During the years that I waited for my son's homecoming there was a lot of time for thinking. I'm sure you understand! I knew that there would be an enormous adjustment ahead for my husband and myself as parents, and for our two other children as well. In expectation of our new family dynamic, we read books and found training wherever we could. In my heart I knew that the most tremendous adjustment would be made by the little one we were waiting for and he didn't have the benefit of anticipation that we did.
In reality, he had no idea of what was in store. I couldn't even begin to put myself in his shoes. In the blink of an eye, all life as he had known it would disappear. As he entered his new family in a distant land he would suddenly be eating different foods, wearing different clothes, experiencing a new sleeping arrangement, relying on strange new people to care for his needs, and on top of that he would be surrounded by the unfamiliar sounds of a foreign language. Without hesitation I can tell you that I wouldn't last a minute in this type of Twilight Zone experience. Someone would literally have to take a spatula and scrape me off of the ceiling! If I could only barely imagine living through this situation as an adult, I could only wonder what it would feel like to a little child who would have no control over his or her circumstances.
I started thinking about what I could do to bridge a little bit of the gap between my adjustment and his. My first order of business was to learn some of his language so there would be a chance for his needs to be understood. When I looked for language resources it quickly became evident that I didn't need to learn how to ask directions or order off of a menu, I needed crucial phrases like, "Do you need to go potty?" I was looking for a book that was simple and to the point with a CD of phrases recorded so slowly that I would not risk becoming perplexed!
After I gathered the resources that I was looking for, our family got to work. It became our desire to convert some of the anxiety of our waiting period into a drive to learn at least some of my son's language. When we drove back and forth to school we popped our language CD in our car stereo and I loved hearing my children's voices as they practiced in the back seat. We started heated family quiz nights each week, Mom against Dad, that often resulted in quite a bit of laughter at Mom and Dad's expense, of course. We tried to incorporate our new language phrases into our daily life and proudly encouraged each other by declaring, "You are so smart!" using our new found language skills. We started to feel that in a small way we were connecting to our new son and brother even before we got to hold him in our arms.
When my son finally came home, the phrases we had learned in his native language turned into a great treasure for all of us. He seemed genuinely relieved that he could occasionally give his brain a break and trust that we could ask him questions like, "Are you hungry?" or, "Are you tired?" or even, "Are you sad?"
In addition, my husband and I were delighted that we knew phrases to keep him safe like, "That's dangerous," or "Please don't put that in your mouth." We also loved that we could tell him, "You are so special," and that when we tucked him in bed each night we could say, "We are so happy that you are a part of our family!" Since our children at home were part of the learning experience too, they also got some of the benefits. My 6 year old and 9 year old were glad to be able to say things like, "Let's play!" They were also thrilled to know the phrase, "Please, don't touch," as their new little brother tottered toward Lego creations that had been long in the making, or was discovered dismembering unsuspecting Barbies!
It is understandable that when presented with the challenge of learning a new language, there are many excuses that will come to mind. Getting started can be overwhelming, especially with those pesky languages that insist on using unfamiliar alphabets that make us start hyperventilating before we even try! I'm no mind reader, but I'm going to venture some guesses at what might hinder you from giving your child's native language an attempt.
The first excuse might be, "I'm intimidated." My advice is to take a deep breath and remember to slow down and take baby steps. Every language can be broken down into easier pieces. You can find language resources that are written phonetically, in the letters that you know and love, so even YOU can do it.
My second guess at your possible excuse is, "My child is a baby, he/she won't understand anyway". Remember, like all human beings learning a language, babies understand much more than they can speak. More than one parent has shared with me that they found that the only way they could calm their crying child was by uttering a reassuring phrase in their native language. There are no guarantees, but we parents need as many tricks up our sleeves as we can fit up there!
You may even think, " My child will laugh at me." If that is what happens, great! You've broken the ice and made them smile. What could be better? This same child will serve you a big fat piece of humble pie when they are a teenager. You might as well take a small slice of it now and enjoy a moment of shared laughter. This is an invitation to not take yourself too seriously!
When my son first came home, we tried to speak to him as much as we could in his native language. In the months that followed, our family developed an interesting mish-mashed combination of English and our son's language. Then the inevitable happened, his English surpassed any of our efforts at his language and now we were proudly telling our newest family member, "You are so smart!" We never regretted the effort that we made to connect with him in his first months home. As he crossed the wide river of transition into our world, we were glad to put out a few stepping stones.
So why not give it a try? You might find that the energy you have been using for worrying and hand wringing might be better used in a fun and worthwhile activity to prepare for your child's homecoming. In time, your efforts will prove to be a gift that you give to yourself, your family, and to the special little one for whom you have waited.
Amy Kendall is the creator of Simple Language for Adoptive Families. Visit her website at: http://www.adoptlanguage.com /