This is a couple weeks ago. Seana’s in town and we go visit our cousin Natasha and her 3 year old Julia. Natasha has a little bit of work to do so we offer to watch Julia so she can finish (and so we can get on with the drinking and eating).
Julia is smart as a whip and has so much energy, that between her and Russy, the Russell Terrier in the house, I have to take a knee. We bounce from hide-and-go-seek to drawing to trying to figure out which one of the eight remotes will play Kung Fu Panda in the span of about five minutes.
In the middle of this, Julia stops abruptly and asks, “Can we talk in Assyrian?” (Of course, saying this in Assyrian.) Seana and I nervously make eye contact and shift attention back to her. How do you explain to the child that you kinda sorta understand, and can say a few words but don’t really speak well? Actually, I did learn how to say, “I understand Assyrian, but I don’t speak” for just such an occasion. So I try it out on her. “Anna barmuyan suraiya, eena lemson robba sotan.” Yeah, that’ll do the trick, I think.
Hmm. How to describe Julia’s expression? She’s contemplative, as if she’s smelling a little stinky piece of cheese. She looks a little sad for us. Also, confused. But careful. The responsible adults in her world are at least bi-lingual and I worry that she thinks she’s gaining the upper hand.
She remains quiet, as if calculating her next move. Poor thing. We’ve put her in a terrible position. She can speak both and prefers to mix and match. Actually, she speaks an adorable hybrid of Bay Area English and Urmeznayeh Assyrian. Julia overhears when I tell Natasha, “she’s so cute,” and insists through her teeth (again in Assyrian), “I. am. not. cute.” She’s in an Assyrian-speaking household, we should be the ones adapting, making her feel comfortable. I mean, she’s 3 for Christ’s sake.
So, Seana and I throw out some Assyrian words we know, stumbling and groping for meaning like a drunkard pulling an unfinished cigarette butt from the gutter and putting it to his lips. “Boucta…um…shapirta brati. hmmm.” “Itakh kha snack?” This isn’t going well. Julia first looks at me and then at Seana. The tiniest downward angles form the corners of her mouth. Again, the flared nostrils. Pity? Disgust? Nah, I think confusion will cover it. But then, just as suddenly, she turns her back to us and continues chattering away, still drawing easily from Assyrian and English, focusing her energy on more important matters – Kung Fu Panda.
you want us to speak what?