Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas Eve

It won't be that bad, I think. Everyone else had their kids' pictures taken with Santa ages ago. I'm sure I'm the only mother left who waited until Christmas Eve. And that way I can give the boys' nanny a ride to the Metro, and she can leave early. It'll be nice for everyone.

That is what I'm thinking as I pack the kids up and drive everyone to the mall, which of course is a madhouse, and I realize too late that I'm an idiot. We enter through the garage on an upper level and have to take the elevator downstairs. It is a huge glass elevator, and the boys love it. Primo begs to hold my hand, the way he usually does when something scares him a little but he's trying to be a trooper about it, like when I'm grinding coffee in the kitchen.

We reach Santa and the line is long, long, long. I try to prep the boys on the sidelines before we get in line, pointing out how other kids are sitting on Santa's lap and how much fun this will be. Santa notices us and waves obligingly. The boys ignore him completely. A woman comes by with picture samples and they are overpriced, of course, but the background and the poses also look slightly creepy to me.

What do you want to do? I ask the boys. Do you want to go see Santa?

Quiero el ascensor de cristal, they respond in unison.

So we go for a ride in the glass elevator again, and they are silent and filled with wonder. We head over to a pretzel shack and split a pretzel. They are amazed to see a pretzel that big. We hang out on a bench and eat it, and they marvel at the lights and decorations hanging in the atrium. Mira todas las luces, says Primo. Estrella, Secondo says softly, and points at a glittery star. The fact that my boy is pointing at things and naming them of his own volition is such a huge deal that it makes me want to cry, right there in the food court at the mall on Christmas Eve. I'm completely relaxed and at peace, even as throngs of people surround me. Even the trip back to the car in the plain parking elevator is fun.

And the only thing we bought was that pretzel.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Banana Leaves

Fourteen packages of them. Four days left before Christmas. You Latinas know what that means.

I am going into the kitchen early tomorrow morning with the family recipe my tía L gave me when I was eighteen. And we will have tamales for dinner on Nochebuena!

[The banana leaves are conveniently pre-washed and even pre-steamed. It totally feels like I'm cheating.]

Friday, December 19, 2008


I know that we’re supposed to pick our battles with our children. That when we do, we’re supposed to win every time. That some things are best not turned into battles in the first place. And I try to remember that, but some things just drive me batshit crazy.

With Secondo, one of them is eating with utensils. Or not eating with utensils. It drives me crazy that he often flat-out refuses to. That he will grab a handfuls of oatmeal and gleefully squish gobs of it between his fingers with obvious enjoyment and then wipe his hands on his shirt. That I’ve occasionally caught his overly-motherly Salvadoran nanny feeding him in order to prevent messes from happening, even though I’ve asked her not to. That my friend with the toddler who eats soup without spilling a drop makes comments about children needing to learn table manners and then glances pointedly at my kids. I tell myself not to get so frustrated about the whole thing, which is getting harder the older they get, because there are some things they should just be able to do by now, dammit, and it all ties in to my expectations for Secondo and my constant worry about what behavior is just your average three-year-old behavior and what isn’t. Because some of it isn’t. The autism, it always lurks, and it can mess with my mind.

I sit with Secondo and snatch his bowl of food away as he lunges at it with his hands. Con la cuchara, I remind him. Con la cuchara, he repeats, and takes a spoonful. Then he lunges with his hands again, and he’s really, really fast.

Tonight I take a different tack, something I’ve tried before, so it’s not exactly new. I will be positive, I will not let my frustration show. The boys are eating spaghetti, and Secondo takes a bite with the fork. ¡Excelente! I yell, and he looks at me and giggles. I’ve never been quite this enthusiastic, and I've obviously hit upon the right word. ¡Excelente! he repeats. Then takes another bite. ¡Excelente! I squeal, and this time I clap my hands and praise him profusely. Now Primo is laughing and wants in on it, too, so when he takes a bite: ¡Excelente!

And we are all having so much fun and laughing so hard that I don’t notice when Secondo grabs a handful of spaghetti, like a flash. I grab the bowl. It goes flying. There is spaghetti everywhere. I put my head in my hands and take a deep breath. Several seconds go by.

No tan excelente, Primo observes, finally, breaking the silence. His tone is sober.

Not so excellent, indeed. But at least now I am laughing as I clean up the spaghetti.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Look! A Picture!

Kind of. Don't ask me why I'm so unwilling to post pictures of my boys on my blog but then submit them to other blogs. But I submitted a picture of Secondo to Faces of Autism. Here's the link, if anyone wants to take a peek.

I wrote in my blogroll post that I look at those pictures and see nothing but joy, but that's not entirely true. I look beyond the smiling faces and see families who have struggled, just as we are struggling. I see a tremendous amount of love.

But mostly, I do see the joy, and that's why I love that blog. Because I think that most people don't think the words "autism" and "joy" go together. But they do. Go see.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Look! A Blogroll!

[Edited to add: The blogroll on the left looks pretty puny. I'll add more blogs as I think of them.]

All the posting I did this November seems to have jump-started the impulse to blog again. Even though I've been blogging for a year, I sure have been lackadaisical about it, and now I'm remembering how fun it is when I actually do it instead of thinking, "Oh, I should update my blog. Or I could wait another week. Or month."

So, in the spirit of getting my act together already, here is my blogroll. I keep tabs on many blogs via Google Reader, even though I'm constantly adding and deleting. These blogs, however, I've been following since the beginning, and deserve special mention. In alphabetical order, except for the first one, here's my short list:

Snickollet. I clicked on a random link one day and freaked the hell out when I realized my old friend was a rock-star blogger. All I can say is this: Even if I didn't know her in real life, I would be such a fangirl. To those of you who come here from her blog, she's an even more amazing person than you already think she is. To those of you who arrived via somewhere else, if you click on that link, you will not stop until you've read her entire archives.

KAL at Autism Twins. Because I can so relate to mothers of twins, but especially to mothers of twin boys. Because reading her blog makes me feel like I'm not alone. Because her boys are as cute as all get-out. And they happen to have autism.

Carrie at Bilingual in the Boonies. Because as a businesswoman, I think I could stand to take a few lessons from her. Because I wish I'd found her Los Pollitos onesies when my boys were still small enough to wear them. But mostly because she has an entire blog category devoted to dulce de leche. And because thanks to her, I was spared the disillusionment of finding out that dulce de leche Pop Tarts feel like regret. Carrie, thank you.

Christine at Day Sixty-Seven. Because I feel like I could have written her first few posts, just not as well. Because this post explains exactly what I'm feeling right now.

Faces of Autism, which is exactly what you think it is. I'm trying to find the right picture of Secondo to send in. I look at the faces of the kids on this blog and I see nothing but joy, which is as I think it should be.

Latin Baby Book Club. It's as if I thought to myself, "I wish I could find a group of great women who shared my passion for children's books in Spanish and could recommend new books." Then, poof! This blog appeared.

Stimey at Stimeyland. Another mom of boys, one of whom is autistic. When Secondo licked the chairs at his big appointment, I was thinking of this post. And this post about growing up with a brother with special needs made me cry and made me feel so positive about the boys my toddlers will become.

Karen at Teaching and Learning Spanish. Because she's constantly on the lookout for Spanish-language resources, and I've learned a lot from her. Soon, I will introduce my boys to Pocoyo!

The Local Dialect
. Through this blog, I get to visit China. Also, baby Dylan is one of the most adorable babies I've ever seen.

Thank you, ladies. Others may come and go. But I'm keeping you all on my blogroll.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Turkey Soup

I got home from work today and after reading a few stories with the boys, headed straight for the kitchen. I don't usually cook when I get home, because it's virtually impossible. The boys are demanding and pull me every which way if I try to get anything done in the kitchen, so we either have something in the Crock Pot or something ready to go in the oven, or P cooks while I take care of baths and bedtime.

Today, though, I was bound and determined to make my mother's turkey soup. The carcass from our Thanksgiving turkey had been waiting in the refrigerator for a week and I didn't want it to wait any longer, and we had no Plan B for dinner. It doesn't require that much prep work, so I snuck into the kitchen while the boys were distracted with their toys and got to work.

A few minutes later I was dicing a potato, completely lost in thought, when I realized something. The music on the CD player had stopped. It was completely quiet. The kind of quiet that makes you deeply uneasy when you have three-year-old twin boys. I dropped the chef's knife and ran into the living room.

Secondo was on the couch, Primo in the armchair. Both were peacefully reading a book. Secondo looked up when I appeared in the doorway. "Mi semana," he offered softly, by way of explanation. "My Week!" Primo chimed in.

I went back into the kitchen. They went back to their books. I could not believe what had just happened.

And the soup was absolutely delicious.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Fax Is a Four-Letter Word

Primo is obsessed with the fax machine in my office. I keep the door closed, but he knows it's in there. Fax. Fax. Mama va a mandar un fax, he says as he points at the door. Vamos a escribir fax, he says, and then spells it out on the board with magnets. Fax, fax, fax.

Which is why, after he perfectly intoned a certain four-letter word I uttered in frustration yesterday when he and Secondo were working my last nerve, I tried mightily to convince him that what he'd heard Mama say was fax.

No dice.

I'm so embarrassed. And also, I need to start using faux swear words.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Going Out With a Whimper

So, next year I will not be so naive as to think that I will actually post every day in November. However, I would like to point out that I will have posted 21 times this year, up 3 posts from last year. That's about 66.66 of the time, according to my calculations. (P will give me the exact figure as soon as he reads this post. I, on the other hand, am all about approximations.)

It's a cop-out, I know, but I'm going to end the month with a one-word meme I saw and liked. It's kind of amazing I didn't resort to more memes this month, anyway, so I'm not feeling too bad about this one.

1. Where is your cell phone? Purse
2. Your significant other? Kitchen
3. Your Hair? Curly
4. Your Skin? Dry
5. Your mother? Firecracker
6. Your favorite thing? Sons
7. Your dream last night? None
8. Your favorite drink? Wine
9. Your dream/goal? Happiness
10. The room you’re in? Living room
11. Your ex? None
12. Your fear? Loss
13.Where do you want to be in 6 years? Here
14.Where were you last night? Home
15.What you’re not? High-strung
16.Muffins? Bran
17.One of your wish list items? Wii
18.Where you grew up? Costa Rica
19.The last thing you did? Ate
20.What are you wearing? Fleece
21.Your TV? Huge
22.Your pets? None
23. Your computer? Mac
24. Your life? Busy
25. Your mood? Mellow
26. Missing someone? Family
27. Your car? Dented
28. Something you’re not wearing? Makeup
29. Favorite Store? Ross
30. Your summer? Humid
31. Like someone? P
32. Your favorite color? Blue
33. When is the last time you laughed? Tonight
34. Last time you cried? Tonight

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Three, Three, Three

My boys are officially three years old. I think I'm supposed to write my boys a sweet letter on my blog or something in honor of their third birthday, but I'm feeling nowhere near that inspired.

I got to hang out in Secondo's classroom for his birthday celebration during snack time last week. I took cupcakes. They were made from a mix, which I found in my pantry, and the frosting came from a tub, also from my pantry. Secondo missed the bus that morning, which meant that I had to drive him, which meant I was frosting the cupcakes as I was running out the door. Then I dropped the container several times in the parking lot, so those were some sorry-looking cupcakes. I wasn't too bent out of shape, because of course, the kids didn't care. Secondo bent his head over and tasted his cupcake with the tip of his tongue, then decided he was done, just as he'd rejected a cupcake at a friend's birthday party the week before. The boy has finer tastes; one of his more frequent requests is "pan con Nutella, por favor."

Because of the holiday break, Primo's celebration will be next week. His teachers suggested muffins instead of cupcakes, so those will not come from a mix. I make good muffins.

At home, we bought cupcakes from our awesome local place, one of the runners-up in the Washington Post's cupcake wars. Things were quiet because of the holiday, but we had two friends in town, so we figured that was enough for a party. We didn't have birthday candles, so we lit tea lights instead. It didn't matter, because they refused to blow them out, anyway. We sang "Happy Birthday" and "Cumpleaños Feliz." They got a couple of gifts, and like their last two birthdays, the evening couldn't have been more low-key. I figure soon enough--probably next year--they will know about all about birthdays, expect parties and gifts and more elaborate cakes. Which is why I enjoyed this one so much.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

On Thanksgiving three years ago, I was nearly 38 weeks pregnant with twins. My c-section was scheduled for the following Monday. We had been invited to spend Thanksgiving in the District with a group of friends who weren't traveling that year.

Somehow, all of them were either vegetarian or didn't care much for turkey, so it was decided that if P and I wanted turkey, we needed to bring it ourselves. Which is how we ended up wandering the streets of Georgetown after finally finding parking several blocks from our destination on a freezing-cold, windy night in November, with me in my flip flops because they were the only shoes that fit my swollen feet, carrying a turkey.

It was a wonderful evening. I parked my huge self on the couch and barely moved all night. I requested a half-glass of wine (because I could finally see the end in sight) and someone got a picture of me balancing it on my belly. P left after a while for Union Station to pick up a friend who was arriving from New York.

After that night, P proclaimed that he would never again take a turkey anywhere and that if he was going to make the turkey, people needed to come to us. So that's what we've done ever since. He makes amazing baked rockfish to make sure the vegetarians have something to eat other than tofu and side dishes. Some friends have been here every year, others come and go. My friend from New York has come every year and always makes tres leches for dessert. It's become a tradition and has replaced pumpkin pie.

Happy Thanksgiving. No matter what you have for dessert.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Things That Are Long Overdue

So, I was sick a couple of weeks ago. So sick that I had to cancel work, which I'd only done once before in nine years. I only canceled because I was physically unable to interpret--if I'd had a desk job that didn't require that I talk nonstop for half an hour every hour, I probably would have toughed it out. And on the day I stayed home, I started having trouble breathing, but I decided to wait and see if things got better the next day. I used to have allergic wheezing fits as a teenager that put me in the ER every so often, so this didn't seem that bad.

Things weren't better the next day, so I called my PCP and made a same-day appointment for later in the morning. I only did it because this time work had canceled on me, and the boys' nanny was at the house, so there was nothing standing in my way. And even then, I wheezed and coughed my way through Primo's parent-teacher conference before my appointment. (His teachers didn't seem to notice. As P said the other day, they don't exactly give me the warm fuzzies.) The short walk there and back had me gasping at my front door.

I made it to my physician's office, and after the nurse took my blood pressure three times because she thought her reading must be wrong, people in the office dropped everything and came running. A nebulizer treatment brought it way down. I was given a breathing test, an inhaler, antibiotics, and a chest x-ray. In the end, it was bronchitis, not pneumonia. My doctor patted me on the shoulder and gave me a little pep talk as I was about to leave. "I can't believe that not coming today was an option," I told her.

Not exactly a near-death experience, but it kind of shocked me into action. When I went back the next week for follow-up, I scheduled a physical. My last one was about six years ago, even though I've had a couple of issues I should have had checked out. I've packed on weight, which at this point can no longer be attributed to the twins. It was easy to think I was too busy, that I had no time. But we're all busy. Who has time? I realized I've been an idiot, and completely negligent. So my physical is tomorrow, and even though I could stand to get in shape, take better care of myself, I'm feeling better than I have in a long time.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Totally Cheating

I've apparently resorted to cheating in order to try posting most days in November. You know, when you start a post one night, save it and then finish it the next day so it will post with yesterday's date. Maybe you don't know, maybe it's just me. I'm pretty sure you're not supposed to cheat. NaBloPoMo officially has me crying uncle, even though I blew it early on so I suppose the pressure was off, really.

Ah, well. I am enjoying it, and will soldier on until the end of the month, even if I don't quite make it every day.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Musings on the Boll Weevil

[Edited to thank my friend Noelle, for pointing out that it's boll weevil, not boil weevil. I'm shaking my head in amazement that I could be SO WRONG about a word for SO LONG. Even though I looked it up beforehand just to be sure. Sheesh.]

This is the best English/Spanish dictionary ever. I am a translator and an interpreter, so I have shelves full of dictionaries, but this is the only will not travel without. I bought it for myself as a graduation gift when I got my MA, and it's what I always recommend to people looking to take the next step, when they find that their average bilingual dictionary is no longer all that helpful. It is by no means comprehensive, but in in you will find all kinds of useful general and technical terminology, like end borrower, input-output, straddle carrier. And of course, boll weevil.

For some reason, whenever I open this dictionary, it seems to fall open at gorgojo, which is a boll weevil. The entry is near the top of the page, and after so many repetitions it felt like the word had been burned into my brain. Ha ha, I would joke to myself. If it ever comes up, I will be ready. I will be ready, and I will dazzle everyone by coming up with the right word for boll weevil without so much as batting an eye.

And then, of course, it came up. I was interpreting at an informal gathering for a few Latin American visitors who were doing a Q & A session with a high-school class. One of the students mentioned the boll weevils, and of course, I could not for the life of me remember what the hell it was. I motioned desperately to my colleague, who helped me out, but my moment had come and gone. And I was bummed, even though remembering the word for boll weevil is less important during an informal chat with high-schoolers than it is during, say, a highly technical conference about the boll weevil.

That's how my job goes. Sometimes a word I know, a word I know well, just won't come to me when I need it. It's one reason you need to be good at looking things up on the go, it's why you need to have good colleagues backing you up, and you have to be able to ask for and accept help if you need it.

The nice thing, though, is that it works both ways, and I often experience the flip side, like I did the other day. An attorney who was questioning a witness asked him if he was colorblind. That word often stumps me, since it doesn't come up that often. And yet this time, the word daltónico just rolled off my tongue. Good thing, too, since it came up many times and ended up being an important issue.

[The link to the glossary will take you to the Google Book Search page, which I just discovered, and I love it. If you're interested, it will allow you to peruse a pretty hefty chunk of the book. Pretty amazing.]

[I'm done geeking out about dictionaries now. Good night.]

Thursday, November 20, 2008

On Co-sleeping

When Primo and Secondo were newborns, we only had one crib. The boys slept in it together, and we thought that would last a while.

Then Secondo started scooting around on his back in his sleep. Just a little, at first. But when thee boys were eight weeks old I woke up one morning to Primo's cries, went to check on them, and realized the reason he was crying was because Secondo had scooched over was kicking him in the head. Obviously, that could not continue. Not so much because I felt bad that Secondo was beating up on his brother, but more because when you have newborn twins, anything that interrupts their (and your) sleep is a very, very bad thing.

P did some hunting around on Craigslist and came home with a beautiful Pali crib a few days later. I was so happy I could have kissed his feet. We separated the boys as soon as we could put the crib together. But it made me sad that we had to do it so early. What about that twin bond? What about being so close together in the womb? Weren't they supposed to feel comforted by each other's presence? Obviously not, because they didn't seem to care and they definitely slept much better. So did we.

When they turned two, though, Secondo decided he wanted to be with his brother in his crib. Even though he could be completely oblivious to Primo's presence all day, he whined and cried until we put him in there--and then Primo whined and cried, because though Secondo doesn't kick him in the head anymore, he loves to stomp on him and sit on him, and there really isn't enough room for two hefty toddlers in one crib.

When it was time to move them out of their cribs and into big boy beds, the choice was obvious: We moved them into my old queen-size futon. Partly because it was already in their room. Partly due to space considerations in our tiny condo. But mostly so they could be together. It's worked out beautifully--it's big enough so that they rarely fall out (and it's close to the ground when they do), and it's the perfect spot for reading bedtime stories. And even when they start out at opposite ends of the bed, they always end up moving towards each other. One's head will be nestled on the other's shoulder, or they'll hold hands. Tonight they are in the shape of a T, with both of Secondo's legs resting comfortably on Primo's belly.

I know this will end eventually, too, and when they're old enough, we'll move them into bunk beds. But I'm enjoying this while it lasts. And if I'd known how much they would enjoy sleeping in the same bed as toddlers, I might not have felt so wistful when they were eight weeks old.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Things I Like This Week (Or: My Brain Is Fried and This Is the Best I Can Do Tonight)

  • The aforementioned brioche and Nutella. Our local bakery makes the best brioche, and we don't get it often, but when we do it's a huge treat. P keeps trying to convince me to do weird stuff like turn it into French toast, but I maintain that the only way to eat it is with Nutella. End of story.
  • The Radiolab episode about the War of the Worlds radio program seventy years ago. I had some general idea about what the whole thing was about, but I found it so fascinating that I'm listening to it again. I had absolutely no idea that someone thought it would be fun to try it years later in Quito, Ecuador. People died. Crazy.
  • Listening to Pandora while I'm translating and spending a couple of bucks a day on new music.
  • The prosecco you can get at Costco for $10. I have no idea what it's called. But if you like sparking wine, try it.
  • Eric Herman's The Elephant Song. The boys have been obsessed with it lately, and I can't get it out of my head. "Gotta like frogs, running through a maze for some cheese."
Good night.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


It started when Primo was about eighteen months old. I remember because my brother and sister-in-law were here for a visit, and she and I noticed that Primo was downright engrossed in a book about numbers. We started to point at them and name him for him. Then, for fun, we asked him, “Where’s the eight?”

A pause. Then he slowly pointed to the eight.

“Where’s the zero?”

Another deliberate pause, and he pointed to the zero.

From there, it was on to letters and the sounds they made. All before he was two. Then we started on syllables. I found an old Spanish first-grade reading primer at a book sale and he was as engrossed in that as he had been in the number book a year earlier. Mi mamá me mima has become one of his favorite phrases.

He loves to type on the computer, using this awesome program for Macs I’ve mentioned before. A couple of months ago, my mom and I were sitting with him, egging him on. Mama, he spelled. Daddy. Nana. Words he knew. Words we knew he knew. “Qué inteligente.” my mom praised him. And then as a joke, she added, “Spell inteligente.”

ENTELIGNTE, he tapped out, rendering us speechless.

He’s just taken off from there. “Spell calabaza,” I urged the other day. C-A-L-A, he typed. Then he looked at me and asked, “¿Con B o con V?

Con B,” I told him, completely floored, and added, for good measure, “y con Z.” Pleased, he turned back to the computer and typed, CALABAZA.

He spells words out phonetically, in Spanish, even when they’re English words Island becomes AILENT. Nancy becomes NANSI. IKEA becomes AEKIA. Recently he threw a major fit before bedtime because he wanted me to spell words for him on the Magna Doodle. I finally gave in, and after we wrote a few words together, he settled right down and went to sleep. He often greets our friends by spelling their names. His preschool teachers told me that he refused to go to the playground the other day until he spelled EXIT with wooden letters. He spelled CAT, one of them told me, starting with the T. He didn’t spell it backwards, he just started with the T and worked his way back. He’s reading complete sentences as quickly as I can write them on the Magna Doodle, an activity that makes him giggle delightedly.

When he first started to show an interest in letters and reading, I promised myself I would only encourage him, never push him. But he's insatiable, and as much as I give him, he's always ready for more. And now he’s taken the next step by himself—I noticed a shaky PR on the Magna Doodle the other day when I came back from work. Later, I watched him write it several times.

I don’t mean for this to be an obnoxious bragging post. It’s just that I’m truly fascinated by the whole thing. And to be honest, when I’m in a bad place, I’m slightly worried about it. If we’d never had that intervention with his teachers, I think I would feel nothing but pride, I’d be thinking my son is brilliant, it never would have occurred to me that anything might even be wrong. I wish I were utterly oblivious. But he does echo language a lot. I have a hard time getting him to answer questions. The letters are bordering on an obsession. P and I used to joke that Primo showed more of the “classic” signs of autism than Secondo. When he was younger he had this need to line up toys, straws, silverware. I completely disregarded the best advice I received—and followed—early on with Secondo, which was, “No obsessive Googling, it will just freak you out," and found out about hyperlexia, which--you guessed it--freaked me out.

I told Secondo’s new doctor, Dr. B, about Primo. “Trust your instincts,” he tells me. “They’ve been great so far.” The thing is, I don’t know anymore. My instincts do tell me that Primo is just fine. That he’s smart as a whip, a brainy boy, a boy who likes taking books to the playground, nothing more. And then I hate myself for doubting that, because I'm insanely proud of him and amazed by how smart he is. But his teachers planted that seed of doubt in my mind. And then I think of P's friends, whose son was diagonosed with PDD-NOS. They didn't catch it until he was older. He was reading, his mother tells me. We just thought he was smart. And if it weren’t for Secondo, I think I would find it really easy to laugh it all off, call his teachers crazy. But there is Secondo. So I’m heeding the advice I give other people, which is, It can’t hurt. Even if you're wrong, at least you’ll know.

Monday, November 17, 2008


I have a long translation due on Thursday, and after being sick for a while and having a house guest, I started to freak out about finishing it. Today, thankfully, it started looking like meeting the deadline would at least be humanly possible--I wasn't so sure about that earlier. So I'm sneaking in five minutes to blog.

The translation includes autopsy reports, and my background research has been interesting. I found out that the three top hits and the most easily available autopsy reports are those of Nicole Brown Simpson, JonBenet Ramsay and Terri Schiavo. I also needed information on fingerprinting corpses and found many graphic images I wish I hadn't seen--and I say this as someone who doesn't bat an eyelash when interpreting for a medical examiner. I was, however, incredibly excited to have the original reports in Spanish, because it cleared up a lot of outstanding questions I had about the terminology I already knew in English.

Tomorrow the weather is supposed to be cold, and I heard flurries mentioned on the news. I will be happily holed up in my office translating, in my fleece pajamas and slippers, sipping a latte and eating brioche and Nutella. And even though I'll be working very, very hard, I'm looking forward to that.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Another Midnight Post

So I missed another day. I'm not making excuses, just stating the following facts: An old friend is in town, we've eaten delicious Ethiopian food for several meals in a row now, and drunk good wine. Plenty of it. We've hung out and she's also looked after the boys for me, because I've been working doggedly on a translation that's due on Thursday.

Also, we've been googling old articles from the Onion that we remember from way back. So I'll leave you with this one. Even though I'm opposed to the mere mention of Christmas before Thanksgiving, this one cracks me up every time. And considering it's the Onion, it's surprisingly G-rated, too.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Our meeting with Miss C today was wonderful. I was glad I'd skimmed Secondo's IEP. His progress was evaluated using a series of codes that I can't remember. But he did get a couple of Ms for Mastery of a skill, a few of his skills were considered Emerging Skills, and he should be on track to meet those goals by the end of the year. I'm not so interested in the goals, exactly. What matters to me is that he seems like a different boy than he was when he started school, he's much more engaged, there's less echoing and his language is so much more purposeful than it used to be. Miss C is a new teacher, and I sing her praises to anyone who will listen.

We also met with his speech therapist for the first time. I had no idea that she speaks Spanish fluently, and she told us she often uses it with Secondo during their sessions. I could have wept, I was so excited.

[Anyone notice how I often get my November posts in right under the wire, before midnight? I think this one will still count for my Thursday post, even though it's now Friday.]

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


I will be working at a conference tomorrow morning. The timing was perfect--the place where I was originally supposed to work tomorrow canceled on me, and I'm busy in the afternoon, so a few hours of work will fill my morning nicely. The only information I have is the name of the organization where I will be working, a link to their website and the name of my colleague. I like knowing details so I can read up on the subject and prepare a glossary, but tonight I've been wading through pages and pages on their website and I have no idea what information is relevant.

Tomorrow afternoon we have a parent-teacher conference with Miss C, where we will discuss Secondo's progress in meeting the goals set forth in his IEP. I've heard a million horror stories about IEP meetings, but ours went swimmingly. I do realize, though, that that's because it was our very first meeting and we were not evaluating his progress, we were setting goals, goals that sounded good to me so throughout the meeting I nodded enthusiastically and occasionally chimed in. Goals that I no longer remember. So tonight I dug out Secondo's IEP and reread it in preparation for tomorrow. I was reminded that his progress will by measured using the very specific, numerical criteria established several months ago, even though it's obvious to me that he's progressed by leaps and bounds.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

When Interpreters Dream

I spend a lot of my time looking up words.

When I translate, I have plenty of time to research terminology. I’ve gotten good at Google searches, I have several specialized go-to dictionaries, and in a pinch, I can e-mail or call colleagues from a particular country and ask for their opinion. Sometimes, even when I think I’ve researched something thoroughly, the perfect word will come to me when I’m editing my work, after I’ve set the translation aside for a little while.

Interpreting is different that way—you do it on the fly. If I’m working by myself, I can look things up as I go, or weave words in later or correct myself if I need to. If I’m lucky enough to have a colleague who’s got my back, he or she will jot down words for me and help me out as I go along.

And sometimes, picking someone’s brain is really the best solution. No matter how many dictionaries you own or how many search results you find online, the results can be unsatisfying. There’s nothing like asking your audience. Your clients are, after all, experts in their field, and they can often clear things up for you in an instant.

A difficult word came up recently, one I’d had to interpret many times before. I’d found acceptable—and correct—solutions, but I still wasn’t happy. The conference was on sexual violence and the word was “advocate.” When it’s a noun, you can use the words defensor, partidario, or you can turn the word into a phrase, which can be clumsy, not to mention difficult to fit in your interpretation. When it’s a noun, you can use the word abogar. The problem is, those words can be confusing if the context is legal, because a defensor can be a defense attorney and an abogado is an attorney, whereas the word advocate has a different connotation. I’ve searched message boards and there are long threads devoted to the word, but no one has the perfect answer.

After the role of an advocate (in the context of rape and sexual violence) had been described at the conference, I went up to the women who were my clients. “See that woman over there?” I asked, pointing at one of the advocates. “In your field, what would you call someone who does her job?”

One of them then proceeded to give me the perfect word, a word that had never turned up in all my searching. It was such an elegant solution, so smack-yourself-on-the-forehead obvious, a word that was a complete revelation. I immediately jotted it down in my steno pad and thanked the woman profusely. It came up many, many more times that day, and I loved having the perfect word to use.

And then I forgot it.

I have absolutely no idea what it is. I know from experience I won’t find it online, though I’ve looked, hoping I missed something the first time. I look at the stack of dozens of steno pads in my office and am daunted by the prospect of looking through all of them, and I curse the fact that I didn’t label the pad, that my system is so haphazard. I’m always hopeful that someday the word might just come to me again, or that it will reveal itself to me in a dream. Seriously.

Lesson learned. Ever since, I’ve recorded those notes on my iPod Touch when I’m on the go, so I won't forget them again. But I still mourn the loss of that perfect, perfect word.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Books, Books, Books

My dad was a big fan of celebrating special occasions. He especially loved celebrating them on dates that were not the actual dates of the occasions. I’ve mentioned before how we used to celebrate Thanksgiving whenever we felt like it, sometimes several times a year, and rarely in November. Christmas was often celebrated whenever my dad came back from a trip to the United States. It’s hard to describe just how incredible the ritual of the Opening of the Suitcases was when I was growing up. There were special gifts like walkmans and cassette tapes, magazines, Hershey bars and all kinds of assorted candy that was locked in a trunk and rationed throughout the year. My dad always milked it and made the most out of each reveal, so that my brother and I were always craning our necks practically drooling in anticipation while we waited for him to pull out whatever was hidden beneath the dirty laundry in his luggage. Christmas was always a fun time—tamales! rompope! huge manger scenes!—and an important holiday, but gifts were not big part of it. Nothing could have compared to the Opening of the Suitcases.

And my birthday, which was in May, was always celebrated in July.

There are a lot of bookstores in Costa Rica that sell books in English now, and there are even used bookstores which are full of books that tourists have left behind. But when I was growing up, there was only one. It was called simply The Bookshop, and it was so small and cozy. And they had a huge sale every year. In July.

My dad took me every year. It was my birthday gift, and I was allowed to buy stacks and stacks of books. After I was done picking out my favorites—books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madeleine L’Engle and James Herriot, the Great Brain books, Trixie Belden and every book in the Oz series—my dad would always steer me towards the saleslady and ask her what else she might recommend for a girl my age, and I would add some more to my pile. When I got home, I would spread them all out on my bed and look through them carefully, and deciding which one to read first took an eternity.

My parents passed their love of reading down to me. The yearly shopping spree at The Bookshop is the only time I remember money being no object. When I outgrew my own books, I moved on to my parents’ books. They had an aversion to fiction, so I read many, many memoirs, written by teachers, actors, doctors, books about the Cold War and about Holocaust survivors. We took to initialing the inside of the front cover of the books we’d read, so it was easy to keep track of who had read what. Even though we watched some TV every night, it was always turned off at some point so we could all have some peace and quiet while we all read in the living room together.

And now, I'm making every effort to pass that love of reading on to my boys. I didn’t start reading to them as early as they say you should, but I felt silly reading to them when they were newborns, just like I felt silly talking to them when I was pregnant. (Also, they got to hear my voice half an hour per hour while I was interpreting. I figured it didn't matter that what they were hearing were court proceedings in Spanish.) Once they could sit up, though, there were always board books strewn around the floor along with their toys. When I started reading them stories at night, I had a captive audience—their room was so tiny that there was only enough room to wedge a chair between both of their cribs. I would sit and read to them every night while they stood in their cribs and peered over the top.

When they were that small and had no say in the matter, I read to them almost exclusively in Spanish. That ended once they were big enough to grab a book and bonk me in the head with it insistently until I agreed to read it to them, so I began reading to them in English as well. What I’ve found, though, is that we keep coming back to the books in Spanish again and again, to the point that even P often reads to them in Spanish because those are their favorites and those are the stories they want to hear.

This has meant I’ve become quite passionate about children’s books in Spanish. I’m always on the lookout for them—new on Amazon, used at library sales, from friends and relatives who come to visit from Costa Rica. P often comments that our place looks like a bomb went off in Barnes & Noble. And while we started with Buenas Noches, Luna and the Eric Carle books in Spanish, the boys quickly moved past those (though I won’t say they outgrew them, because we recently went through another Eric Carle phase and they seemed to enjoy the books even more than they had before), and I’ve discovered many, many wonderful books since the days of La oruga muy hambrienta.

I’ve added an Amazon widget to my blog that reflects our current favorites, just for fun, and I’ll comment on what we’re reading occasionally as well, both for my own benefit as well as in hopes that it might lead someone else to discover something new.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sick Days

So, I obviously took a couple of days off from blogging. Damn--I would have liked to make it through NaBloPoMo successfully! But other things took priority, like breathing, which I was having a hard time with for a few days. The good news is, I was able to cancel work, see my doctor, and get better. Also, it was decided I don't have pneumonia, which definitely qualifies as good news.

Back to work for me tomorrow, and more posts later.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A Little Fluff

I spent one morning this week at a fancy law firm interpreting for an interview. It was very emotional, boxes of tissues were passed to people. And then, I stood up to leave and reached across the fancy conference table to shake the hand of one of the attorneys. And proceeded to knock over my entire glass of water, covering the entire table. At least it was only water, not coffee or Diet Coke (both of which I’d been drinking), and no attorneys, laptops or documents got wet.

What I said, in a feeble attempt at levity, was, “Hey, at least we’re not in federal court!”

I didn’t finish the entire thought, which was, “Because when you spill water all over the defense table in front of a federal judge in the middle of a big trial, now THAT’S embarrassing!”

Trust me. I know. I am a klutz.

[I have a feeling NaBloPoMo may include several more mindless anecdotes. At least until the shakes from my fever subside. And until my ISP gets its act together. Curse you, Verizon! I don’t mind missing a day, but not if it’s Verizon’s fault. It’s 9:28 on Wednesday and I'm sure I'll be going to bed before things are up and running again.]

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Notes From the Couch

Yes, I'm parked on the couch watching the election results roll in. Who isn't? The wine has been flowing freely (I'm sure that will go nicely with my Theraflu later). Not the good wine, though, not just yet. The last time we prematurely opened a bottle of the good wine was during Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series, and we all remember how that worked out. At least, we Cubs fans do.

The fact that Primo, at the age of not-quite-three, can read and spell is a topic for another post. But here's what he wanted to type on the computer today, over and over. His mama is so proud.

Monday, November 3, 2008

A Perfunctory Post

It's November 3rd, which I'm pretty sure is too early in the month to post a token blog entry. But the boys are sick, I'm sick, and with the time change, we were all up early in the morning. All I can think of right now is the Theraflu that is sitting on the kitchen table, Theraflu I plan to take as soon as I can heat up the water. Tomorrow's job will be a very stressful one, so I'm going to conk out and hope things are better in the morning.

And also, I need to get out of here early tomorrow morning and VOTE!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Hello, November

A year ago, NaBloPoMo inspired me to start a blog. I thought it would motivate me to start out, since the concrete goal would be to post every day. I posted 18 times that month, which wasn't bad, for me. Since then, I've only posted a few times a month (or once a month, in some cases), but this year, I'm going to challenge myself to ramp up the number of blog posts. I'm going to unoficially do NaBoPoMo again. So, here goes.

One of the reasons I started to blog was because I felt so strongly about teaching the boys Spanish and I wanted to chronicle their language development. And then I held back, because it became clear that Secondo's language development was delayed, and I felt guilty posting language-related stories because most of them would have been about Primo.

One year and one autism diagnosis later, I'm over that. Things are what they are. Primo's language development continues to amaze me, and Secondo's language development has become a cause for celebration, not a source of worry like it was last year. That is a huge relief, and overall, I'm feeling optimistic and ready to tackle November.

I have to say, October kicked my ass. It's not all doom and gloom around here, though. Many of the events I'm writing about occured a few weeks ago, and I'm over them and am moving on, but I need to get them out. So there will be more posts about autism, because it's become a big part of our lives. But there will also be more posts about language, about the wonderful books we're reading. About my work and other things going on around here. Things that have seemed unimportant lately, things that have taken a backseat to autism.

But you know what, here's to the unimportant stuff.

More tomorrow.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

My Other Son

In my career as a translator and interpreter, I’ve discovered that Spanish speakers often start sentences with the words “Por una parte…” It means: On one hand. It is a phrase that just begs to be completed. And the speaker will ramble on and on, and I wait and wait for the por otra parte. The logical conclusion, on the other hand. But most of the time, it doesn’t come. I’ve come to realize it’s just a quirk of the language, and it’s so common that I usually just omit it entirely so as not to leave the English-speaking audience hanging.

I look back over my last post, which I only wrote a few weeks ago, even though it feels like much longer. There was also a Diagonosis: Part Two, which I composed over and over again in my head. It was, in a nutshell, about the fact that Secondo was officially diagnosed with autism. It was about the kindness of friends and how the simplest of gestures made things better. I may post it later, but lately I’ve been thinking about how I left the audience hanging.

The thing is, por una parte, there’s Secondo.

Por otra parte, there’s Primo.

It is noon, and preschool is out. My mom has taken Primo out into the hallway, and I am shuffling around the classroom, waiting for his teachers to finish up so we can talk. I have been out of town for two weeks and they have already talked to my mother, and to P. But I have asked to talk to them because I am Primo’s mother, and I need to hear this for myself.

We sit around a table, the three of us. The chairs are tiny, and I remember them from when I was a student teacher in a kindergarten classroom. I learned to sit in them, but what I really remember is the bruises. I always had a line of bruises from the knees down, from all of the tiny furniture.

Primo doesn’t make eye contact, they say. He doesn’t talk. When we talk to him, he parrots back exactly what we’ve said. He doesn’t participate during circle time. He doesn’t even sit in the circle. He sits in that little red chair, behind the circle. He plays by himself on the playground. There’s another little boy who tries to play hide-and-seek with him, but Primo just wanders off, he’s not interested. You know, it’s fine that the knows all of his letters, but that’s not the only important thing.

We really think he needs to be evaluated.

We’re not saying this because of the issues you’ve had with your other son.

What they’re saying is not news to me, because I heard it from my mother and from P. But their tone is flat and defensive throughout, like they’re eager to get their grievances off their chest, and like they can’t believe they have to repeat this a third time. I can’t really remember what I say. I do remember telling them we’re wondering if we should leave him in preschool another month, and I ask for their opinion.

Well, one of them shrugs, he’s not disruptive.

And suddenly I feel the tears start to well up. I try to hold them back, because the fact that I’m starting to cry makes me mad. Not because I mind crying in front of others, necessarily, but because I have been bombarded by negative statements and this last one makes me realize that they have not said a single positive thing about my son. Nor have they shown a single shred of kindness, which would have made this so much easier to bear.

One of them points me in the direction of the tissues, and thanks to Snick’s comment on my last post, before I even reach for one I think, I’ll bet these tissues are FUCKING SCRATCHY, and I am right.

I leave the room, scratchy tissue in hand, and run into the director, who is happily chatting with my mom. It is obvious that neither one of them expected me to emerge in such a state. The director touches my shoulder and tells me I can call anytime, and I can tell she means it. She also sends me down the hall to talk to an education specialist who happened to be observing Primo’s classroom this morning. I tell her the story, give her some background information.

A week later, I am on the phone with someone from the county school system. She remembers who I am, which I find both comforting and depressing. I schedule an evaluation for Primo. And I can’t believe we’re doing this again.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Diagnosis, Part I

We sit in the waiting room in the Psychiatry Department, and we wait. Considering that it took us so many months to get this appointment, the waiting room here is not as nice as I thought it would be. It’s actually kind of sad. There is a worn train table, but there are no toy trains or cars to be seen. There is a chipped plastic musical toy that even Secondo, who adores anything with buttons that plays music, only tries out once before he loses interest. I have his favorite book, one about a school bus, in my purse, and I hold him on my lap and read it to him over, and over, and over again. He wanders over to the double doors occasionally, and I follow to make sure no one opens them and knocks him over.

We wait, and we wait. I am sick of the book about the school bus. After about an hour I hear the receptionist whispering animatedly on the phone. Tell her she’s got a patient waiting, she hisses loudly enough for me to hear, then hangs up and tells me the doctor is on her way down.

I can tell you all are really busy, I say, trying to sound sympathetic.

This place is CRAZY, she says, shaking her head, and I nearly start to laugh, considering where we are and all, but she doesn’t seem to realize what she’s said.

Dr. A rushes in, finally, and greets us warmly. She had an emergency upstairs. She disappears in the back for another twenty minutes. I assume she’s reading Secondo’s chart, or at least I hope she is, because filling out all the paperwork was draining and took P and me hours.

She walks back out, this time with an entourage of about four other doctors, interns, who knows. I don’t remember. They all stand in a row holding their clipboards and though she introduces them all, I am disconcerted by their presence and their names don't even register.

We go to the playroom. The carpet is dark and the room is small and bare, except for a table and chairs and one large window, which I later realize is a two-way mirror. Dr. A and another doctor (the others have disappeared behind the mirror, I assume) break out a bin of toys and watch Secondo play even as they’re grilling us. They ask P and me probing questions that throw me for a loop, questions about breastfeeding and baby blues, our marriage, high school. Secondo wanders around, not so much into any of the toys with the exception of a hot pink Barbie convertible. At one point he gets up and starts licking the armrests of every chair in the room. I am so taken aback that I can’t even speak, because I’ve never seen him do this, ever, and it makes me feel deeply uneasy. Absurdly, a clip from the movie Airplane! starts playing in my head: Jim never has a second cup of coffee at home. Secondo never does this at home. But I don’t say that, because he's doing it now. Instead I distract him and he moves on to something else.

Dr. A is full of positive comments. It’s always hard to diagnose children who’ve received good parenting. You have a gentle touch with him. I think your instincts are good. She needs to see Secondo a few more times, she says. She and the second doctor talk for a minute about repetitive behaviors they've noticed. It’s just such a relief, I tell her. It's such a relief to have someone NOT dismiss my concerns. And all of a sudden I am crying so hard I can’t speak. Someone passes me a box of tissues that is on the table. I hadn’t noticed it when we came in. Of course they keep them right there, I think. Duh. And as I try to regain my composure I am reminded of all of the witnesses I’ve ever interpreted for who have cried on the stand as I’ve stood next to them, waiting, sympathetic but detached and professional. There’s always a box of tissues right there, but they never notice it until someone nudges it in their direction.

I know this is hard, Dr. A says gently, and that’s when I stop crying. No, I tell her, wiping my eyes. This isn’t hard. The hard part was taking him in for that very first appointment.

This is what I’ve told people for many months now, and I’ve firmly believed it. And yet, today, even as I’m saying it, I realize it’s not true, at least not this time.

Because it is hard. Even when you see it coming, it’s hard.

Friday, September 26, 2008

A Note to Ms. C


Ms. C,

An update on Secondo’s appointment—we met with Dr. [Big Fancy Psychiatrist] at [Big Fancy Hospital] today. No official diagnosis, because she wants to see him a few more times in the upcoming weeks, but in her words, he’s most likely on the autism spectrum.

I know Secondo isn’t so big on the fruit I send to school with him, but I keep trying anyway!


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Open House, Part Two

The thing is, I used to be against preschool.

I just didn’t think it was necessary for my kids. The boys have a nanny, who I’ve known since I was in high school, and I’ve loved and trusted her from day one. The fact that she is from El Salvador and speaks no English was a huge bonus to me. It meant the boys would be exposed mostly to Spanish, and I wanted to keep that going for as long as possible. Plus, preschool for two children would be expensive, and who needs that? I watched several of my friends research schools last spring, tour them all, get on waiting lists and then agonize over the decision. Oh, hell, no, I thought.

But then Secondo qualified for the preschool class at our public school, and P and I started feeling a little bad for Primo. He would be lonely without Secondo, probably. We don’t have too many playdates, so he doesn’t see other kids all that often. And he’s such a cheerful, outgoing child that he would probably love being with other kids at preschool.

So I contacted a preschool. It’s a short walk from the house. That was seriously my only criterion. Primo and I went on a tour, and he walked into the classroom like he owned the place. My guide talked the school up. That’s okay, lady, I thought. As long as you aren’t torturing small children in the basement, really, I’m good. But I just nodded. Since this was just last month, there was a waiting list, so I put Primo on it and crossed my fingers.

I got the call fifteen minutes after Secondo’s open house was over. It was last minute, the director said. There was a parents’ meeting that night, and an open house the next day. I got the wrong information about the class would be in, so we went to the wrong open house. I was bummed—again--when I found out there were three Spanish-speaking parents there, too. Primo will be in the other class, the one for younger children, starting tomorrow. In the end, it doesn’t matter. He loved it. It will be good.

Today was Secondo’s first day. We were going to take the bus, Primo, Secondo, their nanny and I, so I could show her how to get there if she ever needs to pick him up. But the bus was late, so we had to pile into the car and rush over. P was waiting there. We all walked in, and Secondo headed for the toy school bus again. I kissed him goodbye and told him I was leaving. It didn’t seem to register. Then we closed the door behind us and I looked through the window for just a few seconds. When he looked up and seemed to realize I’d left, I quickly moved away so he wouldn't see me. Didn’t you cry? my friends asked me later. I would have. No, I said. I just wanted to get away from there to make life easier for him and his teacher.

P told me his was just fine, if clingy, when he picked him up. Ms. C told him Secondo named several foods and ate a rice cake. That was the summary of the day. I looked through his daily log as soon as I got home from work. Great first day! it read in neat script. Secondo used lots of words! Underneath was a little list: cracker, raisin, more.

That is a good first day.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

One Day Only

I'm mostly shy when it comes to my blog. I haven't even put up a blogroll yet. And I definitely haven't posted any pictures of my kids. So I don't know what came over me when I sent a picture of the boys to The Dad of Looky, Daddy! for his Month of Mastheads.

It's perfect, really. Anyone want to see a picture of the boys? It'll be posted there today, and then it will be gone. Maybe someday I'll decide to post pictures, but not for now.

But I will get my blogroll up. Really.

Open House

“You’d better get a three-ring binder,” the teacher told me a month ago, as we left the IEP meeting. “You’re going to need it—you’ll have that much paperwork.”

The events regarding Secondo the past few months have been a blur. Not because there’s been that much going on, or because things have happened at lightning speed. But it’s all kind of fuzzy in my mind. He was evaluated at home, several months ago. It took an hour. And after that, we got a report in the mail. Even though I read it many, many times, I can only remember a few phrases. Developmental delay. Special education. And the only one that actually scares me a little: Social communicative disorder cannot be ruled out.

Which is how P, Secondo and I finally find ourselves at the open house for the special education preschool class he will be in starting on Monday. It is so bright and welcoming. The children’s names and birthdays are written on construction paper balloons and stapled on the bulletin board. When I see Secondo’s name up there, I am happy and excited and wistful and think I might cry.

Secondo, unfazed, makes a beeline for the toy school buses. His little yellow school bus is his favorite toy at home, and he immediately starts rolling this one back and forth. We parents and the two teachers alternate between making small talk and refereeing squabbles over toys, of which there are many.

“Secondo,” I chide, when he instigates such a squabble. “Tiene que compartir.

The other little boy’s mother stares at me. “¿Hablas español?” she asks me, and then we are chatting away at a speed that English speakers find unnatural.

“Does your boy speak Spanish?” I ask.

She lowers her eyes. “Well, I speak to him in Spanish,” she says. “But he doesn’t talk too much.”

I could kick myself. “I know,” I tell her. “Secondo’s the same way.”

Her little boy is Ramón* and I am deeply bummed to find out that he and Secondo won’t be in the same class. But his mother tells me she’ll be going to the support group meetings for parents. I remember the flier, which is buried deep in a stack of papers and will be until I get that three-ring binder. I hadn’t really given it much thought, but now I decide I’ll go whenever I can.

We get ready to leave. I gather up Secondo so that he’s at eye level with his teacher, who he’s ignored for the past hour. “Secondo,” I say in English, for her benefit. “This is your teacher, Miss C.” Nothing. “Secondo.” I gently turn his face with the palm of my hand. And then he looks at her, really looks at her. And I can tell he doesn’t quite know what to make of this. So I tickle him and get a huge smile.

“He’s a beautiful child,” Miss C. murmurs.

And I’ll bet she says that to all the parents. But he is a beautiful child. I take him by the hand, and we walk to the car. And I’ve come away with such a great feeling.

I can’t wait until Monday.

*Names changed, of course.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Embarrassing Stories

A few years ago I was at a professional conference, surrounded by translators and interpreters. I love attending conferences—they’re expensive, but I need the continuing education credits to keep up my certification, and I always enjoy the experience. I come away feeling invigorated, at least for a while.

We sat down to lunch in the big ballroom and listened to the keynote speaker tell a story, a story about a gaffe he made when he was just learning Spanish. He’d done something or other and was feeling embarrassed about it, so he said, “Estoy embarazado.” Funny! Because (false cognate alert!) embarazado does not mean “embarrassed,” it means pregnant. Oops. The crowd tittered politely, but I was unimpressed.

The thing is, that happens to just about everyone who’s learning Spanish. When people who are learning the language tell me that story, I always laugh, because it is indeed funny and the fact that it happens to everyone doesn’t make it any less embarrassing if it happens to you. And it makes for a good icebreaker. But I was in a room full of interpreters, so my thought was, really? That’s the best you could do? Because interpreters can tell some really good stories about the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to them.

Here’s mine:

I used to interpret for a lot of anti-terrorism courses--definitely not the kind of work I ever imagined I’d do when I was interpreting in a nice, quiet booth in graduate school. It involved lots and lots of time on the shooting range. I loved the work, even though it was physically demanding. There was a mechanical precision to everything on the shooting range, and a rhythm I got into when interpreting the instructors’ commands, barking short, neat orders into my radio transmitter to all of the students on the firing line. No one did anything, anything at all, unless it had been ordered by the instructor.

We stood uprange one day, the line of students preparing their magazines and weapons for the march up to the firing line, an instructor and I behind them. The students had loaded two or three pistol magazines with ammunition, checked their gear and awaited the order, which finally came.

“LOAD YOUR WEAPONS!” bellowed the instructor.

¡CAGUEN LAS ARMAS!” I shouted, just as forcefully.

And then I watched helplessly and turned beet-red as the rigid, perfectly straight line of men fell apart as all twenty-four men in fatigues doubled over in laughter.

The instructor, a former cop who was twice my size and who intimidated the hell out of me, turned to me and asked, “What did you say? What did you say??

It was a slip of the tongue, I explained. I left out the r. Carguen las armas = load your weapons. Caguen las armas = shit on your weapons.

I underestimated the instructor. He wasn’t angry or even exasperated—he was mostly horrified and intrigued that leaving out one letter could make that much of a difference.

I had developed a rapport with the group during the course, which meant that they teased me mercilessly all day. I thought I’d never hear the end of it.

Qué embarazada.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


Apparently, I have a hard time dealing with the fact that the boys are ready to give some things up, to move on, grow up. What’s worse, I think I’m mostly freaked out because in my mind, I just know the transition will be rocky. It will cause extra work. We’ll all lose sleep. I’ve got a translation to work on tonight. Let’s all just stick to our usual routine.


A few weeks ago, Secondo, he of little spontaneous speech, plucked his binky out of his mouth one morning, handed it to me and said, “Adiós, chupeta.” I was floored. He loves his binky. It’s a fluke, I thought. He’s totally messing with me. He can’t be ready to give it up. Let’s just see what happens. Then he proceeded to do the same thing every morning for about a week. You would think I would have jumped at the chance to get rid of it, to follow his lead and say good-bye to the binky for once and for all, but I didn’t. So the binky is still with us.

Another morning, Primo looked at me and said simply, “Quiero hacer caca.” I whipped off his diaper and with no fanfare, he used the potty like he’d been doing it forever. When I tried to make a big deal out of the whole thing like all the parenting books say you’re supposed to do, he looked at me like I was crazy. Again, that would have been the time to go for it and start potty training in earnest. Instead, I was so intimidated by the thought of really potty training that again I thought, let’s just see what happens. He hasn’t done it again since.

The boys are back from their trip to see their grandparents. There was only one pack ‘n play there, so the two of them rotated between that and a double bed. At bedtime tonight, Secondo whined and tried to climb into his crib, and once I put him in there, was asleep within five minutes. When I put Primo in his crib, he tried to climb out and said, “La cama grande.”

The boys love La cama grande de Sofía, a book I bought them to help them transition to the big bed. Primo has asked for la cama grande before, but again, I’ve been unwilling to deal with it and have put him in his crib instead, over his objections. Tonight, finally, I decided to go for it.

And it went well. I stayed with him—and about twenty books—on the bed. I refused to read to him, explaining he’d had enough stories and it was time to go to sleep, but I did let him “read” his books, figuring he would fall asleep when he was tired enough. He leafed through Harold y el lápiz color morado, reading to me as he did. “Pasteles,” he said. “Globo. Policía.” He looked at me after each page, not continuing until he got confirmation from me.” After a while, I kissed him goodnight, went downstairs and proceeded to forget about him for two hours.

When I finally went back and checked on him, he was indeed asleep in the middle of la cama grande. And he’d pulled every single book off the bookshelves in the room. Some were on the bed with him, most of them were on the floor. But he was asleep, and he hadn’t made a peep all evening.

I count that as a success, and I really think he may finally be done with the crib now. It did prompt me to have a quick discussion with P about reading in bed. I started reading myself to sleep when I was old enough to read. And it was always a covert operation--I read with very little lighting, under the covers, because it was against the rules. Whenever I was busted, I got a lecture about how I was going to ruin my eyesight that way. (My eyesight is bad, indeed, but you’ll never convince me it was because I read under the covers.) But there was no stopping me, so I figure there’s no stopping Primo—why fight it?

Here’s hoping the rest of this transition will be as easy as it was tonight.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Required Reading

This article in the New York Times about Erik Camayd-Freixas is required reading--for interpreters, for anyone interested in our justice system or in immigration, for everyone.

Like Mr. Camayd-Freixas, I am a federal court interpreter. The article hit so close to home that I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I read it last Wednesday, and I still haven't quite been able to sort out how I feel.

I’m reluctant to blog about it, but it’s a fascinating article. There’s a follow-up editorial here.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Budget? What Budget?

I was feeling a little (and only a little) sorry for myself today, stuck inside in front of the computer when I could have been outside (or inside, really) doing something else.

So I placed an order for some books for the boys on Amazon. I'd been trying to fight the urge for a long time and finally caved in, budget be damned.

My order:

Abuelita fue al mercado
Cha-cha-cha en la selva

We own a couple of other books from Barefoot Books, and they're huge hits. So I have high hopes for these.

Gathering the Sun: An Alphabet In Spanish And English

I love Alma Flor Ada. Period.

Las pulgas no vuelan

I forget how I heard of it, but it sounded interesting.

¡Hola! que me lleva la ola

Because the boys love children's poetry in Spanish. So do I--and I swear it's boosted my vocabulary. We have a couple of wonderful books of poetry, and I also have high hopes for this one as well.

Total damage done (love the 4-for-3 promotion on Amazon): About $30. Makes me feel a little better about staying inside.

I'd Suspected This for a Long Time

Now I know for sure that I’m too lowbrow for the New Yorker, because I just cannot see how this is sophisticated political satire. I'm not even feeling deeply offended or indignant, just confused. Because...why?

I’ll be in the corner reading the Family Circus or something.

YouTube Break

And now, the "One Semester of Spanish Love Song."

Because I'm curious to see how hard it is to embed video in my blog. And because this cracks me up every time I watch it.

Back to work for me.

Au revoir.

Home Alone

P and the boys are visiting his parents for the weekend. For the first time in three years or so, I am home alone.

I had many, many plans for the weekend. I would watch Netflix movies. I would rent a machine and clean our furniture, which has seen our boys grow from newborns to toddlers and is much the worse for wear. I would spend time in the kitchen, make and even freeze my favorite muffins and granola bars so that I'd have plenty around for us to grab for breakfast in the mornings. I would organize the office, clean out the boxes that are stacked along one wall. Our nanny would work one day and help me scrub the place from top to bottom, and it would be clean for the first time ever. I would sleep in the mornings until I could sleep no more. I would blog to my heart's content. I would sneak in a matinee, at one of the multiplexes at an outlet mall, even, not just our local theater.

Instead, I got work that was too good to turn down. Damn you, work that is too good to turn down! The crappy offers, I can pass up in a heartbeat, but you, never. Even if it means giving up my weekend. So the place is still a mess, and the Sunday Post I bought this morning is on the couch, neatly folded and unread.

It's still good. I am still alone. It's still quiet. I have set aside some time to do a few things, I took a long bath last night, and I am enjoying the unfamiliar feeling of not having anyone else around.

Did I mention it's quiet? I'm liking that, quite a bit.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Social Niceties

It is a hot Saturday morning, and I am at the park with Primo and Secondo. We are multitasking--P is running errands and I am letting the boys run off some steam. Secondo, however, is in full wandering mode, which means he takes off every so often, oblivious to where I am, inspecting trees and strollers, drinking out of other kids' sippy cups before I catch up, fed up and frustrated. Not because what he's doing is so bad--in fact, he hasn't wandered like this for a while--but because my running after Secondo means that Primo is alone on a crowded playground. And mostly because it seems wrong that I have to trust Primo, who is all of two-and-a-half, to be OK by himself while I chase after his brother. Not just today, but a lot. I fear I am burdening him with that responsibility already.

We head back towards the playground equipment, where Primo is, in fact, OK. He and his brother have a grand time running back and forth on a little bridge between slides. They are soon joined by a little girl who looks to be a little older then they are. And in his haste to get across, Primo pushes her.

She looks at me, wide-eyed. "No pushing!" she yells, in the tone of a child who has heard the phrase a million times before. And she is right, of course. I grab Primo by the shoulders and give him a good scolding, in Spanish. And then I switch to Spanglish. I turn him to face the little girl and say, "Diga I'm sorry."

And then I hold my breath, and cross my fingers. Because he's never said that before. I've never made him say it before. He knows lo siento, but that isn't going to cut it with the indignant girl who's just been pushed. So I give it a try.

"I'm sorry," he says, contritely even, and I breathe a sigh of relief and give him a hug. Again, he's come through for me. Again.

The incident did get me thinking. Though the boys get English from their father, they get so much Spanish from their nanny and from me. Which I love. But I've realized lately that that has meant that they don't even know how to handle basic social interactions in English. Sometimes they'll say "bye-bye," but mostly it's adiós. And while the women at our local shops have found their greetings of "¡Hola, señora!" charming, it's time for me to make a concerted effort. So in the past couple of days, we've been working on hello, excuse me, and of course, I'm sorry. We'll see how that goes.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Meme in the Meantime

I think I'll do the meme I saw on Snick's blog while I work on the post on children's books in Spanish. So far, it's very, very long.

Four Jobs I Have Held
1. Cake decorator (my parents were my employers, and it was my weekend/summer job FOREVER)
2. Peace Corps Volunteer in Mali, West Africa
3. Spanish interpreter at the Mayo Clinic
4. Produce girl at a mom-and-pop shop in Saint-Malo, France

Four Movies I Could Watch Over and Over
1. Big Night
2. Airplane!
3. Any of the Pixar movies
4. Monsoon Wedding

Four Places I Have Lived
1. Heredia, Costa Rica
2. Makandiana, Mali
3. Nantes, France
4. Monterey, California

Four TV Shows I Like
1. The Amazing Race
2. 30 Rock
3. American Idol
4. How I Met Your Mother

Four Favorite Foods
1. Doritos
2. Jamba Juice smoothies
3. Gallo pinto with scrambled eggs, Salsa Lizano and a dollop of sour cream
4. Molten chocolate cake

Four Places I Would Rather Be
1. I’m actually on the Acela Express, which is a place I like quite a bit—especially since I just discovered there’s a beer cart. I mean, snack cart. With beer.
2. On the beach near my mom’s place in Costa Rica, eating ceviche and drinking beer (again with the beer)
3. Reading bedtime stories on the big futon with Primo and Secondo
4. On the couch, watching a movie, eating a nice, home-cooked meal and drinking a glass of wine

Monday, June 16, 2008

I Only Wish I'd Had My Camera

I was taking a new bus home from work today in an unfamiliar neighborhood, hell, in an unfamiliar state, anxiously keeping an eye out for my stop. And then I saw something I couldn't take my eyes off of.

It was a phone booth. An actual, honest-to-goodness, freestanding phone booth, not one of those little phone cubicles you find at the mall (if you look hard enough). It even said Verizon across the top, so it couldn't have been all that old, but it looked kind of decrepit and run-down.

And then my eyes were drawn to the person standing right in front of it, a twenty-something guy dressed in a nondescript t-shirt and jeans. Who was talking on his RAZR. In front of the phone booth. He hopped on the bus and sat down across from me, still chatting on his cell phone. The bus pulled back out into traffic and I felt like things had snapped back into place.

I found my stop with no trouble and headed home. But I couldn't stop thinking about the phone booth.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A thank-you of sorts

P and I have lived in the Washington, DC area for about five years now. We moved here from Boston, where we met, and where we lived as newlyweds. He was offered a job here, and I was ready for a change. Even if I had not met him, I’m sure I would have moved here sooner or later, because I traveled here for work enough that it would have made sense for me professionally. When we did move here I was very excited about it because I already had several friends here. Imagine, moving to a new place and not having to worry about making friends. And then I made new friends anyway, friends I’m lucky enough to work with, friends who are excellent colleagues, who have bought me sangria when I was down and who threw me a baby shower in my happiest time.

And then there’s the area itself. Boston it is definitely not. I do miss Boston, the history, the beauty of the city, the fact that I have traded living in a quaint neighborhood for living near a strip mall, which is just as convenient but nowhere near as charming. I miss my friends, Copley Square, afternoons spent reading out in front of the public library, the North End, burgers and martinis at The Harvest, sandwiches at Chacarero and shopping at Filene’s Basement, where I bought my wedding dress for $99. Dating and falling in love. But when I miss Boston, I miss it knowing that what I miss is the past, which I can’t have back.

What I have is this place, my present. And on the surface, to me, Washington seems to have more warts than Boston ever did. Let’s talk local politics. Or crime. Or traffic. Or schools. People usually spit out the word Washington with disdain, or disgust. You never hear the phrase inside the Beltway is never spoken in a positive context. So many neighborhoods seem generic and artificial.

And yet. I somehow can’t believe how much I love it here. I love the opportunities it’s afforded me professionally, which have been all I ever could have hoped for. I love the colleagues it’s been my privilege to work with. I love the majesty of the monuments, the fact I that my commute routinely takes me down Pennsylvania Avenue or across the Mall and I get to gaze in awe at the Capitol, which I always do. I love the museums, and the fact that so many of them are free. I love Tai Shan, who was born just before my boys were and who will always be Butterstick to me. I love the fact that my sons were born here and that we bought our first home here. I love the Washington Post much, much more than I ever loved the Boston Globe, even though I have to admit I always crack open Style before looking at the main section. (The recent imagined Clinton/Obama VP text messages? Funny.) I love that for all its (many) problems, the Metro is so damned clean, and it pissed me off anytime I see anyone eating on the train. I love that we got a National League baseball team just after we moved here, especially because it means I can go watch the Chicago Cubs play when they come to town. I love the feeling that barring anything unexpected, I plan to make this my home for the foreseeable future. And I love feeling like I’m a part of it all.

I love catching a glimpse of our local celebrities. Look! There’s James Carville at a Nats game. Look! There’s Newt Gingrich at the Pentagon. Look! There’s Sandra Day O’Connor at the Supreme Court. Look! There’s John Kerry, just a couple of blocks away from my house. Look! It’s Adrian Fenty, looking cool and chatting people up in front of a sidewalk café.

Only once, though, have I ever been so star-struck and overcome with excitement that I had to go up to someone and ask for an autograph. It was the first time I’d done that, ever, and only because I was so excited about it in the office that my colleagues needled me and practically pushed me out into the hallway, where I walked up to Tim Russert and asked him for his autograph. I sputtered and hemmed and hawed and said something really lame in the end, and he was classy and nice and wrote P a personalized autograph for me, whereupon I turned beet-red, turned tail and ran back into the office.

What I wish I’d said was this:

Thank you. Your show will always remind me of lazy Sunday mornings when I had nothing more pressing to do than lounge around on the crappy little futon on the floor in our first apartment with my coffee and French toast and sections of the paper strewn all around the living room. Then we had twins, and there was no more TV for us on Sunday mornings, and we were at a loss until we discovered Meet the Press was rebroadcast on the radio in the afternoons, and again very late at night. Then we listened to the show over a glass of wine, not coffee. And even later, I started to download the podcast. Last week’s show is still on my iPod, unwatched.

Thank you for making me enjoy politics, for making it interesting and fun, the way my Political Science professor never did.

Thank you for being one of the best things about my new hometown.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

I'd like my teeth brushed in English, please.

Brushing a toddler's teeth is a royal pain. When I hadn't found a good way to do it yet I searched for advice on the subject and found suggestions on blogs, my local parenting listservs and the like. There were all kinds of crazy suggestions, but the one that seemed to be common to all of them was: Hey! Pretend there's an animal in your toddler's mouth! Tell him you need to reach waaay back there with the toothbrush and "get" the tiger that's hiding in his mouth!

I guess that worked for some people, or they wouldn't have suggested it. But I didn't even try it because it just sounded silly, and our evening teeth-brushing sessions degenerated into wrestling matches. (I love, love, love having twins, but one petty reason I'm slightly jealous of mothers of singletons? They only have one set of teeth to brush at night. I've always been somewhat overwhelmed by TWO sets of toddler teeth.)

Primo, though, is obsessed with numbers, and one night, I happened upon a brilliant solution, which consisted of, Hey! Let's see how high Mama can count while brushing your teeth! It worked. That boy is so enamored of the number one hundred that I think he would endure practically anything to hear me count that high. And Secondo, who was watching the merriment in the next crib over and giggling all the while, wanted in on the action, so the method worked with him too, although his limit was always around fifty, not a hundred.

The other day, though, Secondo rebelled and clenched his teeth together right after I started brushing. So I moved on to Primo, and started with my usual enthusiastic Uno! Dos! Tres!

Except he was having none of that, either. Instead, he grabbed the toothbrush from me and commanded: "English!" So I started over, in English, and we counted to one hundred, as usual. And though Secondo doesn't have the "English! Español!" thing down the way Primo does, he let me know by exclaiming, "One! Two! Three!" that he would like his teeth brushed in English too, please. I obliged, and I'll be damned if it didn't work.

I'm such a stickler for speaking Spanish. But for now, the boys apparently want their teeth brushed in English. So I'm going to go with that, if only for the sake of dental hygiene.

(Did I just write an entire post about brushing toddlers' teeth? I think I did. Anyone reading might want to just skip this one. Yeah.)