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.


Snickollet said...

Assvice alert: I wouldn't worry about the language of the social niceties too much. They are going to get the English eventually, no doubt about it. At this age, that they are saying "Howdy, Ma'am!" "I'm sorry," etc. in any language is enough, I think. You can be their interpreter for now :).

Of course, I don't want to imply that there's something wrong with working on the English, just that there's also nothing wrong with other kids getting exposed to the Spanish!

Hope the NY trip was OK.

alex said...

That's all very fine, but in this case, the social benefit of exposing the little girl to Spanish would be hugely outweighed by the fact that she would completely not realize she was being apologized to. If they're ready to say "I'm sorry" in one of their languages, they're ready to say it in both. Stick to it, Keen!