Language School

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We kids speak in the cadence of youth,
Tap our pens with the carefree malaise and melodic beat, “ka ki ku ke ko.”
From the cheap, single pane door of virtual-tin, come patterns that mark each of our homes, our mothers, or mother-tongues.

Each of them is after something. Each of us have moved away.

And as I fly down the six flights to relax on our break, I hear the Chinese come through my heels, feel the Uzbek-language with Akobir’s loud start and Tomas’ French rounded r’s, more like w’s. Each of us has our own linguistic impediment to learning this new thing–this potential. Each of us with our accents and humor. Some moments it is all a bit silly. And yet, I’m in awe. It’s like the very first day of Space Camp.

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I inhale my Starbucks Mexican wrap and think on the tricky fun that is Chang Li’s Spanish accent. We are all tricky and complex, indeed. We people who leave countries and neighborhoods and our own dialectical soundtracks to lay new tracks, join new packs here. I study with high hopes.

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Ouchie

As we opened the door to the house this evening, coming in from her school/hoikuen:

me: hun, i’m so proud of you–your English is stronger and stronger everyday.

You love love reading! Everyday it seems you are using a new word,…

girlie girl: yeah, but i’m not proud of you because you don’t have Japanese.

me: oh…..

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wah wah wah. probably a great idea if she sees me actively working at expanding my Japanese

& expanding my brain. or i’m thinking this thought she shared may/will only get worse as she gets older.

how’s that for motivation? thud.

Distillation

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Even as he sleeps

pudgy

a boy

sloping nose

forehead

pouted open lips,

everything round

and chubby, a boy.

I can picture

this boy even at six months

solid

hitting the weight of a spinning softball

with the crack of a short bat,

his ample arms soft and strong.

 

Flinging down the bat and running hard

Toot toot puff puff

a heavy silver train

my boy

striding

slow motion

Puff

past first base

and then second.

 

The round back of his head one day

maybe showcased in a bowl cut with bangs.

How will his half-Asian hair play out.

Front forehead button nose pout.

Dungarees, frogs, soldiers lined up

hollerin’ “Mr. Wilson! Hey, Mr. Wilson!”

but in Japanese.

 

Taking airplane rides like these, only bigger

seat-belts, too,

he’ll be

more like his old man

and not breastfeeding—

this six month old little boy,

Our love, distilled.

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he’s at about 8 months now & full of giggles, squeals, & wanting to feed himself, wanting no part in mush.

he wants whole foods & standing up. he’s a love/ in love with his big sis. xoxo

 

proper names

“Names do have power”, I concluded with a nod, as I wheeled away from the crates of sweet potatoes, apples, lotus root, and nashi. This, my favorite market on our walking street, made conversation inevitable, a friendly treat. I am known and since moving here five years ago in July, I love recognizing people as I quickly spot them. “Oh, she’s from the post office. He does your dry cleaning.” I’m the woman who is not Japanese and I buy produce which makes some people very glad. I like their country and I know what to do with a squash. Honestly, no one cares, but it is a friendly feeling.

This trip was funny. Almost done ringing up when an older couple steps up and our cashier wants to show-off my sweet son. Why, yes! He is a doll, they exclaim! “Oningyo-san mitai!” And then peering-in like selecting from mottled fruit, she assesses, “Ogaijiin-san.”

Foreigner. But oh, no. Au contraire, argues the cashier, my new auntie. “He, (she attests proudly) he has a Japanese name. ” Her chin lifts with an authoritative air. And then as if following an unspoken nudge, I present them with his name. He is Tokutaro-kun. Actually, I say it with “san” at the end, instead of “kun”, for the unintentional added effect of regality. He is a classy, young Japanese man. Who knows how far he will go. He is Japanese, fair ones, sweet lovelies of the produce court.

I of course omit speaking his first name, Jude. My Jude. And here is where I thank my wise in-laws for giving us such pride in the lineage, such a name. And I speak this without derision, for what if I could only present “Jude” as an argument. My son is Japanese, yes, and I see the power in his name. Er, names.

For when he spends time in the US with my family, with his people there, will they ask if he is American? Why, yes! That’s right! There is an American name! It is even in front of Tokutaro for added American oomph. Everyone knows, like on the ingredient wrapper of salad dressing, whatever is listed first in waaaaay more in power, way more in volume, in nutrition, or lack thereof.

And back at the counter, where I hastily added some pickled seaweed and eggplant, its purple body bathing in some pickly-water solution, my friend, the cashier, even contributes more towards the fact that the kids are Japanese: her daughter has a Japanese name. “Why yes”, I say in Japanese–“You remember! Yes. ”

“Kariin-chan“, she produces my girl’s name with roundness, with beauty and kindness, as if she holds the very fruit of our daughter’s name–the ancient quince some say may have been the very apple-not-quite-apple in the garden with the original man and his wife. Karin, the fruit made gorgeous in jams, its wood even shaped into the Japanese shamisen. It makes its home here and blooms five sweet pink petals. Do they know what Jude will produce? No, that name is not known, but oh–the joys of Tokutaro, our Toku-chan.

The air smells sweet in fall air. How could it not at the edge of a market, at the edge of October, crates of plums spread open, grapefruit, apples, fancy matsutake mushrooms, gleaming tomatoes and even sale bananas growing old.

I steal down the ramp with a gleam and a smile. Thank G-d we didn’t name the kid George.

 

How has your name helped you to travel in and out of cultures? Or maybe it has been awkward? If you live in between two or more languages or cultures, what has the naming process been like for you as you ready/(readied) yourself for kids?