Years ago, I read that each generation is smarter than the last. At the time, I thought I was hilarious, teasing my family about my apparent smarts. Now, though, I find myself hoping that my kidlet isn’t quite as hilarious me. So far, Mir understands three languages; I’m still working on one.
Although I’m not fluent in Hindi, it’s become an everyday part of my life. My lessons, fitted in as time and teething kidlet allow, coupled with my childhood vocabulary, are enough to get around in a sort of English-Hindi pidgin. Mir, at eleven and an half months, is already at English-Hindi pidgin level; there are some words and ideas he only responds to in Hindi. My mother and Joe's parents are a bit worried about this. My father thinks it's the best thing since jarred chillis.
For the most part, Mir’s trilingual (he also uses a few ASL signs) aspirations are a good thing. They push me to practice more, to string together more complex Hindi sentences and remember words that, until recently, I had little use for. It’s fun to play Where’s Mummy and Where’s Daddy in Hindi, to count up the stairs in Hindi and English, switching to English at 21, because I can never remember what comes after biis. But Mir’s languages also create a barrier, locking out my mother, Joe’s parents, and, to some extent, Joe, because there are some things--important things--baby only answers in Hindi.
Most of the time, Joe’s lack of Hindi vocabulary (he has amazing grammar skills) isn’t an issue. He knows all the big words: dud (milk); baccha (baby); bandar (monkey); kuta (dog); kya (what); and tum (familiar, you). Some words baby and I take for granted, such as ow (come) and jow (go), pani (water), and pani pio (drink water). Some mornings, my dear, sweet husband, left with baby while I run, is purplish and suffering conniptions from a mutual lack of understanding by the time I get back.
Does it matter that Joe and Mir have a little extra difficulty communicating? Long term, probably not--and it may even encourage Joe to practice his Hindi skills more. In the short term, though, I wonder if my continually using Hindi words alienates one from another. Communication, the baby books tell me, is the cornerstone of interacting and bonding with a child. If Mir is always looking to me for an explanation, will he learn to listen to only me? Will he talk less to his father and non-Hindi speaking family?
In my very limited experience, part of being a new mother--a large, very unenjoyable part--is carrying mummy guilt. I’m an expert at the mummy guilt, and I have the empty chocolate wrappers to prove it. (Even now, I’m sipping at its bitter cup, feeling neglectful as Joe feeds baby vegan sweet potato ravioli while I catch up on work.) Part of me labels my misgivings over our Hindi adventures as mummy guilt, assuaging my need to pass on some culture or ethnicity to the kidlet. After all, he’s part Indian, and I want him to be proud of it. I also want him to be comfortable in mixed rooms, able to speak to and understand his Indian family in a way I couldn’t. But am I pushing Hindi too much? Should I continue encouraging him by using Hindi instead of teaching him English equivalents? The word “educational” excuses all ills these days--is picking the easier, Hindi word just me being lazy, or is it actually educational? Possibly more to the point, how much of my need to teach baby Hindi is for his benefit, and how much of it is for mine?
As our trip to Australialooms, I often catch myself speaking more Hindi than usual, literally giving voice to my fear that my skills won’t be up to scratch by the time I’m speaking to the rest of my Indian family. But I also spend a lot of time making mental lists--food vocabulary, verbs, animals--all things I mean to write down on pretty little index cards and hand around, so we can all talk to baby. I’d love to say this is because I’m a sweet, selfless person, but I suspect it’s actually because I’m rather selfish: I don’t want to give up my Hindi time with Mir, so I’m making up ways to keep it. Perhaps I’ll spring for Hindi lessons for the family, and put the onus to keep up with baby on them. He speaks three languages. It shouldn’t be too hard for the rest of us to speak two...