Sick Saturday with Old Friends

“Door” in Polish is a strange word. Like “pants” in English, it’s always plural — drzwi. It’s likely because it’s etymologically connected to “tree” and “wood,” and since old doors were made of planks, it makes sense to call them something like “planks” (though that’s not what drzwi translates to literally).


This morning, the Boy went to tell K as she was getting ready for a shower that he’d heard a scratching at the door, that it was Bida, our cat, who was trying to get his attention so that he would let her in, that he heard it and wondered what it was, that he’d figured it out, and that he let her in. K stood patiently, towel wrapped around her, listening to this whole story patiently, then asked, in Polish, for privacy: “Could you please shut the door so that I could shower?”


He replied, in English: “I’ll close them and lock them so no one will come in.” He applied Polish grammar to English, pluralizing a word that would be plural in Polish but is singular in English.



After Mass during the school year, there are a few obligatories: a fresh pot of coffee and something sweet. Feed the soul, then feed the spirit. Something like that. Perhaps accompany it with something to read, maybe a game of chess. But eventually, it’s time for the trial and treasure, for it’s something K loves and loathes doing. Polish lessons.


The love is easy: it’s her language, her culture, that she’s sharing with her beloved daughter. The loathe comes from the frustration that sometimes accompanies it. Perhaps “loathe” is not the right word — perhaps it was just too alliterative to pass up. “It’s something that K loves and that frustrates her” doesn’t quite make it. Always searching for the right word, never able to find it, which is what makes the Polish lessons so frustrating for the Girl. Her passive vocabulary, like everyone’s, is much larger than her active vocabulary. She can understand more than she can say, like me in Polish.

E, on the other hand, has of late only a passive vocabulary for the most part. The production has ceased. However, we’re seeing that language and such is perhaps just not his strength. He can watch a cartoon about how airplanes fly and remember it long afterward. (Language, though? K was trying to teach him a Polish prayer the other evening, and he replied, “You must be kidding me! I can’t remember that!”)

In the evening, it’s time to feed the soul once again — a quiet bonfire in the backyard. The temperatures have cooled, the mosquitoes have disappeared, and we’ve entered our favorite time of the year.


We’ve been waiting all summer for this. The kitchen is mostly done, our routines have returned, the weather has cooled, and it’s time to start everything again. So what better way to end than with a song by Antoine Dufour, a Quebecois guitarist, who wrote a song for his yet-unborn son, a song about waiting, a song I’ve listened to at least a dozen times this weekend. Perhaps the most beautiful acoustic guitar song I’ve ever heard.

Two Conversations


Mama, why does Daddy have bronchitis?

I don’t know.

Is he going to die?

No, honey.


Daddy, hear that? (Slightly congested cough.)

Yes. Are you okay?

We were out for that spacer [walk] yesterday, and there was cold air, and I had it in my mouth, and I swallowed it.

Did you get some medicine?

Yes, Mama posmarować-ed [smeared] me with special olej [oil]. I’ll be okay in a few minutes.


L and I were sitting by her bed, reading the graphic-novel version of Shakespeare that she brought from the school library when she came across a sentence that stumped her: the king sent to men “to consult with the oracle of Delphi, in Greece.” I explained to her what “consult” means and then began working to help her figure out what “oracle” might mean.

“If ‘consult’ means something like ‘ask advice from’ and the men went to consult with the oracle, what did they ask advice from?” Much to my surprise, she couldn’t figure it out. I explained that the verb was “consult,” the action is “consulting.” “So who’s doing the action, who is consulting?”

“The king?”

It was clear a new strategy was necessary.


That’s right, I started teacher her how to diagram sentences. There are few skills that are so incredibly useful for getting students to see the inner working of a sentence, the clockworks of the sentence. Of course it’s no longer taught today except by eccentric English teachers who have free reign with their curriculum design — in other words, it’s not taught anymore. Still, I’ve begun wondering if I could somehow incorporate it into my own teaching

My, Our, and The

It’s a sign of the times that I haven’t been in a bank in probably well over a year. Since almost everything can be done online or at an ATM, why bother? But a substantial withdraw before heading on vacation requires a visit in person, so I dropped off at our local branch and realized immediately upon entering that they’d created a new position since I’d last been inside. Standing at the entrance was essentially a traffic director: a young lady who looked to in her early twenties, fresh out of college, asked all entering customers what they needed and then directed them to the appropriate part of the bank. So essentially it was waiting in line before being told to go wait in this or that line. I knew which line I needed, but I waited patiently while the young lady helped the lady in front of me determine where she needed to go. Finally, it was my turn, and I was brief: “I just need to make a withdraw.”

“Well, if it’s less than $300, you can get it from the ATM,” she smiled, “but if it’s more, you’ll have to see one of my tellers.”

Such a loaded construction: “one of my tellers.” I stood in the second line, thinking of the young lady’s other options. She could have said, “You’ll have to see one of the tellers.” Alternatively, she could have said, “You’ll have to see one of our tellers.” But she chose “one of my tellers.”

I found myself wondering if this was scripted (i.e., the bank manager told her to phrase it that way) or if she made that decision herself. And the more I thought about it, the more I hoped it was the former and not the latter, for if I were a teller at that bank, I would think it would grate on my nerves all day long to hear this young lady refer to me as “one my tellers” when in fact she’s probably just as low on the totem pole as I am. Certainly she could be the manager, but that seems unlikely: too young, and why would the manager be doing such a job?

If it’s the latter, if she’s choosing to say “one of my tellers,” why? It undoubtedly sets up a hierarchy within the bank, with the traffic director placing herself above the tellers. After all, if they’re “my tellers,” I’m in charge. However, if they’re “our tellers,” we’re all subservient to someone else, either the abstract idea of the banking corporation or the specific manager. The final choice, “one of the tellers” makes it seem as if she’s not even really a part of the bank. Clearly “our” is the best choice. So why “my”?


In education, it’s critical to model. Show, don’t tell.

I teach a creative writing course, which is really “Digital Storytelling,” but that’s not one of the district-provided options for course titles, so I call it “Creative Writing” and do a bit of everything. Right now, students are working on NPR-style audio stories about school events. I thought I’d model it for them. It was kind of fun — perhaps I have a future in radio…

After Dinner with the Boy

We’re creatures of habit, the Boy and I. After dinner, there’s really only one place to go. I could say it’s an effort to get exercise, but I’m the only one really moving: the Boy, he’s just laughing, chatting, fussing — being a typical two-year-old.


We move in shapes — triangles maybe — from the driveway to the swing to the sandbox, back to the driveway.


There are always interruptions. A siren sounds in the distance, draws closer. The Boy stops and watches.


After a bit more digging, he declares it’s time to go in. But on his way, it’s time for a little work, and I get a glimpse into his bilingual reality. In typical E fashion, he begins raking and explaining what he’s doing.


“To rake” in Polish is grabić. Before we head inside, he declares, “I’m grabing!”

Fast Forward

Sometimes it seems life with the Boy and the Girl is on fast forward. This is especially true of the Boy, now that he’s talking and giving us more than the mere glimpses we used to get into his developing intelligence and personality. This morning, as I was preparing coffee to take to work, I hear,

“Daddy, can I try it?”

It’s a common refrain: the Boy wants to try everything. In that sense, he’s the polar opposite of L, who hates to try anything new.

“No, little man, this is coffee. It’s hot, and it’s got caffeine. You’re too young to drink it.”

He thought for a little while, then asked hesitatingly, as he often does when he’s turning something over in his thoughts as he speak, “But when I’m bigger?”

Fast forward to the post-dinner cleanup. K was talking to the Boy and for some reason — some of those little conversations start so harmlessly insignificantly that it’s difficult to recreate them in the evening — said something like “B, as in bottle, as in big, as in…” At which point the Boy took over, with boy, baby, and a few others.


The Boy is in bed, trying to fall asleep. The cat jumps onto the bed and begins pestering the Boy, who stands up and says, “No, Bida!” When the cat doesn’t listen, the Boy says sternly, “When I say ‘No,’ I mean ‘No.'”

I See It!

chocomilkThe Boy toddles toward the stairs down to our transforming basement, cup of chocolate milk in hand. He gets a little excited and the milk soon splashes all over the floor. As I’m cleaning it up, I mutter to myself that this was avoidable “because I foresaw it.”

“No, Daddy,” E corrects. “I saw it.”

Garbage Truck

The Boy loves cars. I mean loves cars. He has a sizable collection of matchbox cars (yes, that is a brand name but like Kleenex, it’s come to represent the object in general), mostly thanks to Nana and Papa, and among these cars is a garbage truck. A favorite. And that explains his interest in the following exchange.

The Boy
Garbage truck coming today?
The Tata
No, not today. Tomorrow.
The Boy
Tomorrow? Tursday?
The Tata, in mild shock
What did you say?
The Boy
Garbage truck not coming today?
The Tata
No, no, what day did you say tomorrow is?
The Boy
The Tata
And today?
The Boy

In the car, I tell K about this conversation.

“Really? Where did he learn that?” she wonders aloud in Polish, turning to E in the back seat and asking, “E, who taught you this?”

“E!” he squeals.

Jazz 2014 and Puppies

Tonight was L’s jazz concert. Greenville Ballet divides the two forms into separate lessons (unlike our former school, which had half an hour of ballet followed by half an hour of jazz), and this year the had two separate shows. If last night’s performance was any sort of standard, it was certainly magnificent.

Meanwhile, at the house, the Boy and I had our own adventure: a walk to the drug store, some swinging time, some up-the-stairs, down-the-stairs time — everything a boy and his father needed to make a perfect evening of it.

Bedtime presented its own challenges. As I was dressing the Boy for a hopefully-long, hopefully-restful evening, I slipped his puppy pajama bottoms on without thinking about the fact that the matching shirt was nowhere to be found. He was fine with it, but started asking a little later about the top: I’d laid him on the bed to slide him into his sleeping sack when he began asking, “Sapappies?”

“We don’t have the top, E,” I reassured him. “I don’t know where it is.”

Despite this reasoned explanation, the protests grew more frantic: “Sapappies! Sapappies!”

I tried explaining again, but it was not no avail: he slid off the bed, marched to his chest of drawers, and began opening them one by one. Look in, he’d exclaim, “No!” before slamming the draw closed (I could just hear the screams if he caught his finger in one) and opening the next. The third attempted was successful. “Tu! Tu!” he shouted (“Here! Here!” in English). He pulled out a pair of socks and cried, “Sapappies!”

(Note to non-Slavophiles: “socks” in Polish is “skarpetki,” so in typical dual-language fashion, he applied a bilingual double-plural to it in addition to the ineffably charming pronunciation.)