Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Project

Joanna loved the way her days flowed, but she knew they would come to an end sooner than later. Her children wouldn't always want her hovering near. They would move on; first into school and eventually into adulthood. The thought both saddened and excited her. She made the process of preparing herself for that inevitability her personal project.

For the first year, she considered what her current skills were and how those combined with the new ones learned in the sanctity of her home could carry her into a new career. The second year, she explored what each new direction would entail and whittled her choices down. The third year, she looked into ways to further strengthen her ability to do something that pleased her-- the things future employers would want, like additional education and experience. The fourth year she went back to school to learn Spanish. She also began to volunteer. Both would help in whichever direction she decided to go in the next short two years.

It was while tutoring one of her younger students that she stumbled across her first true obstacle. All of her classes had not, could not, prepare her to use the knowledge fluently in real world applications. Playing a math game with a child, she used her hard learned language skills to tell the boy he was silly. "Nino tonto," she said playfully.

The child's eyes grew round. The smile faltered, disappeared, and then grew larger than before. "You said a bad word to me!" He wasn't offended. He was over joyed that a teacher would make such a mistake.

She smiled, sure she had said nothing wrong. She'd used the phrase with her own children and several other students without an issue. "Nino tonto! No dije una palabra mala."

The child laughed again. "Si! Dos vezes ahora. Two times."

Joanna broke down and switched to hre more comfortable native tongue. "I said you were a silly boy... nino tonto."

"No, you said a bad word. It's a bad word." He was more serious, but clearly still bemused.

She could not argue with him. She didn't have enough of a grasp of the language. She knew her school books defined tonto as silly. She knew the translator she occasionally accessed used tonto as silly. She really didn't believe she was wrong. Nor did she dare to directly ask a young child to define a potential "bad" word. "Voy a preguntar tu maestra la significa de la palabra despues terminamos la leccion." Yes. That is exactly what she would do. She would just ask his teacher what the word really meant after the lesson.

And she did. "I know it is sometimes taught as silly, but culturally, it means stupid or dumb." Joanna wanted to  cry. She wondered how many children she had unknowingly called stupid. Worse still, because she was working with children that struggled with school the most, she wondered how many students truly believed she thought they were stupid.

That night, Joanna thought about the project she had started. She wondered if she had made the right choice. If perhaps, she should reconsider the direction she was headed. She wondered, as she fell asleep, if the whole idea of learning another language was tonto.

*** Daily Writing Practice ***


  1. Oh, poor Joanna! How mortifying and agonizing to know she may have demoralized young souls. I felt so bad for her. Which translates to kudos for you since you made me feel so much. Great piece, Heather!

  2. Thanks Monica! I stopped by your site today, but haven't decided how I want to respond to your most recent piece. I plan to leave something before the night is over though.