As we were walking towards the metro station on a crisp Saturday morning on our way out from Russian school, me pushing the stroller with my youngest in it, and my son desperately trying to zip his jacket, he suddenly blurted: “No more Russian, mom, OK?”
No More Russian
I stopped for a moment feeling like what I thought for quite a while was a great achievement, is turning into a failure. Later, as we rode on the train back home, I talked to my 5-year-old, trying to figure out what was going on. Was Russian school boring? Did he have a fight with one of other kids there?
Son: No, mom, nothing bad happened, I just don’t want to learn Russian.
Me: But why? Isn’t it great to have an additional activity outside of school?
Son: Instead we could try ice skating. Or maybe learn Spanish?
Me: But Russian is mommy’s language, and it’s important for me that you and your sister learn it.
Son: (After a deep sigh) Okay… But I was born in America. Nobody speaks Russian here!
I have discussed this mini dilemma of mine with many people over the six years that I’ve spent in the U.S.: teachers, immigrants, therapists, journalists, bloggers and what not. Some say forget about Russian, let your kids blend in; others say limit American stuff and keep pushing for your culture; while most say try to keep a balance between the two.
Keeping the Balance
Easier said than done. How does one keep this balance?
But first a few details about our family: I’m ethnically Russian, my husband is Azeri, and our two children are first generation Americans. So we actually have to balance between three cultures, three languages and three sets of traditions.
I think we more or less have succeeded with culture and traditions. We celebrate Christmas on December 25th, because that’s when everyone else celebrates it. We celebrate Christmas on January 7, because this is when Orthodox Christians do it. And we of course celebrate Novruz Bayram (holiday in Azerbaijan as well as many Middle Eastern and Asian countries that celebrates the first day of spring March 21).
My kids love Super Readers and Thomas the Tank Engine, but they just as much enjoy Masha and the Bear or Jirttan (Russian and Azeri cartoons). They like pizza and burgers, but they like the capital salad (Russian vegetables, egg and meat salad) and plov (Azeri rice dish) just as much.
Our main struggle is, however, with…
Just talk to your kid in your native language, and they will pick it up real quick. It’s that easy, right? Well, not really. In my case, our son had a speech delay for a long time, so being trilingual is just not happening. Other children often get confused with so many languages, but then there are superstars who can make it work. Truth is it’s different for everyone.
So how do you maintain a balance in that case? For me it’s not just a blend in or stand out question, but rather an effort to keep our language as part of our lives while not overwhelming our kids.
For now I’m making sure they at least understand their mom and dad’s languages, and provide the resources for deeper learning, should there be more interest from either of the kids.
It’s OK to be different. No, it’s actually cool
You can say that you have never tried to blend in, but in reality we all at some point in life tried to fit in and be a skinny cheerleader, member of a cool band, or whatever else. I can see my son trying to fit in all the time, even at the age of five. I don’t prevent it, nor do I encourage it, because, especially at a young age, trying to fit in with various groups is what helps you see different options, compare and choose who and what you want to be.
My only message to my kids: while you try different options, don’t forget about who you truly are, because there’s a big chance that you will get lost among all the choices and lose your special self. Instead let your special self guide you in your choices, but be open-minded and accepting of others.
Another note: it’s Ok to stand out, and, often times, it’s actually cool to be different. Be proud of who you are, but respect others’ right to be different as well, because even if somebody tells you otherwise, in America you have a right to be different.
Enjoy that right and be cool, the rest will get figured out!
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