Monday, January 8, 2007

Pig Latin

So, in our home we speak mostly English although the kids speak Japanese to each other occasionally (this is happening more frequently as Miss 4's Japanese improves). I have to confess that my girls' vocabularies are heavily influenced by both me and my husband. He, I would feign to profess is the culprit behind their foul little mouths, and I am the one responsible for terrible phrases like, "Don't push my buttons!" and "Excuse me, I am NOT your slave." etc. wince and ouch. It is so hard to hear yourself played back like that. I think because of the condensed nature of our English universe that I perhaps see even more of myspeak in the language of my children. That and thanks to Cable T.V. a smattering of The Peanuts vernacular : Recently Miss 8 turned in a towering rage and screamed, "You block head!" at Miss 4.

But just the other day it occurred to me that beyond Japanese, beyond English, my children ought to learn Pig Latin. That way, when they pull out disturbingly inappropriate adjectives and expletives in front of their American Grandparents (worst case scenario) or even just in front of the other Native English speaker we run into on rare occasions here in the Tohoku Region of Japan (frighteningly likely) I could bark out things like, "on'tday ouyay areday aysay ethay fay ordway! " You know, cut them off quick. With out the benefits of a third language like Pig Latin I am left to look incredibly uncomfortable while murmuring, "Now girls, you know we don't use language like that." and of course everyone in earshot knows that we da. . .er, ahem, well do obviously!

Pig Latin? It's so easy to decipher some of you might scoff. Ah, but the key here would be the element of surprise. Everyone who knows us would be perking up their ears in the expectation of hearing either English or Japanese. Pig Latin would throw them off just enough to be a success I'm sure. Unless they happen to be in the third or fourth grade. Then it would be a totally useless effort and what's more they'd probably insist on conducting the rest of the conversation purely in Pig Latin.

However, beyond the reason sited above for teaching the girls pig Latin , is the real reason that I want them to learn it. Living with, in, between two languages, it is easy to find yourself in a world of code. So when you are at your child's Japanese youchien (preschool) and she starts to say something inappropriate, be it a curse word, an unkind truth (that lady's butt is sooooo big!) or something too straight and honest, "I don't wanna hold his hand because he picks his nose!" you can quickly pipe up in English and intercept it. Likewise, you can threaten and coerce and bribe your child on the sly to get the desired behavior you want. "If you don't cry and just sit and sing the song with the rest of your class I'll take you to Mr. Donuts today." Many uses.

Or say, you find yourselves at the American Grandparents' home and your kids are looking at the meal put in front of them with a decided mix of disgust and revulsion. A soothing stream of Japanese along the lines of "eat it, at least a bite of each dish and don't you dare make a face, spit or say you hate it." does wonders. You can also use the language gap to your benefit in situations where you just don't want others to know what your family is discussing. This was a decided advantage when Miss 8 was still nursing at the age of two plus and would occasionally ask for the breast when out in public.

But what happens when you have a friend over who speaks both Japanese and English? Or to make matters a little more strained, an acquaintance, more of a tentative perhaps-we-might-become-friends kind of friend?

This is what happened a few weeks ago at our house. I had invited a youchien classmate of Miss 4's over with his mother to make gingerbread man cookies. The mother is a really nice, intelligent woman with a great sense of humor who, as a bonus, also speaks some English. Everything was going excellently. The kids were not only having a great time with icing and decorating the cookies and themselves but I felt like the mother and I were having a relaxed, easy going cup of coffee and conversation in the midst of the bedlam. Miss 8 was even being extraordinary generous with her younger cohorts, not ordering them about and making them do whatever she wanted (she tends to see her younger sister as more of a subordinate drone often than a playmate) but actually helping them and playing together!

Then sometime during the third or forth batch of cookies Miss 4 pulled the piece of packing tape covering the hole in the hallway wall off.

I was so relaxed that I just instantly said, "put that back on!" and turned to the visiting mother and murmured something about "they" accidentally made a hole in the wall when "they" threw something." I can't remember which language I said it in. Maybe Japanese as you can sometimes even leave out your subject (they) when speaking in Japanese and my main priority was to be vague--as vague as I could be.

Miss 4 and Miss 8 however instantly took offense. They view "the hole in the wall" with respect and profound sincerity. I had fibbed about one of their most revered objects in the house. Miss 4 instantly piped up, "Daddy did it!" and Miss 8 froze where she was and in very loud and clear Japanese gave more details, "Daddy made the hole in the wall when he was mad." The visiting mother's lower jaw dropped slightly and she hastily grabbed for her coffee cup as I tried to hush up my children. They wouldn't be hushed. Miss 4 continued, "Daddy did it! He was MAD" Miss 8 decided to show Daddy's "form" and started to imitate a big league pitcher. The visiting mother took a long sip of coffee. My mind raced. She lowered the cup. I smiled. She smiled.

I suggested that Miss 8 might want to help Miss 4 and her guest choose a video to put in to watch.

Well, the woman deserved some sort of explanation and one of my eternal curses is that when directly confronted I can not lie. "My husband got angry and threw a persimmons at the wall. It broke the wall and made a hole!" I laughed weakly.

She murmured something, I'm not sure what and then thank goodness the kids were back from the T.V. unit waving videos and DVDs in our faces.

The only thought that was on my mind? PIG LATIN. I need to teach these kids PIG LATIN.

Our afternoon continued on very pleasantly and when our guests left there were expressions of desire to get together again on both sides. Of course I haven't heard from the visiting mother since. . . I keep going back to that moment, right after the tape was ripped off leaving a hole in our afternoon. . . if only I had had the forethought to teach them Pig Latin. I could have done an instant patch job just by murmuring "on'tday aysay ouryay atherfay ademay ethay olehay inway ethay allway."

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