He plays with little cars on the coffee table as I tidy up the living room. Finding a wrapper on the floor, I ask for his help.
“En la basura,” I instruct. His wide brown eyes meet mine.
“Garbage,” he affirms before taking it from my hand and sending it to the trash.
My son turned two a couple of weeks ago. Developmentally, he hit all the big milestones early (I had to lean to reach his hand while he walked around at ten months) except for talking. Simple words like Dada and Mama weren’t part of his vocabulary for a very long time. This never kept me up at night. In fact, I felt a tinge of relief thinking it might give me
additional time to expose him to more Spanish.
All my life I dreamed of being bilingual. Neither of my parents speak a second language, so I always knew it would have to be my own doing. When I tell others I speak Spanish, they assume I learned on a church mission. While I did serve a mission, the first opportunity to learn
Spanish didn’t come until my second year in college when I enrolled in my first class. That course inspired me to specialize my degree in TESOL and Spanish.
I excelled in my beginning Spanish classes, but when I found myself in Advanced Spanish Grammar, all the students around me were fluent thanks to living in Spanish-speaking countries for at least a year and a half. I was intimidated and scared out of my mind every single day to say the least. Nonetheless, I finished my degree and currently use it every day in work and as a parent.
Every day in college I lived in discomfort. I blushed constantly worrying about messing up. Now every day I live in guilt. My dream to be bilingual has evolved into a dream for my children to also speak Spanish. But I find myself talking to my boys in English more than I care to admit. I tell myself the reason my son started talking late is because he’s been talking in two languages. Guilt. That is probably not true. I tell myself he’ll start speaking Spanish within a month or two. Guilt. Also probably not true. I shouldn’t have uttered a word of English since the day he was born. Guilt. It’s so much easier to just communicate with him in English. Guilt.
Will my new baby speak any Spanish at all? Have I already lost that opportunity? Guilt, guilt, guilt.
“¿Dónde está la boca?”
“Moo,” he answers. I chuckle.
“Try again. ¿Dónde está la boca?” I emphasize. “Boca.” This time a chubby finger rises to his mouth. “Very, very good.” I bring him close and smother him in kisses. “Okay. ¿Qué dice la vaca?”
“That’s right.” More kisses.
The fear of confusing cow with mouth held me back in class and holds me back in public today. My little boy picks up another matchbox car, unscathed. No signs of humiliation or uneasiness. If I could just bottle up his courage I’d be writing Spanish poetry and giving TED talks.
Fear and guilt. The last emotions I want to associate with my bilingual family. So I’ll buy another Dr. Suess book en español. I’ll change the audio on Cars to Spanish. I’ll keep speaking and I’ll welcome the mistakes. I remind myself the reason I feel guilt is due to my own expectations.
“Vente,” I call. He comes.
“Quédate aquí.” He waits.
“Cómela.” He takes a bite of pizza.
I hear the munching stop in the back seat of the car as he finishes his last Cheeto. I glance in the mirror to find a plump, brown face dusted with orange crumbs.
“Kyee-oh… más, Mama.” He asks for more and my heart swells. His first Spanish sentence.
Ten ánimo, Mama. You’re not doing so bad.
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