Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Je ne comprends pas. Or: Feeling like an idiot at my child's French camp registration.

So Jack's French camp drop-off was yesterday.  They aren't kidding around when they call it immersion camp.  They want it to be like you just flew to Paris, and they speak to you only in French. Quite honestly, I was kinda sweating just figuring out how to proceed with the registration, without even basic understanding of what they were saying. 

One thing about foreign travel (or dropping your child off at French camp): It's a humbling, fairly exhausting experience when the basics of communication are that complicated.

Jack answered their basic questions, like his name and how he was doing, but then they'd start asking him other questions in French that weren't covered in his French class in co-op.  He just stared back, not sure what to say.  He didn't seem concerned, but he wasn't sure what to do next. 

After a few of these situations, I went over to "the embassy" (a card table outside the cafeteria) and asked "The Ambassador" (the director, who spoke English for parents) how to say "I don't understand" in French.  

Je ne comprends pas.

Jack's eyes lit up, and the relief was obvious in every word as he said:

" a very useful phrase."

Man, I love that kid.

I was thinking about how much relief it really is in life to have it be okay to make not know. It's a liberating feeling when it's okay not to have all the answers.  To learn as you go.  To just shrug your shoulders and apologize and say: Je ne comprends pas.

Having the non-judgmental Other Party is a big part of it.  The camp is welcoming even to complete beginners, so the expectation is a learning curve.  They do charades and draw pictures and all sorts of things to bridge the gap.  No judgment.  Just gentle guidance and helping you through it.

I think all parenting should be like this, really.  My own could use more work.  We adore Meet The Robinsons, and it prompted our family motto to "keep moving forward."  But how many times in my impatient moments have I sent the message that a mistake somehow messed up my day?  Instead of really embracing that we're all just bumbling along and doing our best.  And that a 2 or 3 year old isn't spilling food or breaking a toy to be a pest, but is still figuring out how life (and physics) work. 

Je ne comprends pas.  Whether it's French, parenting methods, or how to carry a plate to a table.  It's okay not to know how to do it perfectly, right?

The irony here: I'll need to embrace my imperfections on learning how to embrace my imperfections. ;)

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