Language Lessons, Life Lessons, and One Unfortunate Pig

I knew, based on research, that XiXi would lose his ability to speak Mandarin.  I knew that on a logical, cognitive level, but on a deeper level, I had a hard time really believing it.  Or at least believing that it would happen as quickly as researchers said it would, 12 weeks.  Twelve weeks to completely lose the ability to speak your native tongue?  It seemed impossible.  Yet, here we are, just past the 12 week mark, and suddenly XiXi can’t seem to speak Mandarin.   Or if he can, he refuses to do so.

We were at a Chinese restaurant about a week ago and the waitress was so excited to speak with him.  She chattered away and XiXi just stared at the ground.  She gave me a quizzical look like, didn’t you say he was raised in China?  Then she tried some very basic questions, asked loudly and slowly.  “What is your name?” and “How old are you?”  He stared silently at the ground.  Finally I whispered in his ear, “San sway” (three years old).  He still said nothing, so I pushed the issue. “XiXi, say ‘san sway’.”  Finally, barely audibly, he mumbled “san sway” and then buried his head on my shoulder.  Just a few days ago we ran into “Ayi”, our friend who’s spoken with XiXi several times since he came home, and it was the same situation.  He wouldn’t say a word in Mandarin, not so much as a Nihao.  When she changed the conversation to English, he responded.
Not surprisingly, with the end of Mandarin, his English has exploded.  He speaks in full sentences, using pronouns, different tenses, adjectives, and prepositions.  I find it truly miraculous.  As we were leaving the library yesterday, XiXi said, “I want to go home and lay on the couch with my library books.”  That’s one heck of a long sentence for someone who was only introduced to a language 3 months ago.  I’ve loved being able to communicate with him on a deeper level.  We joke together, tell stories, and just really converse.  We’re also learning more and more about his life in China.  Reading a book about a farm, he pointed to the pig and pantomimed cutting its throat and said, “In China, cut pig on the head and then eat the pig.  Oh, yummy.”  To get the full effect, you had to see the slaughter acted out by our 4 year-old.  I asked him who killed the pig and he said that China Baba killed the pig.  “XiXi no do it,” he said.  “Baba say ‘stand back.’” Thank you, China Baba for keeping our boy in an observer role in the slaughter!
XiXi saw a picture of himself in China a few days ago and his face became very serious and he said, “No like it in China.”  For some reason that bothered me and I said,  “No, XiXi.  You liked China.”  He emphatically shook his head.  “No,” he said.  “No like it in China.  Like it here.  Want to stay here.” 
I think in his young mind, he has to separate the two lives.  I absolutely believe that he felt love in China; I just don’t think he can mentally be in both places.  If he liked it there, he’d be missing it here, and he doesn’t want that sadness.    He has cannonballed into this new life at the deep end and he’s refusing to sink.  He’s swimming for all he’s worth and he’s making incredible progress.  We feel privileged to be on the journey with him.  We adore this boy.

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