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.)

Things Interpreters Don't Like to Hear

In lieu of an update, here's a short list of things that speakers say that are a sign for interpreters that things are about to get pretty dicey:
  • I will now quote Shakespeare.
  • I will now quote the Bible.
  • I will now recite an inspirational poem.
  • Let us pray. (This one is a little easier because for years and years I listened to my Abuelita say beautiful prayers before lunch, but it’s still hard to make a prayer sound beautiful on the fly.)
  • I will now tell a really funny joke. This joke is SO FUNNY. You won’t BELIEVE how funny this joke is. I sure hope it translates. (Yeah, it only does about half the time.)
  • I will now blow through my PowerPoint slides at the rate of 100 slides per minute. (Okay, they don’t actually say this. But they do it.)
  • Let's watch a video. I shot it myself with my camcorder, so the sound quality isn't very good.
  • Oh, I don’t need to wear a lapel mike. I’m sure you all can hear me just fine, right?
  • People tell me I usually talk really fast, so let me know if you need me to slow down. (Something I’ve learned: You simply cannot control how quickly or slowly you talk. You can do it for maybe a minute, no more. I’m sympathetic to this one, because I tend to speed up when I’m excited or nervous. Court reporters have told me to slow down and I feel mortified when they do, because I consider them to be my kindred spirits.)
  • Let me tell you about each one of the parts of this extremely complicated device. In great detail.
  • I will now read this prepared speech word for word as quickly as I possibly can. (I guess they don't exactly say this, either.)
  • We’ll have a working lunch before our next meeting starts.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

And Mama does a little jig

I have a post brewing about the boys' favorite books in Spanish, and how I'm obsessed with finding new books for them. I read to them in English as well, but a lot of their favorite books to read with me are in Spanish.

We have a few books that include a Spanish and an English version of the story. And in very few, select cases, I sight-translate books for them--that is, the original is only in English, but I read it out loud in Spanish. (Yes, another form of translation/interpretation, a kind of hybrid.) I do that with some of the Little Quack books, because we do have two of them in Spanish and they're so repetitive that the ones in English are very easy to sight translate. Also, they've been favorites of the boys since they were about a year old.

But this post is about a small victory tonight. I was reading Little Quack's New Friend to the boys in Spanish before bedtime when P walked in the room. Primo grabbed the book, took it to his dad, and requested, "English!" P read it to them in English and then left the room. Whereupon Primo brought the book back to me and happily demanded, "Español!"

Primo has been code-switching depending on who's around for a while now, and Secondo has started to do so as well. But tonight you could have knocked me over with a feather.

My one thought was: Wow. This is working.


Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Look Ma, more bullets!

No blogging! No time! No motivation! Deadlines! So what else is new? But I miss blogging and wanted to finally get a post in, so here are a just a few things from the last two weeks.

  • I think I worked an 80-hour work week last week, give or take a few hours, which officially ended this evening. I was working on a long, involved translation project and learned many lessons. One of which was that I can work until 5:00 a.m. if I have to. Two days in a row. I also learned that after you’ve done that two days in a row, 3:00 a.m. the next day doesn’t seem so bad, and 1:00 a.m. after that is a piece of cake. However, I don’t recommend it and I hope not to do it again anytime soon. You’re really not meant to do that after a certain age, I think, especially not if you have energetic twin toddlers, no matter how supportive and helpful your husband is.
  • Storms! We had some pretty powerful storms in the area today and I was positively giddy as I ran back to work in the pouring rain after lunch today. My father used to tell me he always thought of me on rainy, dreary days because I love them so much. I suffer from the opposite of seasonal affective disorder, if there is one—sunny, warm days bring me down. Strange, I know.
  • Two wonderful women from our county school system came to our house yesterday to evaluate Secondo. It brought up a lot of feelings and fears for me and gave me a lot of food for thought, which will be another post.
Tomorrow I am treating myself with an entire day of rest. Absolutely no work allowed, especially since I have plenty lined up for the rest of the month. The boys’ nanny will be here and I plan to do the following:

  • Sleep as long as I want to, which may be all morning.
  • Get my eyebrows waxed for the first time in three years.
  • Blog and play on the computer.
  • Go shopping, maybe hit DSW for fun and go ogle furniture at World Market (and yet not spend more than the cash I have in my wallet, which is what my weekly budget allows).
I swear, I feel like tomorrow is Christmas.