Tuesday, December 22, 2015

words are hard

Words are hard… as is life, I realize. I feel as though my family is constantly battling language. Which English words to describe what we do, which Bemba words to make all of life work. Which mixture of both languages to do justice to who and where we are.

The language thing has been a near constant clash for Bronwyn. We messed up. We did. I see it clear as day now that we never should have allowed her to be out of Bemba land for as long as we did and now we're fighting scrappy to make up for it. As playful and outgoing as our girl is, these past few months have given her a run for her money and homegirl is struggin'.

We almost could have missed the boat on this one since she’s rarely alone. But then she started to get really clingy and whiney and regressing in ways that made is tune in and take note. Something was not right, and it took a week or so of watching closely to figure out that it's Bemba that is kicking her butt. 

The child is savvy, I'll give her that. She's done well at seeking out "safe" people and "safe" places. She doesn't know that these are the people who have been there from her infancy, and while that beauty is lost on her, I ooze indebtedness for the handful who have always been there for her in her time of need. 

Timo is her loyal side-kick and these two do almost everything together. The thing is, Timo is both the quietest and the most agreeable kid on the planet. Bronwyn talks at him in English and he says virtually nothing in Bemba and for some strange reason they both love this arrangement and have the grandest of times together.

they are such a pair.
For the times when Timo’s not around, the good Lord has sent us Mulenga. This kid. Mulenga is not actually a real person, I’ve determined. He’s some form of soccer playing, galavanting, 12 year old boy-angel. Mulenga has spent years hanging around our family and he is welcome at our home at any time, and as such, we do end up sharing a lot of meals and life and whatnot together. He’s one of the few kids in the village who is genuinely entertained by Bronwyn despite her lack of Bemba and I love him to the moon and back for that. 

I mean, they are just the most lovable people together.
Because honestly, most kids are not angels. They are normal humans, and normal humans have a low threshold for doing hard things, and playing with a foreign kid who doesn’t look or sound like you is a hard thing in the book of most kiddos.

Nowhere has the humanity of short people reared its head more brazenly than at preschool. Preschool this past term was like crawling into the trenches of a social development war-zone. I made Bronwyn go, despite her blaring “I’m-not-ready-ness” because I desperately wanted to immerse her in something other than "mute Timo" and "way-too-kind Mulenga" land. For three months she went, and for three months minus the last few days (glory), she wailed (W A I L E D) at the beginning of every day. The chorus of "I want to go home" with snot faced accompaniment began about 200 yards from the classroom door as I begged her to pull it together so her friends wouldn't find her any more madcap than they already did. I peeled her off my leg as she howled for me to stay, and E.V.E.R.Y. DAY, teacher Timothy saved us all from our pitiful fate. 

Sweet man of mercy, Timothy was the reason why, after the daily wail sesh, Bronwyn would calm down and actually learn something. Her darling Zam/British accent and vocabulary (over which I swoon) is entirely credited to Timothy, as is her general preschool aptitude of numbers letters and such.  He made preschool a safe place for her even though it meant him squeezing his full grown adult rear into a pint-sized chair and sitting next to her almost every day.

Bronwyn has no idea how much precious history she has with this guy.
Bronwyn legit loves Ba Sah ("Ba" is like Mr. and as for "Sah," sound it out and you'll sound like my child). I’m clinging to the hope that now with one term under her belt, her re-entry in January will be a less dramatic.

big man, itty bitty chair.

I would like this picture framed and hanging in every room in my house. 
I know that the social-linguistic anxieties are probably going to linger a while. She has started asking, in advance, if "anyone who speaks English" will be there. When there are too many kids around, I can see her getting lost in the cacophony. At those times she’ll often come and say she’s tired and ask if she can play on her i-pad. Nah, girl. No way, I will not let you withdraw into a screen and become one of those super awkward MK’s who can’t hang because you only talk to digital people and not real ones. Instead I’ll join her in the play and become a part of the chatter and she suddenly looks less tired. I’m trying to coach her as best I can. I’ve started speaking Bemba in the home so that she hears more things in familiar context. I give her phrases to use and she has been receptive to the coaching.

The nostalgia I feel for the yester-years, those "pictures on the left," is often insufferable. For the days when my first-born felt comfortable in her own skin, when she trotted around the village like she had planted the very turf, when I feared she would never speak English for all the Bemba she was spouting.

We fell for the trick of babyhood and took it for granted how “easy” we had it those early days. But now that she's a small child instead of a small infant, the rule of the game have changed under my nose and I catch myself homesick for another era.

I guess I forgot how disorienting and alienating it was for me, back in the day, when I didn't know what anyone was saying. Now I can preach and translate and eavesdrop and all that jazz and my world feels so much more… controlled.

I don’t totally know how to help her take control of her own brain, to be honest. I mean, she is three so she’s kind of a cave-woman-child in any language but this world of third-culture-kidhood is particularly unsettling, I know.

Hard seasons are what send us to our knees in the best way possible. They remind us to give thanks in ALL circumstances. I look forward to the day when her Bemba surpasses mine and we can have a “remember-when…?” praise Jesus festival of wordy gratitude in all the languages. I'm fighting the urge to ask, "but what if she doesn't get it?" I don't think the answer to that is mine to know. For now, we forge ahead, blundering and babbling and hoping and praying and hugging because yes, words and life are hard, but God is good.  


  1. Oh, lady! Praying with you for her resilient heart & nimble mind.
    I'm amazed at how hard it is having TWO kids, and of mine, the one that is THREE generally takes up so much more energy (emotionally). Aren't babies supposed to be hard?

    I can relate to the feeling of recognizing in hindsight parenting errors. I pray God's grace is big enough to cover my blunders. It sure does keep me humble, and thankful that I don't navigate the ocean of motherhood alone.

    Love to you & the wee ones.
    And YES, echoing praise for the good angels sent to bless our littles.

  2. Bethany, my heart aches every time I read about Bronwyn's struggles. The past couple of years I have watched my own daughter struggle with words. Her struggle is in the form of dyslexia. It is so painful to watch but I tell myself that in no way do I want to take this struggle away from her because God is forming character in her that will make her into the person that He wants her to be. It is the hardest thing to watch a child go through pain but I know she will be refined. Praying that you get to see glimpses of His beautiful refinement in Bronwyn. You truly have a gift for words. Thanks for sharing the real moments of your life. Merry Christmas!