Five Little Words

Mark Dancing, Ottawa, March 2013

Mark Danc­ing, Ottawa, March 2013

Before run­ning away to Costa Rica, I had to com­plete yet another parental duty: Mark’s 15-month immu­niza­tion visit.

I dragged my feet and a cranky Mark to the appointment.

I fol­low the immu­niza­tion sched­ule (the anti-vaccination move­ment sounds like a bunch a nut­cases to me) but going to the doc­tor is always a chore. It’s hard to find park­ing, for a start. Mark doesn’t like get­ting dressed and undressed and he fusses a lot. Plus, I hate being in a room full of sick people.

Above all, I’m not a huge fan of my doc­tor. She tends to be very patronizing.

We sat down and she went through the usual ques­tions: can he walk (yes); do we make sure that the house is safe (I make sure MY stuff is safe!); are we entirely devoted to our won­der­ful lit­tle human being (of course, minus the fact I am about to run away in Cen­tral Amer­ica); do we feed him reg­u­larly (we tried to starve him just for fun but he was cry­ing too loud), etc.

We were actu­ally scor­ing pretty high on the “reli­able and respon­si­ble par­ent­ing scale” until her last question.

Can he say five words?”

I paused and looked at Feng.

Well, he talks to him­self a lot. We just don’t have the decoder.”

What do you mean?”

He says ‘mama’ and ‘dada’, for instance. But he also says ‘ah da’ and I’m not sure what that means.”

So how many words do you recognize?”

Like… words that mean something?”

The doc­tor rolled her eyes.

Dog. Can he say ‘dog’?”

I turned to Mark. “Mark, can you say ‘dog’?”

Ah da.”

He didn’t say ‘dog’,” the doc­tor pointed out.

No shit.

Then I guess he can’t say ‘dog’,” I shrugged. “But again, why would he say ‘dog’? We don’t have pets and he rarely sees dogs.”

So he can’t say five words.”

I think he is a bit lost in trans­la­tion,” I explained. “Feng and I speak Eng­lish at home. I also talk to him in French. Feng’s par­ents only speak Chi­nese, and we are just com­ing back from Mex­ico where, well, I spoke Span­ish and he played with Mex­i­can kids.”

Bilin­gual chil­dren can start talk­ing a bit later,” she acknowl­edged. “Yet you may want to look into a com­mu­nity speech and lan­guage devel­op­ment program.”

And Mex­ico?” she added, sud­denly slightly alarmed. “You took him to Mex­ico? Why?”

I pre­tended I didn’t hear her.

Like hell I am going to take Mark to a lan­guage devel­op­ment pro­gram! Don’t get me wrong, I have glad such pro­grams exist and I will def­i­nitely con­sider it in a few months if Mark doesn’t speak more by then. But I am annoyed by the way peo­ple here always try to “fix” things that don’t need to be fixed. For exam­ple, the very same doc­tor wanted me to attend breast­feed­ing classes when Mark was a new­born because he wasn’t gain­ing weight fast enough. Do you know what I needed at the time? Help and some sleep! Right now, I need a day­care and some help keep­ing Mark busy and enter­tained, I need a place where he can meet other kids. He is bored at home with us. He needs to inter­act with other peo­ple and play.

I am the first one to admit that I have no clue how to raise a mul­ti­lin­gual child. I do have a few books on the topic on my Kin­dle but I have never got­ten around to read­ing them because 1) thrillers and mys­tery nov­els are more enter­tain­ing 2) I fig­ured it will work itself out.

I did hear that con­sis­tency was impor­tant and that the “one par­ent, one lan­guage” rule was rec­om­mended. Unfor­tu­nately, I am ter­ri­ble at that. I switch between lan­guages, French, Eng­lish and Man­darin. Feng occa­sion­ally uses basic French with Mark and we both speak Man­darin as well.

Seri­ously, you should come and see us at home—it feels like a United Nations meet­ing sometime.

Mark does under­stand Eng­lish and French very well. If we tell him to do some­thing in either lan­guage, he does it (or not, depend­ing on his mood—but trust me, he gets it). He under­stands his grand­par­ents but not nec­es­sar­ily when other peo­ple speak Chi­nese. I think my in-law use “baby speech” a lot and they both have regional accents in Chi­nese, so he is used to their Chi­nese, not proper Man­darin. On a side note, if I speak Chi­nese to Mark, he laughs at me. And after a cou­ple of weeks in Mex­ico, he started to under­stand some Span­ish too, sim­ple com­mands like “viene aquí”, “qué quieres?”, “mire”, etc.

This is why I am not too wor­ried about Mark’s lan­guage skills. He makes him­self under­stood in many cre­ative ways and as long as we can com­mu­ni­cate, it’s good enough for me.

You know what? I really don’t need some­thing else to stress about. Mark will speak when­ever he feels like it.


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. Pingback: March & 17 Months | Correr Es Mi Destino

  2. You might remem­ber that I was in the same boat with the twins when we were still in Canada. They were a bit over 18 months and I had a new­born in my arm and the doc­tor wanted me to go to “speech ther­apy” with them. WTF. How was I sup­posed to fit that into my sched­ule ? We hear a lot about how mom should have time for her­self and not over­work her­self, yet she is also to be super­woman and fit all kinds of stu­pid classes like baby yoga and speech ther­apy and baby music and who-knows-what-else. I greatly dis­liked that pedi­a­tri­cian and her “how many words ?” ques­tion. Don’t worry about it, your Mark will prob­a­bly do a lot of progress once he starts inter­act­ing with other chil­dren his age.

    • Yes, I remem­ber and I actu­ally read this arti­cle again last month! I was glad you talked about it (no pun intended), it made me feel better :-)

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