Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Communication in a common language

First-grader Fernando wouldn't leave Brian alone. He poked and pinched him until the two were on the floor of the school bus wrestling. I needed to speak with Fernando's mother. Problem is, she doesn't speak English, and my Spanish is the "mission trip variety." That is to say I can find a bathroom, order three different kinds of burritos, and ask for various hand tools - "Yo necessito un martillo, por favor." My grammar has always been lousy. (Probably my spelling, too.)

Still, I was up for the challenge.

We pulled up to the stop and Fernando's mother was waiting.

"Esta tu madre de Fernando?" I asked. I think that means something like "It is you Fernando's mother?" But I said it with a question mark, and her nod told me she was acknowledging the little guy. "Habla espanol?" A shake of the head.

I apologized for my poor Spanish and then said, "Los manos de Fernando es pick, pick, pick, pick," as I made poking and prodding gestures with my fingers. I think that means something like, "The hands of Fernando is pick, pick . . ."

I continued, "Yo necessito los manos de Fernando aqui," and then placed my hands on my knees. Admittedly, I had some concern about saying it that way. If someone said to me, "I need the hands of your son here," and then placed his hands on his own knees, I would be a little creeped out. Doing my best not to come across as a slime ball, I said, "or here," shoving my hands in my pockets, "or here," and sitting on them. Come to think of it, maybe that didn't work so well either.

Anyway, by now she was picking up on what I was laying down. So like any good tourist, I repeated myself just to make sure: "Los manos de Fernando es pick, pick, pick - no bueno!" "Los manos de Fernando es aqui, es muy bueno."

She shot a withering stare at Fernando and his eyes dropped to the ground. She looked back and me and, though she said not a word, I knew.

She didn't speak any English, and I didn't speak much Spanish. But we both speak parent. Fluently.

Fernando's gonna turn out all right.

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