One of the greatest joys of this experience to date, and thus the reason I’ve chosen him as the lead off portrait, has been the just-turned-3-year-old son of my host family. (Also seemed appropriate, since today is his birthday!) Named for his father, little Rene (aka Renecito aka El Chiquito) is a constant ball of energy, either:
-flashing his famous Casanova-in-training smile
-talking a mile-a-minute in a confusing mixture of Mam, Spanish, and gibberish
-doing something you would really prefer he not, such as dumping raw noodles over the table; squeezing raw eggs with his hands; or turning on and off the oven light repeatedly
-screaming and crying his brains out over some injust infraction against him (of which there are routinely many, as life is inherently unfair when you are 3 feet tall and have several older cousins and sisters).
His energy and ability to bother (or molestar; as his mother likes to remark of him, ¨molesta mucho¨) were written right out of the book of my twin brother Seth, and I think that is one of the reasons this young fellow captures me as he does. I have to acknowledge that I am free to be so enthralled because I now have the upper body strength and height to defend myself, and thus can admire the vitality from a more detached and less terrorized vantage point.
A significant background note to the development of my relationship with Renecito is the local language. Almost everyone here speaks Mam as their first language, and Spanish as a second. Although more people are beginning to raise their children with Spanish, or both Mam and Spanish, a significant number still raise their children speaking only Mam at home, so that many kids still do not pick up Spanish until grade school. Such is the case with young Rene, whose family has raised their kids speaking Mam with the intention that they take pride in the language.
Even so, the young gentleman has not let a minor thing like us not speaking a word in common stand in the way of our budding romance. When I first arrived, he tried vainly for awhile to address me in Mam, before realizing that I was somehow broken and that he himself would be forced to facilitate our communication.
From the first moment on the first day that I dumbly and ignorantly petitioned his intelligent 2-almost-3-year-old brain, ¨Como estás?¨, so began his rapid progression in the Spanish language. As of this moment, we have developed approximately seven conversations in four weeks:
(1) ¨Hooolaaa.¨ ¨Hola.¨ (variation: ¨Hola.¨ ¨¨Hooolaaa.¨)
(2) ¨Cómo estas?¨ [huge smile] ¨Bien, y tú, como estás?¨ ¨Bieeeen.¨ [huge smile]
Variation: ¨Cómo estás?¨ ¨Como estás?¨ ¨Bien¨ ¨Bien.¨
(3) ¨Cuidado, Renecito.¨ ¨Cuidaaaado. [insert riotous laughter]¨
(4) ¨Qué es eso? [insert potential name of object, for example, water] agua-sí?¨ ¨Sí.¨ (…sometimes this exchange occurs a dozen times with the same object before he gets tired of it.)
(¨What’s that? Water-yes?¨ or ¨What’s that? Mango-yes?¨ or ¨What’s that? Fork-yes?¨)
(5) ¨Vaya a cocinar, sí?¨ (¨You go cook, yes?¨) Or, a new favorite variation… ¨Vamos a jugar, si? No vaya a cocinar, si?¨
(6) And, another favorite: ¨Qué es eso?¨ [referring to coffee mug] ¨Taza.¨ ¨Nooo … vaso!¨ (¨What’s that?¨ ¨Cup.¨ ¨No, glass.¨ Also, ¨Zapato.¨ ¨Noo... chancleta.¨ is a recent adaptation.)
(7) And, when my food looks particularly good: ¨Dáme un poco de esto.¨
I have to admit I am a little bit flattered by his constant petitions for definitions, but the irony of course is that he clearly thinks that I am the household authority on Spanish. Nevertheless we have a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to watching him grow in the next few months.