Bilingual baby babbling

This is the first of what will definitely be many posts on bébé’s language skills. He’s moved on from the “making noise” stage and there is some serious bilingual baby babbling happening. The past few weeks especially seem to have been very interesting (though maybe I’ve just been paying more attention?).

With most of his progress in reaching various milestones (sitting up, crawling, walking), I’m always surprised at how gradual it really is. I think when you don’t spend a lot of time around babies, you imagine these things as big jumps that happen overnight. And while sometimes it can be like that (just today, he stacked 4 blocks by himself, after weeks of simply watching me do it), for many things it’s much slower. I thought walking would be all of a sudden, he just stands up and off he goes! Maybe there are some babies who do it like that, but ours took his time, holding onto furniture, then holding our hands, then pushing up from downward dog (babies are the ultimate yoga masters!) into standing, then alternating walking and crawling, and finally, walking and standing consistently. And there was no real definitive “first steps” hallmark moment. There was the first time I saw him do it, the first time his father saw him, the first time his mamie saw him, etc.

For the moment, language is more gradual than I expected. I think it’s my parents’ fault, telling me about my first word. They said I walked around a family dinner with a book saying “buh buh buh” and then finally “book! book! book!” So I had this idea that bébé would just go from making sounds to making fully-formed words.

That’s not really what he’s doing, but what is actually happening is pretty cool. It’s a mixture of sounds and gestures and syllables. It’s more about communication than words. So when people ask if he’s speaking yet, I say “sort of” because it’s speech that only parents would recognize as such!

Some of his “words” include:

  • “Mo”: food/more. This is kind of my “fault” because I did a little sign language with him starting with solid foods, to see if that would help him tell us what he wanted. The only one I did consistently was “more” and I’m pretty sure he thinks it just means “food.” So I’ve been trying to respond with things like “more milk? more applesauce?” to show him the difference.
  • “Gah”: gâteau. There is very little doubt about this one! His mamie is a typical grandparent and gives him quite a few treats while he’s with her twice a week.
  • “Shah”: cat! He uses the “sh” sound more frequently than the “ka” for cat, and I’m not sure why, since I’m pretty sure he hears us say it in English more. However, he also really likes “The very hungry caterpillar” and he tends to use “ka” for the book, so I know he can make the sound.
  • “Nah”: thank you? I am less sure about this one, but when he asks for a “gah” and I give it to him, he says “nah”, so I have to assume his mamie is also teaching him good manners!
  • “Aga”: again. I first noticed him saying this after singing “The itsy bitsy spider” which ends with the word “again.” Now he says it for books, songs and toys too, helped along by me asking him “again?” usually in an exasperated tone, as he never wants something “aga” only once, usually about five times.
  • “Mmmm”: delicious! This is another one his mamie taught him. It’s not so much a word as the sound along with rubbing his belly. Seriously the cutest thing ever. I would say this helps us figure out what foods he likes, but he doesn’t do it for every food he eats, and when he doesn’t like something, he just spits it out, lol.
  • “Sa”: pretty sure this is for the French nursery rhyme “Savez vous planter les choux,” since he also points his finger down and taps at the same time.

As is typical for this age, he understands more than he can say, and if we ask him to get certain books, he can. His mamie taught him to open and close his mouth like a fish when she asks “Comment il fait le poisson?” and he won’t do it if I ask in English (What does the fish do?). So it seems like he’s already associating certain languages with certain people/situations. We don’t do one parent/one language, but rather a “home” language (English) and a “community” language (French). This will obviously switch when we move to the States, so it’s more a “minority language at home” method, and so far it seems to be working for our family. He makes both Englishy and Frenchy sounds, likes and remembers nursery rhymes in both languages, and doesn’t seem phased when either is spoken to him. The bits of German and Italian he’s getting is another story . . .

Timeline of a US spouse visa

While figuring out the details of our move to the States, a big factor in deciding when we would move was obviously when my husband could get his visa. There is a great website (not an official government site),, that I poured over for ages, looking for a timeline of a US spouse visa similar to our situation: the US citizen is already living abroad with their spouse.

This is actually not as common as you might think, at least in France, if you go by the posts on the site (which, admittedly, is a very small sample size!). Most of the information I saw was for fiancé visas. It makes sense that this is the more frequent type of visa, since if you meet someone from another country, you’ll probably decide to get married in the country you’ll be living in. The timeline for those visas are much quicker, since they skip a step and go straight to the Embassy in Paris for the last part of processing.

If you get married abroad and then the US citizen goes back to the States to wait for their spouse to get the visa, this can take a very long time, if there is no possibility to file directly with the embassy. This has been the situation in France for the past few years, and you have to mail everything to the states first.

This first step, just petitioning the USCIS for a spouse visa including all the proof that it’s a real marriage, can take at least 5 months to get approved (and costs over 400 dollars that is not refunded if you don’t get approved!). Then once it’s approved, it goes to the National Visa Center and you pay more fees and submit all the financial documents required. This part can actually go fairly quickly if you have everything together and aren’t missing any documents. But it’s still at least two or three months. First the NVC has to get your file from the USCIS and put it into the system. Then certain forms are only available once certain fees are paid, and vice versa. Then once everything is submitted, they have to review it, which they say takes a minimum of 30 days (and there have been times they say it’s 60 days). You can speed things up a bit if you call them for certain information rather than waiting for emails or letters. But then you still have to wait for the interview, which can take awhile depending on the embassy.

Overall, it’s a minimum of 8 or 9 months, which is not that long when thinking about a 50-year marriage, but if you’ve ever been in a long distance relationship, even a week can last forever. A lot of people wait even longer, because the first part, getting the USCIS to approve the petition, can take quite some time if you forget documents, or if they ask for additional information. There are ways of requesting an expedite, but for US citizens living abroad, there is kind of an unofficial, automatic expedite. The first part with USCIS actually goes very quickly, about one month instead of five. I haven’t been able to find a reason for this, but my theory is that as long as a US citizen is living abroad, their income can’t be taxed (up to a certain amount), so they speed things up to get you back as fast as possible . . . Whatever the reason, if the NVC and embassy are also quick in their processing times, the overall waiting time is reduced to around 6 months.

In our situation, things went about as fast as they could, and even faster for some things. From the day I sent the first documents to the USCIS to the day my husband had his interview in Paris, it was about five and a half months, which I believe is only a little bit longer than it used to take when you could file directly at the embassy. In large part this was thanks to the super advice I found on that meant I submitted all of the documents needed without errors, but also it was just luck. The NVC was reviewing things in about 3 weeks instead of 30 days when our case came through. They had been having issues with their computers earlier in the year, which meant payments and reviews were delayed, and that could have easily happened to us instead. But I tend to be an optimistic person, and anyway, if things had taken longer, we had jobs and a creche lined up for bébé, so no big deal if we moved in Spring instead of Winter.

That being said, we had set the rough goal to be in the States for the next Superbowl (my husband’s a big American football fan), so we’d definitely have been a little bummed to wait too much longer. But once all the papers were sent in, I couldn’t really do anything about how long things would end up taking. However, I also knew that once he had the visa, we had to enter the states within 6 months so we didn’t want to start in January and have an interview in June or July. Also, if you submit financial documents before taxes are due April and your interview is after, you’ll just need to resubmit the updated documents anyway. Still, I could have started things a little earlier than I did and have had more control over the timeline, since until you send in all the financial documents to the NVC they won’t review your case, and you can reschedule the embassy visit. In the end, it worked out pretty much the way we needed.

I’ll probably do one or two more posts about certain details of the process (like the financial documents since we had a joint sponsor), but really, the website I mentioned above is amazing, especially for someone like me who likes to over-plan and look at lots of numbers and figures before doing something. Every situation will be different, of course, but knowing about when everything should happen was very reassuring.

A month of yoga

After my half marathon in September, I needed a rest from running. Also, the weather suddenly got COLD. Like, skipped autumn and went straight to winter cold. I hate running in the cold. It is zero fun for me.

Knowing October would also be the start of my part time and the beginning of the move craziness, I wanted something very chill. In my search for post-run stretching routines, I came across a YouTube channel, Yoga with Adriene, that had a 30 day challenge. As my willingness to run for hours on end probably hinted at, I love challenges!

I’ve been doing yoga on and off since college, and more frequently during different periods (like the few months before and after having a baby), so I know most of the poses and terminology. Though I missed a few days towards the end, I managed to do all 30 videos and finished today (instead of Friday). It’s pretty cool to feel the difference now. I can hold plank pose for many many minutes at at time, I attempted crow pose, and my legs are a bit less bent in certain poses.

It’s not magic; my old lady back still hurts in the morning, my heels don’t touch the ground in downward dog and probably never will, and as long as my work involve 8 hours in front of a computer, my shoulders will be hunched. But seeing little bits of progress, trying lots of new things, and being in a better mood on the days I managed to do it made October a tiny bit less stressful. It was still an insane month, but forcing myself to make that time everyday was a very good exercise in self-care that is becoming more of the rule rather than the exception.

Running makes me listen to my body in one way, and this was a new way to do that. I don’t know what my challenge will be this month (besides, you know, planning an international move!) but I will definitely be adding a little more yoga to my regular routine, rather than just an afterthought to my more strenuous workouts. So thanks Adriene for your great yoga challenge!