I rocked my twenties, big time. During that adventurous decade, I joined the Peace Corps, living abroad for almost four years and sowing my non-royal oats all around Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Then I became a mom and now my passport is a dusty artifact at the bottom of my closet. Recently, though, things have begun to change. Thanks to a little gem of a language school known as Multilingual Chicago, I’ve reconnected with my inner adventurer.
Perhaps because of my multilingual grandparents, I grew up yearning to speak a second language. At least once a month, we’d go visit them in the Bronx and I'd watch in awe as they spoke what I think was a combination of Yiddish, Czech, Hungarian, and whatever other languages they’d picked up during their years in Eastern Europe. Sitting in their living room, on the sticky plastic that covered the furniture they wanted to keep looking like new, I’d pretend that I too could converse in magical words that only a few lucky people could understand.
This passion to enter another world never left me, which is why I joined the Peace Corps after college. I was assigned to serve in Poland, a country I’d visited two years earlier. I have to admit: the thought of living there for 24 months scared the crap out of me, mostly because of the devastating loss my grandparents and the rest of my family suffered as a result of the Holocaust. But on one clear and blue day in June, I got on a plane determined to at least give it a try. I thought my grandma, who had passed away two years earlier, would have been proud of me.
Then I fell in love, though not with a person. I fell in love with the Polish language. This deep connection, one I’d never experienced before, involved long and joyous hours of verb conjugations, new vocabulary words, and conversations with friends, colleagues, and sometimes complete strangers – about history, culture, food, sports, and yes, even Poland's role in the Holocaust. I can still vividly remember the first time I purchased a train ticket entirely in Polish. I lay down on the bed that night and did not sleep a wink. I was in heaven.
After becoming a mom, it felt like those glorious days were behind me for good. Then I walked into a Spanish drop-in class at Multilingual Chicago. I knew right away that this place was special. Owned by a local mom who believes language is one the most enduring gifts we can give to our children, Multilingual Chicago makes fun, silliness, immersion, respect, and joy the foundation of the learning experience. I loved every minute of our class. Knowledgeable and passionate, the teacher engaged the kids and grownups in the room with equal zest, and the hour flew by. I tapped into that rusty Spanish of yesteryear as well as the gal who once thought she could take on the world. In that moment, I felt a little piece of the heaven I had first discovered during my Peace Corps days.
Even better, I had a ton of fun with the other adults in the room. Too often after my daughter was born, I felt either bored or lonely during our activities together. Story hour, drumming circles and even play spaces were fine for her but duller than dull for me (am I a bad mom for saying that?). This class was one of the few times I felt I could socialize, learn, and have fun right along with the kiddos.
I’m so proud to be helping Multilingual Chicago get the word out about their winter classes. Head over there now and register your kid for a class that you can take together. Or, if your child is over 3, register for a class and then go play for a few hours. Read a book or work in Multilingual Chicago’s charming café, which has free WiFi and complimentary hot beverages. Go run some errands or hit the gym, knowing all the while that your child is on an unforgettable journey of language and discovery.
Where will my child's journeys take her? I certainly have no idea. Maybe someday I’ll get to dust off that old passport and, along with my daughter, head off for a new adventure. Only this time she'll lead the way, thanks to her fabulous language skills. She'll have her chance to explore and conquer the world, thanks to her fabulous language skills. And that, my friends, is magical indeed.
(Here is their winter class schedule. And, in case it wasn't clear above, please note that Multilingual Chicago, headed by local mom and smartie Jill Kushner Bishop, is a client of mine over at Families in the Loop.)