My Family Has A Language Barrier

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We have a language barrier in our house. Or we could call it a communication problem. It’s not new to me. I grew up in a household where there was a communication problem because of language, but I didn’t think it would extend to my adulthood.

Boris and Natasha, my two shyster cats, refuse to learn English so we can better cohabitate. I get tired of trying to decipher the tone of their meows. It is hit and miss. I think they’re tired of it too because as they get older, they’re stretching their vocal fold cords to new heights. I must not be getting their new commands right. In the early years, they were quieter, ignored us when we spoke to them, and yet we did what they wanted. Apparently, we were better trained ten years ago than we are now.

Early morning and late evening Boris sits by his bowl and glares at me. That means he wants to be fed. Natasha, on the other hand, gets my attention early morning by putting her paw on my face and waking me up so I will administer her a morning massage. We had our routines down. The minute there is a hole peeking through at the bottom of the food bowl, Boris demands vocally that we fill it. If they think we are going to forget, they open and then slam shut the cupboard door a few times to get our attention.

Lately, they have been directing us more often with their meows. We have a hard time figuring out the new things they want us to do. “There’s a mouse in the basement, let me down there.” We missed that one. The mouse is gone and the meows at the basement door has stopped.

“I want a treat, not my regular food.” as the meowing starts at another cupboard. And then of course, there is the… “You are sitting in my chair.” It took me a while to realize the meow at my head and the push at my back meant I needed to get up and let Boris or Natasha in the chair. The older they get the more demanding they are.

Boris saying, “I want my chair. Get up!“

I tried to teach Natasha to nod yes and no. After all, if my son could train his cat to use the toilet, I should be able to make my cats learn yes and no and to shake their heads. Natasha just blinked at me that she loved me, but she was adamant that nodding was beneath her.

I think of all the arguments we’re having about language these days. Recently, I saw a post that said if you’re going to live in America you needed to speak English. While I agree learning English may be a good idea, I thought of my grandmother.

My grandmother lived in America from the time she was 19 or 20. She never learned to speak English. I have no idea why. That’s what I mean when I say I am used to language barriers in my home. We lived with my grandmother. I never had a conversation with her that I could understand. For some reason, they never taught me Polish. I could understand a few words but that’s it. When my relatives would visit my dad and I would laugh because we couldn’t understand a word. I can’t say I was ever bothered by it because the one thing I did understand was that she loved me.

We are still having language barrier arguments all these years later. I wonder if some of what we are arguing about, only having people speak English, isn’t because of fear. I remember waiting on a couple of customers that spoke Spanish. They spoke English to me and then when talking to each other, spoke Spanish. I must admit I was a little fearful or paranoid because I had no idea if they were talking about me or making fun of me, or were planning something else. Media had put fear in my mind of a different culture. I no longer feel that way once I recognized it for what it was.

Different cultures view language different ways. Young people in other countries and now too here in our own, are learning to speak many different languages. I have friends whose children know how to speak Chinese because they went to language camps in the summer. Knowing each others languages breaks down barriers.

If you’ve ever had teenagers you know that may create a language barrier in your home. They speak teen-speak. The hard part is their language changes with each generation and now…it’s a language with letters and emojis. I can translate LOL but anything more my grandkids text me, I have to ask, “What does that mean?” I think I need to hit them with some shorthand or cursive, although my one grandson can read cursive.

I would like to think if we look someone in the eye and see them, really see them, the language barriers would fall away. If we take away the fear of insecurity of what we don’t know when they are speaking, maybe we wouldn’t be so judgmental.

As I grew up, I knew people who spoke Polish, German and a few other languages. They were the immigrants that were here during my generation. Not all spoke English. The argument was the same as it is now and so was the judgment. Guess what? We survived it and we integrated these people into our culture. I would not be here today, living in America if it were not for my Grandmother who never learned English. Yet in those days their culture was not accepted either.

My family kept their traditions alive by speaking their language and keeping close to the rituals of their heritage. Their roots were important to them. Perhaps it’s hard for those of us that were born in this country to understand that. It took me until my later years to get it as I sort through the things that were important from their native land. Though my mother was born in this country, her roots and heritage mattered to her. She never forgot where she came from and she never neglected to try and teach me their traditions. Sadly, I never realized the importance of keeping another culture’s heritage alive in family until she was gone

I find it exciting to learn about different cultures. The next time you eat Lasagna or Chinese food or take part in a tradition of another country, enjoy it’s richness. I am learning more about my Polish heritage and I am proud of it.

I think Boris and Natasha are proud of theirs too. I am sure Natasha is meowing Siamese and Boris is meowing Alleycat, and both are going to be stubborn and hold tight on keeping their language skills to meowing in their language. How lucky are we that our love for one another transcends those language barriers so we can bask in the purrs and blinks they give us on a daily basis.

Traditions, roots and culture remain important no matter what nationality we are, especially if it connects us to another country rich with history of our ancestors. It doesn’t make us less of an American to embrace our lineage.

Barriers can be created by closed minds and hearts. I am lucky love always won with my grandmother and my shysters. My life is richer because of it.

A Yearning For My Front Steps

This morning I have an inexplicable yearning to go outside and sit on my front steps and breathe in life.

It is the appearance of the sun in what has been a cold and bleak and cloudy Minnesota which brings to mind spring and thoughts of flowers and warm weather. However, I can’t explain my feeling that I need a front step sit. I have a perfectly good outside porch to enjoy but something in me tells me I need steps.

Though the sun is shining today my front steps and porch are crusted with ice. It is still winter and there is still snow on the ground. I like the beauty of winter as long as I don’t have to haul my old body outside. The pull is real to feel the fresh air on my face so I may dash out, raise my face to the sun and dash back inside to the warmth of my fireplace. Still, I feel the call of the front steps or the back steps for a peaceful sit.

Outdoor furniture awaits my porch sitting so why would I abandon that in place of the front steps? I think it has to do with my past and memories.

Living at my grandmothers and then when my family moved, we didn’t have fancy outdoor furniture. We would go outside and sit on the steps and talk and enjoy the evening. The front steps were better than the back steps because you could chat with those passing by or you could wave at the cars going by. Occasionally they would stop and talk.

There were interesting views. At my grandmother’s house I sat on the front steps and watched the trains go by or watched the animals. My mom or uncles would come in from the chores or the garden and we would talk for hours on the front steps. At our house my dad would sit with me as we watched the neighbor kids play or visited with those in the neighborhood, sometimes calling across the street. There were no cell phones or outdoor phones to distract us.

I do sit on my front concrete steps occasionally in this day and age for a quick moment when I am shaking out a rug or waiting for someone to pick me up, but most of the time I sit on my comfy chair on my outdoor porch or my patio. I have to say that for some reason it isn’t the same. Perhaps because of the front step memories.

I have no good explanation for yearning for my front steps unless it is perhaps missing those that used to share my experience. I also shared many front step conversations with my best girlfriends. If those steps could talk they would reveal so much about the past lives of the step sitters.

Perhaps when the ice is gone I will forgo my porch and patio for an occasional step sitting. I have a feeling it will be a good way to breathe and appreciate the simple life of the past,

“A journey to a thousand miles begins with one step.” –John F.Kennedy

Are They A Real Friend?

When I am In a conversation, face to face, with friends and family I might mention something that happened to one of my Facebook friends, but I don’t say they are a Facebook friend. I can’t tell  you how many times the people I am sharing a conversation with ask me, “Is this a real friend or a Facebook friend?” It as if one of the many people I connected with on Facebook are not real people and don’t have real feelings or real experiences. Can a friend only be a friend if you have met them face to face?

I think of my pen pals who I kept in touch with during my teen years. No one, including my parents, asked me if they were real friends.

When I consider a conventional friendship it means we converse regularly, or when it has been miles and years that have kept us apart and we get  back together nothing has changed. I care about this person. I hurt when they hurt and I rejoice when they have good news. We might exchange gifts or cards over the years. My definition of a friend is someone who I share the good times and the bad times with.

I do that with my Facebook friends. I have those that after we connected on Facebook, we met in real life and continue our friendship in person and online, such as my friends Timya and Barbara. Shopping is always fun with these two ladies. Or Mary, another author whom I meet for coffee when our lives permit us traveling a distance to meet.

Then there is Heather and Andrea who live in Canada. We Skype every so often and keep in touch every night by sending each other our gratitude list. It keeps us grateful.  My friend Sue Ann is a wonder woman on her farm in Ohio. I loved the smell of the lavender she sent me as a gift and also her tales of her life on her little piece of heaven. She should be a writer. Or my friend CeeCee who has been there  when I even mention I might be down. She gets in touch with me privately, helping me get through rough spots and I hope I do that for her. And of course there is sweet Lisa who I met when she reviewed my books, and has a heart so big that she hurts too every time one of her friends is hurting. I could go on and on about those who I consider friends whom I met online and I have only mentioned a few.

Today my heart is grieving for my friend Joanne Kocourek. She died last night and went into the loving arms of our Savior. Her pain is over. I don’t remember when exactly I met Joanne. I suspect it was because I am an author and she read one of my books. But once I met her I found she was one of the most courageous women I have known. She suffered from mitochondrial disease. Her life was not an easy one yet she always had encouragement for those she met. Through her journey of hospitals and pain and setbacks she kept her joyful spirit. She used her disease to help others who were diagnosed navigate the system. The more I learned about her life the more I knew she was special. She adopted two girls with the same disease and raised them to have the same beautiful spirit and attitude. She called herself the chronic conditions survivor and others called her a warrior and she was.  Her faith in the Lord was strong and I suspect she would tell us she couldn’t have done it without Him. I learned from Joanne about compassion and standing up for right and wrong when the system knocks you down. I am going to miss her guiding and encouraging spirit as are so many others. Yes, she was a real friend.

So don’t ask me again if I am talking about a “real friend” when they are from Facebook.  We may never meet in person but these special people have hopes, dreams, are caring and compassionate and because of their friendship,my life is richer and better. I learn about different cultures and I have become more tolerant and accepting of that which is different because they have let me into their lives and their feelings. I am blessed for these experiences.

RIP Joanne. I am sure you are now able to dance and sing with the angels.