One of the very first rites of passage for all new kindergartners is identifying their classmates in a new environment, from lunch to recess, and all that falls between. When our girls started kinder the teachers, well versed in 5-year-olds, did not distinguish the classes simply as group one and group two. Instead, they made it fun for the tykes, each classroom receiving an animal name. Some were monkeys, and others were hippos. The kids understood right away where they belonged and embraced, figuratively at least, their respective animals. Because they attended a dual-language school the group names also had their Spanish counterparts, mono and hipopótamo. These were distinctions even this non-Spanish speaker could figure out.
One night at dinner I asked them about their classmates, boldly inquiring in Spanish how the rest of the little “manos” were doing. The blank stare I received in response made it clear something was lost in the translation. The monkey gestures I used to get across my point sent them into a fit of giggles. It seemed I had asked about how the class of little “hands” was doing, the Spanish translation for the word “mano.” For this English-speaking Midwesterner it seemed like a reasonable mistake to make. The story came to mind earlier this week as our family welcomed to our home an exchange student from Turkey who will be staying with us for the next few months. At dinner one night we laughed together at my pronunciation of kefir, a word of Turkish origin, and I was reminded of our little monkeys of long ago. Our exchange student will attend Summit High through Rotary International, and we are only starting to learn about all the Rotary program does to promote understanding among cultures and kids of every nation. The tragic events last week overseas only emphasize the importance of building friendship and trust, one person — one student — at a time. There must be an alternative to spawning hatred.
Having another child in our home also has required that I consider the kind of “host” I am to our own kids. Sure, I know we are all part of a family, but still their tenure with us is limited, as any parent of a graduating senior will attest. As a host family we are counseled to love and accept the student who is sent our way. We have worked to understand how hard it must have been to leave the comfort of family only to be immersed in a very different world. The international language of laughter and tears has been a big piece of our internal vocabulary of late, and it’s our hope that each day the moments of laughter far outweigh the reality of tears.
The experience also has caused me to ponder the tenuous balance between two strikingly similar English words, acceptance and expectation. Both have Latin roots, and if not pronounced correctly also can be mistaken for each other. To accept comes from the Latin word “acceptare,” meaning “to take or receive willingly.” When it comes to people it has a sweet connotation, one I often overlook in my eagerness to impose an altogether different word, expectation. Expectation comes from the Latin word “expectare” to await, or to “desire, hope.” Both acceptance and expectation should be a part of our role as a host family, and as parents in general. And while I often expect much of our kids, there’s comfort in knowing a big part of my job is to willingly receive all of the special gifts each of our little monkeys has to offer.
Cindy Bargell is a mom and attorney who lives outside of Silverthorne with her husband and three daughters. She welcomes your comments at Cindy@visanibargell.com