Monday, December 12, 2011

Une Mère et ses Filles à New York

Last week, my in-laws, who are visiting from Guatemala, took the girls and me to NYC for an early Christmas present! We had a wonderful time seeing the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall, visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art, shopping at FAO Schwarz, and reciting lines from Elf as we dodged cabs and marveled at the tree in Rockefeller Center.

I let the girls each pick out one item from FAO as a souvenir. All three of them are obsessed with stuffed animals, which I must say, I find to be the most pointless member of the toy family.  If you've been to FAO, you know as soon as you make it through the doors, you land in a huge stuffed animal wonderland and the girls instantly went crazy running around agonizing over which one they wanted. Eventually, I coaxed them into exploring the rest of the store before deciding on what they wanted to buy.  Ninety minutes later though, we ended up right back where we started: Stuffed animal world.

The nerd in me is always looking for an opportunity to turn whatever we are doing into a pop quiz opportunity and happily, a few days earlier in our Language Stars class, Clèmentine had taught them various animal names. So, I joined in the fun, asking them to identify the monkey, lion, zebra, tiger, and elephant in French. The girls finally settled on the horse (cheval), elephant (éléphant), and penguin (penguin) despite my suggestion that if one is determined to buy  a stuffed animal from FAO Schwarz, she should at least choose a more interesting one like a meerkat or okapi.  Oh well, their selections may have been run of the mill, but it was still music to my ears to hear them ask for said éléphant, penguin, and cheval in perfect French with ease. 

Our trip to New York brought two other aspects of our French language studies to light. First, studying French has turned me into a stalker. After our little success in Epcot last month, I found myself especially alert to the voices around me in New York. I'll be frank: I wanted another opportunity for the girls to interact with a native French speaker. One afternoon I was in a shop and I overheard two women speaking to each other in French. I sidled up to them, trying to eavesdrop. I could only pick out a word or two.  They moved on.  I followed. The older woman looked at me and I gave her a friendly smile before turning my focus to a mercury glass fig I was pretending to buy and she picked up her conversation with her friend. I followed them all through the store as stealthily as I could manage, without ever quite managing to understand enough of their conversation to throw in  a passing comment en français without making a fool/creep of myself.

The second thing I realized on our trip is that my children have replaced whining with speaking in French. We took the bus to New York.  Knowing that I will in no way tolerate any kind of whining or fussing in public and probably also realizing that I'm a sucker for anything they say in French these days, all their typical traveling laments were cleverly translated.  Instead of the usual, nasally "Mommy, I'm staaaaaaaaaarrrrving" (five minutes after we boarded the bus which was a whole 15 minutes after we finished breakfast at Union Station), I heard instead a sweetly spoken "Mama, j'ai faim. Je voudrais un biscuit." I could see that Chloe was dying to grumble that she was hot in the sweater I made her wear, but as she opened her mouth to say so while yanking on the collar of it, I shot her the "don't you dare" face and she reconsidered before recomposing her disgruntled look into an angelic one and whispering, "Il fait chaud." 

Needless to say, their plan worked: I was doling out cookies and yanking off sweaters faster than you can say "Bien fait, mes filles!"

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