Mother Tongue…Ewwww

frustration (1)

The other day someone used the term “mother tongue” in response to languages in our house. That term grosses me out. I am a middle schooler trapped in an old lady body so combining the words mother and tongue could not be any more gross. But after I threw-up in my mouth at the Oedipal imagery, I got to thinking about it. When it comes to language in our house, we are both amazing and a hot mess.

Language is something I’ve learned to both love and despise. I love it for its ability to express the mirage of thoughts hurling through my head, but it also sucks because for us, language is the root of many problems.

For example, I can unequivocally say that every major argument the Turk and I’ve had in our years of marriage has come down to language and something getting lost in translation. Even though we’ve been at this for over a decade and we both speak each other’s languages we still have major miscommunications and now our kids are in on the magic.

 -quiet side whisper- “Mom, what the heck is Baba trying to say?”

“No clue kids, just nod. We’ll figure it out later.”

Then there are the languages themselves. Turkish being blunt and including no sugar coating and English being one where we might sugar coat too much. In Turkish a person is never curvy or plump. A person is fat. Just fat. That doesn’t always flow so well with sensitive English speakers.

“Why I add extra words when I don’t need? She is fat. It is true. I tell her. What is wrong with that?”

And lets not disregard issues we have with preconceived notions we face when speaking our second languages. In Turkish conversations, people think I comprehend faster than I do so they hit me with rapid-fire Turkish while I’m at “hi, how ya doin’.” In English, people hear the Turk’s accent and assume he just started learning English last week rather than 20 years ago, so they assume he’s stupid. (They usually see their misjudgment later when he hits them with a zinger.)

Number 1 Son never had an issue bouncing between languages rather than choosing a mother tongue, until he was old enough to choose. His choice of English over Turkish upset many family members while elating others, sticking his father and I in a quagmire.

Then there is Nugget. For his whole life of almost 4 years, language has been his Achilles heel. As a kid with Childhood Apraxia of Speech who couldn’t get any words to form or any sound to come out until very recently, he was no fan of spoken English. As a Hard of Hearing dude with one ear, he’s doesn’t always catch spoken language to begin with and he’s often dependent on ASL when his lone ear lets him down. However, he’s painfully aware that only a handful of people besides Mom can sign with him so if he can’t sign, can’t speak, what’s a guy to do?

Now, after a year full of daily speech therapy he’s gone from a kid with CAS to a kid with an adorable lisp and a couple other speech impediments (And mastered a find grasp of profanity because even with one ear that kid can hear every damn foul word his mother drops a mile away.) He’s also added more signs and keeps up with his ASL. Recently, spurred by his love of a fabulously flamboyant, Liberace-esque Turkish singer, he’s started picking up Turkish. So what’s his mother tongue? Who knows but 3 languages by 4 is damn impressive.

No one I knew as a kid spoke a second language but  I had great aspirations, so I ordered both French and Spanish dictionaries from the bargain section of the Weekly Reader book order. I soon learned that one does not learn a language by reading the dictionary. I tried Spanish class in high school but called it a day after, “Me llamo Margie, y tu?” I did pick up enough Spanish later to get me into trouble in Mexico, but basically I top out at Dora the Explorer level.

This week Nugget had a birthday party with some Developmental PreK buds at a trampoline park. It was his first big party and he was psyched until he realized how loud the park was and thus turned off what hearing he has (as he does in noisy situations). As I was signing to him we were surprised to see a bunch of other people doing the same. Nugget was elated and signed, Look Mom, they sign too! A group from the local Deaf school was there on a field trip and many took time out to chat with us. It was great for Nugget to share a mother tongue and great for me to hone my ASL skills.

After the party we stopped off at McDonalds (Yes, I do that occasionally. I’m not proud but it happens.) and much to my surprise, we sat next to a woman speaking Turkish to her young son. As we chatted she told me she was here for her husband’s work and didn’t speak any English. She was desperate for someone to speak Turkish with, besides her husband. She was shocked and elated to have found that at McDonalds. I was transported ten years back when I was a lonely wife newly landed in a foreign country, struggling with the language and longing for someone, anyone, to speak English with so I certainly understood. It rocks when life gives you an opportunity to reciprocate. We talked forever before exchanging numbers and she even complimented me on my Turkish (Which made me beam because I generally sound like a stammering moron in Turkish, but thanks to my early years of motherhood in Turkey I do rock the mom-talk quite well.)

So maybe we have no familial mother tongue and maybe my relationship with language has become a bit hostile in recent history, but as I settled in for my evening wine/decompression with The Turk that evening, I was damn proud of myself for having flexed my muscles in 3 languages in a matter of hours. Not bad for a girl who didn’t make it through 9th grade Spanish. Next up, perhaps we’ll all learn Icelandic…

 

 

When Your Bi-Cultural Child Doesn’t Want To Be Bi-Cultural Anymore

Turkish kid

“It happens. No matter what you do it will happen.” The other expats told me smugly over tiny cups of Turkish coffee one morning. In hindsight I realize they knew, but as a self-righteous new mother who’d spent 9 months reading and years before that judging others’ parenting because I obviously knew better than those who’d actually been at the job, (You know, the kind of broads which seem to have taken over the internet recently…) I surmised I would do better. My bi-cultural kids would remain equally tied to both cultures, Turkish and American.

Before I’d even birthed my first half-breed I began to worry about how this whole bi-cultural identity thing would play out. At that point we were living in Turkey and it wasn’t clear in which culture we’d be living for the long haul. He’d be immersed in the Turks so how did I make him American too? Should I just hit up McDonald’s weekly, slap down a few McNuggets, play a little Lynard Skynard and say, “There ya go buddy, there is a little slice of my people. Now go forth and live among your father’s people.” (Full disclosure: I did have ridiculous cravings for the McRoyal (a bastard brother of the Quarter Pounder) while I was pregnant so I guess he did get a solid dose of my people in utero.)

The Turk told me not to worry about it, but that’s not how I roll. I began pumping every bi-cultural parent in the school where I taught about their experiences for research.

Olga from Sweden married to a Turk: “Tolga might be a blue-eyed blonde but he’s not very Swedish. He is much more Turkish boy as long as we live here.”

Jennifer from American married to a Turk: “My girls chose to be Turkish instead of American. Not my choice but we live here so I get it.”

Grant from England married to a Turk: “I’d hoped Julide would keep a bit of a connection to England but she identifies as Turkish completely. It saddens me but you can not prevent it.”

The conclusion was clear, bi-cultural kids identified mostly with the culture they lived in but I wasn’t a fan of that theory so, in the spirit of the clueless (kind of like anti-vaxers and science deniers) I ignored the evidence and decided that my kid would be the exception.

Nine years later I’d like to issue a public apology for my stupidity. My half-breeds, currently nestled away in middle America, despite all my efforts and hopes, are Americans. To confirm that, this week alone Number 1 son brushed off three attempts by both The Turk and myself to reconnect him with his other half.

       Attempt 1: Through the belly.

“Mom, what are we having for dinner?”

“Mercimek. Your favorite.”

“Ugh. Turkish food again?”

“Son, in our house it’s just called food.”

“Whatever. Can’t we have hamburgers?”

Damn you America and your artery clogging goodness.

Attempt 2: Groove is in the heart.

Nugget was getting his groove on to some Turkish music videos when I noticed the video he was shaking his Pull-Up clad butt to had been filmed on the streets of the village we lived in when Number 1 was little.

“Number 1, come look at this! This video is in our old ‘hood. This is so cool! We have tons of photos of you on that street. Come here, watch this.”

While the Turk and I dove head-first into nostalgia, Number 1 glanced at the screen and muttered, “Cool.” Before immediately returning to his March Madness bracket selection prep.

Damn you America, even a nice beat that you can dance to couldn’t pull him away.

 Attempt 3: Pulling Out The Big Guns

“Number 1, we need to talk about you maybe going to Turkey with Baba next month. He’s going to check on Babaanne (grandma) and we think maybe you should go.”  This whole discussion was a rare moment of collaborative, unilaterial parenting on my part as was illustrated by the look of shock on the Turk’s face when I agreed to it. I wasn’t sold on the idea but since it was clear my oldest half-breed was pulling away from his Turkish side, I felt it imperative to give him one more hard push back in.

As a sane person I’m sure you’re asking, why send just the two of them? Well, I’m not a sadist and thus I am unwilling to travel 12 hours by plane with a one-earred, 3 year-old tyrant. Nugget doesn’t travel well in any mode but his jacked-up ear situation makes flying miserable and I’m not doing it. Conversely Babanne doesn’t fly. Period. She is a very stubborn Turk so we’ve been in a stalemate for the past few years. Finally I relented and said I’d stay home with Nugget and the Turk and Number 1 could go (While I stay up for a week straight contemplating the sanity in sending my baby into a country who’d had a political coup mere months prior, to a city that has bombings on the reg and is on the cusp of a make or break election about the time of their intended arrival. Oh and lets not even get into all the unwarranted and irrational Not Without My Daughter scenerios that would flash through my sleep deprived mind.) Secretly I prayed Number 1 wouldn’t want to go but it was my maternal duty as a bi-cultural parent to promote this moment.

Number 1 thought for about 30 seconds and said. “I don’t want to go.”

“Really? (Oh thank GOD!!!!) But why not?”

“Well for one, it’s scary. I watch the Turkish news with you guys. I’m not clueless. And actually I don’t really want Baba to go either. And for two, if it was Cleveland or someplace good where we could go watch LeBron James or something I’d go but Turkey? Nah.” (Sweet Jesus, did my son just prefer Cleveland over transcontinental adventure? Lord Almighty he really was too far gone.)

Relieved and disappointed all in one breath, I muttered to the Turk, “I think we’re losing him to America.”

“Yes. I think so.” He agreed with a twinge of heartbreak.

My soul filled with lapsed Catholic guilt. I felt like I’d stolen our son. But they’d warned me. All those expat parents had warned me and as it turned out, my son was not the exception but the rule. He lived in America now so he became American.

We’re not giving up though. We’ll keep eating Turkish food-aka-food, keep sharing stories of his other culture, keep celebrating Turkish holidays (Just not Kurban Bayram -that one where you slice the lamb on your balcony because even The Turk is still scarred from that one.). We’ll continue trying to keep him bilingual, force him to watch Turkish league football (as long as I still get my NFL time with him too) and I’ll keep his Turkish side alive even if it kills me because some day, years from now, that little half-breed will be glad we did.