My friend brought his 5-year old daughter over last weekend. I met her once before when she was three. Her family speaks only Spanish at home and since she hasn’t started school yet, Spanish is her only language. She has beautiful long black hair and big brown eyes, but the most striking thing about her is her smile.
“Oh, hello,” I said when I saw her.
“Hola,” she said with a sparkling smile, as she hugged her father’s leg.
I remembered she liked my cats the last time I saw her, so I asked, “Do you want to see the kitties?” She just looked at me expectantly with those dark brown eyes.
I searched my brain for that dusty file marked High School Spanish Class, and came up with, “Mira, gato?” (sight, cat). She giggled, “si” and took my hand. We found the cats lounging on the back deck. She let go of my hand to pet the marmalade one. “His name is Smiley,” I said. I pointed to the cat, “Smiley.”
She giggled again. “Smiley,” she said.
We wandered the yard, her hand in mine. I named the things I could in Spanish. She responded, “si” encouraging me. She counted the chickens, “uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, seis.”
“In English?” her father asked.
She was silent, so we helped.
“One,” we said.
“One,” she replied.
This continued up to six because we have six chickens including the rooster. We all laughed and applauded when we were done. She looked at us as if we were aliens; adults celebrating the fact that we can count to six.
I had forgotten how much fun it is to teach someone to speak, and how fun it is to learn. As I stumbled through Spanish baby talk, she didn’t judge me, she just giggled at my mistakes. She patiently followed as I lead her across my yard naming my own things. How strange I must seem to her, a grown woman speaking like a two-year old.
“Donde esta’ gato,” I asked. She shrugged her shoulders and gave me the universal, I have no idea face. I returned the shrug and the face. We laughed. Isn’t it cool that laughter is universal? When all else fails, just laugh.