Handy Manny was the first to render me speechless. My twins were toddlers, and my mother-in-law had given them a Handy Manny tool box for Christmas. Awesome gift, hours of play time ensured. We ripped it open, started in with all of Manny’s tools, his martillo, his…his…. A whole set of toys were splayed before me and I didn’t know the Spanish word for any of them. El serrucho y el destornillador - somehow those words never made it into the Spanish classes I’d taken since I started learning the language in seventh grade.
Vocab lists for the countless types of trucks and tractors in this world? They didn’t exist either. I realized that over the years I’d gathered an extensive knowledge of Spanish, yet I was missing the vocabulary of childhood. As we began to read more books, explore more imaginary worlds, I needed a virtual dictionary or at least my husband, a native Spanish speaker, nearby to pinch hit. With time, though, my vocabulary blossomed, and each new word gave me that sense of discovery kids have when they learn something new. I played with each word as it rolled off my tongue, and tried to figure out how to weave my new expressions into more conversations and stories. Soon we were flying a cohete to the moon,
fighting Capitan Garfio with the help of Campanita,
and learning about the licks and love of a newborn cachorrito. As my littlest learned to neigh and growl, screech, squawk and hiss, so did I.
When we first decided to raise our kids bilingual, I lamented that I’d never get to use the witty English-language sayings parents use to keep their kids in line – stored up over more than three decades of listening to my and other moms. I still have a hard time with the fact that some of my favorite children’s books aren’t translated into Spanish.
I try not to sweat it though. Truth is, I wouldn’t trade my new words for the world.