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Published byJennifer Fletcher
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In 1979, we had Caroline, a beautiful 8-pound girl. Patrick was born two years later. He was 9 pounds! I was this big in the last few months.
John had to help me get into bed… Every night, I read a story to the kids. Im certainly not the only one to do that, but it was one of our favourite times.
And stories in French, that goes without saying! It was important for me that my kids learn French because I wanted them to understand my culture.
Speaking two languages, having two different cultures, its a gift! And do I have to add that books in French in Faro were as rare as a platypus on an ice rink!
But making up your own stories… you can do that anywhere. And when the kids started talking, they helped me make up stories...
... like the one with the bear and the racoon playing marbles in the forest.
They quickly caught on that maman and daddy spoke different languages. One time, Patrick was about two years old, and I was folding clothes.
Black socks were mine and Johns were white. Patrick said, pointing to the socks: Les bas de maman. Daddys socks
At that time, I hadnt realized what was involved in raising kids in both languages. Its an everyday challenge. A HUGE challenge.
I wanted the kids to understand, but I also wanted John to understand too when I spoke to them. I also remember well that infamous family gathering...
... where I understood what was going on. Caroline was three years old and spoke French and English really well. We spent a week with the in-laws at a rented cottage.
It was the first time that John and I had spent time alone since Caroline was born. My mother-in-law was really considerate with my little baby. Thats for sure!
She was her first grand-child. She looked after her while we went for walks or ate at a restaurant, just the two of us.
I dont really remember when Caroline started answering me in English when she had always answered in French.
I figured it was because she was surrounded by a lot of English, that it was maybe just normal.
The last evening before we left, other family members came to spend the evening with us.
When it was time for Caroline to go to sleep, I told her to go and say Bonne nuit to everyone. She looked at me and told me in English:
Maman, on dit Good Night. Mamie ma dit de parler en anglais seulement parce que le français, ce nest pas une langue importante.
Then she went up to bed.
I felt a knot in my throat! I must have looked upset because John came over, gave me a kiss on the cheek and said: Ten fais pas. Je vais en parler à ma mère.
He never did.
Hello. Im not sure I have the right number, the message isnt the same and its in English. If I have the right number, this message is for Geneviève.
... Just to let you know that Im already at Gabrielles. No need to come and get me. I hope I have the right number!
- Ben, did you change the message on the machine? - Yes, I did. Jai dû réenregistrer le message après la coupure délectricité de ce matin.
- Why is the message just in English? - I dont know. Je ny ai pas pensé. Désolé. Mais nous sommes à Whitehorse.
… La plupart des gens sont anglophones. - Nous sommes ensemble depuis plus de deux ans, Ben, tu sais que jai de la famille et des amis…
… qui ne parlent pas anglais. Why dont you try harder to learn French? - I am trying!
… Tu sais comme cest difficile pour moi de toujours parler en français! - Toujours? Vraiment?
À cause de toi, on ne peut pas aller vivre à lÎle de la Réunion! - Quest-ce que jirais faire moi, à lÎle de la Réunion?
… Tout est en français là-bas. -Tu vas faire comme moi et tadapter. You would see what Im talking about…
- Calme-toi. Quest-ce qui se passe exactement? - Ne me dis pas de me calmer! I AM CALM! I have been living in English for the last two years!
... Its hard sometimes and you dont seem to understand that. I have trouble expressing myself correctly, Im always searching for the right words,
... and people dont always understand me. TU ne me comprends pas tout le temps. - Quest-ce que tu veux dire par JE ne comprends pas?
- Ce nest pas ce que je veux dire! I mean that I would love it if sometimes you understood what I am going through.
... I sometimes feel like I am not myself. Its not my style to think before I speak! I am less expressive, less spontaneous.
Comment veux-tu être expressive quand tu cherches tes mots avant de les dire?
Je crois que tu es assez expressive! - Que veux-tu dire par « Assez expressive »!
.... You see, you dont even understand when I speak to you. I am not mad. I just want to explain something super simple to you.
Je vais te donner un example :
The other day, I had a crappy day and I so wanted to tell you about it. Remember the guy who bumped into my car at the red light?
I know it was only a fender-bender and it was his fault! But I was so stressed. Its the first time someone rear- ended my car. I was still on edge when I got home
and when I wanted to talk to you about it, I had to choose every one of my god-damn words. If I could have told you in French...
I would have told you that an irresponsible young prick ran a red light and snapped my bumper during rush hour.
If I could, I would have ripped his head off. He tried to blame me, can you believe it? But all I said when I got home was:
Oh! en passant, un jeune a frappé ma voiture aujourdhui. Jai déjà téléphoné à la compagnie dassurance. Tout va bien.
- Les assurances vont payer. Ne ten fais pas avec ça, chérie. - Ce nest pas ce dont je parle!
Je dis simplement que je suis fatiguée de parler anglais tout le temps. Je voudrais que tu fasses un effort. Je voudrais que tu comprennes vraiment ce que je suis!
- Jpense que je te comprends plus que tu penses. Même si je comprends pas tous tes mots… allez. Calme-toi!
- Cest plus compliqué que ça, Ben. What is it going to be when we have kids? Je veux que tu comprennes ce que je dis quand je vais leur parler.
Tu te souviens quand Gabrielle racontait que sa nièce ne parlait pas français parce que son propre frère avait oublié la langue? Je ne veux pas que ça marrive!
- Kids? You want kids? - Of course I want kids Ben, its not the first time weve talked about it.
...Weve been talking about it for more than a year. - Javais limpression quon faisait juste en parler, pas que tu en voulais vraiment.
- Je veux des enfants, et peut-être même avec toi… si tu deviens bilingue! And only if you understand the expression: to blow a fuse.
- If you want to have kids, well need to get married first… - Tu dois également comprendre lexpression : Youre kidding!
- Celle-là, je la comprends! Gabrielle la dit tout le temps, jai fini par comprendre. - Parlant de Gabrielle, on devrait partir, well be late.
- Je suis prêt depuis dix minutes! Jattends après toi…
- Tu veux sincèrement mépouser? - Depuis la première fois que je tai vu.
- Damn English…Getting married… Tu sais que tu dois parler seulement en français chez la mère de Gabrielle?
- I know, Its important for Gabrielles mom.
Slowly, without realizing it, more and more of my conversations and interactions with the children were in English. It was just easier that way.
My in-laws only speak English. It seems like when someone only knows one language,
its harder for them to understand why we fight to keep our language and culture alive. They werent mean, maybe just a bit unaware.
And when they were there, out of respect, I only spoke English to the kids. John didnt complain when I spoke French, but he didnt help me keep French alive either.
I think what really sealed it, was when Caroline started school at Van Gorder. After a few months, her teacher thought she had a language disorder.
Nothing major, she was just a bit below average. According to her teacher, this was due to the fact that we spoke two languages at home.
We were strongly advised to only speak one language to Caroline because thats why she was confused and thats why she was behind. According to the teacher.
Thats when we started speaking only in English at home.
Looking back, I know the advice we received was wrong.
Looking back, I know that using two languages at home had nothing to do with her delay.
Looking back, I know that I should have never stopped speaking to the children in French!
I think what I would have hoped for was support from John. That he would have said: Listen honey, who gives a darn what everyone thinks : school, family, friends.
Well keep talking to them in French. I even think I would have liked him to say:
I will learn to speak French. Its important for me to know how to communicate in your language.
I probably should have told him that thats what I wanted to hear, but I didnt. I can tell you that my English improved even more at that time.
Everything was now in English: with John, the school, the in-laws, friends, grocery shopping… even with the kids. I even started dreaming in English. That was the end.
I probably hadnt realized how angry I was back then, but I started talking to John about moving to Whitehorse. I knew there were Francophones there...
and I needed to speak my language. I bugged him so much with this that we finally moved. In 1985, right before Patrick started school, we arrived in Whitehorse.
But it was too late for the kids. They had forgotten. Come on John! What are you doing? Was I saying that he was never late?
He came out of the garage, but darn it, now hes gone in the shower! Surely he could have taken his shower before! I dont even know where were going.
And so, when we had our youngest in 1988, I didnt let things go that time.
- He told you what? - He said it was not that important to record the message in both languages.
- Il a dit que ce nétait pas si important denregistrer le message dans les deux langues.
- Ce nest pas le genre de Ben de dire quelque chose comme ça. - What did she say?
- She said its not like Ben to say something like that. - Thats true! Thats not like him. - Well… He didnt really put it that way.
... He just said he didnt think about it. - Il a dit quil ny avait pas pensé. - And then, what did you say?
- I got mad. I told him that it was important for me that he understands me when I speak in my own language.
- Elle lui a dit que cest important pour elle dêtre comprise dans sa langue. - Mais Genevivi parle bien anglais.
… Je ne comprends pas son point de vue. - Quoi? Je pense que cest évident! Ce nest pas la même chose de sexprimer en français quen anglais!
- She says she doesnt see what the problem is… Keila, tu as de la chance. Cest facile pour nous deux de communiquer…
… parce que je mexprime bien dans les deux langues. - De toute façon, je veux connaître la suite de lhistoire. - She wants to know what happened next…
- I told him that I want him to understand when I will speak to our kids. - Elle a dit quelle voulait des enfants.
- What? Thats not what I said. - Elle dit que ce nest pas ce quelle a dit. - She says thats not what she said…
-Quoi? -What? - Im all mixed up! Gen, just finish your story.
- Well thats it! Theres nothing more! He told me that before we have kids, we have to get married! - Get married? You?
- Ew! You want to have kids… and to have them, that means you have to make them! - Yes… getting married… making babies.
... Has your Mom explained to you where babies come from? - Come on Auntie, Im twelve years old.
... Ive known that for a long time. - She seems to have a pretty good idea. Who let her in on the nasty secret? Was it you Geneviève?
- Come on… - Ok girls, lets calm down!
- Il y a de beaux garçons à F.-H. Collins. Tu vas en trouver un à ton goût là-bas.
- Emma, arent you going to Académie Parhélie next year? I thought thats where you were going.
- I havent decided yet… - Emma has the choice between two schools next year for grade eight.
- Its nice to have a choice, eh? Which one are you going to pick? - Tu devrais aller à lÉcole Émilie-Tremblay …
… Sinon tu vas te retrouver avec une blonde qui tachale pour apprendre le français. - Jai dit que je sais pas!
- And what does your Mom think? - My Mom always has too much to say… Thats what I think.
- Quest-ce que ta mère en pense?
- That must be my brother! I havent seen him in ages! - We finally get to meet him!
Theyre funny, always talking about French. French here, French there. Enough already! My Mom has been harping on at me about it since I was little.
In French, Emma. Say it in French, Emma. Whats the word in French, Emma? Je ne sais pas, maman, google-le!
Shes always complaining that I watch too much TV in English, that my music is English. What can I say? Thats what I like to listen to.
I had to watch the whole Passe-Partout series and the DVDs with Annie Brocoli when I was younger. Can I choose my own shows and music now?
When they come over, its easier for us to speak English, even if they go to French immersion. Thats all! Thats how it is.
Come on, Emma, speak French, my Mom always says. Maman, qui sen soucie? By the way, il ny a rien de mal avec langlais: Daddy speaks English!
When I was younger, maybe around 5, we visited my Moms family in Quebec. My grandma came with us. It was fun. We spent at least a month there.
Chicoutimi I think its called? My uncles were wondering why I always spoke English to them and French to my aunts.
In my mind, all men spoke English and women spoke French.
Its sometimes confusing to speak two languages. But its also an advantage.
Sometimes, if I ask my Mom something in French, she will say yes… just because I made an effort. I think its because Daddy didnt understand what I said…
Now, I have to choose between the Académie Parhélie or FH Collins. I have some friends who are going to Parhélie and others to FH.
Of course, my Mom is insisting that I go to Parhélie. Youll lose your French like I did when I was younger if you dont go. Oh come on! I cant lose my French.
At FH Collins, theres less French, I wont be hassled about it. And besides, theres more cute guys there! Well, according to my friends… I dont care about that!
And now, my family has to get involved! Now that I think about it, my cousin Natasha doesnt speak a word of French.
... If she ever goes to Quebec, she wont have a clue what our aunties and uncles are saying. - Emma, what are you doing? We have to leave.
... Your Mom is waiting in the car. - Gabrielle, did you ever have to choose between two schools?
- No! My Mom didnt give me any choice. It was Émilie- Tremblay or nothing. Youre lucky you have a choice… - Why lucky? What you would have chosen?
When we had our youngest, I decided that she would be raised in both languages. That was it. Period. End of discussion!
It was hard at first, especially since Caroline and Patrick didnt speak French; John even less. In fact, I didnt give her a choice.
In the first few years, it went relatively well. John spoke to her in English and I spoke to her in French. I would play all the French tapes I could get my hands on
... and she didnt have a choice but to answer me in French. Things got a bit complicated when school started.
Because everything was in French, John couldnt follow. I was the one who went to parent-teacher meetings. All communication with the school...
went through me. Everything was on my shoulders. I was exhausted. John wanted to do more, but he didnt know how to help.
There were ups and downs. We had a few fights about it. He even once told me: If you sent her to an English school, I could help.
Well, I took none of that. I held my ground. We sat down to see how he could help me. He started helping with math homework...
and driving her to extracurricular activities. He even started taking French lessons.
Caroline, my oldest, studied in Ottawa and then came back to the Yukon.
When she got pregnant, she realized that she really wanted to pass on her culture to her baby. Her boyfriend didnt need convincing.
Hes Italian and knows what its like to speak several languages at home. Caroline and him took night classes so that they could speak French...
and teach it to their daughter. Now, we speak in French, English, and sometimes in Italian!
Patrick and his wife live in Edmonton. I miss them. And its worse now that I have a grand-daughter there too. Shes so far away.
Yes sir, I am a grandma twice over! Shell be six soon and she starts school in September.
They grow up so fast. We Skype every week. Of course Im sad because when I speak to my grand-daughter, its only in English.
I wonder if she even knows that her grandma speaks French… Im proud that I stood my ground for the youngest one.
And my baby even went to university in French! Ha kids… they left the house a long time ago and I still talk about them all the time!
Im as proud now as when they were small and showed me their drawing.
John! Im hungry! Your tools are put away, youre clean, you smell good and you can always sort the mail later. Are you coming or not?
- Hey, my baby! - Mom, stop calling me my baby, I hate it! - Yes, but you will always be my baby.
- I know, youre always telling me. But not in front of people okay? - Hi Keila! How are you?
- Yes Nicole! - You brought the whole gang! John, come on. We have visitors!
- Steve, I heard youre taking private lessons now! - Yes Maam. The private lessons are going well. - He has no choice! My contract ends in a month...
... and Steve is coming with me to live in France. - Wow! Im really happy for you two! France… Ive been dreaming about it for years. We will miss you!
... Will you come back from time to time? - Of course, my family is here. We will be sure to come and see you Nicole.
- You better! - I dont know if we ever get used to people leaving over the years.
- Stop it. Youre the one talking about Reunion. - Reunion? Whats this about, Geneviève? - Geneviève would like us to go live in Reunion.
- Its just an idea I was tossing around… Its a long story. - It might be a good one. We should discuss it soon.
- We never really get used to people leaving. We cant hold back people we love, but that doesnt mean we stop loving and getting attached to them.
... When we feel lonely, we phone or write. Anyway, people almost always find their way back here, for a visit or to stay. And if they dont, we go visit them.
- You should come and see us in France, Nicole! -Or us in Reunion! - France yes! Reunion...hmmm.
Youll have to tell me about it, Geneviève. I just hope my baby… - Mom!
- Sorry, but if Gabrielle and Keila also left… - Not now Mom, thats a promise. Keila signed her contract with the Yukon Arts Centre.
- Congratulations Keila! We have to celebrate that! Come have dinner with us tomorrow night! - Yes Nicole!
- But Im afraid youve all come at a bad time, folks. John and I are going out for dinner to celebrate our 35 th wedding anniversary.
- Are you sure that you are going to a restaurant, Mom? - Youre here too my sweetie!
You didnt come on your own. Wheres your mom? - Shes outside bringing gifts for you and granddad. Patrick is there too with his girlfriend and Natasha.
- Natasha!? Patrick! They came from Edmonton and didnt tell me! Ha John! Another one of your surprises?
Thats why it took you so long to get ready, we couldnt leave. Oh well, you surprised me again. Emma, could you go get toys for Natasha
... in the garage please. You remember where we put them when you got too big to play with them? - Yes, Im going.
- Lets go get the buffet and beer in the garage. - And the buffet is hidden in the garage! I cant believe I didnt suspect a thing!
- What a nice evening it was! The party really got rocking! I was very pleased to have all of my family back together here. It had been a while!
I couldnt believe it. Good news were pouring. Keila got the job she wanted, Geneviève and Ben were talking about Reunion...
...all because of a fight, according to Genevièves story. And my son Patrick. He kept the best for last: He told me that they were coming back to live in Whitehorse.
I still cant believe it… What an evening! And to see my granddaughters play together, that made me feel so good too.
Poor Emma, she has a big decision to make.
- Mamie… - Yes, love?
- What do you think? Which school should I go to next year? - I think you already know my answer…
- Yeah. Youre not helping me much. - And Caroline? What does she say about this? - I think you know what Moms opinion is on this…
... Is it true that Mom forgot her French and when she was pregnant with me she went back to school to learn it again?
- Yes, it was important for Caroline. You know, you have the final say. I will love and encourage you whatever you decide.
- Thanks granny.
- I also rocked my little Natasha. We had a good little chat. She described to me in detail her life as a six year old.
...I told her that grandma was very happy that she was moving close to her. Of course, we spoke in English.
- Grand-maman. Ne parle pas comme ça.
… Je ne comprends pas quand tu parles. - Cest normal. Je parle français. Cest une autre langue. - Cest bizarre. Et tu comprends quand moi je parle?
- Bien sûr! Nous avons des mots différents pour dire la même chose. Mais tu peux lapprendre! - Et si japprends…
…je pourrai aussi comprendre quand tu parles? - Bien sûr! - Je veux apprendre à parler comme toi!
- Vraiment? Alors je vais commencer par te montrer les mots les plus importants de la langue française. - Quels sont-ils?
The End Fin
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