Relocating kids to live in another country is not easy. The worst part is the guilt and worry. Is this too hard on them? Will he be in therapy over this in years to come? Will he hate me a little bit? Do the benefits outweigh the downfalls? I think all the answers might be yes.
We moved to Germany in March with my five-year-old son Max. When we got here he was bouncing around the streets like Tigger in Winnie the Pooh, speaking English everywhere we went. I reminded him that he was raised bilingual and could speak German perfectly fine. He turned and looked at me and said “ Really mom do you expect me to speak two languages at once? I have to speak to you in English and the people here in German?” Ah, the guilt. Yes I said, I do expect you to speak two languages at once. I felt really awful, but honestly, it was right after I said that that I noticed things clicking for him in terms of languages.
Now my little Tigger is in the swing of things moving in between the two languages fairly well. I have learned not to rely on him however for translation. He and I locked ourselves out of our house one day and I had to ask the neighbors for help. I couldn’t think of the German phrase for locked out. So I said Max how do I say we are locked out in German? Max smartly replied” Wir sind aus ge-locked”. I don’t know how good your German is but ge-locked is not a word in either language. I went and told my neighbors “I am outside and my keys are inside”, that worked. So he is not the best translator but he is still adorable.
Another time I tried to show off his German prowess to the visa officer I was working with at the town hall. I was trying to cover from my German shortcomings by saying “Oh yes but my son is fluent.” The stodgy worker looked at Max and said really “Wie alt bist du” (how old are you). Max promptly turned to him and gave him a big Raspberry with his tongue—phhhat. Darnit! That man was only in charge of my visa to stay in the country, no big deal. Thank’s a lot Tigger and we have some work to do on your friendliness.
So no translating or showing off my son, lessons learned. But then you start to wonder. Which cultural attributes do I impress on him? My own American ones or the norms of where we are living? We were at the public swimming pool trying out the water slide and the sign says you must wait 2 minutes after every person to use the slide. There is a red light and a green light for when you can go. There was clearly no one on the slide but a woman was waiting for the green light and waiting and waiting. The American in me wanted to say “who cares about the rules just please go”. I politely said “I think we can go no one is on the slide. “She sat and refused to go until the light was green. Rules are rules in Germany. I told Max “ yeah we can ignore the light we are American.” But then I wondered if I should be helping him adjust to Germany by showing him how to be a good rule follower. Oh the horror! I didn’t know if I could bring myself to do it.
Now five months are past and we were back at the same pool. I always make fun of the German lifeguards. They stand around eating, fully dressed. I always thought if a kid needed help we would be in trouble waiting for them to put down their lunch. Then one day we had a lifeguard that had clearly watched too much Baywatch. He was old and overly tan with a big attitude. There were three lifeguards on duty, all eating except the David Hasselhoff look alike. He even fussed at everyone including us. He wouldn’t let Max have a styrofoam pool noodle because he said he needed to have armies on. (even though we have been using the noodles there for six months) I said to Max, you know he is the nasty lifeguard. Max replied, “ No mom I think he is the best lifeguard.” Gosh darn it! It was at that moment that I knew my kid had adjusted to Germany. He is speaking to people in German and he is appreciating rules and rule makers. I wonder if he will dare to slide on the red light in the future, I secretly hope so!