Lyon and I are both insecure in our own relationships with our Bilingual Baby, and over dinner on a warm evening at a pizza parlor with an outdoor playground, it all comes to a head.
Bilingual Baby is at her peak hitting phase. We watch with tense bodies as she approaches all of the children at the playground; she confronts each one with a menacing stare, mutters the word “no” or “mines” and eventually elevates a hand and leans in for a swat. This is the backdrop for our conversation as we’re waiting for our food to arrive; we pretend to enjoy our beers and each other’s company but are actually both eyeing her nervously for fear a child (or, worse, a parent) will come crying.
Lyon mentions how little English she knows, and because I’m in a bad mood, I tell him that it’s his fault: he speaks to her in English, but he doesn’t teach her English. I speak to her in Spanish but I also teach her Spanish, I tell him. I quiz her about how many rocks she has in her hands, what color the toy she’s playing with is, I make her point things out to me in our books, which are all in Spanish. “When have you ever checked out a library book for her on your own in English?” I say without a shred of grace.
This hurts and we both spiral further and further into an argument that is slippery and illusive. Neither of us knows what our point is. The truth is, no one is right—we are both doing our best. Lyon has always been not only tolerant of my immersing Jojo in Spanish, but also supportive, and here he was in his own way calling out for me to support his efforts in English. But instead I blasted him. It would take me weeks to see that.
We exchange words between runs to the playground to save Bilingual Baby from starting any toddler playground fights, and we don’t end the evening well. Lyon fears he’s losing out on connecting with his own daughter because she doesn’t understand him. He tells me that he can’t talk to her like I do. But I’m insecure about my decision to speak to her in a language that is not mine because of the nuances that are inevitably lost. Is what I’m not saying to her messing her up?
This is our moment to break down. And break down we do. But over the next few weeks we build each other back up. Lyon starts actively repeating things I say to Jojo in English. He starts making sure she reads books in English and points things out to her. He quizzes her on her colors and her numbers in English. I give them space to make way for English.
She is making leaps and bounds in both Spanish and English now.
Here are some of her words/phrases in English that she’s learning from her “dadda.”
“I dropped it”
“I got it”
“Come on” (she says, “comom”)
“This way” (she says, “Effway”)