Creating Space for Play and Curiosity

Now that it’s summer, the girls and I are in the car a lot together. I drive a Honda Civic, meaning that we’re in close proximity for all music choices and conversation. Recently, I’ve been reminded of what a linguistically fun season we’re in.

Elle loves separating words by syllable and then finding other words that rhyme with those syllables. Most of her rhymes are nonsense words but I love listening to how she dissects and reassembles language. I had forgotten how fun it was to hear kids puzzle out words and language.

Bea adds to our conversation by asking about the etymology of words and phrases we’re using. We wonder why we used certain words in certain ways and why some letters are pronounced differently, depending on the word’s origin. We talk about phrases and where they come from and how they’ve changed.

These conversations aren’t our norm but about once a week or so, we’ll dive into language and it’s been such a good reminder for me about the shifting nature of our communication.

This makes me especially happy because I love thinking and learning about the origins of language. Perhaps that’s why my girls love picking apart words – I happily jump into the conversation, just as curious as they are. I find the history of language fascinating and love that we’re able to reframe words and phrases every few decades or centuries.

I’ve been slowly working my way through Womanist Midrash by Dr. Wilda Gafney. She takes stories of women from the Old Testament and digs into the words and language surrounding them. Using what she calls her “sanctified imagination,” she adds to the story, creating robust narratives around forgotten and abused women. She breaks down the ancient Hebrew words and phrases and helps the reader understand the context and nuance.

Womanist Midrash is the most recent part of my journey in understanding the fluidity of language and belief. If our modern English language can ebb and change as quickly as it does, it’s no wonder there’s such mystery surrounding the language of the Bible. Yes, scholars study and understand the ancient text in its rightful context but for this lay-reader, I’m amazed at all I don’t know about what the Bible is saying, simply through the language and translations given.

A friend and I were recently talking about how we reconcile faith and politics and law. We were talking about specific current events but I think our conversation could be expanded to any sort of Biblical grappling. How do we understand what the Bible was actually saying, especially when we don’t know the language and context fully?

Our conversation made me think of the car rides with my girls, of breaking apart words and thinking about each part, in context and out of context. It made me think about the ways in which rhyming nonsense words helps build a linguistic foundation of curiosity and play which will eventually lead to fluent literacy. For now, my girls love having fun with language and giving them space to figure it out helps me remember the process rather than the outcome.

I think that’s what I’m learning about faith, too. It’s about dissecting and puzzling. Sometimes it’s about making up nonsense rhymes as I work through certain parts. Sometimes it’s turning to the experts and diving into what we do actually know about the language and culture. Either way, I’m leaning into the process. I don’t know where my outcomes will be in ten or fifty years – or maybe I’ll never know.

Maybe that’s the point. Maybe there’s enough ambiguity and space to allow for the play and curiosity. Maybe that’s what faith is all about – not necessarily finding the answers but enjoying the process of puzzling.

How do you infuse curiosity and play into your faith?

Re-Identifying the Beauty of Intensity

Over at SheLoves Magazine this month, we’re thinking about typical trigger words and how they’ve impacted our lives and faith. I’m incredibly thankful that I have few words that have been harmful to my formation. But I’m thinking about certain words and phrases that have shaped who I am and how I can reimagine them as gifts. Here’s an excerpt and I hope you’ll head over to SheLoves to join the conversation!

My first steps into the world of social justice and activism happened in second grade, when I really began noticing and paying attention to things like environmental impact of goods and capitalist economies, thanks to Scholastic News articles about the safety of dolphins in tuna farming and the closure of my favorite grocery store chain. I was a kid with big feelings, especially when it came to issues of injustice. Most of my early activism looked like protesting the inequities between the methods my parents used in raising my brother and me (at least, from my perspective) and it wasn’t until I was old enough to read justice-centered novels that my activism took on a global perspective.

I was often told that I was intense—my feelings were intense and the way I responded to new information was described as intense. Even at a young age, I felt that this wasn’t something to be proud of. Intense people were dictators and women who chose careers above family. Intense people got things done, but at what price?

I’m in the midst of raising my own passionate, articulate, and politically aware daughter.At six years old, she also has big feelings and the vocabulary to describe all the injustices around her. Like me, her view of injustice ranges from the amount of time I spend reading to her sister to why adults would yell at a child like Ruby Bridges. I see a lot of my own story when I look at how she interacts with the world, which is both amazing and heartbreaking.

One word I intentionally choose not use to describe her is intense. Sometimes I’ll ask her to modulate her voice because the way she is speaking to her sister is too intense, but I try never to use the word in replacement of who she is as a person. I tell her she is thoughtful and passionate and that I love how she cares for the world around her. Head over to SheLoves to read the rest and join the conversation!

What about you? What word are you reframing in your journey?

Learning the Language of Life

Anyone who knows Bea knows that she is an incredibly verbal kid. She’s articulate and inquisitive and has an impressive vocabulary. But, she’s also 4 and so is still figuring out language. She’ll use words that are mostly correct, though a different word would probably have been a better fit. Her grammar is almost perfect, except when it’s not. It reminds me of when I try to speak French – almost but not quite.

IMG_4047One of Bea’s favorite words is expect. She uses it correctly: I was expecting eggs for breakfast! And slightly off: I am expecting to have a great day at school! Right now, it’s sweet and endearing and reminds me that she is still four.

Sometimes I feel like my own definition of words and of life can be like that. Mostly correct but slightly off. Whether it’s how we want a weekend to look like or bigger life decisions, I feel like I’m still learning the language of adulthood, trying out new ideas and values without being completely fluent.

I know that as season change and we start kindergarten next year… and then middle school… and then college… that I’ll always be learning the new language of life. That I’ll never be quite fluent. But, I suppose that’s the fun of it all, right?

I wish I was as confident to try out new words and ideas without overthinking, knowing that I’ll eventually get it right.

How do you approach new phases in life? With enthusiastic abandon or with thoughtful caution?

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. This week’s prompt is “define.”

A Lesson in Language and Empathy

Today I’m over at SheLoves Magazine, as they look at Legacy this month. As I ponder that word, I remember my own experiences of struggling as a cultural outsider and how that has translated into parenting choices we are faced with.

Here’s an excerpt – I hope you click over to SheLoves to read the whole thing.

Sending my kids to the neighborhood school, just a block away, isn’t a simple decision. Because of the way our education system is run, we are able to apply to any school–public, charter, or private—and hope our children are accepted to the one that best meets their needs. We are able to research the highest-performing schools in our district, as well as the surrounding ones. We are able to take the time to drive our children anywhere without worrying about gas money or making it to a job on time. We are able to ignore our neighbors in order to give our children the best education.

But I still remember my own struggles as a language learner. I remember my tongue would get tied and I would stress about not being fast enough. I would worry about grammar and pronunciation and being the dumbest student in class or the last to understand. I longed for a teacher or fellow student to say, “I get it. This is tough. Let me help you.”

I’m interested to see how my bright, eager-to-learn daughter adjusts to kindergarten next year. She has a thirst for learning that is contagious, and I hope it is nurtured, especially during these early years. But beyond being challenged in school, I hope her classroom is filled with kids who might not speak English at home. Who need to take a little extra time as they translate their thoughts. Who are every bit as bright and eager as my daughter, but have the added hurdle of navigating a new language.

How have your life experiences shaped the decisions you make for your family? Go over to SheLoves to join the conversation!