Why I Chose To Send My Daughter to a Spanish-Immersion School

Daily Prompt:Take  That, Rosetta!

If you could wake up tomorrow and be fluent in any language you don’t currently speak, which would it be? Why? What’s the first thing you do with your new linguistic skills?

“[Your daughter] is speaking at slightly below grade-level in Spanish,” my daughter’s first grade teacher wrote in the Notes section of her report card. “She is sensitive and worried about making mistakes. Please let her know that making mistakes is an opportunity to learn.”

The same advice applies to me. I know some Spanish — mostly nouns and some present tense verbs — and I can have a decent conversation with a two-year-old, but I’m pretty sure that my Spanish sounds like Tarzan chatting up Jane.

I even feel shy about speaking Spanish with my El Salvadorean nanny, who I know wouldn’t make fun of me. This morning, I thought, I’ll try. And just as I was about to say, “Es muy frio! I leapt to the comfort of English.

Why? I’m frustrated by that in-the-head translation time, the time it takes for me to think my thought in English and then look up the Spanish translation with a search engine that is light years slower than Google. I also dislike not being able to fully express myself, and, yes, dislike feeling stupid. Spanish immersion schools didn’t exist when I was growing up in Connecticut in the 80s. Instead, schools introduced us a foreign language (Spanish or French) in 7th grade, when our brains aren’t nearly so pliable. I took Spanish until freshman year of college, seven years, and then I tossed that lengua aside. There was no one to practice with in Lynchburg, Va.

Fast forward nearly 20 years later to my life now in the Washington, D.C., metro area where the Hispanic population hovers between 14 and 15 percent. I think about how I felt the first time I left the country and lived for a summer in Italy. I felt like a different person the first few weeks there: quiet and frustrated that I couldn’t express and share my thoughts. I remember thinking, “these people have no idea who I am!” Like an iceberg, they were only seeing a small portion of who I really was.

That experience of being “the other” helps me empathize with the native Spanish speakers in my life. Do they feel like shadows in our culture, seen and not heard? If I could wake up tomorrow morning and speak Spanish, I would really get to know my nanny who speaks fairly decent English, but is much more expressive and comfortable in Spanish. I could strike up a conversation with the woman who waters the plants in my office, travel to Central or South America, or Spain, and experience the food, culture, and people in a more intimate way. And, I could help my daughter overcome her reluctance to speak Spanish. My husband and I didn’t chose to send our daughter to a Spanish-Immersion School to “get ahead;” rather, we chose to send her to gain compassion and understanding of cultures and people different than our own.

“Mine!”: What I Learned About Selfishness and Assertiveness from My Toddler

mineMy son is going through the possessive, small tyrant stage. If my daughter sits on my lap, he races over, clings to my knees, and wails, “MY Mommy!” If I try to put him in the stroller so we can walk from the store to the car in less than an hour, he shrieks, “I walk!” pulls the lead noodle move, and slithers from my arms. If I am reading the Sunday New York Times, he, like a cat, will insert himself between my eyes and the page, laying across the newspaper, flipping over on top of the crumpled mess that is the Style section, and flashing a wide, toothy grin.

Apparently, my husband is going through the same stage. Once I finally have a moment to tuck my legs under me and crack open whatever book I’m reading, he pokes his head under my left arm, plunks his face between me and book, and grins like Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

“Hi,” he announces. “There’s me!”

They don’t have a problem demanding attention. They don’t stop and think, “what if I inconvenience her?” They know what they want and demand it. And I oblige. There are days I put on my exercise gear in the morning and tell myself, “I’ll go to the gym after I feed the kids, put a load of laundry in, make a grocery list…”

You get the picture. A mother’s work is never done, and let’s face it: I will never get to the bottom of that List. There will always be a shoe that needs tying, a hug given, a dish to be washed. My family is oblivious to Mommy’s lack of me time, so when I snap, they rightly wonder, what’s wrong with her?

No fairy godmother will descend from the heavens and say to me, “My God, Evonne, how do you do it? You deserve the weekend off. Let me wash the dishes, watch the kids, and pick up the house while you go to yoga.” I need to take matters into my own hands.

So instead of wondering waiting until everything is done, which it never will be, I am going to take what I need.

Sunday morning yoga: Mine.

A night out with my girlfriends: Mine.

Uninterrupted reading time: Mine.


What else do I need? It’s been so long since I put myself first, I’m not even sure. Does this feel familiar?