One of the songs that was sung when our children left the orphanage, when translated, said, “We’ll see you in America!” It was ironic to think that all of the children that were crowded into that orphanage would be eventually going to North America — to Canada or to the United States.
But here we are, and scattered across the United States are other children that our kids spent a year with day in and day out. In fact, there was another family picking up their children from the orphanage at the same time we were. So not only had our kids spent a year together in the orphanage, they had spent a week together transitioning into their new American families. We parted ways in Europe, and while I’ve been in contact with their new mom, the kids haven’t had any contact with any of their former friends.
So after being home for nearly 2 months, we decided it was time for a Skype date with their friends who came to America at the same time. Since our kids don’t speak English, it was hard to explain, so we decided just to surprise them.
At the appointed time, we sat them down in front of my laptop, and sure enough, there were their friends from the orphanage. It took them a minute to realize that it wasn’t just a movie, but was in real life, but soon they began to show each other toys and chatter.
Only there was a difference.
Their little girl only spoke English. Our kids only spoke in their African language. The communication quickly dissolved as they no longer speak the same language.
After church this past Sunday, a woman came up to me and explained that one time she was in the nursery, and one of the babies used sign language to communicate. The baby was very upset and kept making a sweeping motion across her arm, but the woman had no idea what she was trying to say. For an hour, the baby cried huge tears trying to communicate, but no one understood what she wanted. The nursery worker became increasingly distressed and tried to recruit other people to help her figure out what in the world this baby wanted.
Finally, when the baby’s mother came, she said that was the sign for her blanket. So much grief and so many tears over not being able to communicate about a simple blanket.
She said that she had just a glimpse of what we go through every day, not understanding our children. They cry, they ask for things, they throw temper tantrums, and we have no idea what they want or why they are upset. Even things as simple as: Are you hungry? Thirsty? Are you scared to go to sleep? Did you have a bad dream? Do you miss your African family and friends?
So much of relationship building is about language, and it seems our children are resistant to learning ours. They seem content just talking with each other in their own African language. Sure, they know about 30 nouns in English, and can name colors and some numbers, but nothing like what other children who came home around the same time have been able to communicate: “Mama, your cooking is beautiful.” Ours have yet to put words together to make sentences on their own.
The truth is, it’s like I miss my children. They are here physically, but not verbally. I’m hoping that one day, they will have the same language explosion that typically happens in toddlers, and English will just begin to click. My husband assures me that learning language is not a race. He’s right, it’s not. But if it were, we would be losing. I long for the day when I can break inside their world and communicate back and forth. For now, it seems like we are just on two different but parallel paths. We share the same address, bathroom, meals, and fabric softener, but not the same language.