Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Je suis là...in the garden

Tess is beginning to get this French thing…more and more she asks us how to say things or what certain words mean. The way words stick to her is fascinating. It's like she's in the Garden of Eden picking low hanging fruit from the Tree of Knowledge.


The other day, she and Colm and I played a version of cache-cache (hide and seek). For me it was a pretext for letting them hear and practice a few things in French.

What I’ve found is that if you’re lucky you can discover a phrase that becomes a mantra for a particular activity, something that gets repeated so often that it stops having an English meaning and simply assumes its own intrinsic value…

in our game the phrase quickly became, “Je suis là!” It was the answer to the question, “Where are you?” It was the counterpoint to the proposition, “Are you behind the tree?” and, when each of them raced back to the starting point just ahead of me, it became their victory declaration,

“Je suis là!”
As I feigned all sorts of difficulties in finding them, not an easy task (Colm in particular has a hard time hiding, which is to say, he can’t stay hidden, especially if his sister, who prefers to hide alone, has opted to hide any distance away from him, and especially if another place on the opposite side of the yard suddenly appeals to him - fortunately he’s pretty oblivious to my noticing), I prowl about constantly talking, repeating the mantra and its variations, embroidering it with names of things …they revel in the game.

The capper for me is when Tess decides she wants to be “it”. As I join Colm in hiding behind a bush or a lawn chair, I listen to Tess assume my role and so we run through the script we have been playing at for the past few minutes.

Hours later...it is evening just before bedtime, I am outside in the yard holding Tess in my arms . She is stalling for time, not anxious to give up the day, nor to go to bed. I am in an obliging mood. We’ve been looking at the Big Dipper hanging just over the roof line of our garage.

Then we hear the familiar sound of cat’s paws tapping lightly over the deck. Paminette and the kitten, Lana, are at play. The young one used to get chased out of the house by the elder but now she is bigger and has begun to assert herself. She counterattacks playfully and then darts into a tiny dark space just under the deck. Tess is glad for yet another diversion. Tess urges me to linger a little longer to see if Lana will come out.
“Où est Lana?” I ask.
Silence.
I try another angle. “Elle est derrière la chaise?”
"Non…elle cache sous la terrasse.”
“Ahh oui.” I say.
Suddenly from under the deck, Lana launches a surprise attack on Paminette who, startled, sprints past us a feet away and then recollects herself demurely.Tess laughs.
“Elle est là!”

We follow Lana and Paminette in and out of the pools of light laid down on the ground from the windows of our house. The cats never seem to tire of their game of cache-cache. Tess is delighted by their antics, and I by hers as well. We chatter back and forth in French, volleying back and forth simple phrases, simple but deft, here and there taking a stab at something novel, something whimsical, something nonsensical even.

She loves staying up late, and I am loathe to take her out of the garden just yet.

K

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