A few years ago, I was asked if I wanted to accompany a friend to Peru to hike the Machu Picchu trail. She was a world traveler and used to different counties and culture but I was not. While I seriously considered this trip and even started working out to be in condition for such an adventure, I had some concerns such as language, my own physical ability to handle the trip, the cost involved, and also a fear of the unknown.
Recently, I was confronted with another adventure – helping out with my grandchildren ages 2 and 3, in Texas, while my daughter in law is on bed rest. I was as apprehensive about this adventure as I was about Peru for many of the same reasons. You may wonder how culture and language could be an issue. My grandchildren and their mom’s first language is Spanish and my son speaks Spanish at home with them also. Her parents, who also became permanent US citizens from Mexico City, live in their house adding to the number of Spanish speakers. I knew I could easily speak with my son and daughter in law, but my concern was of the 2 year old and 3 year old understanding me while I was taking care of them.
Also, I am not 30 years old anymore so I was concerned about running after the young ones 12 hours a day. My current job as a receptionist involves some running but generally is from my chair at the front desk to the copy room – and I don’t usually run!
The cost of the adventure to Texas is the loss of paychecks- for an undetermined amount of time. Did I mention she was just 26 weeks pregnant when I arrived? I had to trust that God would work this out and, with a supportive husband, I knew it was where I needed to be – despite any of my concerns.
The First Option
When news came of problems with the pregnancy, our first offer to help was to send money. It was fairly painless and was to pay for her mother to stay home from her job, order in some meals and pay for a monthly house cleaner. Then, after a few more phone calls, it became apparent help was needed with child care, with another vehicle in case there were trips to the Hospital while my son was at work, and one more English speaker would be appreciated. My husband suggested I take a leave of absence from my job and move to Texas to help out. I had concerns – and hesitated!
Interestingly, for a few months prior to the first phone call, I daily prayed the words from a popular praise song, “Hands and Feet”: “I wanna be Your Hands, I wanna be Your Feet, I’ll go where You send me, Go Where You Send Me”
I was still resisting leaving my comfortable lifestyle. Eventually, I relented and felt an instant peace that this was the right decision. The attorneys I work for understood and encouraged me to take care of my family first. I am very grateful for that!
God, answered me – but it was not what I was thinking! Funny I didn’t see the connection until, after a few days in Texas, I was writing in my journal that I am my daughter in law’s extra set of hands, feet and eyes. I had to smile!
My husband drove me to Texas (from North Dakota) and then flew back March 20th. On the 3rd night, tornado sirens sounded. The kids were scooped up from their beds and we sat in a closet as there are typically not basements in Texas. On the 7th day, I was needed to drive to my daughter in law to the Hospital for some issues. Thankfully, we could come back ‘home’ after an IV and a time of observation.
I found there were many languages I would need to learn! The first ‘language’ was from the GPS. The difficulty wasn’t in understanding her voice but in learning how to get her voice to ‘play’. Once found, this lady’s voice was sweet to my ears as she guided us 1200 miles to Texas. This voice also was much appreciated when I found myself on an unfamiliar road coming back from the grocery store. I didn’t even mind ‘make a U turn at the next crossing’ or ‘recalculating’!
The Spanish/English language situation is better than I thought! The 3 year old has learned some English at home and also is in an English speaking pre-school two days/week. The 2 year old certainly understands body language, tone of voice and facial expressions along with some words. I found I could sometimes understand what the Spanish speakers were talking about from their tone of voice and facial expressions. I was like a two year old and better understood his frustration in trying to communicate!
At supper, the first night, the 3 year old asked, in English, “what is this?” as he held up a piece of carrot. It had a funny shape and he didn’t recognize it as a carrot even though he had eaten them before. I told him, in English, “It is a carrot.” He continued to ask “what is this?” and I continued to say “It is a carrot.” Finally, his mom told him in Spanish that it was a carrot and he then knew what it was. I felt helpless to tell him what is was as it didn’t help if I said ‘carrot’ louder or slower, he still did not understand the word.
Also, the 3 year old didn’t understand why I couldn’t speak Spanish. His parents and the other grandparents could! He could speak both English and Spanish and he was only 3. One afternoon, while I was reading books to him, he brought me a children’s book in Spanish. I said “I can’t read this one”. This concept was difficult for him to understand – I could read, so why couldn’t I read Spanish?
[On my Face book page, I posted a video of the 3 year old telling his mom (in Spanish) and me (in English) about his day at preschool. It is astonishing how easily he switches back and forth when talking to each of us! Feel free to send me a ‘friend request’ if we are not already ‘friends’ on Face Book and you can view this video!]
Lastly, learning the language of 2 year old is also interesting- but I can say that it is starting make sense.
Language Can Be Funny
The ‘other grandmother’ is still learning English. She tries different phrases and very much wants to learn the right way to say things. She had been cooking and came to tell me, very seriously, “I ate the babies”. From the look on my face, she knew that was not quite right! She then said, very slowly, “I – ate- the- babies”. I said that “I ate” was perhaps correct but not “the babies”. She then said a phrase in Spanish but I could not understand that! After trying a combination of words and gestures, I guessed that she made spaghetti noodles for the children. We can communicate about many things but quickly learned that just a few wrong words certainly changes the meaning of this sentence!
I had been in my son’s home many times in the past so I knew the culture wasn’t that different except for more Mexican foods and more noise! It was an interesting concept to realize that neither family can look at the other and assume ALL Americans nor ALL Mexicans act a certain way. I certainly didn’t want her parents to look at how I prepared food, for example, and assume ALL Americans use a lot of canned soups and vegetables or make ‘hotdish’ for several meals! I had to also be aware that just because they cooked or held a political or social view, that ALL Mexicans also hold this view.
The Culture of a HUGE Church
Attending church with my son’s family was an experience with the ‘country sounding praise songs’ and the ‘welcome y’all’. However, the culture of this very large church (with over 6000 calling it their home church) was different and had nothing to do with another country! Other than its sheer physical size, the first thing I noticed was an armed guard (yes, with a holstered gun!) guarding the nursery/kids area. Once past the armed guard, there were 15-20 different rooms for children based on ages. I learned during a trip to the hospital one late night that there is another large church, in this area, that has 35,000 members with the main church as large as a whole city block!
The music was loud and ‘rockin’. I liked it but am used to something a bit quieter. I was told two of the guitarists in the band are also in Miranda Lambert’s band (during the week) and play at this church on the weekend.
During the offering, an offer was made to ‘text’ their offering if they wished. I was familiar with this concept but hadn’t heard it offered during a worship service. Communion was also very ‘efficient’. When the tray was passed, each person would take two cups with the little wafer in the bottom cup and juice in the top cup – this certainly saved having to pass the communion items twice! It was still meaningful and the scriptures that were quoted were the same- it was just a cultural difference!
Yes, Grandma gets tired! Thankfully, there are many times to rest during the day. There is drinking coffee in the morning (most of it can be drunk while still hot!). Sometimes the kids can play by themselves and there is time to sit outside in the back yard while the kids play. Usually they take 2 hour naps. Bedtime is 7:30p and they go to bed quite well. Also, there are other adults in the house so I can take a shower and get dressed without two little ones under foot like I had to do when my own were little! Cooking chores and clean up is shared with the other grandparents so that really helps. Of course, they play with the children also, as well as the children’s parents. This is definitely easier than I thought – but I am still quite tired by suppertime!
Prayers for energy from friends and family have also been felt and appreciated! Hey, if God got me into this, I surely look to him to equip me for this task!
It has now been two weeks and the joy of playing and getting to know my grandchildren abounds. I miss my other two grandchildren and their parents who are back in North Dakota and have appreciated living in the same city as them for all of their lives! I also enjoy dropping back into the lives of my son and daughter in law and getting to know her parents better. God willing, a new healthy little boy will arrive in His time!
For you with inquiring minds, I did not end up going to Peru!