Sunday, February 20, 2011
E has always wavered a bit on China. Some mornings she'll tell us she is leaving for her country, alone, and that we are not to follow. She assures us not to worry, she'll be back soon (sometimes in just one hour *smile*). Most of the time she worries over returning to this mystical place that exists only in her memory. She questions if she has to go back "to stay", and struggles with the concept of even a visit, a topic we bring up once in awhile as we prepare for that eventuality. She shies from Chinese people in crowds, especially if she hears the language. She recently removed all her pictures of her favorite nanny from her bedside wall and has no interest in replacing them with others. This saddens me deeply, though I understand it is part of her growth, her development and her need to feel secure where she is now, with us. I only wish she could understand (and I hope one day she will) that her country is entirely hers, that she can have both without losing one or the other entirely (I say this because truthfully she has lost so much of her culture of origin, and I know she will never be able to regain those losses).
This morning while she was waiting on her pancake, she was playing with Jiji on the floor and then picked up a heart shaped rock I'd given her for Valentine's Day that has "LOVE" written across it. It has long been her favorite word and in the last several months, hearts have been her favorite shape. I too have a rock that is similarly shaped, but was found along the coast of California... she picked this one up too and looked at me and said, "Mama. This one is mine, this one is yours"...
Mama: "Yep. That's right. Yours has the word "love" on it".
E: "Yeah, and mine is big, and yours is small".
Mama: "Mine is smaller, that's true. Do you know mine came from the beach? From far away, all the way in California."
E: "From before I came here?"
(This is the first time I've heard her phrase a question this way, and while I have always known she understands there was a time before us, a time when we first met, and then this time, I am still always amazed at her ability to really grasp that at 4 and 5 years of age).
Mama: "Yes, from a long time before you came here. I think from before you were even born".
She then goes on with her play and I hear her giggling, which usually means she is thinking of a scene from T*y Story. I ask her if Buzz is making her laugh again and she says, "No Mama. One time I tear a napkin and I give it to Jie Jie. Not cat Jiji, my Jie Jie"... and I reply, "Oh, you mean your Jie Jie in China?"
E: "Yes. And I say 'gay nee' and give her the napkin"
Mama: "You said what to her sweetie?"
E: "(shy, sheepishly): "Gay nee (with emphasis on the gay, a softer nee), like that, in Chinese".**
Mama: "What does that mean sweet pea?"
E: (thinking hard): "I think it mean like I found it or somethin'"
Of course, later, in my search for "found it" in Chinese, there was nothing that came close to my phonetics above. But how incredible that she recalled this moment with someone that she loves, that it brought her those same giggles that only Buzz L*ghtyear can produce. And that though she has lost so much of her spoken first language, it is still there inside of her, still very much a part of her. And while she may not remember what the phrase meant, or doesn't have the ability to translate it, she knows what she said to her Jie Jie in that moment.
I said to Garth last week that we have got to search for a Chinese tutor for her. We have no money, we are struggling paycheck to paycheck right now, but it is the one place I will make the sacrifice. She has no interest whatsoever in learning her language again. (Even though she tries, with those shy smiles, to sing along with the Beijing Angelic Choir). Today she told me, "You and Baba can speak Chinese, I don't want to learn it". But she'll thank me for forcing it later. This is one area where I won't compromise and everyday I feel like we're losing time and I wish we'd started a year ago.
We'll do it as a family. Because her culture is ours. It's too easy to forget that. Too easy to take for granted that she has become "American" by adoption and become complacent and lazy about keeping her culture in the foreground and not the background. I don't ever want to let that happen.
***we have found the meaning (and correct spelling) of "gay nee" thanks to this blogger! She is probably saying "gei ni" which means "give to you" or "I am giving it to you"/"please take it". And as A (the person who emailed me said) this makes absolute sense in the context of the story E was telling me, that she tore the napkin and handed it to Jie Jie and said, "gie ne". To hear E pronounce it though, with the right inflections and with that perfect accent, to hear her say a word I've never heard her use in her language, it has unlocked something in me and I feel completely emotional about it. I can't exactly describe why. I only know I am all the more determined to find a tutor for her (us) and begin this lifelong journey of rediscovering/growing her roots... and that begins with language. her language.
Posted by kitchu at 5:19 AM