Am I speaking Swahili? Let’s talk

Categorized as 11/01/10 Goshen News column

I used to be bilingual.  As a little girl, I had full command of both the English language and the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect, the language of my forebears.  Now, while I can still understand every word of the Dutch, I find it difficult to speak it fluently. Perhaps it’s time to learn another language.  If keeping one’s brain stimulated helps to ward off dementia, then that may be just the ticket for keeping this girl’s mental agility right up where it needs to be.  Not that living in a male-dominated household isn’t stimulating enough.  That twitching eyelid, the right leg that jumps, and the racing heart rate testify to the amount of stimulation I get on a daily basis.  And that only covers the morning exodus.  Many times in my dealings with the male members of my household, I’ve harbored a secret suspicion that we are speaking entirely different languages.  “Is it Swahili?” I’ve wondered aloud.  “Boys,” I will call up the stairs.  “I need you to bring down the dirty clothes.”  The chirping of crickets echoes in the stairway.  I know how this works.  I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck, you know.  If I really want to get them down, all I have to do is call, “Wet burritos are ready,” and watch the stampede.  Suddenly, everyone’s an expert in English.  Whatever tongue I was speaking in before has been interpreted by the Holy Spirit to their eager little ears, and if I don’t step to the side, I’ll be a flat spot on the carpet.  I know that, too. 

There’ve been plenty of times that I’ve wished they’d speak my language.  Just once, couldn’t the after-school reports contain the social details and pathos that I, as a girl, thrive on?  Is that too much to ask?  Apparently it is, because – pardon my grammar – it ain’t happening.  I’d love to know the colorful stuff.  You know, like who’s dating whom, what cute sweater so-and-so was wearing, who broke up and, more importantly, how they felt about it.  No, this is not the language that men are speaking.  Not in my house, at least.  There are occasions when this mother is able to cross the language barrier to great effect.  When they broke the glass on my favorite picture, thanks to their reenactment of the Indy 500, they understood that I was unhappy.  Then they played ball in the living room and broke the sconce that hung right beside a golden cherub.  That may have been the day they learned that not all language requires words.  I’m quick like that.  Another anomaly I’ve observed with males and communication is that their grasp of adjectives comes and goes.  When describing the roller coasters at summer camp or a muscle car we just passed, the adjectives flow.  “Awesome!  Cool!  Sweet!” they enthuse.  But throw out a question like, “How does this look,” while modeling a new blouse, and they’re stumped.  After multiple English lessons from yours truly, Mr. Schrock now knows that “good,” “fine,” and “okay” aren’t really adjectives and that he should try for something more descriptive.     Poor Mr. Schrock.  When we first got married, he, like most men, thought that what a woman actually said was all she really meant.  To his everlasting credit, he studied the art of communication extensively in those early years and learned that there can be layers and layers of meaning in one simple sentence from his girl.  It’s exhausting, I’m sure, to be on high alert, looking, like Sherlock Holmes, for clues and indicators to the unspoken messages in each conversation.  That’s why I must work on speaking his language, which is direct and to the point.  It’s also why, I suspect, that men enjoy a good Western so much.  There, in the land of stagecoaches, shootouts, sheriffs, and cowboys, things are far simpler.  John Wayne, it seems, speaks their language.  Siblings, too, develop their own so-called languages.  I’d be lying if I said ours were always positive and uplifting, filled with affirmations for one another.  This was certainly not the case.  I must confess that some of our, um, “communication” involved scratching and slapping.  To my mother’s relief, we all outgrew that, for the most part, and can actually have civil, coherent conversations now.  Mr. Schrock and his four siblings, however, took the art to a whole new level.  Using a highly complex method of hand signals and facial twitches, they could flawlessly execute a coordinated attack on the samples in the cheese case at a local grocery store without maternal detection.  No one is talking, but I’m pretty sure I know which one played lookout and which drama queen played the part of the serious shopper to the hilt, sampling first one, then the other with furrowed brow.  

Not surprisingly, the sampling program was shut down for good.  Surprisingly, their mother never knew of this nefarious behavior until years later when they chose to communicate it to her at a family gathering before heading for the border in five separate cars.  Those kids are quick like that

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