When I was on maternity leave, my son was with me all day, every day. I was constantly talking, singing, and reading to him in Polish. My husband and I noticed that our son seemed to respond more to Polish than English. For example, at his first birthday party, our son stared blankly at his guests who were singing “Happy Birthday.” Yet his face lit up and he started clapping as soon as the guests started singing the Polish birthday song (“Sto Lat”).
I don’t know if my son was more responsive to Polish because he was more familiar with Polish sounds or because the language sounded like the one mama speaks. Either way, during that time, I felt like I had this whole bilingualism thing figured out—I was exposing my son to the Polish language and I was seeing him react to it. Simple, right?
Going back to work full time was an emotional struggle. I tend to suffer from major mommy guilt over everything, so returning to work wasn’t any different. Aside from feeling guilty for being away from my son for hours during the day, five times a week, I worried that this separation will negatively affect our bilingual efforts. I felt, and still occasionally feel, that I was/am failing him and sabotaging his bilingualism by taking away his sole connection to the language (me). I worry that our limited time together during the work week is not enough to sustain his Polish acquisition.
By no means am I going to go back on my promise to raise my son bilingual. I just hope that I won’t become too discouraged when I see the effects of his English surroundings potentially overshadowing his Polish skills. I know that sounds crazy and irrational given that we live in the United States and my son’s father is monolingual. However, every time my son turns to give me a kiss when I ask him to give me buzi or races to the bathroom when I tell him it is time for his kąpiel, I know that undertaking this bilingual journey will be worth it, no matter how challenging it may be in the coming years.