Thursday, April 12, 2007


My six-year-old doesn’t have to talk behind my back. He can snow me to my face. Sure, I’ll hear him, but won’t understand a word.

He’s teaching his little brother and sister his secret code-talk too. Together, each morning over soggy, brown sugar glazed cubes of shredded wheat and OJ, they conspire in foreign tongues. Suddenly, I’m a stranger in my own house, surrounded by miniature foreigners who look quite like me but speak peculiar words that only they can comprehend.

(Depending on your perspective, you could say that English in California is a foreign tongue. If you agree with that contention, then you might also view Spanish as the state’s indigenous language, like I do. Analyzing exactly who within the Golden State is a “foreigner” and who is not is another blog topic for another day, along with Manifest Destiny, the Mexican American War and the United States’ seizure of California from Mexico, etc.)

My children might soon box me out of the family communication equation and I couldn’t be prouder. What a very dramatic and ridiculous way to allude to The Lawyer’s recent and impressive sudden acquisition of Spanish. (Hey … I’m struggling to blog tonight without complaining for once. Not complaining is something I hope to do more of in “real” life as well but don't hold your breath.)

Thanks to the bilingual curriculum at the progressive dual immersion Charter school we transferred The Lawyer to only weeks ago, he’s picking up America's second most common language far faster than I ever expected. He’s even picked up a hint of a Latin accent when he speaks English.

Yesterday I dropped in on his end-of-the-day homeroom “circle time,” as parents are encouraged to do any time without prior announcement or appointment, with my two youngest and visiting 9-year-old niece. (The kids and I hang out in his multi-grade classes once or twice a week and almost always tag along on his Friday field trips. Aren’t we so cool? Is there a way to say that without sounding like a braggart Alpha mom?)

In Spanish, the Lawyer’s homeroom teacher asked the circle huddled kindergarten, first- and second-grade kids to reflect on their school day and share a sentence or two on what they enjoyed the most. When it came time for the Lawyer to share -- after his cousin bravely quenched a fidgety boy’s curiosity about whether or not she was a newly enrolled student or just a visitor -- I expectantly set my maternal gaze on him. I thought for sure he'd speak English, like his fellow native English speakers (each individual grade is comprised of 10 native Spanish speakers and 10 native English speakers).

Don’t quote me because I can’t understand much Spanish outside of hola, adios and piso mojado, but my son began his circle time contribution something like this, “Yo gusto de él cuando…” He went on about his day in Spanish for almost a full minute. I was blown away. I couldn’t hold back a fulsome 100-watt, proud-mama-dork smile.

I whispered in his ear, “I’m so impressed with your Spanish! What did you say?” He shrugged, looked back at me as if to say, “What’s the big deal, mom?” and uttered nothing.

Later, on the bumper-to-bumper way home from school, from downtown to our suburban enclave, I beat a dead horse by asking just as his teacher did, “What did you like best about school today?”

He replied, simply, “Todo.”

“What’s ‘todo’ mean?” I asked.

“Everything, mom,” he sighed. “I liked everything, okay? Can we talk about something else now?”

Geez, you’d think he were a tormented teen already. I never fail to pepper him with 100 questions on our way home about who he ate lunch with, who he played with and what they played at recess and what he learned, etc. Maybe my routine Q & A is growing moldy for him.

I suppose it isn’t terribly remarkable that The Lawyer can speak another language. Many kids around the world can and do every single day. Perhaps his Spanish acquisition so far might not reflect much more than simple parroting and a salutation stolen here and there. Yet, I'm still in awe.

Tonight my little bilingual beginner skipped through along the kitchen slate as I flipped turkey burgers singing snippets from a song called Buenos Dias that he sings often in Spanish chorus. Earlier in the day, when we picked his little brother up from an experimental extended day at preschool, he greeted his sibling with an exuberant, “Hola, hermano!” I think that means “Hi brother!” I don’t know for sure. The pair hugged in the curt way that grown American men do, barely touching chests while rapid-firing palm pats on each other’s back. Next they raced to the swings, where together they sang a Spanish jingle they’d obviously practiced with each other unbeknownst to me, some ditty about “uno elephante mas.”

"Te amo, mama," ("I love you, mom") was the last thing The Lawyer said to me as he climbed into his daddy's car to head off for school this morning. Te quiero también, hijo.

No, maybe my little linguists aren't conspiring against me. Not just yet. At the top of this post I was simply imagining that they very well could in their coming Spanish heavy elementary school years, just as my parents spoke a sneaky French-English hybrid when they didn’t want me to hear them talk about me or people we knew in a less than favorable light. If their daddy and I don’t catch up with them and pick up Spanish soon, we might be left in the monolingual lurch.

What more could three siblings ask for in the age-old kids versus parents war than a shared secret language with which to confuse and undermine the common enemy? What more could their parents hope for than three fully fluent Spanish-speaking travel mates who could help us stumble our way through Spain once more?

Intentaré escribir más mañana. Adios y buenos noches.

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At 12:13 AM, Blogger Iris said...

I grew up with a French speaking father. We learned to speak a bit at home. Now, I am involved with NewMan, whose first language was French, and who speaks it fluently. He has vowed to have me speaking French again. He has been giving me a phrase a day to learn. Though, he has been slacking off a bit lately.

Anyway, Tuc, my baby, is fascinated by this different language and is always asking what I am saying. I was on the phone with NewMan and when I said goodbye I said, "Je t'aime". Tuc askes, "what does that mean?" I tell him, "That is I Love You in French. Can you say I Love You in French?" He promptly repeats, "I love you in French"..... so much for bilingualism.

At 1:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like he takes after his father, who used to come home and speak to me in Japanese, and I hadn't a clue what he said.

At 3:14 AM, Blogger Rach said...

I laughed so much as I read, a big deal for you but everyday life for him. How cool is that? Very soon you are going to be able to sit in the corner head in a wonderful book and have no idea what is going on. Was thinking of suggesting spanish lessons to you, but sometimes ignorance is bliss. Great post

At 1:26 PM, Blogger Mama Sarita said...

That is amazing!! I am so envious of a bilingual education like that. I try to speak spanish to my kids but fail miserably. I am so depressed by the lack of a'melting pot' in the area we live in. Way to go 'abogadito' (little lawyer).

At 2:26 PM, Blogger Domestic Slackstress said...

Abogadito ... Hmmm, Mama Sarita ... I think that could stick.

At 4:51 PM, Blogger ellie bee said...

You are so lucky, or maybe just wise, to have your kid in such a great environment. Learning another language at 6---Fabulous!

At 7:19 AM, Blogger charlottalove said...

I love your post. I was reading it last night laughing out loud. My mom came in and said, "Are you reading (someone else's) blog?" I told her no and that you were just as entertaining. You made the evening for both of us. Gracias!

At 3:24 PM, Blogger Honeybell said...

That is fantastic! I love that he isn't even aware of his unique "bilingualness" (no, that's not a word, but hey, I can only speak English!)

At 7:02 PM, Blogger Domestic Slackstress said...

Charlotta - You made my week. Thanks for the compliments. Thanks to all who visited and commented as well.

At 8:06 PM, Anonymous karentorres said...

Fantistico!! Es muy importante que jente blancos hablan español. y que fantistico tambien que to himo asistir una escuela tan bueno!!

At 6:56 AM, Anonymous healingmagichands said...

Hey, at least they are speaking alanguage for which there is a dictionary available. My little sister and brother invented their own language when they were toddlers. Eventually they gave it up for English though, much to my mother's relief.

At 7:49 AM, Blogger Margot Potter said...

This is good! We are so linguistically challenged in this country. People in other parts of the world all speak multiple languages.

As excellently written post!

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