In the dark, just getting by

Emotionally, my daughter is doing well considering the collective stress around the globe. At the beginning of the pandemic, when we knew so little about the virus and it was all her grownups could talk about, Bilingual Baby lugged her life-sized unicorn up the stairs to her lofted bed. Penny, the pink unicorn, used to live under her bed where we read books. But now she serves as protector at night: blocker of bad dreams, barrier between her and the door, possessor of magical powers.

Penny the unicorn

But like many kids, Bilingual Baby has adapted. She feels safe, and she knows who to keep six feet from and when to wear a mask. We have a small group of families that we see, so she gets to interact with other children and can lose herself in imaginary play.

This is priority. Emotional well-being and physical safety are privileges I don’t take for granted. So many families are confronting the virus, fear of the virus, hunger, fear of eviction, violence at home or in the streets. The list goes on.

In our cozy cave, there is a thing that used to be priority, collecting dust in a dark corner on the ground somewhere.

Spanish.

I have spoken so little Spanish to her since March that, not only is it difficult for her to speak it now, it’s becoming difficult for me.

I’m reminded of the days when my father was sick with brain cancer and my body and brain both felt like they were on fire from stress, fear, and sadness. I would wake up at 2am when my baby called to nurse even though I was so tired from crying and helping my parents during the day. Sometimes I cried while nursing in the dark and wondered why I kept nursing at all. It would be so easy to switch to formula, to let my husband be the one to get up, and no harm would be done.

But the benefits of breastfeeding pulled me along, kept me from stopping. I continued fortifying her little body with antibodies, and she never got an ear infection (she’s still never had one).

Today, instead of a darkened nursery in the middle of the night covered in a veil of cancer-ridden grief, there’s the coronavirus. Instead of the challenge of continuing to breastfeed, there’s speaking in Spanish.

I don’t have to do it. She would be fine if I didn’t. But the benefits whisper to me, the energy we have already put into it taunts me. If I let it go now, in 10 years she’ll look back and say, “Mom. I was fluent. Why did you stop?”

This week Bilingual Baby had her first Zoom visit with her dual language kindergarten teacher. I had suggested to her teacher that she start off in Spanish rather than English, and she did. But I could hear my daughter struggling to recall simple words. When asked what she likes to do, she responded, “Me gusta ride bikes con Mami,” Sigh.

Keeping this little candle going to light the back of this cave for a little longer. But when the wax all melts, I don’t know how long it will be before I can find another.

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