My mother is a split personality. As long as I’ve known her, this has been the case.
She can speak two languages fluently: her mother tongue, English, a language that rolls off her tongue like rain dripping down a car window in the summer; and Hebrew, a language she has been tripping over since they started offering it as a plaything in kindergarten.
When I watch her speaking to her friends, I’m completely engulfed in the security and warmth of my mother, who can wrap words around concepts and make sentences into stories. When I read the notes she leaves me under my pillow, or in my notebooks, I read the words of my mother, the writer, the poet, the thinker.
When I watch her speak to my teachers, or my friends, or my friends’ mothers, I watch a different woman. This one is timid; she doesn’t have much to say. She’s an immigrant, an outsider. She has five or six phrases she pulls out for whatever the occasion. Head-nodding replaces the verbal building-blocks I’ve seen in English. Body language suffices for the story-telling sentences.
I think to her, ‘But you know a good story that could add to this conversation. You have advice you could offer. Surely you’re just lazy to string the words together, to make an effort. Yes, you’re a latecomer. Yes, there’s more to you than grammatical error. You know it, but no one else does. You don’t let them. You’re too proud to make mistakes.’
But make mistakes, momma. Make mistakes for me.