I am beginning to think that I may, in fact, have lost my ability to speak English.
I fear that, although I am thinking in English, and that I believe that the words I am forming with my brain and my mouth and my vocal cords are in English, I may not in fact ACTUALLY be speaking English. I sometimes feel that perhaps, somewhere between the thoughts in English in my brain and the ears of the English-speaking listener, some sort of disconnect is happening and English is not actually what is coming out.
And when I say “listener”, what I mean is “five-year-old daughter”.
Below is an actual, real-life conversation that happened in my kitchen recently:
That Girl: What are we having for supper?
Me: We’re having tuna casserole.
TG: Are we having sausage rolls?
Me: No, tuna casserole. Tuna, noodles, cheese… one of your favourites.
TG: But I want sausage rolls. Can we have sausage rolls?
Me: No, we’re having tuna casserole. It’s delicious. You love it. It’s one of your favourite foods.
TG: (thinks for a minute) How about sausage rolls? I want sausage rolls.
Me: NO, we’re having tuna casserole. This is not a restaurant. You’ll eat what we are eating.
TG: (spins in a circle a couple of times) But what are we having FOR SUPPER?
Me: TUNA CASSEROLE.
TG: Oh. okay. (spins again, and does a little hop) Can we have sausage rolls?
I KNOW I said “tuna casserole” about eighty jillionty times in the space of five minutes. I said it so often, the phrase “tuna casserole” doesn’t even sound like real words anymore. So then I got to thinking… maybe it’s not. Maybe I only THINK I am saying “tuna casserole” over and over in my brainmeats, but what is actually coming out is “Can you direct me to the hotel?” in Swahili.
Or how about this one:
That Girl: Is it January?
Me: No honey, it’s February.
TG: Oh, right. And today’s Wednesday, so tomorrow it will be Saturday, right?
Me: No, today’s Monday. It’s a school day. Tomorrow will be Tuesday.
TG: And it’s going to be March!
Me: No, it’s still February.
TG: (takes a bite of her toast) Is it Thursday?
Me: No, honey. It’s Monday.
TG: And it’s January.
Me: No, it’s February.
TG: Oh. (thinks) Is it Wednesday?
Me: It’s MONDAY.
TG: Oh. Right. (takes a bite of her toast)
TG: Happy Saturday, Mom!
I mean, I know she’s just learning all the days and the months and stuff. But honestly, how many times can you repeat “It’s Monday” before someone thinks “Oh, hey… wait a minute… could it be MONDAY?”
Then there’s this oft-repeated exchange:
That Girl: Mom, can you make me some cocoa, please?
Me: I’ll be there in just a moment, honey. I just have to finish this work I am doing/putting away this laundry/putting on pants/putting this idea in this email before I lose my mind.
TG: When, Mom? I’m really thirsty.
Me: In a minute, honey.
TG: (waits a nanosecond) Mom, what about my cocoa? Are you going to make my cocoa?
Me: I’ll be right there! Just give me a moment!
TG: (another nanosecond passes) Are you coming, Mom?
Me: IN A MINUTE! Can you just please be patient? I just have to FINISH THIS!
TG: (waits a millisecond) How about now? Are you coming now, Mom?
Me: WHAT ABOUT “I’LL BE RIGHT THERE” DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND? JUST LET ME FINISH, FOR THE LOVE OF DOG!!
TG: (meekly) Okay, Mom.
Me: THANK YOU.
TG: (a second passes) Are you coming to make my cocoa yet?
Now, I KNOW there are words in that exchange — “in a minute”, “wait”, “be patient” — that may, in fact, be foreign concepts to the five-year-old mind. But I say them SO OFTEN, that surely by now she grasps the idea of waiting, right?
UNLESS, OF COURSE, I AM TELLING HER THIS IN INUKTITUT. Which I know for a FACT she does not understand.
And, honestly, I didn’t think I did, either. But clearly, I thought I was speaking plain English, and apparently this is not the case, either. So.
So, tell me: Am I thinking that I am communicating in English, but in actual fact it’s coming out in a completely different language? And I conversant in the Uzbek language, but was unaware of it? Tagalog? Quechua?
Or is it — and I have suspected this for quite some time — is it that I am not conversant in the language of “five-year-old butthead”?