For much of June, we were in the U.S., visiting family and friends. This series of articles offers observations of that trip in connection with raising bilingual children.
First, please watch this remarkable video from the Dutch filmmaker Frans Hofmeester. He filmed his daughter Lotte once a week, every week, throughout her childhood, then edited the film together and speeded up the footage. The result is a breathtaking record of the child’s growth, from birth to age 13, in a mere 3 minutes and 30 seconds.
Do watch the video before you continue reading this post. It’s well worth the short time it takes, and it will put us on the same wavelength the rest of the way.
Stack of pictures
I’ve been thinking a lot about “time” since our trip to the U.S. In fact, while we were in Memphis, at my mother’s house, she shared with us a stack of old pictures, black-and-white photos from her school days. These were formal class photos, from first grade through high school, and we had fun picking her out from among her classmates and seeing how she grew from year to year.
At the same time, I couldn’t help recalling the class photos already taken of my own kids. There may be only a few photos now (Lulu is in third grade, Roy is still in first), but before I know it, they’ll have the same stack of pictures their grandmother showed us.
I mean, it’s barely an exaggeration to say that yesterday my daughter was a baby, today she’s nine, and tomorrow she’ll be an adult.
Mindful of time
The fact is, without this larger sense of perspective—this mindfulness of how fleeting time really is—your children can grow more quickly than the pace of your efforts to support their bilingual development. As I discuss at some length in Warning to New Parents Who Dream of Raising a Bilingual Child, the first few years of a child’s life are absolutely crucial if you wish for her to acquire both languages simultaneously from birth and maintain a good balance between them throughout childhood.
The thing is, you don’t have a lot of time to do that. You really don’t. I know all too well that the days (and nights) with infants and small children can seem very, very long, but the years are shockingly short. And if you don’t take adequate advantage of the time that you have, well, the results may not be what you had hoped for when you started out on the journey.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that you spend your days brooding (in a dark room) about your children’s bilingual development. On the contrary, I think we should travel this path as lightly, playfully, joyfully as possible.
What I’m saying, as much to myself as to anyone else, is this:
Hey, you! Stay awake! Can you see how quickly time is passing? Are you doing your honest best to match each day’s efforts to your greater goal for your children’s bilingual ability? If there’s a mismatch here—if your efforts aren’t adequate to your aim—well, do something about it. Take action! Don’t put this off! And above all, try to appreciate, as continuously as you can, the preciously brief time you’ve been blessed to spend with your kids. Now go give them a hug and read them a book!
Let me leave you today with a second short film from Frans Hofmeester. This video features his son Vince, from birth to the age of 10. It’s another powerful and poignant reminder that we must seize each day as it flashes past.
Still in a philosophical mood? See Thoughts on Death and Life and the Bilingual Child.