Living in Translation

“We are all translators.” –Jacques Derrida


Often Clara will be in the car with the doors closed, considering whether to sit in her car seat or to wait for me to grab her and force the issue, while I bring out William. During this time, she will have picked up all the stray gum wrappers and Cheerios on the floor. When I open her door, she hands me her load and says, “Here go, Mom. Trash.”

“Trash” was Clara’s third word after “dog” and “nurse,” and since then, rare is the occasion when I need to ask her to pick it up. She would have every park in Tallahassee cleaned of Styrofoam cups and cracker wrappers if I’d let her.

With kids, I see how blank our slates really are and how powerful are the people who give us our language. I can see that by giving Clara the word “trash,” I gave her the experience of “trash.” We read an ABC book that shows a smiling baby face for the letter H and introduces the word “happy.” We told Clara that she was happy; now, at dinner or during nuggle time she smiles and wags her shoulders and says, “I haaaap-eee!” Without the word, I’m not sure she would quite understand the feeling, or even recognize it.  Her world is coming alive according to the language she is learning.

Which is one reason why we joined forces with all the other organically-minded suburbanites and built a garden. Aaron mentioned this morning as I ran my thoughts about “trash” and language past him that even if we were inclined to be cruel, we should probably be careful not to use “trash” metaphorically to refer to people. We wouldn’t want our ever-literalist two-year-old to think some people should be put in a garbage can. So, while it’s difficult to impossible for Clara to make metaphorical leaps at this age, I’d still like to think that over time, a concept she’ll come to respect both literally and metaphorically is that of growth.

Lots of people love nature and I think it’s because in it, we find the literal manifestation of all our favorite metaphors. On Wednesday, Clara made a place in the dirt for the tiny little broccoli seeds to take root, and holding my William on the porch, I thought, yes, that’s what we do for our children. We build and dig and shape a place for them to be born and take root.

If all goes well, Clara will watch the broccoli and kale and beets and other winter produce break through the soil. As we plan a weekend visit to my childhood home in Tampa, I think that a time will come for Clara, too, to break through the place we have prepared for her and be fed by more than we have in our home to give.

It’s all going so fast, but I see that Clara uses the language we give her to take root. The language connects her to her world. As she gardens with Dad, I hope she’ll cling to the idea that while taking root is second nature, it is by growing that we feed others and find the air and light we need.

September 2012 003

Aaron coached Clara to place her hand casually on the corner to show she helped build the garden. (Also, we’re going to try and grow out her bangs and consequently, introduce the idea of the “barrette.”)

September 2012 007

September 2012 009

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