Monday, March 7, 2011

My Son the Entertainer and Some Words on My Mother Tongue

Anyone who meets my son Ivry (who is now six) for the first time is immediately drawn to him. I'd like to think it's because of his firey red hair, but I am now convinced that it is also his bubbly, extremely funny and energetic personality that cause people to laugh and leave their comfort zone even for a brief moment.

While we were waiting for the bus to take us home to Pittsburgh, he asked the bus driver, "Does this bus cost 50$?" The bus driver laughed. "No, but if it did, I'll take two of them!"

He has the social confidence of a champ that I never had for whatever reason, while growing up in New York City.

How about when he asks the lady on the bus line in front of us, "Do you have a gingy?"

She closes her book and says, "I think I need a translator."

"A gingy. Do you have a gingy?"

Ivry's father replies, "A redhead."

"No, I'm afraid I don't. But I do have a red cat. Does that count?"

For tourists, the "Ivry" language seemingly resonates - particularly I've noticed, with Asians.

We had just arrived at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington D.c. and already a Chinese tourist took his picture and smiled.

"Now, I want to take a picture of you!" Ivry exclaimed. (see photo above)

And with that, the Chinese tourist says, "Welcome to China!" and gave him a big hug.

For non-Americans, giving a hug to a child they have never met before is normal and I would go so far as to say even culturally normal. I don't have a problem with it at all and it is this kind of hug, that brings me "home" again because I know we are understood.

Israeli culture is exremely child-centered and traditionally based and I never felt any space divide between myself and young children in my 18 years of living there, but I know parents here in the States, who would be shunned by such a display of outwardly affection.

It took me a long time to realize that this division of spaces is uniquely an American concept, yet it varies from families to families and from within cultures of the American life.

Take another example - The Asian female passenger on the bus behind us was so taken to Ivry that she sat next to him where he was playing her video game, (which she "loaned" him) and hugged him all the time while I bought pizza during the bus break. From the corner of my eye, my guard was up because we were in a public place, but I felt we both spoke the language of "diversity" because they spoke the same "language" and so, I immediately let my "guard" down.

Everywhere I take Ivry, I speak to him in Hebrew. It is my way of passing on his heritage to him, which is quite interesting since my father maintains that I refused to speak Hebrew with him as a child.

But now, as a mother, my values have shifted. Not only do I want my son to know his heritage, but it is my way to extend my mark, across cultural boundaries and find my home in this diverse, pluralistic world.

People immediately turn their heads when they hear those guttural sounds and each time I am beeming with pride, because I have managed to maintain our Israeli identity in a country that is so vast and colossal, that it is easy to just fall back into old patterns and speak English.

Growing up in New York City, I was surrounded by so many nationalities, cultures and ethnicities. My father is Israeli and speaks four languages, my mother has Spanish/Polish roots and at one time, she was able to speak Yiddish, Spanish, French and English.

But I was always abashed by my heritage and wanted to just be American and speak English. Since I've come full circle though, I realize that it is more than okay to speak Hebrew in public places. In fact, I remember when my husband took the oath to become an American citizen last September, and the judge had said, "You all have essential duties of an American, but please do not forget your culture, your language and your heritage. This is what American prides herself on."

I knew then I was part of a much bigger circle of diversity that had grown from living in another country. I was also part of a cultural entity where my mother tongue was a "window to the world" so to speak and no matter what kinds of looks and faces I got, I was going to feel proud to be an American and proud that I brought my husband here to the States.

So back to my son the entertainer.... on our way back from the Jefferson Memorial to the Washington Monument, my husband stops to ask the policeman some directions.

My son asks, "So where's your horse?"

"I left him at the barn today. But you can see the police on horses near the Washington Monument."

"Okay, thank you sir!" My son replies.

"You're welcome, sir."

"Good-bye sir!"


And so, Ivry skips along the promenade of the Potomac River and sings, "shmaggegi, Shlmiezel, Shlmazel."


If my mom's mental faculties were intact, she would be laughing hysterically.

Is Ivry learning another mother tongue?

1 comment: