Nov 13, 200912:00 AM
Living, loving, laughing, and learning in the new New Orleans
Crown Thy Good with Sisterhood
Despite a pretty considerable language barrier, Ruby and Zeynep are best friends.
My daughter, Ruby, is on a patriotic kick lately. Her preschool has taught her “America the Beautiful,” which she can sing almost flawlessly, and the Pledge of Allegiance, which gives her some trouble in the usual spots, particularly on “indivisible.”
I love watching her grow up and learn new skills, and there’s not much cuter than a toddler with her hand on her heart singing about “purple mountain majesties.” A small part of me is sad, though, not because I don’t love my country but because as Ruby becomes more of an American, she’s a little less pure Ruby. Beyond that, it’s a little strange to watch her parroting the pledge without the slightest understanding of “allegiance,” “the republic” or even “liberty and justice for all.”
What’s funny, though, is that I think she, at not-quite-3, has a better internal comprehension of what America is and why we love it than I did at her age –– and maybe even than I do now.
When I was 3, I lived in rural North Carolina with my mom and dad and my very own pony. The friends we had –– and there weren’t many –– looked like us and talked like us and did pretty much all the same things we did. When we moved to New Orleans just before my fourth birthday, I suddenly had a few black playmates and family friends, but beyond the darker skin, they looked like us and talked like us and did pretty much all the same things we did.
That’s not the world Ruby lives in. The other day, a friend of mine asked Ruby what her favorite color was, and Ruby said, “Blue. Azul.”
“Ooh, she’s bilingual!” my friend said.
“No,” I said. “She’s Dora-lingual.”
We watch a lot of Dora the Explorer in this house, and Ruby has picked up a handful of Spanish words from that, which is pretty cool. It’s certainly more than I knew at her age. But I’m not suggesting that Nickelodeon expands Ruby’s worldview.
What makes Ruby’s world so rich is the city we live in. Although this used to be a city with an enormous native-born population, it’s now becoming incredibly diverse.
Ruby’s best friend, our old next-door neighbor, is a girl exactly one month older than she is. When they moved in, I walked over with a bottle of wine and welcomed them brightly to the neighborhood, only to realize that they had no idea what I was saying because they spoke Turkish. “Well, damn,” I’d thought, walking away. “It’s such a shame that we’ll have two girls so close in age who can’t play together.”
Sometimes I am an idiot.
Ruby and Zeynep didn’t need to have a language in common to run shrieking through the house. They didn’t need to have a language in common to squabble over crayons or tease the dog or feed each other french fries or take bubble baths together.
Besides that, though, I was stupid to think that they wouldn’t learn how to communicate. Zeynep’s English is much better than Ruby’s Turkish, but they both know enough words to get by.
We’ve since moved across town, but we still get the girls together a couple of times a week. Last night, as they got ready to go, Ruby gave Zeynep a huge hug while saying some word in Turkish that my husband and I couldn’t make sense of because, well, we don’t speak Turkish. I looked to Zeynep’s mother. “What’s Ruby saying?” I asked.
“‘Sister,’” she said. “That’s the Turkish word for ‘sister.’”
It’s not the Pledge of Allegiance. It’s not even in English. But somehow, that one Turkish word made me realize that Ruby understands exactly what America is all about.