Tag Archives: language

Wild Child Conversations

28 Feb

“I want to be a hippo when I grow up. What about you, Mommy?” The almost-three-year-old asks me the other day. After I tell him my options, he gleefully scoffs at me. “You’re gonna still be a people. I’m going to be an animal in the zoo!” His tone of voice is mocking me, and his smile is so big it’s its own celebratory dance. These are the kinds of conversations we have. This is how my kid with severe Apraxia can express himself now, glorious sense of humor and all.

The child who worked so hard to talk is now a verbal fountain overflowing with delightful observations, fascinating questions, and creative ideas about the world. A year ago I couldn’t have imagined this explosion of expressive language. Considering that he only had four vowel sounds when he started his speech therapy, all of this is total magic, which I am grateful for daily. We were in the right place at the right time with a lot of support and the perfect speech therapist- a specialist in Apraxia, no less- and all of this talk is the mother-load payoff. So I even try really hard to feel gratitude when he is lying in bed incessantly discussing dinosaurs or construction sites with himself, after I refuse to answer more of his questions because it’s past bedtime.


These are the kinds of questions and comments that are the new norm from this kid:
-What can baby giraffes do when they are born?
-Why does the Earth only have one moon? Mommy, I want to go to Jupiter! Can I go on a spaceship tomorrow?
-Elephants have trunks. Elephants love to drink water with their big trunks!
-How does a dump truck work? How does a snow plow work? How does (x,y,z, ad infinitum) work?
-(In the car) Mommy, go fast! Red means go! (Followed by maniacal laughter because he knows it’s not true.)
-I have my dress on. Now I can go dig!
-There’s a fire somewhere! I have to go put it out with my firetruck and ladder!

Granted, he can’t pronounce a few consonant sounds. He substitutes other sounds instead of a G, K, L, or R. But he’s at age level and folks besides me can understand him most of the time.


Yeah, he almost never wears shoes.

Mostly his grammar is at a good level, but of course I correct some things. “No, baby, we say ‘give it to her,’ not ‘give it to she.’” He looks at me like he can’t believe he got something wrong. “Is that in English or in Spanish?” he asks suspiciously.

His Spanish is coming along, slowly and awkwardly, but it’s coming. His priority words in Spanish are: más (more); leche (milk); basura (trash); and adios (bye), which is followed nevertheless by an extra, “Bye! Have fun!” in English. His accent sounds foreign, and not like he was born in Mexico. But there are words coming out!

He often asks, “How do we say that in Spanish?” The other day he asks, “How do we say melón in Spanish, Mommy?” He’s flummoxed when I tell him that the word is already in Spanish. He only misses half a beat, though. “Mommy, how do we say melón in English?” my determined little language learner asks instead.

Often he just goes around speaking English to everyone, perhaps mixed with a word or two in Spanish, and leaving the onus on the rest of the world to understand or not. “Jayden, give me my chanclas,” he says, and his classmate kindly hands him his flip flops. I suppose he suffered too long in his limited world of a few sounds and lots of miming to be shamed into silence just because he’s speaking the wrong language.


He definitely uses his lexicon to get what he wants, as almost-three-year-olds are apt to do. “Mommy, can I have coffee? Give me coffee. Can I have some coffee? How about now?” Because we drink strong, highly-caffeinated coffee at my house, I don’t usually hand out coffee to my kids, despite it being a Mexican custom. I have let my kids taste my strong, bitter, black coffee, in the hopes that they’ll hate it and quit asking for it. They both loved it for some bizarre reason. So he continues to beg for coffee, especially milky sweet espresso drinks that we sometimes make or buy. I remind him again that at my house, coffee is for grown ups. So finally he says, “Mommy, I’m a grown up! Gimme coffee, Mommy!” He’s so incredibly pleased with himself, with such a wide dirt-eating grin, that I give in. “One drink of coffee for being so funny,” I tell him. That’s right, you get rewarded for a sense of humor in my house. Even with espresso. We’re a wild and crazy bunch.

He comes up with totally random stuff that appears to be important to him for unfathomable reasons. “Mommy, I want a sheep,” he tells me one morning. I ask him about seven times what he’s saying before I understand, because sheep just isn’t on my ear’s radar as something to complete the sentence ‘I want a.’ “A sheep? Like that says ‘baaah’?” I ask to confirm. Indeed. “I’m not bringing any sheep into my house,” I tell him resolutely. “Mommy, I’m going to sleep outside with the sheep then.” There, Mommy, problem solved. He lies down on the floor to demonstrate how he’ll be sleeping outside. “Can we get the sheep today?” He asks. No. “How about tomorrow?” Nope. “Can we get the sheep on Friday?” (Not that he knows when Friday is.) No. “How about for my birthday? Can we get the sheep on my birthday? I’m going to sleep outside with it. Like the other boy.” I have no idea what other boy he is talking about. Someone from a book? From a video? An actual person we’ve seen around? Not a clue, but apparently that boy made a major impression. The answer is still no. Talking can’t get you everything, kid.

He also uses his language to try to internalize our family rules and values, or sometimes just to prove to his sister that he’s in the right and she’s in the wrong. Thus at any given moment he’s walking around firmly touting things like, “We don’t bite people. We bite food.” In a register only slightly quieter than a yell, he suddenly says, “Yes means yes! And no means NO!” I have high hopes for him to be giving workshops on consent someday.

If he’s not too busy being a firefighter or a heavy machinery engineer or a trash collector or a hippo in a zoo, anyway.

Back and Forth and Homes Galore

8 Jan

We’re back! To bare feet on concrete floors. To the happy Jehovah’s Witness’ music pouring in our windows all day on Sunday. To salt tacos, because the handmade tortillas hot off the comal can’t wait for the breakfast to be ready. To coconut water straight from the coconut tree. To trucks that drive by selling oranges or propane or tortillas or drinking water. To men that come to your door with machetes to cut the overgrown weeds in the yard. To dirt roads where dogs and children roam free. To iguanas and crowing roosters and herds of goats for neighbors. To lighting the stove with matches and the absence of a microwave. To clothes hanging from the line. To only cold water in the shower. To not needing lights during daytime because the sun streams in through the over-sized windows that take up nearly half of each wall. To tank tops and cut-off shorts and walking around dancing from all the energy the heat gives me.

All this, less than twenty four hours since our return to the alternate universe that is our life in Puerto Escondido. We’re just two days and three airplanes away from the alien world called Savannah, Georgia- the one we grew accustomed to after six months. One day back here, though, and it’s hard to believe that we were just living in the United States. You can tell, though, by the fancy toothbrushes the kids have now (the electric kind Lucia begged me for, which I justified when Khalil’s speech therapist suggested it), and “whatever that thing is that you’re charging,” said Conan. I have a hair product for the first time in my life (to minimize the frizz, y’all). The kids have their own Kindle (there’s not much access to books here). The kids have a bunch of clothes that are not hand-me-downs (we don’t know that many people in Savannah yet). We might have slightly fancier stuff than when we left, but I’m sure we are not too fancy, even if I might have hollered a little at the slightly chilly water this morning.

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Air travel, by Lucia and Papi

There will be some adapting to do, though. The most obvious of which will be language for the kids. Keeping up with their Spanish proved harder than I thought. My plan was to speak it with them daily, for at least an hour a day, and slowly switch over to speaking 90% Spanish with them. However, between working part-time, homeschooling Lucia/being a stay-at-home parent with them both during the day, learning sign language, taking Khalil to speech therapy three times a week and practicing at home, and all the other important survival things for the three of us, I was not a rock star at maintaining their Spanish language skills.

In fairness to my rock star parenting (haha), Lucia did not have the best attitude about Spanish for a good bit of our US life. “Why are you speaking Spanish to me?” she’d ask like I just peed in the bathtub. I know; it’s hard for me to switch languages with some people, but she was seriously resistant for a while. I enrolled her in a kids’ Spanish class to try to make it more fun than just talking with Mommy. It helped, but by the time she liked it she’d already lost a giant portion of her expressive language. Lucia left Puerto speaking a fabulous version of Spanglish; her English strong from speaking it with both parents at home, her Spanish strong from school and all the other play with kids in Spanish. She still understands Spanish pretty well, but it’s going to cost her some time to get back to where she was. She’s nervous about seeing all her friends and not being able to communicate with them as well as she’d like to. There’s nothing to do but keep showing up, though. Like so many times in life.

With Khalil, I’m completely intrigued as to how the language struggle will go. He left here totally bilingual in his understanding, and with a few words in Spanish and a few words in English. I couldn’t be more pleased to announce that he’s totally fluent in English now! Khalil was most honorably discharged from speech therapy back in mid-December. He is a talking fool; “I can say everything now, Mommy; I’m not a baby anymore.” (Ok, there are a couple consonants he can’t do still, but it’s age-level error.) He can say a couple of things in Spanish from our occasional practice time at home, but I’m not sure how difficult his Apraxia of Speech will make it to get fluent. I’m not sure if the sound sequences will have to be practiced in the same Apraxia-specific way the English ones were, or if it’ll be similar enough for him to work it out on his own with time. We shall see!

At least my kids will not suffer the same fate as my Nonna. She had forgotten all her English when she went back to the US from Italy at one point as a child. The nuns at her school would send her home every day, with a message to not bring her back until she could speak English. Her mother, of course, kept sending her back anyway, because, as she finally pleaded her case, “Where do they think she’s going to learn English if they keep sending her home from school?!” My mom told Lucia this story when she started worrying about going back to her “old school.” My children are happily returning to their school tomorrow, where I am sure that no one will send them home, where the teachers will be patient and understanding, where the other kids will rapidly reintegrate them into the circle, because that’s the kind of wonderful environment that exists there. Their school is definitely one of the things we’ve been pining for. The kids are looking forward to a fun place to play with a lovely group of other kids, and I can’t wait to have some place to send them five days a week. I suspect that readapting to school will be a joy for us all.

I do remember all my Spanish, but I still have my adapting work cut out for me. I have to find a new job and transition into this next phase of life in Puerto. I have to figure out what our next life transition looks like, and how to make it happen. I’m constantly evaluating what home means.
On the one hand, Puerto Escondido feels more like home than Savannah, from all the time, sweat and tears of making it home from scratch. On the other hand, being in Savannah gets us so much closer to so many of the people that we love. But it’s unclear if and when Conan would be able to move there. (That’s a topic for another time.) So I’m constantly thinking about the privilege of being able to decide where I live, and the emotional weight of that decision, especially when one is making decisions for their children. I debate with myself constantly about our most important needs in life and how to make that happen. What are the things and relationships that we each most need in life to grow and be healthy and, at least some of the time, happy? I have more heartache than answers.

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Lucia obsessively draws houses these days. My little artist searching for answers in her way. 

“When you have many homes, and many people who love you,” I tell Lucia when she’s missing someone, “You get to feel very, very happy, but not always all at once.” I hold her and let her cry. “It means we’ll always be missing someone, always longing for some other piece of home. But it also means we’re really luck. We have so much family in different places! Not everyone gets to have different homes.” I console myself right along with her.

And on the hardest days, I listen to my favorite Ani DiFranco song:
“Do you prefer the easy way? No? Well then, ok, don’t cry….. I do it for the joy it brings. Because I am a joyful girl. Because the world owes us nothing. We owe each other the world.”

Home, maybe, is not a place at all, but just a state of mind.


Bilingual Baby Speak, Take Two

26 Jan

Supposedly it’s common for kids growing up in multilingual environments to take more time to talk. Whether that’s the reason or not, my littler little one is definitely a case study in resisting the grown-ups’ languages. Rapidly approaching age 2, young Khalil still only has about a 6 word vocabulary. But he sure can get all his relevant points across with his limited lexicon.

“M” words are at the top of his list, since they include all the things necessary for his survival: more (duh- more everything, please), ma (meaning both “my” and “mine,” always accompanied by pointing to or beating on his chest), and mum (mama, but apparently he’s part Irish like his Papi* and prefers mum).

For instance, when I caught him drinking honey out of the jar this morning, he didn’t even look guilty; instead he blithely asked for more, since the jar was now empty.

When he heard me talking on the other side of the door at his preschool, he B-lined for the door, which I deduced because I heard a clear and steady stream of “Mum…. Mum…. Mum…. Mum…” Then I heard his teacher ask, “Where are you going, Khalil?” to which he replied, of course, “Mum.” When he sees something that he knows is only for Mommy and Papi to touch, he goes “Mum,” and then shakes his head and points to himself. When he sees a beer can? “Mum.” That’s right, kiddo, that’s right. When Papi comes home? Also “Mum.” Until Khalil makes it to the P sound, Papi gets to be the other Mommy.


These are ma delicious fingers, thank you, says Khalil

The only word that he says in Spanish so far is “uno.” He uses it to count, of course. When we do his asthma inhaler, I count and he also counts, except his counting sounds like this: “uno, uno, uno, uno, uno….” He also uses the word uno to indicate a garafon (big water jug) truck, or anything else he finds interesting that there is one of. A dump truck? UNO!! A bird? UNO! A piece of candy? UNO! (accompanied by ma! and chest beating) Conan has invented his own game for this, which goes something like this: “Khalil, how many Mommys are there?” Khalil: “Uno!” “How many cats in the house?” (Etc.) Khalil has a good concept of mathematics, too. If there are two dump trucks he’ll say “uno” and “more.” And when a whole flock of birds flies into the sky? Latalatalatalata (which we interpret as a lot of a lots: alotalotalotalot)



He’s working on the b sound, since that also contains some favorites. He attempts to say bread and bird and book, although none of them are clear out of context. He makes a grunting noise that starts when the b sound to mean big, which is one of my favorite semi-words of his.

He added two words in one week recently, and for a second there, I thought we must be headed for rapid progress in language development. Turns out, though, he was just really inspired by these two things, because no further words have been added in the weeks since. One of the inspirations is the word Elmo, although I didn’t even realize that he had a clue who Elmo was, since Khalil has zero attention span for videos (I’m not complaining, don’t worry). But he found a pair of Lucia’s old Elmo underwear and was ecstatic, and emphatic about the word Elmo. Now even the Cookie Monster towel is Elmo and it is his exclusive property, thank you.

Equally as emphatic and clear, he also added the word “vulva” to his vocabulary that week. And in case you thought it might have been a mistake, don’t fool yourself. He started using it at bath time, one night that the three of us were bathing at the same time (them in a tub, me in the shower). He pointed at mine and said, “vulva.” He pointed at Lucia’s and said, “vulva.” And finally, he pointed at his own genitals and said, “vulva.” I tried to tell him that his had a different name, but he is pretty determined to also call his a vulva, so I’ve decided it’s best just to go with it for now. Of course it’s become a torture technique for Lucia, to taunt Khalil, singing, “You don’t have a vulva! You have a penis!” And Khalil grabs his and goes, “Vulva!” And Lucia repeats her taunt, ad nauseam until I break up the fight. Leave it to my kid to be a 6 word wonder who uses the word vulva on the daily. So fitting.

And really Elmo and vulva are basically the same in both languages, so perhaps I can count that as four words, as a Spanish part  and an English part of his bilingual lexicon.

If you count animal sounds as words, then we can double his toddler terminology. He’s particularly fond of owls, apparently, because two of his cloth diapers have owls on them and just about every time I change his diaper he goes, “whoowhoo.” He can also howl at the moon to indicate a wolf. Oh and I forgot he can say “moon”- another m word not as obviously imperative as his mum, but pretty darned important (particularly for howling purposes). Because he can say moon, obviously he can moo like a cow just as well as Elsie herself. He makes a sad little whiney meow when he’s imitating a cat- possibly because he’s always abusing our cat- pulling her tail or petting her so forcefully it’s essentially hitting. “Baa” is a classic of his, since we have goats and sheep around our neighborhood. “Baa” is his go-to phone conversation, so much so that Lucia coaches him when he’s talking to one of the grandparents. “Say ‘ba,’ Khalil,” she suggests, and he does. I can sense his building up to the rooster sound, because he bangs on the door in the morning till I open it up so he can observe our neighbor’s rooster come pecking around and crowing. He can’t say “neigh” yet either, but he gallops on the broom really well.

Despite his rather meager vocabulary, this is one communicative child. Uninterested in television, he can video-chat play with my mom for like 30 minutes, while my four year old is only interested for about 5 minutes.  He tells me about the things that have happened in his day, between sounds and demonstrations. He reenacts falls and other mishaps like a natural thespian. When he wants food, he says, “yum” and pretends to put something in his mouth, or else he goes and bangs on the fridge door until you open it and he shows you exactly what he wants.

He shakes his head and/or wags his finger at everything that’s a no. This “no” technique is especially useful in letting you know what’s not for you or to make comparisons. Like he’ll point to his Elmo underwear and say, “Elmo. Ma.” Then he’ll point to your underwear region and shake his head no and say, “Elmo,” until you confirm that indeed, his underwear has Elmo and yours does not. His shirt has a shark and yours does not. He even jokes with his “no” game. That’s his potty and not yours. No, Mommy, that’s his sweet big belly, not yours. Those are his 7 bananas and none are for you. That coffee is his and… No? He’ll smile slyly when he knows it’s not his. The kid can even joke without using real words!

What more could any kid really need to say? Language is for the birds! And wolves and goats, too.



*Sorry, inside joke. I’ll leave you wondering whether he’s really Irish or not. Bwahahaha.