The Stakeout

A few years back, a friend told me that one of her good friends had just bought a house in a gated community in my parents’ hometown in SoCal, Thousand Oaks. My haughty, incredulous response, “Why?” My friend, whose daughter was a toddler at the time, responded that the town is really safe and has great schools (all true).

You see, I was cool and childless at the time, and living in New York. I so didn’t need to worry about stuff like that.

As I’m typing this, I’m staking out the house that I hope will be our future home. It’s in the burbs. Seriously in the burbs. But guess what: The town is pretty safe, and the schools are superb.

Why the stakeout? The house is on a busy street—not Fifth Avenue busy, but busier than your normal cul-de-sac. So I’m staking it out during commute hours to see just how busy it is, and whether we’ll be able to live with the “traffic.”

Oh, how things change. There are too many clichés to count when people talk about parenthood…how your priorities will be completely different, how you won’t recognize yourself from your pre-parenthood days, and most importantly, how you’ll do things you swore you would never do.

Like taking a job because it has excellent benefits…or moving to the burbs. My (hopefully) new hometown is the most suburban area I’ve considered living since moving off to college. But the reason that clichés about parenthood are clichés, is that they’re pretty much spot on.

I do want P to be able to play in the yard, have enough room to play hide and seek, and get a top-notch public education. Isn’t that what every parent wants?

I am, however, starting to prepare our reasoning for when P is a sullen teenager and wails, “You lived in Venice, Rome, New York, and San Francisco and chose to live here? Why?

Dearest, because it’s safe and gave you an education that allows you to pinpoint all those places on a map.

The Trilingual Advantage?

I just love randomly getting in touch with famous people (OK, semi-famous…and only in the nerd-o-sphere) and having them respond. Yesterday, there was a Q and A in the New York Times with a certain Professor Ellen Bialystok, who does research on the brain and how it reacts to bilingualism. In short, she was saying that research has shown that the use of two languages in everyday life has a bevy of advantages in young and old, including prolonged functionality at the onset of Alzheimer’s.

Of course, the natch question for an Iranian-Italian family with a young child living in the US of A is whether exposure to three languages is a good thing…or whether the said young child will just grow up with a jumble of sounds in her head. So what’s a girl to do? Write the expert and ask, mais oui!

After very little sleuthing on the net, I found Prof. Bialystok’s email address, and I wrote her the following message:

 Dear Prof. Bialystok,

I’m sure you will be getting a flood of emails after the recent Q and A featured in the NY Times. Hopefully mine won’t get lost in the crowd!

I’m curious as to whether you have encountered any trilingual cases in your research. I’ll explain: I’m a first generation Iranian who married an Italian native. We currently live in the U.S. and are obviously surrounded by all-things English, so our daughter (1.5 years old) is exposed to all three languages. My parents look after her during the week and speak to her in Farsi (although my mother resists because she things P will get confused) and my husband and I speak to her in Italian. We figure that she gets enough English through exposure in things like kids’ classes and such.

What is amazing to me is that Penelope is picking up all three languages simultaneously. When she’s hungry, she says, “Apple! Acqua! Naan!” She’s pretty much covering all her bases! She seems to pick up the easiest word for things in every language, with the exception of “farfalla” (butterfly), which she just likes saying over and over again.

Anyway, I don’t mean this to be a gushing review of her language skills, but I’m just wondering if you’ve encountered the same type of thing elsewhere. And mostly I’m wondering if we should continue down this road and expose her to all three languages.

Thanks for reading!

To my utter shock, she responded a day later. Here’s what she wrote:

Your description of P’s language is exactly right for a child growing up in a rich linguistic environment. You must continue to provide her this incredible opportunity and savour her journey through these wonderful languages. Tell your mother to stop worrying and speak to her in Farsi. Some day P will thank her.

With best regards,
Ellen Bialystok

How cool is that? It’s been my experience that college professors are very nice about responding to emails from random people (my other random email led to a week-long, all-expenses trip to Italy as part of an earthquake reconnaissance team) – so here’s a bit of (unsolicited) advice. Write people. Ask them things. They’re just people, and they might find what you’re saying actually interesting. And maybe even respond.