Vacation, if you play your cards right, can be a real learning experience.
Of course, right? Everyone knows that you can take vacations to do things like go explore archeological digs and take historically informative tours of Civil War battlefields. But that’s not the kind of learning experience that I’m talking about. I’m saying that it’s possible to use vacation as a medium through which you can learn previously unrealized (or at least long-forgotten) information about yourself.
This vacation was exactly that kind of a vacation for me. Before this vacation, I had no idea that I have the speaking vocabulary that is largely incomprehensible to people who are the age of 5. I made this discovery while we were still in Colorado Springs hanging out with the cousin’s kiddos, Sadie and Seth. Sadie, as I’ve mentioned before, is exactly 5 years old. She’s a smart 5 year-old who is totally interested in life and everything that it has to offer. She’s also, by extension, interested in everything that I say. I’m not special here; it’s not just me. She’s interested in everything that everyone has to say, always. There is no discussion so adultish and boring that it doesn’t entertain her completely. She entirely absorbs words and their meanings, gobbling them up and immediately placing them in her “heap of words to use in a situation that could potentially embarrass mommy.”
It didn’t dawn on me that I use “big words” or, at the very least, “not normal words” until Sadie started asking me what words meant all the time. She wasn’t aware of the meanings of the words ‘bumfuzzled,’ ‘sasquach’ or ‘Canadian.’ (Those words have nothing to do with each other.) (Or do they?)
Sadie and I became pretty good buddies while we were there. Those kids love them some blood relatives, and displayed it in very classical kid-ways. Sadie wanted me to sit by her in the car. Sadie wanted me to sit by her at the dinner table. Sadie wanted to hold my hand as we walked her home from school. Classic, right? Another classic ways that kids display affection for their friends is by telling them secrets. (And according to Sadie, I am very much a friend, not at all her mother’s cousin who is a grown-up. Sadie, despite being repeatedly informed of the fact, refuses to believe that I am an adult, and instead insists that I am a teenager. This is because I look 15 years old. Most waiters in the Greater DFW also believe that I am 15. Apparently Sadie is very influential.)
The last day we were there, Amy had a bit of work she couldn’t shake. Zack and I volunteered to pick Sadie up from school that day since it would help free up her schedule a little bit. We walked over to the elementary school and soon Sadie came bursting through the doors, very excited to tell us about all the things she’d done in school that day.
After a bit of probing, she was willing to dish all kinds of information about her Tuesday. They had worked on some new sight words, she said. They had learned how to do subtraction, she told me. “It wasn’t as hard as I thought it’d be,” she explained, “cause it’s just taking some away!” I was quizzing her on some subtraction stuff when she remembered another story. I could see the information forming in her head like a storm cloud, mounting with pressure until she just had to tell someone, and quick. I watched her going back and forth, trying to decide if she trusted me enough to dish the TOP QUALITY information she was about to dish. She started to tell me, stopped herself, then started again, spilling out the entire story in one overwhelming breath.
From what I could understand of the jarbled kindergarten excitement, the story went something like this: Sadie and her friends were let out of class for a bathroom break sometime during the day. Instead of just going to the bathroom like normal, they decided to do something different. She and her friends reached through the doors of the empty stalls and one-by-one locked all of the stalls. At this point I interjected. I asked, “like a game?” She said, yes, it was like a game, the kind where you see who has to go first. I asked, “how do you lose the game?” Sadie explained that if you decided that you really had to go, you would have to crawl under the door to go to the bathroom, and that’s how you lost the game! You had to crawl under the door!
All of these explanations, as you might expect, were buried in a veritable avalanche of giggles. She was really proud of the fact that she had invented her very own game. She had no idea how many strikes I was tallying against her at that very moment, the grossest of which involved making her fellow classmates crawl around on a public school’s kindergarten bathroom floor in order to gain access to a bathroom stall. I tried to sucker as much information out of her as I could before we (30 seconds later) bounced on to the next subject. I also made a mental note to wash Sadie’s and my hands when we got home.
This action all transpired on the very afternoon that Zack and I were hopping a plane from Denver to LA. Sadie and Seth were both well aware that we were leaving that afternoon, so the spent every last moment hanging out as close to us as possible. Sadie’s persistence in being in near-proximity to us made it difficult for me to communicate to Amy the story that Sadie had told me on the way home from school. I’m not sure why I didn’t just dish outright, saying something like, “Hey Sadie, why don’t you tell your mom what you told me about playing in the bathroom today?!” I guess because I’m the cool cousin-type-person and I couldn’t risk blowing my cover while she’s still so young and impressionable. While I was standing at the bar, watching Amy throw together some PBJs for lunch, I told her that there was a story that I needed to tell her, but I couldn’t, you know, just tell her. That I was trying to think of a way to effectively communicate it to her, while Sadie was there, in the room, listening to every single word that we said as if her life depended on it. I said something like, “Man, I wish you spoke Spanish.”
That’s when it dawned on me: 60% of the time, Sadie has no idea what I’m saying, regardless of what language I’m speaking. She doesn’t even know what a Canadian is! So I said to Amy, “I’m going to communicate to you using carefully selected language in order to tell to you the tale that was conveyed to me by your first positioned offspring during our journey to your humble abode from the greater learning institution today.” Amy, eyebrows raised, looked at me in a way that perfectly communicated her main feeling at the time: Curiosity. I’m sure she was not only wondering what story could possibly be so good that I had to try to talk to her in a way that nobody who hadn’t finished Kindergarden would understand, but also wondering whether or not my vocabulary was truly expansive enough to explain what I wanted to explain effectively. And GOOD GOD was it ever difficult. It doesn’t take very long to read, because I’ve removed all the um’s, uh’s, verbal ellipses and exasperated sighs for the sake of your sanity. Just imagine them. It took me about 10 minutes to explain to Amy what Sadie told me in 15 seconds.
“Today,” I explained, “said person and their (genderless plural used purposefully) scholastic cohort participated in an extra-curricular activity during a period that had been intended for deification and/or micturation.” My back towards Sadie while I was trying to tell all the details to Amy, so I wasn’t able to see, but Amy said that she was eyeballing me the whole time, suspicious of me in a way that non-Spanish speakers might assume that people speaking Spanish around them are doing so because they are saying mean things about the non-Spanish speaker*. I asked Amy if I was good to go ahead with the story. She nodded. I painstakingly continued. ”The non-learning establishment approved function was that the, ahem, ringleader and other members of the cohort went into the defecating facility and manually activated all the individually separated facilities’ privacy and safety mechanisms from the outside, thus making it impossible for any outside members of the unit to use the facilities without, you know, experiencing some acute humiliation.” I couldn’t think of any more complicated way to say game, so I just had to mouth “It was a GAME,” so she could get the whole picture.
After I felt like I’d been at least moderately successful in telling that story in a way that was incomprehensible to a 5 year-old, Amy looked at me and mouthed, “MY SADIE?” I thought, “CRAP. TOO INCOMPREHENSIBLE. THERE IS NO MIDDLE GROUND.” But Amy had understood the story. She was just surprised that her Kindergartener had come up with such a complicated and gross game, I’m sure. The honest truth is, I haven’t really talked to Amy (save to ask if I could tell a story about Sadie on the blog) since we left there, so I’m not sure what happened after I left, if Amy admitted to knowing the story, or if Sadie got lectured on not playing games in the bathroom or whatever. I do know one thing without having to ask; Sadie got a good scrub-down in her bath that night.
(*Lesson to be learned: People conversing in Spanish around you aren’t talking about you. When adults start trying to talk over your head while you’re sitting right in front of them, watch out. That’s when you’re really in trouble.)