Thursday, May 5, 2011

This Much I Know

One evening, Lucy yelled, "eagle!" and excitedly pointed to the sky. We live in the Pacific Northwest and eagle sightings aren't rare but also aren't common enough to make them ho-hum. XiXi shielded his eyes and looked up shouting, "eagle!", scanning the sky for whatever it was that might be an eagle. For all he knew it was the clouds. When he saw it, he jumped up and down. "Eagle!! Eagle!!" It was the highlight of his day.

The next morning, some a generic, tiny brown bird landed on our lawn. "Eagle!" XiXi shouted. "No," I told him. "Just bird. Not eagle." He furrowed his brow, pointed at me and sternly said, "eagle." End of discussion.

He knows the names of at least two colors in English--red and green. He knows these because he loves all things automotive and I've pointed out the red and green traffic lights. Red means stop. Green means go. And woe unto the person in front of Mama's minivan who does not immediately gun the engine when a light turns green. "Go, Mama! GO!" he screams from the backseat, almost in a panic. Green means go, dang it. But as much as green can get his dander up, red has him very, very upset. Red means stop, but when Mama turns right on a red light, he's beside himself. "Boo Shur, Mama! No!" Either his Mama is a chronic lawbreaker or something that he "knows" is not absolute. Whichever the case, it upsets him.

This past month it's come to my attention that our language is rife with rule-breakers. And not just rule-breakers, because things like tense and pluralization and spelling are beyond him, but how on any given day one particular thing can be called by many different names and still mean the same thing, or roughly the same thing. I was reading him, "Caps for Sale," last week and on page 2, I made a quick substitution. "Hats! Hats for Sale! Fifty cents a hat!" He'd just learned "hat", why muddy the water with cap? I've never chosen my words more carefully.

He's learning who does what in the family and has us pegged as: the one who rides a bus and plays the cello, the one who drives a red stick shift and plays the guitar, the one who drives a truck and goes to work, the one who drives a minivan and mostly stays home, the one who rides a bus and plays the piano, and the one who rides a bike and owns all of the things he wants to have. If someone besides Rose touches the cello, well, just don't do it. If Mama leaves the house and Baba stays, he's often very put-out. Yesterday, he was cradling something gingerly in his hands. I wondered if it was a bug. He carefully opened his chubby fists, and there inside, were two plastic guitar pics. "Gu Gu" (brother), he whispered, almost reverently.

We had a visit from our Mandarin-speaking friend the other day. On our computer screen, I'd pulled up some photos of the foster village. There were well over a hundred photos in the album and we clicked through them quickly. At one point, he excitedly pointed and motioned that I needed to go back. We scrolled back through and he found the picture he wanted. It was just a street scene in a countryside village, with a few buildings nestled beside green mountains. He told our friend, "I lived there." He looked at it for a long time. He said that he missed it. He missed it a lot sometimes. There, he knew the people. He knew the routine. He knew his place in the routine. Here, he's relearning all of that and if in the process a chickadee gets promoted to an eagle, I doubt the chickadee would mind.


Brooke said...

Goodness, I must be hormonal today because this post has me crying. I can only slightly imagine what he must be going through, and how strong he must be to keep at it day after confusing/frustrating day. You are very effective at portraying the good with the not-so-good in XiXi's life. But there is a part of me, deep down, that feels how difficult this must be for him.
I think you are a remarkable family and I am so thankful for the opportunity to learn from your experiences.

val said...

Just keep loving him....that's what he needs right now!

Julie said...

Oh..the dreaded English language. Summer is reading everything in site these days. The other day we were at Wal Mart and she asked me what "ea" says. I of course told her when two vowels go walkin' the first one does the talkin'..and then she pointed to a sign that said steak house and proudly read "Steek house". I tell ya...what we we thinking with our language.

I love your updates. ;)

Kelly said...

excellent writing Eileen. I think this could be the makings of your next essay entry : )

Jen Bay said...

Very nicely put. He's so blessed that you understand what he's trying to do and figure out. We were just talking about how hard it would be to learn English, with know, no, and now..... He'll be okay, because he has you all.