Monday, February 14, 2000

Do you speak Mom?

It has come to my attention that my children and I do not speak the same language.

I'm not talking here about their native Russian--they've been Americans for five years now, and had precious little language when they came home to begin with. No, this sudden lack of a common language is a recent thing. It's as if, to take a cue from "Star Trek," the universal translator that had been allowing us to understand one another is on the fritz. Sometimes they understand me just fine, and sometimes I might as well be speaking Klingon.

Apparently my daughter's translator works better than my son's, because she often takes it upon herself to interpret for me. That's the only explanation I can find for the fact that she repeats everything I say to him. "Buckle your seatbelt," I say. "Buckle your seatbelt," says she. Her bossy tone is almost exactly the same as mine. I try to convince her that there can only be one Mama, and that would be me. She nods, but in her eyes I can see that she has knowledge in this matter that I do not possess. Perhaps it is just that it is the job of big sisters to be bossy, and she is powerless to resist. Or maybe she knows that without her to pass my message on in a language he can understand, her brother wouldn't listen to me at all.

Which he quite often doesn't. There are the times when I ask him to do something, and he doesn't. There are the times when I ask him not to do something, and he does. Then there are the times when he asks me a question, I answer it, and he asks me exactly the same question again. Clearly, though it sounds to me as though I am speaking English, it's Greek to him. Or else there's some sort of insidious plan afoot to slowly drive me insane.

The Tower of Babel effect explains so many things that have been puzzling me about my children. The other day, I sat down with my daughter and reviewed some material for a test. She didn't know the answers, and so I told her quite clearly what they were. Fifteen minutes later, I asked her the questions again, and she looked at me like she had never heard any of this stuff before. I was worried that perhaps her brain had turned into Swiss cheese, but no--I was just babbling along in my incomprehensible parent language, and though she didn't want to make me feel bad by pointing it out, she can hardly be expected to have understood a thing. Guess the universal translator was glitching out again.

As do all people who don't quite understand each other, we will find ways to communicate, my children and I. Certain gestures, certain looks, certain tones of voice--they know when Mama means business, and are getting better at guessing what on earth I could be wanting. And I am trying to be patient, and speak slowly, and clearly, and loudly, more so with each repetition I have to make. I know that one day they will heed my words once again. Sure hope it happens soon--before they become teenagers, and then their language becomes incomprehensible to me.

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