Why is it still ok to call yourself retarded? To call your friends gay?

Are you, indeed, retarded? Are you “less advanced in mental, physical, or social development than is usual” for your age? Do you have a mental handicap that requires you to be treated with a different sort of care? That makes certain life tasks more difficult?

Are your friends being silly/dumb/foolish/loving actually gay? Are they attracted to the same gender as themselves? When you say they are being ‘gay together’ are they engaging in a form of same sex activity (safely, I hope)? Are they simply “lighthearted and carefree,” uninhibited, giddy and happy, maybe back in the ’50s?

Why are we still using meaningful terms like ‘retarded‘ and ‘gay‘ as derogatory ways to refer to ourselves, our friends, our actions, strangers we’re mad at?

Here are some alternatives:

  • I can’t believe that ass parked in two handicap spots (oh, sorry donkeys)
  • My cheesy friends are laying in bed on top of each other screeching over old Seventeen magazines (my apologies, Swiss and Cheddar!)
  • Ugh, another selfie! What a douche! (forgive us, watery cleansing method!)

Feel free to add your own.

No matter what we mean when we speak, and I’m reaching back into a linguistics course from my conflict management days, there are the speakers and the recipients, and between both, with words, we create something when we open our mouths and ears. We create meaning, we create being, and often, we create possibility, for better or worse.

I don’t think the donkeys or cheese care all that much.

 

 

To the immigrant parents I grew up with:

Dear immigrant parents of childhood friends,

Hi. How are you? Have I told you lately your English is incredible?

It was really fun growing up with your kid. Maybe I’m still even friends with your kid. Most of my friends from childhood had immigrant parents it seems. It really felt that way, at least.

To the point where I kind of felt like an outsider myself. The all-American. None of my grandparents were Holocaust survivors. I’m not complaining. Or bragging. But I just always felt like an outsider in my own community. A big part of that was my family’s religious status, too.

Anyway. I just wanted to say – I watched you as a kid. Not in a creepy way. In a curious way. The way words rolled off your tongue; the words had different edges to mine. The way you’d sometimes mention a story about back home where you grew up. The way occasionally I heard you speak another language, only for you, it wasn’t the second.

The way so many of you had groups of friends with the same background and you’d get together. Everyone there spoke your first language and I didn’t understand, or understood a little because it was my second language. Or how a group of people from different countries could still commiserate over the Old Country, even if the nationalities were unique to each of you.

I always wondered what that was like. To be from somewhere else.

Now I’m here. Somewhere else. And I’ve got kids. Kids with immigrant parents. And  I’m so caught up in my own tangled ideas about being an immigrant, labeling ‘whereyoufrom,’ speaking words with different edges, making it, that on some days, I could just cry.

And some days, I do.

They say, you can’t choose your family but you can choose your friends. But when you’re an immigrant, sometimes it’s the opposite. You get thrown in somewhere where people talk like you, and slowly build what becomes your family.

I guess you guys did that, too. I remember there always being someone at a party or event, labeled as ‘my cousins… I mean, not my real cousins, but my cousins.’

I get it now. Even if we’re not totally there yet.

I also get, after eight years, that it’s ok to melt into your own people for a few minutes sometimes. It’s ok to show your kids that there are so many parts to what make them whole.

That they can feel comfortable with different crowds.

I don’t want to hold my kids back. I have a lot of my own crap to work out. I worry about it a lot.

But once in a while, I have this thought:

That for you, parents of my childhood friends, it’s now thirty or so years later…

…and your kids have done just fine.

 

P.S. – Seriously, your English was always amazing. I appreciate it so much more now. Even if, upon request, I did sometimes explain the slang.

Koala update: Three years.

Koala, if you’ll wait patiently over there a minute (ha) while I tell the future parents/new parents a little secret:

One thing I’ve learned this past year is that the ‘terrible twos’ is a misnomer. The alleged phase starts way earlier than two, and by the time that two is turning into a three, it’s long over and out.

The fun’s begun way before they’re blowing out three candles.

Back to you, love.

Yes, it was tough in the beginning of the year. Let’s put side the new baby sister just three weeks shy of your second birthday. And the moving on to a big boy bunk bed with its share of scary aspects.

We weren’t communicating very well. You were sorting out language – two languages – and we were trying to figure out how best to make you understand while learning, most of the time, we were the ones who needed to understand…

That our kid was actually trilingual – Hebrew, English and… crying.

But time’s gone on and you’ve dropped that last one; we know it’s a ruse and you know we know. That’s allowed for more attention spent on the fun stuff.

Like when you started playing ‘same as’ with language… ‘cat’ ‘חתול’ – same as! ‘Umbrella’ ‘מטריה’ – same as! And the game has evolved in the last month… paging Princess Bride, we are full on rhyming and laughing while doing it. ‘Hand ‘sand’ – same as!

But man oh man. The first few times I heard you break out your resh… I could stand up and say HaTikvah with my hand over my heart. Now there’s an oleh milestone. You’ve come a long way from when the kids at gan laughed because you pronounced your girlfriend’s name Shee-ra… like an אמרקאי.

No one’s laughing now that you’ve got two languages to show off at gan (and your ganenets are always kinda curious slash showing off anything they know in English).

But what’s still cute is that your L’s in English are actually, oddly, NG’s. So it’s good your favorite color isn’t yengo. (But it is orange. What is up with that? And the fact that you LOVE olives?)

We’ve also gotten a kick out of your navigating language concepts… life concepts… mainly the concept of ‘something’ which is everything and nothing, all at once, but to you, it’s just one thing, one specific thing you know you want but can’t name, can only describe, and that something – that sumping – well, it’s everything until you can get your hands on it.

Moving on… lower down in your universe. You were toilet trained this year, a while ago. The undies were an adventure, still are on a day-to-day as you carefully select the pair you’ll wear backwards today (as you so rationally explain, you want to see the picture on the front).

But you’ve also set out on the long and windy road to knowing the differences between girls and boys, Imas and Abbas. Ima and Bebe vs Abba and Koala.

Though, for the good portion of the year, as you grew more and more excited for your big, first time haircut, you did believe that the key difference in the world of people was long hair and short, or as you call it – not having a haircut – like Koala and Ima – and those who do have a haircut – like Abba – and Bebe.

As you talk more, play more, sit on the floor and imagine more… as you take lines from gan stories sugar coating יציאת מצרים and repeatedly cast the characters of your imagination ‘בתוך הבור’ – you become sweeter, you become happier and you become more and more fun. More of the little partner in play I always hoped for, ever since I was a camp counselor for three-year-olds way back when. Ever since it became my favorite age.

The secret spice is innocence… driving through the checkpoint the other day, you spotted the soldiers, and told me they’re carrying drills. Like Abba. Like Grandpa.

I hope so, Koala. I hope that’s all you ever know.

And I have a confession to make, Koala. Please don’t report us.

You didn’t really get to go on a beach until you were three. Exactly. As in today. Literally.

Yes, your native-islander mother and Australian father denied you that pleasure until you were three.

But we had a blast today, didn’t we? Before you go back to therapy and work it out, I’ll say this: I don’t think as a smaller child you would have enjoyed it as much as today, as I swooshed you up for the waves, as you basked in a salty face full of a rite of passage childhood pleasure.

It’s all a lot to squeeze into one big happy birthday post, Koala. There’s so much about you I love, I become inspired by… and that I feel challenged by. You’re constantly teaching me about patience, even if it seems like it’s the other way around. You’re inspiring me to keep going forward because there’s a million worlds to discover in a single soul. You’re putting the fear of god, man, evil, loss in me.

You’re keeping me on my toes. You’re guiding me through life. You made me a mother three years ago today.

And with every day born, you make me a mother all over again.

Moving to Israel? Make sure you Stick Around.

To ulpan or not to ulpan? It’s up to you, but it doesn’t have to end when you leave the musty, dingy premises of the classroom…

Take ulpan home with you with Stick Around.

The story behind Stick Around goes something like this:

“Aaaahhh!!!” my wife yelled, and even though it’s not a word, I could easily understand that she was yelling in English. As a new immigrant she was loving life in Israel, but there was one huge frustrating obstacle: Hebrew.

It’s a rite of passage for olim: the language barrier, climbing over the language barrier, falling backwards behind the language barrier, and so on. We have good days, bad days, and oh-my-god-I’m-tired-of-sounding-crazy days.

So this gingy huz-wife team took their own experience and turned it into a product: Stick Around. For thirty bucks, they’re a set of over 500 Hebrew vocabulary stickers to stick around your house on relevant objects to slowly osmosis your way to recognizable Hebrew skills. And that way… you’ll more likely stick. around.

Good luck – b-hatz-la-cha – בהצלחה

What have I done?

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t freaked.

Though the truth is it’s only starting to dawn on me how awe-some and terrifying it is.

I’m beginning to comprehend what I’ve done. It really is dawning; first the expectation of the rise, and then the initial tips of the rays. Pretty soon I think I’ll need the sunglasses.

With Koala proving to us more and more – by the day – how much his toddler vocabulary includes Hebrew words, I find myself stepping back and holding on to the counter for stability. I’m raising my child in Israel. Another country. Not where I grew up. Not where English is society’s first language.

It took an Israeli friend at our house on Shabbat to realize this. Sure, the huz and I  have joked about his sudden bursts of ‘mayim!’ or ‘dai!’ but when a fellow native speaker hung around him this weekend, we started to realize that a lot of the gibberish we take for granted was actually Hebrew words like ‘rega’ or ‘sicah.’

And all the questions I used to casually wonder about come crashing down on me…

Will he have a thick accent in English? Will he be able to fully express himself to my parents? Will he shun everything related to my home-culture? Will he embrace it too much?

When I mentioned the weekend as a humorous anecdote to Koala’s ganenet today, she looked at me quizzically and replied, “Ma at rotza? Hu Yisraeli.”

As he tackles more and more words, I come to realize more and more I’m an immigrant parent.

Two mothers.

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.


Guess he drinks more at gan.

My baby woke up last night in pain from teething. We gave him his motzetz, his blankie, Acamol, but what he finally ended up calling out for, through his sad, sad baby tears, was…

“!מים! מים”

Huz and I looked at each other as he mouthed to me in surprise, ‘mayim?!’

It’s not Koala’s first Hebrew word, or his second or third. But it was just so… natural.

I have a bilingual baby.