Saturday, June 13, 2015

Talking Without Words

After powering through back-to-back deadlines this morning, I finally pulled myself away from my computer long enough to realize that, aside from the girls, I hadn't spoken to a single person all day. In my line of work, this isn't so out of the ordinary. My days are usually pieced together with emails, research, writing, editing and brainstorming, with me puttering around the house in my pajamas in between. 

This is something I love, believe it or not. The solitude that goes hand in hand with the career that I've chosen. After years of buzzing around in hectic office jobs, waitressing gigs and teaching positions, I've come to treasure the beauty of being fully on my own. 

One down side, of course, is that it can also be a bit isolating at times. And with the girls being home from school for the summer, my work schedule often leaves them feeling stir crazy and crabby.

When it comes to quieting cranky kids, the pool is like magic. It's the one thing I've learned they will never, ever grow tired of. After suiting up and dropping a load of laundry in the machine, I wrapped up some work stuff on a nearby lounge chair while they swam.

We had the place to ourselves for only a minute or so before two little boys cannonballed in along with them. From there, it was all playful splashing and hearty laughter coming from all four of them.

The boys' mother, who looked about my age, settled into the chair next to mine. As our children became fast friends, we couldn't help but smile at one another. She broke the ice first, asking how old the girls were, but I had trouble making out her accent. She apologized—in a jumble of mixed-up English—saying that she'd recently moved here from Egypt and was just learning the language. The boys, she explained by way of gesturing, were also learning. It was only then that I realized our kids had been playing happily together without actually talking, the language barrier apparently a non-issue.

But their mother's struggle with the language was palpable, her thoughts coming out in clipped, clumsy bursts that stalled out in mid-sentence. Every time I shook my head to signal that I didn't understand, she'd take a breath, slow down even more, and then find whatever words she could to get the point across. It was in this way that she and I gradually got to talking.

I pulled my chair closer to hers and, in no time, we were soon speaking the common language of mothers—sharing our kids' names, the schools they'll be attending in the fall, and what our husbands do for a living. Before long, I was jotting down my pediatrician's name and phone number for her. All of this back-and-forth occurring with over-the-top hand gestures and very, very slow speech. People walking by must have thought we were caught up in some strange variation of charades.

Her face began to lighten the more we talked, her self-consciousness falling away as she got more comfortable. I soon learned that her husband was a business owner in Tampa and that she was a stay-at-home mom in this strange new place. That her oldest boy was thrilled to be in America. That she was terribly lonely and spent most of her days on her own. That her little one ached so badly for Egypt that he often cried himself to sleep, carrying on for his grandmother who was still there. 

She then turned the conversation to me, wanting to know all about my life. The whole exchange left me no choice but to pantomime who it is I believe myself to be. Reflexively, I gestured toward Lina and Gigi. "My girls," I said, bringing my hands to my chest. "They are my loves." This she understood easily.

What else was there to say? What else did I care deeply enough about that would be easy to communicate? "I write," I said, scribbling an imaginary pen in the air. "I'm a writer."

Her face beamed with recognition. "A printer!" she said, proud of herself for making the connection. "Yes," I answered, loving the way she described it. "I am a printer."

We went on like this for an hour, sharing stories and photos as our children horsed around in the pool until their fingers grew pruny. "I so happy I meet you!" my new friend told me when we were drying off, and I said the same to her, really meaning it. After the short walk home, I settled back into the rest of the day's work, feeling a little less alone than I had a few hours before.