My daughter, 6, learned language in Israel.
Before we moved here four years ago, she was already speaking in 2-3 word sentences in English, but as soon as we landed we plopped her tushy down on a dirty linoleum floor in the kibbutz preschool in which other little girls, nostrils inflating green mucus bubbles, would lovingly shove their pacifiers into her mouth as a gesture of friendship, ask her questions in a Hebrew she did not yet understand, and eventually instruct her on how exactly to lift up her right shoulder towards the underside of her jaw in a way that meant, “I don’t want to. You can’t make me.”
My daughter learned Hebrew quickly and dropped the right shoulder as her vocabulary grew more robust and her voice more confident. She’s more demanding now, as well, in both English and in Hebrew. But still she often can’t find the word she wants in English when she talks to me. Frustrated, she’ll say “Never mind” or if she’s already in a bad mood, “You just don’t understand!”
She’s 6, and she’s already telling her mother, “You just don’t understand.”
It’s not uncommon for her to say this to other adults or to her brothers. Her grandfather, just yesterday, laughed while reminiscing an incident from last week when she said outright in Hebrew, “Af echad lo meyveen oti!” Nobody understands me!
I wonder about this. Is her frustration really a result of language? Is that the only reason my daughter often feels mis- or outright not understood? Or is it bigger than that? Something genetic my husband and I — both artists by nature, if not always by practice — passed down to her?
I stumble on what exactly, if anything, to do. If it’s purely about language, I could find a tutor for her or perhaps have her evaluated to make sure her comprehension and expression are developmentally appropriate. But what if it’s more about how she sees herself in the world. What, then, is there to do? And is it better to try to fix it? Or to leave it alone?
If someone could have fixed my “otherness” would I have wanted them to?(I think my mother might have tried from time to time.)
It is, I think, our otherness that propels us to create, to see beauty where others don’t, to express it in unique ways. I am confident that without my existential angst, without the sense sometimes that I am alone, without the urge to make myself known and heard and “gotten”, I would not be a writer.
So, maybe my daughter feels misunderstood. Maybe letting her figure that one out on her own wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
If it ends up being so, more fodder for her own memoir.