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Apr 8 2013

When You and Your Daughter Don’t Speak the Same Language

By at 11:56 am

coloring outside the linesWhile we were in the art room at school today, my daughter asked me something in Hebrew in words I didn’t understand. “Say yes, mama!” She said. “Please say yes.”

“Baby, I can’t say yes, because I don’t understand what you want. For all I know you just asked me if you can get a tramp stamp, or move to Amsterdam.”

It’s like this, sometimes. She’ll say something that means something to her–I can see it in the way she clenches her jaw, and she flexes her fingers while she waits for her words to sink through the synapses of my American brain. Still, she wants an answer–even if it isn’t the answer she wants to hear–and when I look at her baffled, she sucks in her breath, and says, “You don’t listen to me.”  

I try to listen–really, I try. But even though I’m learning more words every day, my daughter is light years ahead of me in Hebrew. She belongs in this language, steeped in the chutzpah of it, the poetry and the syntax is a rhythm she moves with every day while I bumble around like I did during my short-lived stint in gymnastics. (People, I still can’t do a cartwheel to save my life.)

And even though I’m inching forward, she’s a long distance runner on steroids, circling me while I limp along the track.

And the hardest part is that I know she wants to fit in and be like the other kids who have imas who know how to answer a simple question. While we are similar in so many ways–we both have eyes that dip down when we smile, and we bite our lips when we’re sad–my daughter likes to follow the rules. She likes things spelled out clearly and simply, the details delineated in high definition. And when mama doesn’t speak your language, the lines gets blurry.

“But mama, I want you to say that I can,” she said, her eyes glistening.

So, I asked a friend to translate.

“She wants to know if she’s allowed to color outside the lines.”

MY daughter nods, while she bites her lower lip.

Yes my darling daughter. Yes. Please color outside the lines. Every day and in every way. The lines are guidelines–a simple road map that you can use or happily ignore. And then, sweet girl, draw your own lines. Grab all the colors you can. Dip your hands into slippery paint and make a beautiful, wonderful mess.

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