After a few months of actually living with my host family, things are progressing well, though not without a few bumps in the road.
I have to say that as the younger of two, I now have more true empathy for older siblings than ever before. When the kids embraced me into the family, they did so without any concept of personal space or private property. My limited Q’eqchi’ skills reduced me to the vocabulary of a toddler with a new infant in the house. Without any verbal subtlety at my disposal, I was reduced to a lot of “ink’a!!” (no/don’t) and physically removing them from my room, or my belongings from their hands. Their eagerness and interest went a long way toward making me feel welcome, but also made me want to scream at times. When they lined up outside my window to called my name at three second intervals for ten minutes or so, I quickly learned they had nothing to tell me and nothing to show me (and I certainly wasn’t able to tell them anything), but just wanted my attention. This was endearing to a point, and then quickly tore my nerves to shreds.
Almost immediately after moving in I began a ritual around dinner time with the older two kids. Most nights I bring in some copy paper and crayons and we color before or after dinner. As my Q’eqchi’ classes progressed I was able to learn to say things like “play later” and “rest now”, which didn’t seem to register with the kids, but was enough for Clementina to step in and help place some boundaries. Now the moment I’m in sight during the day, the kids eagerly ask when we will color again. So, now we have a nearly daily play-date that helps channel all that energy and that acts as reinforcement for my new vocabulary words, too. It started out with all of us drawing separately, but we soon developed the habit of asking each other what to draw. Eventually I noticed that Heidi is quickly frustrated by drawing, so I’ve also started sketching the outlines of something and having her color it in. Freddie wanted in on that as well, although his confidence in drawing is stronger. I suppose kids demand equal treatment the world over.
On nights I get home in time, I also try to help make the tortillas for dinner. I use the word “help” a bit loosely, since the overall quality certainly suffers, and I’m not sure I even speed up the process much. But, it’s a nice way for me to hang out with Clementina, and she gives me tips here and there and points out when I manage to turn out a pretty good one. We laugh at the misshapen ones, and talk through the schedule for the next day so she knows if I’ll be around for meal times. Usually we get in past where my Q’eqchi’ and her Spanish will let us understand one another, and then we just wait for Mariano to get home and help translate. Often I will have tried several means of miming or drawing what I mean, and by the time we get things cleared up I feel I have played some combination of Pictionary and Gestures.
I’m definitely learning to savor simple joys.
Some afternoons when I come home from errands or work I will pull out the chairs from my room and line them up on the walkway outside my door. The kids and I sit down and watch the world go by. Inevitably one of them will start crawling under the chairs while the rest of us pretend not to know where the crawler is. Simple games have simple grammar, and that works just perfectly for me. Now and then I’ll make a batch of popcorn or share out some apples or mandarins and we all munch away happily exclaiming about how tasty everything is. Even carrying water from my water tank to the pila on laundry days is a chance for the kids to feel helpful and included while we all troop around with buckets of water, shouting to hurry the next person back to the spigot before ours overflows.
Fill my cup and let it overflow.