Saturday, March 24, 2007

from ear to ear ... singing French

It's a strange and wonderful coincidence but Colm's turning four has become synonymous with Colm beginning to speak French. It's almost as if a switch has been flipped. What comes out of his mouth is almost always the fragment of a song or a jingle that he's heard at school or here at home either on a CD or from Tess who is delighted by the way with Colm's new found interest. She has undertaken to teach him a song where two people hold each other's chin while singing and then upon pronouncing the final word "tapette" they deliver a tap on the head.
It goes like this,
"Je te tiens, tu me tiens
par la barbichette
le premier de nous deux
qui rira aura une tapette."
It's funny how hitting your brother or sister becomes good clean fun when it is done in the service of music. They can hardly wait to get to the "punch line" and when they do the effect is always the same...giggles. I did it with Colm a couple of days ago and neglected to "tap" him. He was indignant and demanded to do the whole thing again. I made sure not to repeat my mistake and gave him a playful knock on the bean. He was satisfied.
The two of them now sing together or back and forth, repeating them so often that the words become second nature to them even as they seem to lose their meaning. At the dinner table last night for example, Tess began singing one her many little jingles-
"Faire, faire mon cheval
pour aller à Montréal
faire le bien ou faire le mal
ca m'est égale."
She repeated it a couple of times, possibly more (Beth and I have become somewhat inured to the phenomenon of repetition, hence two times, a dozen times...what's the difference?) Then from across the table Colm starts up. His version is not exactly textbook but his accent is a dead ringer for his sister's, which is to say, excellent.
Beth and I have been wondering when or even if this would happen for Colm this year. But he's chirping now... along with the rest of the spring birds who sing in each new day here on the penninsula. It hasn't yet crept much into his speech patterns yet, though increasingly he is willing to hear and respond nonverbally to French statements.
Later, as I was putting Colm to bed, he sang a rhyme to me. I didn't recognize it, so I skipped over to Tess's room where Beth was and asked her for the words, she gave me some clues but said she hadn't heard it before and that he must have got it in school this week. As best as we can make out from Colm's account of things, it accompanies a game where the kids crawl between the legs of an adult while singing:
"Passe, passe, passera
la dernière, la dernière,
passe, passe, passera
la dernière restera!"
It took Colm a few tries to teach it to me in bed. He was patient with me, and when I finally repeated it correctly he told that we would play the game in the morning. Sleepily, I assented. Colm then added, "But we have to crawl under your legs because if we go under mine I might fall down."
"That might be funny," I said.
He laughed at that. We both laughed. Colm's then idly lapsed back into humming and singing it again. I joined in as best I could. These sounds we were making, originating as they did from Colm's memory, part music, part poetry, invested with sensations of scuffling knees on carpeted floors, of kindred and disparate voices chanting mostly in unison and partly in key, they were beguiling and strange, not his mother tongue. A little later he was sleeping.
There are times when the passage from wakefulness to sleep is as sweet and dreamy as any image conjured by a lullaby...this was one of those times.
K

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