the prettiest and most precocious, but how many of them end up having high-paying jobs for all their effort and pain as three-year-old beauty queens? Give me a study on that. Perhaps most of them — hey, who knows? — but somehow I doubt it.

When I was little, one of my aunts was convinced that her nieces and nephews needed to learn Japanese if we had any hope of being productive members of the society of the future. My parents laughed, and that was that. (Particularly since I grew up in northern Ontario, which has a rather slim Japanese population.) And look how that turned out — Japan is pretty far from being our evil overlords. Now Cookie’s aunt insists that she needs to learn Mandarin. Maybe she’s right, and maybe one day we’ll regret not giving Cookie lessons when she was young, but first off, we have more pressing things to spend our money on, and second, isn’t being half fluent in English at two-and-a-half good enough? Besides, most Chinese people I know aren’t anywhere close to fluent in Mandarin. Let’s give the Anglo toddler a break on this one, shall we?

One of Cookie’s daycare friends is almost incomprehensible. He’s a couple months younger,
and he’s a boy, so there’s that, but every time I talk to him, that old worry comes back. I want
him to have everything a little boy deserves (after all, this is not a competition!), but now he’s a big brother, so I’m afraid his speech development will take a back seat to myriad other demands on his parents’ time and attention. The most I can do is ensure that Cookie is a good role model for him. And that is one thing I am confident about, at least.

-East End Mama

[image: hello in 42 languages]

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