I’ll tell you what juzgado means: it means judged. And that’s sorta how I’m feeling (yes, I know how much the condition of the delicate flower of my heart means to all of you) after reading Christopher’s post yesterday on the pretension of those who seek Spanish-speaking babysitters.
Christopher didn’t aim it at us per se, but we were looking for the exactly same thing from our full-time babysitter. And while we’re not the most extreme case—the couple that doesn’t speak any Spanish or have any Latin roots—there was a couple in the Times article Christopher referenced that’s a nearly exact analog for us:
Ms. Alarcón [a Spanish-speaking nanny] now works for Yashmin Fernandes, who became fluent in Spanish living and working in Latin America. Ms. Fernandes speaks in Spanish with her daughter; her husband, who is of Puerto Rican heritage, speaks in English. “His family is the Spanish-speaking side,” Ms. Fernandes said, “but I was more adamant about getting a Spanish-speaking nanny.”
My wife is half-Mexican and speaks lovely Spanish. I just bummed around with Cubans as a kid and worked and lived with Mexicans in California long enough to pick it up. My wife and I both had the aspiration—I perhaps more than her—that our kids should learn Spanish at home from a young age. So when my mother-in-law was taking care of the children, she spoke Spanish almost exclusively. And when she moved back to L.A. and we needed a babysitter, we found someone who could do the same.
We learned a lot in the process.
First off, “Spanish-speaking”—for us, anyhow—did not mean cheaper. It’s a conscience thing, really. In all the areas of your life, why would you shortchange the person who is responsible for your child’s safety and well-being? We got a legal resident, and we pay her the most we can afford: $14 an hour, 40 hours a week minimum even when we’re out of town, plenty of paid vacation and sick days whenever she needs them. In return, she takes great care of our kids and doesn’t have to hold down a night-job or hold a grudge against our cheapness. It’s a good deal.
Secondly, it has been wicked difficult to actually get our kids to speak Spanish. Especially Dalia, the 4-year-old. I’ve hinted before that she might actually speak as much Klingon as Spanish. I don’t know what the culprit is. Certainly we’ve been inconsistent; we didn’t do what the couple in the Times piece did: assign one parent to speak Spanish exclusively. But we’ve spoken tons of Spanish over the years, as have her caretakers. Perhaps she feels our eagerness and instinctively bolts from it. Only recently has she begun to actually engage in Spanish. Before, she would flat-out refuse.
I also think that a lot of these parents, especially the ones who don’t speak a second language themselves, underestimate the dominance, from an early age, of English. Kids, always so much smarter than their incontinence would have you believe, instinctively get that we live in an English world, even here in the ethnic Islamophobic stew that is New York state. My daughter’s favorite rejoinder when we would speak Spanish to her was always: “Talk normal, please.” She’s not wrong. English is the norm, especially once kids enter school.
My enthusiasm for this project, then, has died down quite a bit. We still speak Spanish with her when we get inspired to do so. And the babysitter we like so much is Argentinian. Although really, they don’t speak Spanish either—I mean, they go around calling each other Che, and besides, who the hell calls corn choclo, when everyone knows the right way to say it is the Mexican elote?
What these eager parents will end up with is probably something like what we have: a babysitter who speaks heavily accented English with the kids most of the time, out of one-way language fatigue or because the kids insist. Our children may not be learning Spanish, but they are learning to say things like, “We have to go to the airport to catch a fly right now.”
I think we will just have to find a way to spend some time living overseas to make this really stick. So if you have any book advance money lying around, you know how to reach me
Final thought: Trying to get your kid into Harvard by way of that Ecuadorian nanny is dumb, but it’s not the stupidest iteration I’ve heard of parental ambition and bilingualism. That prize belongs to a socialite I met at an Park Avenue dinner party a few years back (I was there reporting, not as a regular invitee). She was from Madrid, her entire family spoke Spanish, but she was refusing to expose her toddler to Spanish for fear that it would delay language (an unfounded fear) and thereby hurt the child on those high-pressure private preschool exams. As I commented on DaddyTypes’s post yesterday (a post with the delightful title Yo Quiero A Spanish-Speaking Nanny), this mother was essentially telling her child: No, Junior, grandma doesn’t understand a word you’re saying, and you have no sense of your own culture and background. But you got into an elite Upper East Side preschool!
Hardly worth the tradeoff.