Parisian, Peruvian, Mexican, American: Multicultural Mom Writes a Strong Review

Your nationality might be easier to pin down than is Maria’s.  Born to a spicy combination of Peruvian and Mexican parents, educated in the U.S., married to a Frenchman and raising young (trilingual) children in the swoon-worthy countryside west of Paris, Maria Olivares Babin is a real global mom. An expert on mingling cultures and nurturing a family while straddling linguistic and geographic borders, she also keeps on top of a blog that is as lively, lovely and photogenic as is her family.

The four Babin children

The four Babin children (Image: Maria Babin)

(Image: Maria Babin)

(Image: Maria Babin)

Dad Babin and youngest (Image: Maria Babin)

Papa Babin and youngest (Image: Maria Babin)

Maria with the three who can eat solids, like pizza. (Image: La Famille Babin)

Maria with the three who can eat solids.  Like pizza.

How does someone planted in Normandy, France stumble across another writer-mother-nomad living near the banks of Lake Geneva, Switzerland? You can guess it was not on a morning stroll.  The story’s a bit more involved than that.

(Part of) la Famille Babin

(Part of) la famille Babin

The story is bitter-sweet, too, and I won’t share it all here because for today, I want to focus on the kind of happiness and deliberate joy Maria radiates, as you’ll soon discover, right off the computer screen.  But I’ll reveal this: a few weeks after we lost our oldest son to a tragic drowning accident, my husband and I were invited to speak at a large conference in Versailles, France.  Maria and her family, recently installed in their French life, happened to be in attendance.

(Image: S. Furner)

(Image: S. Furner)

(Image: S. Furner)

(Image: S. Furner)

Montmartre Montage (Image: Maria Babin)

Montmartre, Paris Montage (Image: Maria Babin)

More Montmartre Montage (Image: Maria Babin)

More Montmartre Montage (Image: Maria Babin)

Years passed, and our family moved, as we tend to do – Munich, Singapore, Geneva – while Maria and her Babins dug into that legendarily mulchy soil that grows France’s best apples and produces that country’s richest dairy products.  The parents (or was it the fertile soil?) continued to expand their family.  Along these two divergent routes of two global mothers, I continued to hear stories of the Babins.  I asked always for updates, marveling at Maria’s graceful mastery at integration.

Maria and daughter in the heart of the City of Light

Maria and daughter in the heart of the City of Light

Should I admit? I was fascinated – FAscinated! – by this exotic yet grounded woman, whose rich background complemented her quiet gumption. She was the Whole Multicultural Shabang.

Emphasis on the Bang.

Still only part of la grande famille Babin. . .

Still only part of la grande famille Babin. . .(Maria to the right in red sweater)

Now you can read her voice.  

Enjoy this generous review of Global Mom, written by another global mom.

I’m sure you’ll understand why it’s such an honor for me to merit her time and reflection.  Just thanks, Maria.

When a Fellow Expat Mother Reviews Your Book. . .

Ute Limacher-Riebold has a profile that makes one’s eyes pop, glaze over, wink twice, then close with reflection and a bit of – oh, I don’t know – Global Mom reverence. I’ve quietly followed her blog for a while, then recently dared to drum up an offline connection.  Ever since, I have been greatly enriched by our cross-cultural interaction. One of those times where I am indeed grateful for the power of social media.

expatsincebirth

Let me introduce Ute before you click over to her blog, where she has (voluntarily, without my request or prompting!) written a thoughtful and thorough review of my recently published book.

firenzemoms4moms

firenzemoms4moms

Born in Switzerland, she spent her childhood in northern Italy, attended university in Switzerland (completing a PhD in French medieval literature), worked there in the Department of Romance Studies, scooted down to Florence for professional reasons (and had a baby son there), scooted back up to the Netherlands (where her twin daughters were born), and now maintains a rich treasure of a blog, Expatsincebirth.

scienceillustrated.com

scienceillustrated.com

Yes, as you guessed, Ute is a polyglot.  She masters German, Italian, English and French, and in turn considers herself a comfortable coalescence of all of these cultures.  No doubt her Dutch is nearly as impeccable by now, and she, her husband and her children (all multilingual, as well) are flavored by the Dutch language and culture, too.  Her life experiences offer a strong model for the kind of nomadic, borderless living that is becoming more and more common.

mondial.infos

mondial.infos

I’ll be returning in future posts to Ute and similar writers and mothers. Their global outlook and multicultural life experiences will surely inspire a holistic view of how to navigate this fascinatingly diverse and ever-shrinking world.

**

Do you know families like this, who move between countries, cultures and languages?

Are you one? Tell us about it.

What do you imagine the costs are for such fluidity?

The benefits?

If you happen to live a more localized life, what things would be hardest to sacrifice to have such global experiences?

And what about localized living would you not mind giving up?

Revealing Interview: Mormon Women Project Talks With Global Mom

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The following is an excerpt from the recently published interview with Neylan McBaine of Mormon Women’s Project. To view the full interview in its original, and to read other intriguing interviews with women of my faith from around the world, go here.

MWP: Would you please describe the trajectory of the story that you’ve written in your recently published memoir?

MDB: The book begins when we had been married for seven years, Randall and I, and we were living in the New York City area. It was my husband’s first job and at that point we had two little children, Parker and Claire. I had been, as I describe in the book, busy following a few different career trajectories: I was a full time mother; I was teaching writing part time at a local college; and I was launching a career as a musical theater actress. And it was right in the middle of a musical that I was in that my husband received an offer pretty much out of the blue for us to move to Scandinavia for two or three years. As it turned out, that move ended up lasting a couple of decades. . .

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We were in Norway for just under five years, time to have our third child, Dalton, and then we moved to Versailles, a medium-sized city which lies just fifteen minutes outside of Paris. We were there for four years, just enough time to have our fourth child, Luc. . .We moved to the heart of Paris, two blocks from the Eiffel Tower. We enrolled our two youngest, Dalton and Luc, in French schools.  Our two oldest attended an international school, and we were there for a little over four years.

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We lived in Munich for three years, and then went to Singapore, where we were supposed to stay for many years, if not until the end of Randall’s career.  But there was a sudden restructuring and the entire international component of the multinational company he was working for was dispersed and his position was moved to Geneva. That’s where we live now. .

MWP: Tell me a little bit about the honest costs to you personally and to your family.

MDB: I will tell you what a couple of them are. The core costs are related to community. I don’t have a continuous, long-standing community with me, and I have not had that kind of permanent, reliable, known support ever while raising my family.  When your life is going peachy and there are no speed bumps whatsoever–then you might not feel you need a strong community. You can breaststroke all by yourself. But when you are paddling upstream against currents like new cultures, new languages, new ways of doing everything, parenting while your partner is half a world away and for over half the month, and when there are whirlpools . . . Oh, I didn’t think I would come to that metaphor, but I tend to always come back to water and drowning metaphors. . .

global MWP

For more of this extended interview about global living, traumatic loss, the journey with grief, and how to help someone who is hurting deeply, please click HERE.

The Dangers of Water Skiing, Or, What Social Media is Doing to Our Reading, Writing, Thinking

Years ago, a girlfriend, nearly breathless with zeal, sent me a copy of what she said was the “hottest new publication,” a magazine called “Fast Company.” One of the article titles on the cover was something like, “Power Lunch, Elevator Style.” I thanked my friend for thinking of me, but disliked and discarded the copy before  ever opening it.

The concept of “fast” – fast company, quick lunch, slick and obsequious elevator rides, speed reading – touched a nerve in me. Why? Because unless it has to do with saving someone’s life or making dinner in less than 20 minutes, I dislike “fast.”  Or at least I’m sharply suspicious of it.

waterskiing

This wariness, I think, was heightened because when I got that copy of “Fast Company,” I was living in Paris, a place where lunches (and their conversations) last at least a full hour, and where dinners (and their conversations) last sometimes three. Where no respectable anyone eats while riding from floor three to fourteen, and where, in a way I can hardly describe without growing drooly, the slow lane overtakes the fast one.

It’s where taxi drivers have chunky, worn volumes of Hugo, Proust and French Symbolist poetry on their dashboards. And they read them.  (Going from the airport to downtown? Be ready for The Conversation.)

I believe in slow.  I trust gradual. I’m wired for plumbing downward or probing upward, not for skimming horizontally.  When it comes to reading, writing, and the way I keep my company, I’m a scuba diver.

scuba

Years since Paris, since my days of vetoing “Fast,” since that time when I disciplined myself to check email only once a week, (Wednesday afternoons for two hours – I know, I can hardly believe it, either), and rarely texted except to keep track of my teenagers out in a big city, I never would have dreamed of doing much of what I do today: writing this public blog, having not only a private but a professional Facebook page, T-t-t-t-weeting. Somewhere along the way, I began mastering the lite-write.

This world, in case you hadn’t noticed, is all new. It’s one made by and for water skiers! It might even breed them. In any case, I’m convinced it’s breeding water skier brains.

(This is another tangent , but don’t you wonder if this hyper-connected world also breeds extroverts? If you do, and this concerns you, read Susan Cain’s Quiet.)

The vast waters of connectivity call out for us to grab a rope, slap on some skis, and knot a cable around our waists.  This boat’s taking off like a bullet, folks, and because it’s moving at Mach speed, it demands that you skim, scroll, and ski across a spray of surfacey sound bytes.  And they have to be no more than sound bytes, of course, because we’re passing them like billboards lining the Indy 500.

E-mail is too wordy, time consuming.  So we shave it down to a phrase or two on Facebook.

FB takes too long. So we distill it to Twitter’s 140 characters.

Yet with all the social platforms we’re managing, who has time for 140 anything?

So we Instagram. Because who needs words when a snap shot paints a thousand of them?

(Or so we think.)

Others are concerned as I am.  In his utterly fascinating, The Shallows: What The Internet is Doing To Our Brains, Nicholas Carr argues that our brains are devolving to adapt to being dragged across the thin surface of visual image, bullet points, and maybe the occasionally well-wrought jingle.  Jaron Lanier, in You Are Not A Gadget, considers what this high pitch surface velocity does to our sense of self, our place in humanity. And here, Edan Lepucki shares the experience of disconnecting (for a spell) from social media altogether.

What can we conclude? What can I learn from the personal proof that my own brain is jumpier, more staccato, and that my spirit is more jittery, more pinball-ish since “connecting” in several directions? What’s happening if I haven’t sunk into a dense work of true literary value in months? That, over the same time, I haven’t been able to conjure a single line of poetry?

skiing water

For people who dive, water skiing can be frightening, alienating, not to mention exhausting. What if you’re the type that shrinks from gum-flapping velocity, hang-on-for-dear-life tautness, from hopping wakes at break neck speed, or zhwooping from point A to point Z?  What if you want to write a poem about – and not just whizz past – the blurred landscape?

What if you feel most alive hunkering over the majesty and potency of words, tonguing them during long stretches of stone-like silence? What if you aren’t interested only in linear efficiency (getting from point A to Z), but are more invested in making (and expanding and elaborating on) a point? What if you long to dive into the deep end and discover the magic of those compressed realms?

If we are, as some argue, evolving into beings that write and think in txt msg abbrvs, will we lose our ability to read and write and live in ever-descending spirals, probing and penetrating the Otherworld? Will we in turn lose dimensions of our humanness? If the brusque slash-and-pin-prick of an exclamation point – the punctuation mark du jour – overrules the curved concentration of a question mark, what are we heading for?

What, in your opinion, are our options, besides letting go of the social media rope altogether? But wait! What would happen if we did? Would we sink, helpless and limpid, into the water?  Into irrelevancy? Into oblivion?

scuba diving

The (S)Low Down on Crazy Busy

“Truth is, Melissa: seems you’re always busy.”

He was right, my almost eighty-year-old Dad, who, sober-eyed, watched me from where he sat at the foot of the bed.  I scrambled on the floor, foraging through piles of clothing and gear for the three-day pioneer trek reenactment my husband and sons were slated to leave for the next morning.  Crack of dawn in dungarees, Tom Sawyer hats, suspenders and hiking boots.  Pulling hand carts and sleeping under a sky hung loosely over the high desert of northeastern Utah. My men were heading here:

IMG_0909

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Oh, Pioneers!

Oh, Pioneers!

Luc trek

Dalton trek

Since arriving at my parents’ in the States on vacation, I’d been scouring Salt Lake City’s thrift shops, Army Navy outlets and bona fide pioneer-outfitting stores in between doing television, radio and print interviews for my book launch.  Delay-onset jet lag. Little sleeping.  Spotty eating.  When did I last shower? On this continent?

My mind was shredded by the intensifying yank between hand carts and hard copy, and I was having night terrors about covered wagons and book covers. I was wound so tightly, you could have used my spine to drill a tunnel through the Rockies. My brain was doing that thing I call not worrying but whirrying.

Whiiiir-whiiiir-whiiiirrr, like the propellers of a plane left revving at top speed on an abandoned tarmac.  Tight spine, whirring mental blades, fatigued physique, against the backdrop of a crammed calendar. I was always busy. Dad had nailed it.

But I defended myself to his face, and I’ll do the same here.

“That’s not even it,” I exhaled. “‘Busy’ would be alright.  To be honest, Dad,” the tension was now probably visible in my neck, “I’m not ‘busy’. I am maxed out, burning out. This is modern life!” I punctuated that last phrase by smacking my open palms on a mound of pioneer-grade burlap tenting.

sjwhipp.com

sjwhipp.com

Sometimes I’m driven too far into the whirr.  I take on more than is reasonable, more than is healthy, more than is humanly doable, and more than is needed.  This escalation of responsibilities – insanely, the busier I get the more recklessly I tend to take on additional tasks, and the faster my whirry whirrs – means that not only am I left with too few resources to do normal and necessary things (sleep, eat, talk with my Dad), but the quality of things I do (sleeping, eating, talking) is altered.

Even in restful moments like sitting behind the wheel at a traffic light, waiting for my bread to toast, standing in line at a small town post office, or lying in bed waiting for slumber, I sense a low-grade agitation surging and heating my sinews.

Jittery sleeping. Gritted eating. Clenched talking.

And then someone’s four words – “seems you’re always busy”- harpoons me, the bend of that hook lodging itself squarely in my tense, multitasking torso, with its puny heart valves thunking irregularly, its lungs never quite filling for one deep, full breath. It snags my whirrying and makes me stop. Makes me sad.  Very sad.

eyesonsales.com

eyesonsales.com

What is going on here? Why does some part of me apparently believe the myth that doing more means doing better? When did I agree to this myth? Why does any one of us agree to this? What is happening in a person and in a culture at large, when “crazy busy” is venerated, cheered on, sought out and upheld as the standard? And shows no sign of slowing?

What are the costs of frenetic hyper-productivity, of crazy busy? And please, is there a cure?

Science has long since determined that the popularized crazy busy lifestyle delivers a sound wallop to our emotional and physical wellbeing.  Like armchair physicians, we coolly tick off all the ways in which accumulated stress weakens our immune system, leads to increased respiratory, cardiovascular, digestive and sexual dysfunction. We draw faint lines between stress and certain cancers.  We warn ourselves about the dangers of distraction – what it does to drivers, pilots, teachers, students, parents, children – and we wag a finger at multitasking, noting that it is not, in fact, more efficient or more productive, but more fragmenting to our minds and to our human relationships.

When was the last time I lay for unmeasured, luxurious swaths, next to my beloved (child or partner or, yes, my nearly eighty-year-old Dad) and just listened to him breathe?

When, for that matter, was the last time I lay for as long as I needed, and just listened – calmly, lovingly, openly – to my own breathing? Or to God’s?

My version of "rapt attention" at a theater production.

My version of “rapt attention” at a theater production.

Before my whirrwind month in the States came to an end – a month I’ve not been able to write about until now for all its crazy busy-ness – I made time to connect with some of my beloveds.

One evening, I wandered to the end of the upstairs hall and into my parents’ bedroom. It’s right above the basement bedroom of my childhood. There was that familiar parental smell, the shushed drag of the door over the pile carpet, the ceiling fan making the lace curtains breathe like two lungs on either side of the window to my left. The known contours of Mom’s and Dad’s shadowy forms in the receding light lay on their relegated sides of the bed. They were fully clothed, just resting there in the dusk before having to get themselves up and ready to go to sleep.  The years are finally, finally showing on them. They are in need of repose. And so am I.

So, without invitation and in my street clothes, I crawled onto their bed and shimmied in between them. Lay down flat on my back. Took my Mom’s hand in my right (her trademark plush palms) and Dad’s in my left (his fingers always a bit chilly) and without much talk at all and with light disappearing along the walls and out of those lace curtains, I listened in love and reverence to them breathe.

What Does An Author Do Between Writing and Launching Books?

Everything , it seems, but sleep.

Unless you count last week when I spent several nights in a tent in the Swiss mountains, trying to sleep for two-hours-at-a-stretch maximum, while surrounded by 40 teenaged girls.

Who can not fall in love with names like Céléstine,  Clémence, Cléophelie, Angéline, Amandine, Antonella, and Aude?

Who can not fall in love with girls with names like Céléstine, Clémence, Cléophelie, Angéline, Amandine, Antonella, and Aude?

As volunteer president of the teenaged girls’ organization of our church in and around the Geneva, Switzerland region, I’m regularly visiting the eight congregations that make up our regional church body, teaching lessons on Sundays or sometimes midweek, speaking at youth conferences, inviting special guest speakers for multiregional firesides and conducting those events, and getting to know local leaders and all their young women.

Romainmôtier and its abbey dating to the 5th century.

Romainmôtier and its abbey dating to the 5th century.

I also got to attend the annual 3 1/2 day regional Young Women’s Camp held at a site overlooking the medieval village of Romainmôtier with its historic Benedictine Abbey and splendid hiking trails all around.

As fate would have it, Le Camp des Jeunes Filles happened to be scheduled just as I was nostril-deep in Pre-Book Launch mania.

Eh. . . bien.  Tant mieux, (all the better), we say.

Because for me, it’s vital right now to get out of cramped little head upholstered with All Things Book and enter fully into nature and into the heart of others’ lives.  It gave me much, this camp, including dearly-needed fresh perspective. And 17 mosquito bites. On my shins alone.

JF Camp 7

From Wednesday until late Saturday afternoon, I was able/forced to unplug completely from this laptop and all other devices and concerns about this woman named Global Mom. I spent the days truly getting to know all these girls and their local leaders (from Switzerland, France, Italy, Spain, England).

FOR CLAIRE!

I awoke to the sound of cowbells (and Harley Davidsons) on the slopes surrounding our camp site.  I fell asleep (in a loose manner of speaking) to the giggles and screams of all our girls in the adjacent tents. I made the rounds in the middle of the night, making sure every tent was zip-locked and everyone was accounted for. I watched for critters.

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I sang songs. I gave addresses. I listened to girls’ questions and concerns. I ate well, laughed hard, hiked for hours, read scripture, slept in a bag.JF camp6

I chatted with Sœur Madeleine, one of the local nuns.  I observed growth. I learned critical truths. I grew in gratitude.

JF Camp2

I cleaned toilets, table tops, garbage cans and wounds. I set up and took down (how many?) tents. I got every name.

JF CAmp5

I did not shower.

I did not write.

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And on Saturday, after every last girl and flip-flop and hair band and pocket knife and tent spike was accounted for. . .

JF Camp 9

I drove home to my village by Lake Geneva.  I kissed my husband, checked my email and accumulating deadlines, packed my bag, showered (yes, in that order),  slept five hours, and boarded a plane.

(No, I did not sleep then, either, unless letting my eyes close and my head bob a few times during my flight from Geneva to Paris to Salt Lake City, Utah counts.  I wrote until my laptop battery was drained dry and the recharging apparatus didn’t work.  But I stayed awake.)

Hours later  — luggage lost, toe sprained, hair still smelling of Swiss campfire, every last mosquito bite well-covered — I was sitting in a TV studio in Salt Lake City, Utah, doing a live morning talk show.  Before cameras rolled, I reached down to scratch a mosquito bite, and in that instant felt so grateful for all 17 of them, for my 40 girls back home in Switzerland, for my 2 boys with me in Utah, my 1 daughter far away in Italy, and for my eldest, who has been with me all along this crazy trail, trying to be a Global Mom.

http://www.abc4.com/content/about_4/gtu/story/Global-Mom/n35AYnpqAEevEdpk_A4Cbg.cspx

How To Raise a Multilingual Child: MUSTS, BESTS & BOOSTS

God is German.

At least that’s what I thought when I was four. By that age, I’d heard more prayers in my home in German than in English (prayers over the food, at bedtime), which was just part of my parents’ method of keeping their second language active and inspiring us kids to some day crack the Teutonic code. We all eventually did.

scienceillustrated.com

scienceillustrated.com

Then we moved to Austria the year I turned fourteen. I found myself plunking through Mozart piano duets and small talk in German with an instructor whose German (even my adolescent American ears knew this) had an accent. I just couldn’t pin it down. And I wasn’t nosey (or fluent) enough to get into an involved conversation about where she was from.

It was only decades later, after having mastered German better than Mozart, that I discovered this piano professor had been American (a transplant from Minnesota), and that my parents had conspired with her to make those hours at her Steinway not only about hammering out scales but also about nailing down German verb conjugations.

Mom and Dad knew intuitively what I’ve learned throughout over twenty years of raising four children in eight countries while learning five languages. To achieve close-to-native fluency, you must have three things:

3 MUSTS: Opportunity, Necessity and Community

“Opportunity” can be a foreign residency, as I was lucky to enjoy many times in my youth, and as my children have been given due to our globally nomadic lifestyle.

njfamily.com

njfamily.com

But not everyone has that kind of opportunity. Take heart! There are others: A parent might speak a foreign tongue. Or there are neighbors/relatives/friends who speak another language. There are immersion classes at school. There is someone somewhere in your neighborhood or circle of acquaintances, I promise this, who fluently speaks a language other than yours. “Opportunity” comes in all sorts of variations of contact with another language.

Still, none of these opportunities –  foreign residency included – can guarantee that you or your child will learn the language. Proof of that is seen in every immigrant community where the members stick in their native tongue cluster, never becoming functional in the language of their host country.  Have you witnessed this anywhere? Everywhere I have lived in the world there seems to have been an expatriate “ghetto,” where folks function (sometimes for years, even decades) without learning the language of the people surrounding them.  That’s what we call a lost opportunity.

So clearly opportunity alone won’t unlock the doors to speaking new a language. What else does one need?

Opportunity+Necessity

There must be opportunity + necessity, so that the brain kicks into gear and latches onto a language in earnest. We’re talking a modicum of desperation. Often, if we know there’s an escape from the difficulties and pain and humiliation of learning a new language, we’ll quickly swerve into that exit. We’ll revert to our mother tongue. We’ll wave off the pesky role-play, giggle, and speak English to the piano teacher.  Or we’ll simply go silent and retreat.  It takes the pressure of real need to heat up those brain cells and stoke our motivation to learn. Necessity, as they say, is the mother of language.  Including your or your child’s next foreign one. You’ll need to create a situation where your child has no choice but to speak. That is half your battle.

serabeena.com

serabeena.com

Necessity + Community

I recall smiling so broadly one day, I nearly strained a cheek muscle. We were less than a year into our new home in Norway when I happened around the corner near the play room and overheard a conversation between our five-year-old Parker and Maria, the friend he’d invited over that afternoon to play. I couldn’t tell who was Norwegian and who was not.  Parker had crossed over.  Maria, with her white curls and sparkly blue eyes had been a major language magnet for our boy. Yes, we lived in Norway.  (Opportunity). And luckily, our son desperately wanted friends. (Necessity). Just as fortunately, Maria – along with kindergarteners and teachers, and our church, soccer, skiing and neighborhood friends – wanted to be our on-site language technicians. (Community).  We all fell right into linguistic stride. Parker – and the rest of us at the time – learned to speak fluently, and we’ve worked at keeping that language alive ever since.

Beyond the ideal situation of enjoying a foreign residency as we did in Norway and other countries, what can one do to approximate opportunity, necessity and community?

multilingualkids.com

multilingualkids.com

3 Bests: Parents, Domains, Schools

Inna is Russian and Joseph is French. They live in Germany. Their work requires that they master English.  They are raising their two children quadrilingually, with each parent consistently speaking his or her mother tongue. German, the children learn in school. English, they learn at church.

1) Speak it! If a parent speaks a foreign language as a mother tongue, that must be his or her language with the child. That practice must be consistent and should begin at the child’s birth. Science has found that until the onset of puberty, children’s brains are able to absorb and order several foreign tongues at once. The earlier the start, the easier the acquisition, and the better the chances of learning with greater facility more languages later in life.

2)Earmark domains.  For Inna and Joseph’s children those domains are 1) home, 2) school and the community at large, and 3) church. Seek out or create domains – places (Spanish-speaking grandma’s on weekends, summer vacations to your Japanese family), activities (soccer in Portuguese, flute lessons in Polish), or relationships (the Italian uncle with whom you Skype, the Swedish cousin to whom you telephone, the Korean pen pal) that will be completely and consistently immersed in the target language.

3)Formal Instruction.  Even the very best course isn’t going to promise native fluency. But a great instructor can give your child an excellent departure point.  Insist that your foreign language teacher be a native speaker, and that he/she teaches the natural approach, which emphasizes in those earliest stages especially verbal interaction and listening comprehension over dissecting the mechanics of grammar. Classes should be taught in the target language, not in the student’s native tongue with mere interjections of the foreign language.  Ask about teaching methodology, favoring classrooms with creative and interactive musical, theatrical, tactile and kinesthetic programs.  The more play there is, especially for younger children, the more effective the language learning will be.

3 BOOSTS: Exposure, Media, Incentives

1) Foreign Exposure. Can’t go to a foreign country? Can’t send your teen on that summer immersion to Montreal? Can’t see sending your twelve-year-old to that week-long Spanish camp? Then bring foreign to you in the form of foreign exchange students. Or how about encouraging Skype exchanges with a Beijing student? Or find local cultural festivals where you can sniff out new friends and customs and simply hear the language floating around you.  Scour your local papers for events/connections in the target language.

2)Media. Listen to the target language in music, DVD series and in television programs (especially those with your native language in subtitles. This is a major key to how Scandinavians and the Dutch learn English so well and so early. Their imported television programs aren’t dubbed, but are subtitled in their native language. The French, in contrast, impose French dubbing.) For older children, there are multiple resources via the Internet where your child can actively converse with true native speakers.  I have purchased audio books and the corresponding hard copy, so that my reading children can listen and read along simultaneously.

3)Incentives.  Heidi, whose children have learned Norwegian, English and German, paid them for letters written to grandparents in all those languages.  Irina, who speaks five languages in her home, rewarded her boys for acing their French and English exams.  When our own children have done something as simple as ordering food at a restaurant in the target language, or something as substantial as giving a public address in that tongue, we’ve rewarded them well and openly.

**

Whatever your methods of encouraging multilingualism, be prepared for brain fatigue and resistance.  It is enormous mental work to assimilate the complex codes of a new tongue. When Randall and I were newlyweds, we instructed German both on the university level as well as at one of the world’s leading language immersion centers, the Training Center for prospective full-time volunteers for our church, known as the MTC (Missionary Training Center.)  The university setting was a typical academic one, three classes a week, so far from total immersion, although we taught our classes primarily in German.

Our missionary daughter, Sorella Bradford, and other missionaries serving in Italy

Our missionary daughter, Sorella Bradford, and other missionaries serving in Italy

The MTC was closer to a total immersion experience. As of the first week, our classes of young volunteers were challenged to SYL – Speak Your Language (or speak nothing at all) – although they’d only spent a record 76 hours within the MTC walls. Period.  It got very quiet right about then.  And our students got headaches!  It is hard work to pry out the mother tongue (let’s say it’s English) and replace it with another (there are 52 language taught at the MTC).

But what was astounding and gratifying was to experience moments of serendipity and excitement, when the student felt the shutters of her mind and her world being flung wide open.  When you offer this to your child, you will experience along with her the out-and-out thrill when she discovers not just a new language, but a new world and a new self it that world.

firenzemoms4moms

firenzemoms4moms

**

What have been your experiences with learning another language? What worked? What didn’t?

How have you offered opportunity+necessity+community to your family so that they have learned another tongue?

Can you share a story that illustrates the agony and the ecstasy of gaining fluency in a new language?

And really. . .Why bother with other languages, anyway?

Heard Yet? Global Mom and Global Mom Are Splitting Up

With my new Facebook Page devoted exclusively to Global Mom: A Memoir, (release date: July 15th), I’m happy to be able to declare this website the space dedicated to things. . .

Global Mom: A Melissa.

Global Mom writes. . . of passage

Global Mom writes. . . of passage

Curious about the release of the book? Then go here, to Global Mom on Facebook, where this coming week I’m starting a vlog visit series with a string of other global moms. They have vastly contrasting stories, have lived in all corners of the planet, and have survived to tell you about it.

lunchin' bunch o' global moms

lunchin’ bunch o’ global moms

I’m also keeping you updated there on the ins and outs of recording the audio version of the book.  Go to that address to be updated on all other booky stuff. Love your visits and appreciate your comments!

Then come here (like. . . truly, literally here-here, no hyperlink needed) for conversations with me about, yes, writing and being a global mom, but beyond that, what touches me as a person in this writing/living/nomadding lifetsyle. . .and everything else.

And there’s a bit of “else.”

Events, ideas, struggles, disappointments, mini-triumphs, local travel and on-the-ground responsibilities – all aspects of my behind-the-book personal life. This is the gamut of writing I’ve not adequately shared with you while I’ve been posting excerpts of the book or otherwise introducing you to the crew (publisher, editors, PR people) teaming up for Global Mom’s release.

What is “everything else”? Things related to:

1) Integrating in French-speaking Switzerland (Want to see why Switzerland is so clean? I’ll show you live footage of the guts of its garbage disposal system.)

summer over Lac Léman

summer over Lac Léman

Canton de Vaud, countryside

Canton de Vaud, countryside

2) Negotiating yet another new school system (Who wants a seasoned insider’s peek at international schools? And do you want a quick-‘n’-dirty on the famed International Baccalaureate degree? What’s it like to educate your kids multilingually?)

German, French, Italian, English. But where's the Romansch?

German, French, Italian, English. But hold on – where’s the Romansch?

3) Raising teenaged boys on the global road (Make that a bumpy global road lately. . .I’ve been seriously wondering what in the world we were thinking signing up for this, and what we’ve done to our children.)

Luc takes up snowboarding

Luc takes up snowboarding

4) Having our daughter serve as a full-time missionary in Italy (From run-ins with the local Mafia in Sicily, to gypsies stoning her in Rome. Santa patata and honest to Pete.)

Sorella (Sister) Bradford (r.) with missionary companion at Trevi Fountain, Rome

Sorella (Sister) Bradford (r.) with missionary companion at Trevi Fountain, Rome

Sorella with friend

Sorella with friend

Modern Christianity in Italy

Modern Christianity in Italy

5) Continuing the lifelong adaptation that follows having buried our oldest son. (It just never ends, my friends. Never. But then, neither does life.)

Our four

Our precious, irreplaceable four

Those kinds of things.

It’s here I can share and process all that, and I am truly hoping you’ll help me through.

Then there are the other things:

6) Travels to farther destinations. (Didn’t I mention Paris? Watch very soon.)

heading through our old neighborhood

Our old neighborhood

7) Visitors from abroad. If you follow me on Twitter (MDBGlobalMom), you know I just had some favorite relatives here. And soon I’ll host a whole gang of favorite friends.  (One ultra-talented visitor will be here shooting the trailer for my book.)

8) My volunteer service overseeing a delightful group of the local leaders and adolescent girls of our church, all through the Geneva region and into parts of France. (Google-map it: from Chambéry, France, to Morges, Switzerland).

9) The signed contract to write a book with Randall on Strengthening Long Distance Marriages. (Coming in 2014)

10) And finally – and most sweetly – the signed contract to bring you my substantial book on Grief & Grace. (Watch for it: Memorial Day 2014)

See you here!

Or there?

Or everywhere.

Come With Global Mom To London!

Back Camera

So many things happening in June, our dense ramp-up phase leading to the July release of Global Mom: A Memoir. 

This month I’ll introduce you to Christopher, my  publisher extraordinaire, and Familius, the cutting-edge media company.

You’ll meet Maggie, my word surgeon editor.

I’ll tell you all about Crystal and Kim, my super-savvy public relations team from BookSparks PR, who’ve thrown some lighter fluid on the charcoals to make a bonfire out of this book release. We’re linking to a Facebook page just for Global Mom: A Memoir, and I’ll be (gulp) Twitter-pating my life.

At about the same time all this is happening, you’re going to meet a whole string of friends via a series of vlog visits, whose stories (global, familial, nomadic and unedited) will give you an honest portrait of what it is about this kind of life that, well, keeps us living it.

(Why not be one of the first to subscribe to my YouTube channel? Go ahead.  I’ll wait here while you pop over there and click.)

With every blog and vlog, I’ll tell you about the blessings and stressings of living globally, but right now we’ll focus specifically on the peculiarities of living Swissly. In each vlog I’ll show you around my current Swiss stomping grounds. It’s truly one big technicolor wrap-around postcard.  Really worth your visit.

And if you stick here with me, I’m thinking of taking you  – should I give this away?  Oh, alright – I might just tuck you in my glove compartment and drive with you up to Paris.

But first, come with me to another magnificent metropolis, one of the most diverse places on the planet:

Judging a Book By Its Cover: A Bit of the Backstory

Cover (3)

How does a book cover like this happen?

First, you live the story.  You move with your partner’s professional positions to several different countries, raising a family all along that bump-‘n’-swerve road, picking up languages and friends and a strange mashup of social codes on the fly, keeping a flimsy grip on your sanity some of the time, discovering depths of experience and breadth of  understanding most of the time, acquiring the kind of training that stretches and reshapes you and galvanizes your scraggly gaggle of a family, welding you to each other, to humanity, to this planet.

This life fits you. You fit it. So much so, you can’t imagine anything else, and you fling yourself again and again into the swirl, even forgetting to wash your hair the week of that sunny Sunday morning when your friend, Parson School of Design student Erin, calls up, singing, “The light’s good today, guys! Want to get some candid fam shots by Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower on our way to church?”

You’re busy writing all these years, of course, because that is what you do. (Far more than you wash your hair, if you really have to know my grooming habits). You’re writing about this life and how it yanks and pumices and oils your soul.  And then you discern, as you approach a decade of this nomadic life, a distinct inner voice that says you need to get this written into a book.  So you begin capturing the first phase of your nomadic family spiel, the move from Broadway to Norway. “Now is the time to write this story,” the voice persists. “You won’t have another chance like this.  Capture your early family right now, in this unfiltered light.”

So you obey the nudge, and you sit and write that book.  On a big Norwegian table placed squat in the middle of your Paris apartment, you sit.  You write so much you feel frustrated because, zut!, Paris is out there! Why crouch with your back to it, writing? (Because doesn’t everyone in Paris do just this? Crouch somewhere writing while the tourists stride around town?)

A band of motley literati friends critiques your pages.  You change things, change them again, change again and again and realize your own written voice sometimes gets on your nerves. You need a major break from yourself. You need to pack that voice into industrial-sized envelopes and get it into someone else’s ears. You send these fat envelope babies to a bunch of fine publishers with offices in big American cities.  Seventeen of them.  Even before you lick the stamps, you’re feeling like a fool, not to mention a misfit in the face of those distant, hard-edged cities and their mysterious publishing fortresses.  They loom and intimidate, those fortresses, leaving you sleepless and self-flagellating, needing as treatment the equivalent of fity hour-long heated eucalyptus oil full body rubs of reassurance.

Not a one of the seventeen publishing fortresses opens their drawbridge.

All the rejection letters are variations on one polite theme: “We wish you only the very best in your future writing endeavors.”

Well, see? What did I tell everyone?  

So, you tuck that manuscript away, way in the bottom of one of the 400+ boxes you’ve packed to leave your several years in Paris for a new life chapter in Munich.

And the next week, three days into a vacation in the States, and one day after visiting your eldest at his first college dorm, you get a phone call.

That call sends your story – all stories  you’ve ever known or written or told – into a screeching spiral which in its blackwash vortex sucks the air out of the universe. Your story – the old one pinned on paper and crammed in the bottom of a cardboard box, or the new story that your body writes as it crawls through coldening tar – feels massively irrelevant.  There is no more story.  There are no more stories.  There is no use in telling. There is nothing. Everything you now know is unwritable. What remains?  All there is, is loss.

**

Four years later, you’re quietly aware that even though you now live in Singapore where the air is as humid as living in the drying cycle of your dishwasher, there is somehow air to breathe. The cosmos has stopped screeching, reeling and jerking, and in soundless streamlets it has begun to fill back up with meaning. Not the meaning it had before. But meaning far more dense, immutable, textured like a freight rope lassoed around the underside of reality.  Though at times inexplicable, there is a story happening, a weighty narrative materializing as if it were writing itself, drawing you onward.  You write it out, riding it out, the story, and as you do, you move with it.

Your husband, the one you feared at times wouldn’t survive the vortex or its ghostly post-ravage landscape, is regaining traction.  He can laugh and joke and walk upstairs without getting winded.  Then one day, from out of the blue, a noted scholar contacts him, asking him to be one of several subjects for her book on lives like yours; nomadic but anchored lives that circle and recircle the globe.

He agrees. He does the interview. The scholar publishes her book, Cultural Agility, and it quickly becomes a seminal work in the field.

Wise and brilliant friends are constantly encouraging you to keep going, keep writing your stuff, keep knocking on fortress doors. When one such friend suggests you might tap-tap on the door of a publishing house that is just that – a house or a cottage literally, and not a fortress – you end up sitting in the CEO’s kitchen. The man is accessible, responsive and committed to producing your work.  He doesn’t just want to publish it (although he’s eager to do that); he wants to discuss it.  He even wants (get this) to take part in editing it himself.  You Skype at all hours from your opposing sides of the planet, discussing both the literary endeavor as well as the business aspects of such a book project.

“You’ll need to do some things,” Mr. CEO publisher says in one of countless Skype sessions, “which might not be comfortable at first.  Like, you’ll need to begin a blog.

Panic sits on your shoulders like a silverback gorilla in full heat, and you say something to the effect of, “Other options, sir? Like, let’s see. . . swimming around the whole of Australia? Through shark infested waters? In a Lady Gaga suit make of raw sirloin?” You’ve fought long and hard to reenter the world. But enter the virtual world?  That kind of exposure? Can you do that and not disintegrate? You begin chanting an Homeric epic saga about all the reasons blogs (and perhaps publishing altogether) are not for you.

“Start a blog right now,” kindly CEO sir says. “No later than next week.  Right when you begin your move from Singapore. And,” he adds, “I’m sending a contract right now.  Get me your finished manuscript in six months.”

Soon you have all these blog-followers, and you are carefully thriving in that connectivity, and these follower-friends begin chiming in on the progress of the book. (They’re even bossy about designing the cover. They simply take over.)

The scholar who quoted your husband in her book? She’s now quoted on the cover of yours.  Her blurbs are enough to make you run for cover, (neither you nor your own children would ever call you a “role model for all parents”), but you’re hoping everyone will overlook the endorsements’ effusiveness and focus on that darling little ISBN tattoo.

And this time around your twelve-year-old takes your photo for the back cover. For which event, thank goodness, you decide to wash your hair.

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