‘Ginia is my daughter Kelly’s son Benny’s word for where he lives…Virginia. Young kids always seem to provide the family with an entire new lexicon for communication. For a few weeks in her second summer my daughter Katie’s daughter Stephie pronounced bathing suit, “baby suit.” Now, everytime we go to the gym, we all make sure we have our baby suits. Her mother once substituted the word “decided” for “excited.” Now, when we all go swimming in our baby suits we get very decided. Benny not only renamed Virgina, he also, as the first born grandchild, got the job of naming me…granananananana, now abbreviated to Granana. I don’t think of this as baby talk, more like family talk. In the community of our family, these words are clearly defined. Octavio Paz says that community does not create language, but rather language creates community. This talk is part of what holds us together.
Saturday night Benny and I were making up a story before bed. I picked up a stuffed frog who became the protagonist, hopping from rock to rock in the swamp. Every once in a while I would pause allowing Benny to fill in the blanks, thereby directing the story. I began, “Once upon a time there was a green frog and he lived . . .”
“In the swamp!” Benny offered. And so on.
Turned out as the story developed that the frog had everything he needed in that slimy swamp except a best friend. Finally, he met up with another frog who had the same too long legs in the back and too short legs in the front, perfect dimensions for a best friend. Only one problem, the frog spoke a different language. So, our protagonist (we didn’t name him, who needs a name in a swamp when you have no friends?) counted to three in spanish (thank you Sesame Street and Dora) and that made the prospective friend, Pedro, so happy, he confessed that not only did he speak Spanish, he also spoke English and they hopped off and were friends ever after.
Books and reading are important — goes without saying. But I hope that stories do not go the way of poetry, where if we don’t find one in a book, we somehow think that our stories are less important. Stories, the ones we experience and the ones we make up, uno, dos, tres, expanding the family lexicon while drawing us together.