I have never struggled for word choice in the English language. My mother was a quiet woman and a master of the understatement. She often said to me when I was young, “My, you are verbal.” I don’t think it was a compliment, even though I took it that way. I relate to people by talking to them.
I especially enjoy conversing with people when I travel to non-English speaking countries. This is a bit of a dilemma because I don’t have any conversational competency outside of English. Yet, I enjoy this aspect of travel more than site-seeing. If I can’t get a café eye-level view of a city, I don’t feel like I had a good visit. I always attempt to have a conversation, whether I know the language or not.
My children laugh at my badly-mangled mixed use of Italian, French and Spanish. I know a few phrases of Russian and Chinese too. I pretty much throw in the kitchen-sink. But, it seems to work. I certainly get points for trying. I savor the moments of conversing with a street vendor, learning about people’s everyday lives and hearing about their views on the world.
I do though have an experience that transcends language — motherhood. While adult-only travel allows for unstructured serendipity, kids serve as a universal ice-breaker. Their presence makes it easy for people to bridge language barriers. By using hand gestures and a few words I can have a meaningful conversation with any mom anywhere in the world. I can say “hello,” “please,” “thank-you” and “I have four kids.” I know how to ask for coffee, wine, beer or a chocolate crepe. I can count to 10. I know all these words in 5 languages. What more would I need?
Parenting is a universal experience. The look in our eyes says it all. No matter where in the world we live, we all want the same thing for our children – the opportunity to live a happy and healthy life. It doesn’t take an extensive vocabulary to communicate this sentiment. It makes the world a smaller, friendlier place.
I experienced this feeling on U.S. soil a few days ago when I took my second oldest to college. My son and I arrived at his new dorm room nearly the same time as his other two roommates and their mothers. The tiny room that will be home to the three boys for the next nine months is smallish and was designed for two people, so quarters are tight. We exchanged hellos, the boys divvied up the space into thirds and then the mom army got to work. We helped make beds, unloaded suitcases and carted out trash from the 9×12 space.
One of the moms was from Ireland the other was from Korea. While we all spoke English, very little was said during the 45 minutes or so that we shared the space. It was our final opportunity to get our 18-year-olds “set.” Our final push for order and then we needed to let go. When we bid our goodbyes it was apparent on our faces what was going through our minds. I think we looked something like the three wise monkeys. We hope, we worry, we dream. No words needed; we speak Mom.
- Language (mindagainstheart.wordpress.com)