I am lying on Tar Beach, a precariously angled little spit of roof outside my friend, Heather’s dorm room. As soon as the weather cooperated, the girls began climbing through the window with four-packs of cold Zima’s and a boom box — all we needed to sit and watch the world go by below.
I close my eyes and listen to my friend, Kati talking to her sister, who is visiting from New York. My lips curl into an involuntary smile.
After a time, I finally give up on trying to parse out the words – translating the Spanish ones, processing the English ones, picking apart the ones in between. Oh, how I love the ones in between. Once my brain stops trying to keep up, I open up. I begin to FEEL the words.
I am in awe of their shared language, the product of their bilingual upbringing.
Their words are ripe and juicy, full of vivid colors and aching feelings and vibrant flavors and my God, how I envy them the breadth of their lexicon and the precision of communication that it affords them. While I might have three words to convey a given idea, they have a seemingly endless supply from which to choose. If neither English nor Spanish has exactly the right one for exactly the right thought, they create it – an amalgam of the two. Their language is worn and shaped over time like a river rock, the edges smooth until the feelings are IN the words, ARE the words.
There is an intimacy inherent in their interaction. No matter how banal the topic of their conversations, I always feel like an intruder around them, peeping furtively through a keyhole, seeing something too deep and too authentic to be so casually witnessed.
They laugh at my awe.
“It’s just Spanglish,” they say.
One night, I ask her to start counting without me. I promise to follow. Then I lay perfectly still and listen.
And there it is – a faint scratching sound on the comforter.
She is scratching out the numbers with her fingernails.
Two more nights and I am sure.
“Baby, did you scratch out the numbers on the blanket?”
Over time, the scratching turns into rubbing and the rubbing turns into tapping.
One day I ask if I can tap the numbers too.
Now, every night, we choose a number, she grabs my hand and says, ‘We would do the tappies.” And we do. Together. Nothing makes me happier.
The world demands that we interact with it in its own language. A language that Brooke does not instinctively speak. Day in and day out, she must find a way to function within it. To translate nearly every thought and feeling and impulse and mode of communication into something else – something ‘expected’ and ‘acceptable’ and ‘intelligible’ to everyone around her.
I am so grateful for the moments when none of those machinations are necessary – the fleeting instants in which I can, in my own way, tell her that I get it. That there’s someone in this world with whom she can speak her own language and be understood. I wish I could do so much more of it than I currently can. It is a gift to both of us.
After dinner, Brooke wants me to join her upstairs.
I tell her that I’m having my coffee with Daddy, but if she wants to go, I’ll come right behind.
She says, “okay,” but her voice is high and tight.
Katie clears her throat. She’s been coughing through dinner and Brooke is on edge.
Her entire body tenses. Her shoulders come up to her ears, her fingers curl in on themselves, the muscles in her neck clench and pull at the corners of her mouth.
Luau tries to lighten the moment, “Hey, give me a kiss, kiddo!”
We often play a game where after one parent gets a kiss the other says, “Hey! What about meeeeee?”
This isn’t the time.
Her body is screaming, “I have to get out of here.”
I whisper to him, “Don’t push it; she’s struggling.”
My girls are growing up in a trilingual household.
One that communicates in two different native tongues.
One of which is much better understood when we stop trying to translate it – when our brains stop trying to keep up – and we instead open ourselves up and feel it.
And a third that is an amalgam of the other two – worn and shaped over time like a river rock, its edges smoothed by the water until the feeling is what’s left.
There is an intimacy inherent in our interaction — something too deep and too authentic to be taken for granted.
We speak Brookelish.
A ripe and juicy language, full of vivid colors and aching feelings and vibrant flavors.
And I am so, so grateful for the expanded lexicon.