Expat parenting in Curitiba


Part of the thing about raising a kid to be bilingual is that it often involves at least one of the parents living in a different country.  So not only are there the normal problems (and opportunities?) associated with raising a family, but there are also language and cultural problems for the parent or parents.

In my case I am the parent who is dealing with all the excitement of living in a different place.  Over the next few weeks I am going to be writing a little bit about what it is like to be a foreign parent living in Curitiba, in the south of Brazil.  There will be a few rants as I give vent to some stuff that really gets on my nerves, but hopefully I will also be able to reflect on the positive side of living in this city.

Before I get in to all that, it might be worthwhile giving a bit of my background to try to put things into context.

I first came to Curitiba about 14 years ago to teach English at a small school called Liberty.  Prior to that, I had taught English in both Poland and Taiwan.  Towards the end of my contract here I met a girl who, many years later, I ended up marrying.  Between meeting her and marrying her we lived in the UK and Curitiba.  She also had a spell of nearly 2 years working for the OAS in Washington D.C.  During that time I also managed to pass my Trinity College Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages and get an MA in Linguistics from The University of Birmingham.

When we got married we decided to live in Curitiba, but soon after she got a job in Rio de Janeiro and we spent almost 5 years there, working and partying and generally having a good time.  At least I had a good time because my wife hated the heat and chaotic nature of Rio.

When my wife got pregnant we decided it would be much better to come to live in Curitiba for free babysitting and because the cost of living is so much cheaper than in Rio.  There is also a belief that Curitiba is safer than Rio, although I am not sure I agree with this idea.

So, about 18 months ago we came back to Curitiba and then the little bundle of joy that is Thomas arrived. And then my life changed irrevocably, and I won’t say if it changed for the better or worse.

We’re Not Sleepy

We're not sleepy2

Image: Amazon.co.uk

On the OUP site for this book it says that it is appropriate for kids from the ages of 2-5.  Thomas is still only 18 months old, and this probably explains why he likes the book, but doesn’t love it yet.

It is written by Joanne Partis as a counting book.  The three kittens can’t sleep and so their mother sends them out to count sheep.  In order to do this, though, they have to search the whole farm where they live.  First of all they find one shaggy sheepdog, then two munching cows until finally they fall asleep surrounded by 10 sheep.  Although they don’t find the sheep, on each page there is a sheep that his hiding somewhere.

The book is beautifully drawn and it is this that attracts Thomas.  The content is still a bit old for him as he isn’t counting yet, and he seems to be unaware that he has to find the sheep on each page.  He is, though, more than happy to sit with me while I read it to him and make all of the noises for the animals.  I think that, in a few months, it will be one of his favourites.

Question Time?

Question marks

Image: Stuart Miles / freedigitalphotos.net

I have heard it said that when a toddler hits the terrible twos one of the things to look forward to is the incessant questions.  ‘Look forward’ to was the right phrase as well.  I had visions of taking the time to patiently answer all the questions Thomas might ask, providing lucid answers that would set him off on a quest to understand the world better.  Recently, though, I have been having second thoughts about this utopian world I am going to create for myself and Thomas.  This is mainly due to seeing how parents with kids a bit older than Thomas are (not) coping and also due to one of my favourite comedians (WARNING: Lots of gratuitous, but oh so funny, swearing).

Recently though, I have realised that all these questions that are just around the corner are probably going to be my fault.  I seem to spend most of my time talking to Thomas in questions.

There are the direct questions that he is now starting to answer: Do you want a banana? Do you want a juice? Where’s Mickey?  These questions are usually answered with a ‘No daddy‘ a nod of the head or mickey being thrust into my hand.

He has recently started answering questions with a simple ‘no’ or a ‘não‘, for example, ‘Is there a banana or on your pyjamas?’ ‘No!’.  ‘Is there a car on your pyjamas?’ ‘No!’  This can go on for hours.  The way he says ‘no’ is with an up-down intonation patter that sounds like something out of a pantomime, which is half-true because it is very rehearsed and he answers ‘no’ even if he does have a banana on his pyjamas.  I think he is not paying attention to the question, but our intonation pattern and the fact that once we have started we keep asking him the questions.  (It is also interesting to see here how he pronounces the word like the English ‘no’ or the Portuguese ‘não’ depending on the language of the question.  More evidence of bilingualism.)

More common though, are the amount of question tags I use:  ‘And then we had dinner, didn’t we?’, ‘You’re such good boy, aren’t you?’, ‘You’ve spilt yoghurt all over your clean clothes again, have you?’  Of course these aren’t real questions, but when we aren’t expecting a response it sounds better to ask a question like this than just to talk to yourself.

Then there are the questions that just me to be the sarcastic, cynical person I know I can be:  ‘You want me to change your nappy again? Oh great!’ ‘DId you manage to lose Mickey Mouse for the third time in an hour?  Aren’t you a clever boy!?’

All in all, it is no surprise that I am storing up all these questions, and trouble, for myself in the future.  I just hope I don’t lose it quite like Louis CK.

Smile, Crocodile Smile

Smile Crocodile

Image: Amazon.co.uk

This book has been knocking around Thomas’ room for quite a while now without actually being read.  It is a pity, because as soon as it was opened it became a hit.  It is written by An Vrombaut and published by Oxford University Press.  It is a very simple concept; Clarabella the crocodile has to brush her teeth all day long while all of her friends are off playing and having a good time.  By the time she has finished brushing and brushing and brushing her teeth, it’s time to go to bed again, until her friends come up with a surprise plan to help Clarabella out.

The colours used in this book grabbed Tomas’ attention, and the characters are very well drawn.  The pages with Clarabella particularly fascinate Thomas.  There is also an attention to detail that seems to be important for small kids as they try to look at everything on the page. In this case, Thomas always seems drawn to Clarabella’s teeth and the image of her in the small mirror.

The sentences are just the right length for a kid of 18 months, and there is some playful use of sounds so that Thomas likes to hear the story.  The book is just the right length as well; not too short to be read in no time, but no too long for Thomas to get bored or fidgety.

According to the author’s site, she has done lots of animation work for the BBC and Disney Junior, as well as a number of other books.  The next time I am back in the UK I will certainly try to find another one of her books.

The Death of a Word

Black bow

Image: healingdream/freedigitalphotos.net

Abuda, aged about 5 months, died peacefully in its sleep sometime before 11th February.   Abuda, born in Birmingham in early November 2012 to the single parent ‘brum’, had been one of the first words to be used by Thomas and meant any type of car or vehicle.  Abuda accomplished much in its short life but will probably be best remembered for being shouted incessantly at every car, van, motorbike or indeed any vehicle whether it was moving or parked.  It was an old and trusted friend that will be sorely missed by all those around Thomas.  Abuda is survived by ‘car’, ‘mo’ (also known as ‘motorbike’ or ‘bicycle’) and ‘tractor’.

There is a lot written about the birth of a word.  I have mentioned it a few times myself here and here  and there is a brilliant TED Talks video by Deb Roy on the subject.  It is rarer though to notice the passing of a word.  It has been very ineresting to see how this made up word of Thomas has gone from being used all the time a few weeks ago to disappering now.  Language evoloution in action on a micro-scale.

Shake and Fold!


Image: Salvatore Vuono / freedigitalphotos.net

Thomas has always been well into cleaning his hands, the table, the floor, anything.  Now that he insists on trying to feed himself he will often drop food all over his clothes and then refuse to eat any more until he has picked up all of the little bits that he can see. His next act is to drop even more food all over himself as he tries to get the next spoon into his mouth once more.  Breakfast can take hours.

One of the first words he understood (although he still can’t say it) was ‘shake’.  Before eating we get an alcohol gel and squirt it onto his hands.  He has always loved the feel of the gel and loves wiping it all over his hands.  The problem was that once he had finished they would still be wet so I used to mime shaking his hands in the air in order to dry them and say ‘shake’ at the same time.  He loved doing it and we ended up just shouting shake at random moments and watching him shake his hands in the air like he just didn’t care.

Anyway, it seems that he was half way to saving the planet.

Goal vs Gol


Image: NYTimes.com

The picture on the Facebook account for this site shows Bobby Moore and Pele after the World Cup game in Mexico in 1970.  I love the picture for so many reasons; it’s football, it’s one of the greatest games ever, it shows how sporting rivalry can also lead to camaraderie, it shows that race really doesn’t matter…  One thing that I hate about it, though, is that fact that it came after Brazil had beaten England.

The other day there was another football match between England and Brazil (You can read a match report from the link under the picture).  Instead of the debilitating 40 degrees of a Mexico summer, though, this one was played in the 3 degrees of a Wembley on a February night.  And this time, England won.  Of course, it also means nothing as it was only a friendly, and if we were to meet again in a proper tournament match I know I would have the old feelings of despair and disappointment by the end of the game.

However, despite the win, all is not well on the Greene side of this family.  Thomas has started saying ‘goal’ when he is playing with his football.  It is usually in response to somebody else shouting it first, but he seems to know what it means.  There were three goals in the game on Wednesday and Thomas only shouted ‘goal’ once.  And it wasn’t when Rooney scored from the rebound or Lampard made Brazil pay for slack defending, so it was probably ‘gol’ that he was shouting.

I don’t tend to shout ‘goal’ when one of my teams scores, I just shout and jump around a bit. (Also, being a Birmingham City and England fan it doesn’t happen all that often).  I am trying to tell myself that he was only responding to the exuberance of the Brazilian commentators when they shouted ‘goal’ for about a minute on the TV, as is their wont.  However, just to be on the safe side I think I am going to have to have a word with Thomas about where his loyalties lie and to et him to shout ‘goal’ instead of ‘gol’.  I know he is only 18 months old, but still.