Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Ouch, my voice hurts

River has been pointing for a few weeks now. It started out as him pointing at the things that caught his attention. Usually that would be balloons, paintings, lights and our red and gold Chinese calendar.

Then he started to point at things he wanted. When he first pointed at the grapes and cheese I was eating as a sign that he wanted some too, I was psyched. We’re communicating!

Now he’s pointing as a way to learn vocabulary. At least that’s what I think, even though he doesn’t speak. Because he points at EVERYTHING. He points until I tell him what it is. And he focuses very intently on the object while I say the word.

This is cool, I tell myself. He’s going to learn words. He’s going to be able to speak.

It has gotten a bit tiresome lately though to say the same words over and over again. I speak to him in Spanish and the word for balloons is globo. Globo. Si globos. Un globo violeto. Un globo rojo. Un globo amarillo. Un globo verde. Globo, globo, globo. I can’t tell you how many times in a day I say this word. I say calendario (calendar), puerta (door), luz (light) and lampara (lamp) nearly as often.

This evening was both the most exciting and the most challenging though. I took him for a walk after dark. We walked along the main street in town. As we went, he pointed at the stoplight, the cars, and every single building we passed.

That’s a bank, a store, an office, a cafĂ©, a restaurant, another bank, a church.

Then, he pointed at every shop’s window. I decided to humor him and we paused in front of one window.

“That’s a woman,” I said to him in Spanish, pointing to the mannequin (I don’t know how to say mannequin, guess I need to look it up). “She’s wearing pants, shoes, a shirt, a vest, a jacket and a scarf. And there is another woman wearing a suit and a necklace.”

He looked intently as I pointed to each object. Then his little finger immediately targeted the next display. “That’s a man,” I said. “He’s wearing …..”

You get my point. We did this for a shoe shop, a toy shop, a dance equipment shop, several clothing shops, an antique shop, jewelry shops. I was happy to reach the end of the shops, my voice tired, our slow pace meaning I wasn’t getting the exercise I’d hoped for.

We turned around to head back home. I thought he’d be satisfied since I’d pointed out just about every single thing we passed. However, the little finger just wouldn’t rest and he pointed at the same displays again. From the back of the stroller, all I could see above the hood was his little left hand, glowing white in the darkness, pointing with determination and interest, like he was shooting a gun.

OK, that’s enough for one night, I thought to myself. I’m not going to go over every display again. I’m going to keep walking. But I feared crushing his curiousity and enthusiasm. So I assented to pointing out the larger things we passed – stoplight, cars, building, office, church, man, woman.

While it can get tiresome, and even a bit stressful, it is good for me in several ways. One, I realize I need to start carrying a Spanish dictionary. How do you say stained-glass window? Or mannequin? Or corn husks? Or tulle? Up until now, I’ve gotten by with my mistakes without him noticing. I watch old videos and I can hear my own mistakes, making me cringe. The room I have to make mistakes is now tightening. It’s good for me to have pressure to keep up or even improve my Spanish.

Two, he makes me notice the smallest details, which bring the world to life. In order to describe for him the window display at the dance supply shop, I had to pay attention to the beautiful green and pink ballet outfit, with the delicate pink satin slippers and the display of elegant penguins in tuxes and small cubes of ice. I might have noticed the tutu without him, but I wouldn’t have seen the penguins or the ice cubes in such detail. I saw the various lamps that caught his attention – the one like a chandelier, one with balls of crystal hanging from it, another a bulb within a Japanese-style woven ball.

So yes, my voice is tired. I was happy to spend much of the evening after his bedtime in silence. But as I teach him what each object is called, he calls my attention to their existence and their beauty.

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