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Mar 25 2014

It’s Hard to Say No When My Toddler Says Please

By at 1:31 pm


I’m afraid I may have fallen into a trap.

A few months ago, I decided that my 2-year-old son needed to start learning some manners. And so began his first lesson: the word “please.” At first he kind of thought it was a joke, and when prompted to say it, he would hold out on me on purpose. But after several weeks of reinforcement, he came to learn that there is, indeed, a polite way to ask for things.

Only now there’s a problem. Every time my child says “please,” I feel like it sets the expectation that his wish will be unquestionably fulfilled. And it’s not just me internalizing–he sees it that way too. Read the rest of this entry →

Mar 24 2014

Who Cares If Kids Curse? I Don’t.

By at 9:51 am


My 6-year-old drops F-bombs.

To be fair, it’s usually on a bus or subway, and the context is, “MY MOM SAID FUCK! EVERYONE, MY MOM SAID A BAD WORD!” It’s often bellowed with a mischievous glint in his eye, prompting snickers from fellow commuters. It’s how he acquired his nickname “The Bad Word Police.”

I just shrug, because context is everything. It’s more upsetting to me if my son tells someone to “shut up” than if he mutters an expletive to himself as his Lego tower collapses. The values I try to emphasize in my child is that words can hurt people and should be used in ways that are thoughtful, responsible, and appropriate–i.e. the classroom is NOT an appropriate place to drop F-bombs (once he said “damn it” in class and it landed him in timeout. He never swore in school again). Read the rest of this entry →

Apr 8 2013

When You and Your Daughter Don’t Speak the Same Language

By at 11:56 am

coloring outside the linesWhile we were in the art room at school today, my daughter asked me something in Hebrew in words I didn’t understand. “Say yes, mama!” She said. “Please say yes.”

“Baby, I can’t say yes, because I don’t understand what you want. For all I know you just asked me if you can get a tramp stamp, or move to Amsterdam.”

It’s like this, sometimes. She’ll say something that means something to her–I can see it in the way she clenches her jaw, and she flexes her fingers while she waits for her words to sink through the synapses of my American brain. Still, she wants an answer–even if it isn’t the answer she wants to hear–and when I look at her baffled, she sucks in her breath, and says, “You don’t listen to me.”   Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 5 2012

My Baby is a Better World Traveler Than Me

By at 11:48 am
geneva postcard

Bonjour, Geneva.

Traveling overseas is intimidating. And I say this as someone whose last several international destinations have included Ghana, India, and South Africa.

I hadn’t ventured abroad since early 2010, for a fairly obvious and adorable reason. But my husband recently learned that he needed to spend nine days in Geneva for work. I didn’t like the idea of our being separated (with a toddler, four hands beat two), and Lila and I had no pressing engagements, so I suggested a family adventure. Read the rest of this entry →

Apr 25 2012

I Screwed Up the Bilingual Thing, Too

By at 9:41 am
alina adams kremlin

My son at the Kremlin.

Reading Debbie Kolben’s Forward article “Why My Daughter Isn’t Bilingual–Yet,” I thought to myself: What am amazing coincidence! I too screwed up the bilingual thing! Only Debbie screwed it up once, and I managed to screw it up three times–in three completely different ways!

The basic situation is this: I was born in the former USSR and moved to the US with my parents as a child. Although English came easily for me (the fact that I now write for a living is hopefully evidence of that), I continued speaking Russian to my parents at home, periodically switching into English for complex or uniquely specialized topics. While my Russian wasn’t quite stuck at the level of the 7-year-old I’d once been, I was, at best, in possession of the vocabulary of a pre-teen. (That didn’t stop me from doubling as a translator when I worked as a producer for ABC Sports’ figure skating coverage. My conversations with Olympic champions were never particularly deep. To catch me in action, go to about 8:00 minutes at this YouTube clip.)

I have a brother and a cousin who were born in the US and yet still speak fluent Russian to their parents. I figured, if they could pull off this bilingual thing, so could I.

Ha. Read the rest of this entry →

Mar 21 2012

What’s With the F-Bomb?

By at 1:45 pm

f-bombSo what’s with the F-bomb?

It’s all over the place–the streets, the bus, the subway, people yelling into their cell phones, TV, even Kveller!

Whether used in all its 4-letter glory or coyly with asterisks or as the “F-bomb,” you just can’t escape it. Channeling the ghost of Lenny Bruce–is it just a word? What is a “dirty word,” anyway? Read the rest of this entry →

Nov 10 2011

What’s Up With All the H-A-T-E

By at 8:52 am
baby eating broccoli

I'm sorry, Mom, but I strongly dislike broccoli.

We don’t say the H-word in our house.

I am going to start with the disclaimer that I absolutely love Mayim. Like, I fantasize about sitting next to her at La Leche League and nonchalantly asking her to be my new best friend. I was a fan of Big Bang Theory long before I was a writer for Kveller, and the professional and theological perspectives that Mayim has shared through this blog have made me view the show (and many aspects of my family and faith journey) in a more critical way.

For example, when the BBT girls were trying on bridesmaids dresses, I immediately noticed that they all included long-sleeved dust jackets, something far from “runway current,” and I wondered if it was done in part to satisfy Mayim’s standards of tznius. That got me wondering if a Rabbi would agree to marry Howard and Bernedette because she is a shiksa. Or perhaps she will go through the conversion process and Amy will accompany her to the mikveh and live out her life-long dream of watching women bathe naked. Read the rest of this entry →

Sep 7 2011

You Say Tomayto

By at 12:35 pm

My daughters are little aliens. At least they sound like it. My girls are at the stage where the words coming out of their still-forming mouths are caught somewhere between babytalk and the childish idiolects of kindergarten. They don’t talk like I do; indeed they don’t talk like anyone does. Yet.

But school peers will soon shape their helium-pronouncements into whatever is normal for their age and location — a location thousands of miles from where I was born and grew up. And, even though we live in the same country as their mother did, we are a thousand miles from her childhood, too. My daughters are going to grow up foreigners.

But, though it feels strange and dislocating, that’s normal. The ease of international mobility for my class and generation means that, where previously people have moved away from the vicissitudes of poverty, persecution and violence, my friends and family can move to the promises of opportunity, liberty and love. Where freedom allowed my parents to move around the country, the rootless global upper-middle-class move around the globe.

New York, Paris, London, Tel Aviv, Amsterdam, San Francisco and LA are just a few of the places that my friends from Leeds, Manchester, London, Hamburg Connecticut, and Utrecht have ended up. Each family has its own smattering of languages, accents and national loyalties. At least I can comfort myself that though my girls will end up saying “zeebra” not “zebra” they’ll at least have the same mother-tongue as me. But parents and children are separated by a generational gulf so, no matter what words they use, my daughters will always be a little bit alien.

Apr 4 2011

Can’t You Just Call Me Mama?

By at 12:51 pm


Trapped between dreams and waking life, I am (just barely) aware enough to know that it is an obscenely early hour. I fumble for the small clock by the bed.

3:47 am.

The dregs just before dawn.


By now, I know the difference between a cry for help and a cry for…”

Ima! Rotsaaaa Cheerios.”

She wants Cheerios. At 3:47 am.  After all, she’s 2 years old.

I can picture her sitting up in bed, her curls pillow-matted into a Rastafarian wig. She’s probably clutching her Princess Tiana doll and sucking her thumb.

And I feel an icy trickle of resentment as I rub my eyes.

It isn’t because I’ve been shaken awake at an unholy hour. For Cheerios.

It isn’t because my husband snores serenely beside me in our bed while our daughter whines from her bedroom.

It’s the word: Ima. And the fact that my daughter’s default language is Hebrew.

When my daughter was born, my husband and I made a commitment to raise her in a bilingual household: Aba spoke Hebrew, and Mama spoke English. And since we were living in Los Angeles, I was smug about the whole thing because my daughter’s fluency in English was a given. The Hebrew was just a perk – a way showing off in front of other LA mamas.

And as my daughter grew older, she seemed to understand both languages equally well, although when it came to speaking, she favored English.  So, I felt I could afford to be a little charitable, and when we were out in public, I would toss around a little Hebrew for funsies: It was like our secret language, and she didn’t judge my linguistic missteps.  After all, she’s 2 years old.

By the time we landed in Israel four months ago, she spoke fluent gibberish. Half English, Half Hebrew, mishmoshing her words into a language that her Aba and I could understand.

“I want to play al ha deshe” (I want to play on the lawn.)

Ani loveshet princess dress.” (I am wearing the princess dress.)

But after a winter spent in Israeli preschool, her Hebrew blossomed. And her English? Not so much.

“Keep speaking English to her!” My husband says.

And I do. But she resolutely answers in Hebrew.

And while at first, I was able to keep up, her Hebrew proficiency has surpassed me and she is using words that I don’t know.

“What does that mean,” I’ll ask her when she tosses out a word I’ve never heard.  And, offering me a frightening glimpse into her teenage years, she’ll roll her eyes and sigh.

Sometimes she’ll translate. Sometimes she won’t.

But I want her to speak English. I want that cultural connection with my daughter forever and ever. Especially in those irrational hours before dawn. I don’t want to feel like I need to carry a pocket dictionary when talking with my daughter, or worse, ask my mother-in-law to translate.

Imaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa” she screams again, and I think of our neighbors. I take a deep breath, mentally steeling myself for the barefoot walk across the chilly floors.

(But I’m not Ima. I’m Mama. And I want to scream at her through the dense darkness “Call me Mama!” But I don’t. )

I wait. Praying she’ll go back to sleep. But knowing she probably won’t.

So I get out of bed. After all, I’m the Mama.

Jan 19 2011

Kra-kra Kra-kra!

By at 4:44 pm

Mika with a bowl of grapes. Her, ahem, vast vocabulary is mostly limited to food items.

For a long time now there’s been a belief that babies and toddlers understand a lot more than they let on. The author of What Babies Say Before They Can Talk believes that part of our job as parents is to translate our child’s words. When they say “no,” for example, they are expressing “distress-to-anguish.” Similarly,  “gimme, gimme” means “interest-to-excitement.” The author, Dr. Paul C. Holinger, who also blogs for Psychology Today,  gives the following advice for dealing with toddlers: “figure out and name the feelings behind her words.”

This all makes me wonder if my 15-month-old daughter and I are functioning on a lesser emotional level than other mothers and daughters. When Mika is saying “Kra-kra” I usually know what she means: she wants a damn cracker. And preferably the orange kind shaped like a bunny. And when she says “Ei! Ei!” she wants a scrambled egg and as best I can tell is using the German word to express it.  Her use of words is mostly limited to nouns in the food family. Hmmm….I wonder whose daughter she is?

The main exception to the food rule is for the word “baby.” She likes to point out other babies everywhere she goes. And then the other night, she learned how to use it best. She woke up at what can only be described as an ungodly hour. First, she cried. I ignored it. Then she called for mama. Still, I ignored it.  And when all else failed, she simply cried, “baby!”

And in I went running.

No translation needed.


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