Saturday, January 07, 2006
There are many good things about being a parent. The "best thing" changes from day to day, year to year. The "best thing about being a parent" is different when you have a six-year old from what the "best thing" is when you have a teenager.
Today, the best thing about being a parent is the chance to learn foreign languages.
I don't mean the German or Latin that your child chooses to learn that you never studied. That's a small part of the picture, but not the real story. I don't mean the "family speak" that crops up as children learn to talk, make mistakes and the family lovingly takes these new words into the private family lexicon. We refer to a certain striped-tail, masked mammal as a "ratoonka" because that's what Alex called it when his mouth and brain were still learning to connect, but that's not the foreign language I mean, either.
I'm talking about the languages that seem like you should understand them. They're words mostly in the language you speak day-to-day with your child, but they throw in words that might as WELL be German or Latin, because you've sure never heard them before.
With my daughter, the foreign language started when she took up Debate in high school. "Lincoln-Douglas style"? The words sounded familiar, but the way she was using them made no sense. By her senior year, I'd learned a whole new language. Now she studies computer science and lobster neurons and speaks of "Machine learning", and I don't have a clue what she's talking about. But she's teaching me, and I'm catching on.
My younger son took an interest in marine biology and taught me the words "Sirenian" and "Dugong". I thought I already knew the word "Manatee", but he showed me that I didn't know the word at all.
I had no idea that there was a foreign language called "Metal Miniatures", but it seems there is, and my middle child has been teaching it to me. He's played strategy games for years, collected cards, books and dice to help him "play better", but until recently, I hadn't paid much attention to his small metal figures of real and imaginary characters. Suddenly the child who could barely endure classroom "art time" is telling me the differences between "natural and artificial bristle brushes". The child who didn't care if his crayoned skies were blue or purple is discussing the ongoing debate between "metallic and non-metallic paints for simulated metal surfaces". There is, evidently, a large difference between just plain "black" and "Zombie Black", and not just ANY red will do for the jacket of a miniature Cossack figure.
The new language includes a new patience that I never knew he had. The same child who once wept at the enormity of a 3rd grade project that involved tying a couple of hundred plastic strips together to make a Christmas wreath now patiently and carefully paints details the size of the head of a pin on little people and animals no taller than a quarter. It seems there are a lot of other people out there who speak this new language, too. The words "an elephant that went for $900 on ebay" sure caught my attention! I wonder what else he knows?
What new language are you learning today?