What I fear most these days is not understanding something my son says. Because lately this triggers a fit of frustration worthy of the Terrible Twos but with the physical fearsomeness of a taller-than-average three-year-old. This tonic-clonic seizure – complete with punching, biting, kicking and wailing, in Italian, “Why don’t you understand me?” – can last up to forty-five minutes and can be rekindled with the mere recollection of the incident at any time over the next few days. I’ve become pretty good at simultaneously protecting my orifices and other vulnerable bits while being accused of lack of comprehension. I believe that in some kingdoms people are beheaded for less.
But it’s not fair. There are only a handful of people in our New-Zealand-U.S.-Italy circle who can understand my son’s speech – those who are fluent in both English and Italian – and one of them has since moved to France. Add to that the little man’s idiosyncratic pronunciation in both languages (e.g. “King’s bud king’s bed” is SpongeBob SquarePants, “dove” is due, two), his creative grammar and invented words (“ra-ra” for cracker), and you have yourself one cryptic crossword.
And of those five (now, four) people who could possible understand my three-year-old, I’m the most adept at interpreting sentences like “Mi voglio take off cacca: need la fizzitti” (Voglio togliermi una caccola dal naso: mi serve un fazzoletto, I want to take a booger out of my nose: I need a tissue). Other people run to me for translations. And tissues.
The price I pay for this expertise is the little man’s expectation that I will understand absolutely everything he says. When I don’t understand something, in order to avoid the breaking-loose of Hell Almighty, I say yes and quickly change the subject. Avoiding eye contact here is essential. But if he senses my weakness and says, “Tu no capito” (You no understand), the fury is unleashed, and all I can do is brace myself for the long haul. I’ve tried talking, reasoning, scolding, empathizing, distracting, walking out, begging, screaming – sometimes all within the first minute. Nothing works.
This morning’s fit was over the mystery phrase “savi-et”, uttered softly as I stepped out of the kitchen. In my defense, I had been washing the pancake pan as he watched a cartoon, so the word was for me completely devoid of context. I nodded knowingly and said in Italian, “Uh-huh. That’s right, honey.”
I sat beside him and took a few stabs in the dark – Salt? Sorry? Someone? – before getting kicked in the gut. I tried mouthing the sounds syllable by syllable, incensing him further. Then I was sure I had it: he’d just eaten blueberry pancakes with his hands, so he must be needing a wet wipe. “Salvietta!” I called out triumphantly. That’s when my nearly-healed cold sore became cracked open by a Spiderman sock.
I had to work more logically here. I asked what language the word was from. “'Glese,” he answered. That was unfortunate because it didn’t sound like any kind of English I knew, and I’m an English teacher. I asked if it was a toy or a person? Something from the cartoon or something here in the living room? Animal, mineral or vegetable?
His ear-piercing scream concerned me. Is screaming a sign of actual epilepsy? I tried holding him down, stroking his now sweaty hair. “You’re angry, aren’t you? It’s so hard when someone doesn’t understand you.” Then I got toppled over on the couch in sumo-wrestling style. “I need some context here!” I said, determined not to scream myself this time.
“Savi-ET!” he said, clicking into desperation. “Perché tu no capito?!”
I tried flattery. “You are so good at talking. Did you know that you speak not one, but two, languages? You’re an amazing little boy! You’re speaking just fine, it’s me who’s the stupid one who doesn’t understand.” And then, “How about a book? Would you like me to read you a story?”
Twenty-five minutes later, the anger and the tears had finally run out of steam. His little fists softened and wrapped around my neck. He nodded when I mentioned our shared eye color, the cat. I saw a weak smile. But no words other than a shaky “saviet”. What ultimately ended the matter was a familiar request, my son’s elixir as well as (in this case) an olive leaf. “Ciocco-a-a. Dove.”
Chocolate. Two pieces. That I understand.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Thursday, September 1, 2011
The other day I received an extremely precious package – compact, with compact handwriting and a small stamp with the word “Italy”. Yay! No, it’s not the anti-ageing cream I ordered, or the smuggled buffalo mozzarella, or even my son’s underwear left on our world travels and sent back to us laundered and folded. Even better.
È una piccola tazzina di caffè, il colore di un cielo mattutino ricoperto di un leggero strato di nuvole. Sarà il colore, ma mi risulta speranzoso, tenero, fresco. Ed è il premio che ho vinto per aver fatto…niente.
It’s a tiny espresso cup, the color of the morning sky with a thin layer of clouds. Maybe it’s the color that makes it seem so hopeful, tender, fresh. And it’s the prize I won for having done…nothing.
Vi spiego. Un mesetto fa ho lasciato un commento per l’autrice del mio blog italiano preferito, Tazzina di Caffè (http://eccomimi.blogspot.com/). Un commento per ricordare alla bravissima Noemi quanto sono indimenticabili alcune sue espressioni, per esempio “la luna, il più brillante dei bottoni”, così suggestiva che me la rubo spesso per fare bella figura con mio figlio all’ora del racconto della buonanotte. Ero ignara del fatto che scrivere un commento quel giorno mi faceva partecipare ad un giveaway di una tazzina diventata famosa perché fotografata con Noemi in giro per Torino. Allora immagina la mia sorpresa quando ho visto che il mio nome era stato sorteggiato come vincitore! Mi è subito balenato in mente: “Incredibile! Un’altro lettore di questo blog si chiama Heddi?”
I’ll explain. About a month ago I left a comment for the author of my favorite Italian blog, Tazzina di Caffè (http://eccomimi.blogspot.com/). Just a comment to remind the talented Noemi just how unforgettable some of her phrases are, for example “the moon, the brightest of all buttons,” such an evocative expression that I often steal it to impress my son at story time. I was unaware of the fact that writing a comment on that particular day would enter me into a giveaway whose prize was a coffee cup made famous after Noemi had shot pictures of it around Turin. So imagine my surprise when I saw my name had been drawn as the winner! My first thought was: “Wow! There’s another blog follower with the name Heddi?”
Per di più ho vinto un mini racconto il cui protagonista ha il mio nome, che riporto qui: “Heddi ha tre mesi. I soli rumori che sente sono le voci lontane e la musica del suo primo giocattolo a forma di stella. Profuma di latte detergente, cotone e biscotti con granelli di zucchero. Non conosce ancora la luce ma ne amerà ogni riflesso.”
Furthermore, I won a mini story whose main character has my name, which I’ll quote here: “Heddi is three months old. The only sounds she hears are faraway voices and the music from her first toy, shaped like a star. She smells like cleansing milk, cotton and cookies with raw sugar crystals. She doesn’t yet know the light but she will one day love its every reflection.”
Ammazza, come ne avevo bisogno…del cotone, lo zucchero, la luce. La tazzina color cielo. Per non parlare di quelle leggere nuvolette che sono le spagnolette di polistirolo, il materiale da imballaggio che ho dovuto però buttare dopo che mio figlio ci ha fatto ben due bagni caldi con quelle nuvole cumulus galleggianti, che hanno avuto di gran lunga maggiore successo della plastica a bolle d’aria.
Wow, how I needed that…cotton, sugar, light. A cup the color of the sky. Not to mention those light clouds that polystyrene peanuts look like, that packing material that I had to toss out after my son had two hot baths with those floating cumulus clouds, which turned out to be a much bigger hit that even bubble wrap.
Ma è un regalo che non mi merito. Dirai che forse cosmicamente me lo sono meritato, come ricompensa per il recente attacco di diarrea fulminante che ha avuto mio figlio sul pullman per Philadelphia, un viaggio di due ore senza acqua corrente. O per il sapore orripilante delle tisane cinesi che mi sono dovuto scolare per curare – ironicamente – la nausea.
But it’s a gift I don’t deserve. You might say that perhaps cosmically I earned it, to make up for my son’s recent attack of diarrhea on the two-hour bus trip to Philadelphia without running water. Or for the horrible taste of those Chinese herbs I had to down in order to treat – ironically – a bout of nausea.
Ma davvero il premio non me lo merito. Invece lo meritava di più una persona che ne aveva un desiderio pazzo, uno che di notte aveva pregato che la fortuna solo questa volta gli sorridesse. Almeno uno che beve il caffè.
But really I don’t deserve the prize. It should have gone to someone who wanted it like crazy, who prayed at night that just this once he would have a stroke of luck. At least someone who drinks coffee.
Anch’io ho sofferto di questo tipo di desiderio insoddisfattibile, anche ieri quando ho ‘donato’ degli spiccioli alla bancarella della Lega Femminile di Rugby, con partecipazione all’estrazione di un premio di mille dollari. Passo molto tempo a desiderare le cose: poter pagare le bollette arretrate, non dover usare più la carta igienica ruvida di carta riciclata; desidero una nuova macchina, un agente letterario, una villa al mare.
I too have suffered from this type of unsatisfiable desire, even just yesterday when I ‘donated’ some spare change at the Women’s Rugby League stand, with the chance to be in for the draw to win one thousand dollars. I spend a lot of time wanting things: to be able to pay our overdue bills, to no longer have to use that rough recycled toilet paper; I want a new car, a literary agent, a beach house.
Ma da quando ho vinto inaspettamente questo regalo, questo pezzo di cielo mandatomi da una nuova amica, ho cambiato prospettiva sulla vita. Ho capito che più riesco a non desiderare, a non pregare ogni notte che i miei sogni si avverino, più le cose belle mi capitano…quando meno me le aspetto. Chissà quali cose meravigliose potrebbero succedermi se solo smettessi di chiedere? Oso chiedere niente?
But since I unexpectedly won this gift, this little piece of sky sent to me by a new friend, I’ve changed my perspective on life. I now understand that the more I am able not to want things, not to pray every night for my dreams to come true, then the more good things happen to me…when I am least expecting them. Who knows what wonderful things might just happen to me if I only stopped asking? Dare I ask for nothing?