Wednesday, February 6, 2008

baby babel

In the spirit of too-high expectations of myself, I've been thinking for a while that I need to start speaking in Spanish with Lucy. I spent years of my life learning the language, and a year living it in Argentina. I love its cadences, it's words (how perfect is it that "esperar" means both to hope and to wait?) and just the feeling of stepping into another world with language. I would love my daughter to have an easier time learning than I did. It's still a surprise to me that I managed to stick with grammar long enough to learn pretty fluent Spanish. My language skills are rusty from disuse, but they clean up nicely with consistent practice.
But. Even when not rusty, Spanish is not my native language. Once I get going, I'm pretty comfortable, but comfortable like wearing a wool suit that's slightly too tight. Every time I forget about the itch of oddness, I run over a word I can't remember or don't know, and am caught, immobile. For someone who just occasionally likes to show off a vocabulary of 10 cent words that I can hardly pronounce, not remembering the word for "duck" is disheartening.
Today, I tried, though. For about 45 minutes. It went better than I expected. Our activity is limited, so I could sort of have a cheat-sheet of stuff that we do a lot and learn new words as she does. Words I need: stroller, nap, nurse. Words I don't need so much: protagonist, essay, critic. Can you tell what my major was?) Once I got going, I even started feeling that somewhat awkward comfort. I could do it. I know I could.
It's just, awkward. As if baby care weren't awkward enough. The main problem is the inbetween talk, the stuff you say without thinking, like, "Well, Miss. What are you up to?" and "You're such a snuggle-bum" that don't translate. That feel awkward as heck when you do translate them, and are probably not even correct. What do you say in the spaces when you limit yourself like this? How do you come up with new endearments, new catchphrases? Some of the things I say to her are already crazy, but they sound even more crazy when ineptly morphed into Spanish.
And then there's poor Lucy. She's just getting the hang of understanding what I say. This, after all, is why I want to start speaking SPanish with her, before she's so tied to language that it's more difficult. She still says so little that I can easily come up with translations for everything. But it feels cruel to start saying things she doesn't understand when she had done such a good job of catching on. ("Think you're understanding me, little one? Psych! Just try to keep up now!") Her brain will sort it all out, I know. And the blessedly baby signs help bridge the gap. But still. We'd gone so far.
I want to try, though. It already feels good to speak my adopted language again. I don't think I can keep it up all the time, but maybe before first naps, or every other day, I'll put that slightly uncomfortable suit on, and be grateful for its graceful cut, and the warmth of the too-thick fabric.

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