Language

So, we came to China with virtually no Chinese between us. We have a couple of translation programs that work fairly well going from English to Chinese. Other way? Not so much.

I can ask, “Does little sister want to go swimming?” or “Do you like apples?” We work on a thumbs up/thumbs down system. I can show her our house on Google Earth and tell her, “We live on the second floor” or “That is your room.” There is much nonverbal communication. Katherine asks how I know what Shi Hui is saying. I tell her, “I don’t, but I can tell what she is feeling.”

And for the most part, our new daughter has a demeanor of which anyone would be jealous. She laughs often. I tell her “Little sister likes to laugh a lot,” and follow it up with, “Papa likes to laugh a lot, too.”

Until tonight. I do end of the day duties. Routine, routine, routine. In the middle of The Cat in the Hat, right before Thing One and Thing Two make their appearance, a cloud settled on the girl, and she started crying. Patience, and a smattering of questions, “Are you scared?” “Do you miss your friends?”

And I wish she could tell me her story in a language I understood, and I wish I could understand the language she speaks. But in some small way, I know it doesn’t entirely matter. Even if we did speak the same language, would I really undress how she felt?

I think I can understand around how she feels. I can imagine, and also recognize that there are failures and gaps in my imagination. I can run to the bathroom, and come back with a handful of tissues, and can sit with her, and ask questions, and show her pictures of the flowers her mother planted in front of the house where she will live, and tell her that in 2 days we will be home. She clicks on that translation again and again. Maybe, maybe, that is what it takes for now.

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drbbrennan

I am a writer and a teacher. I have lived in Philadelphia, Binghamton, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Norfolk, and Northern Virginia. I have sailed on the ocean and flown over the North Pole. I write fiction, poetry, and nonfiction.

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