A one-year old baby is so many things. He is the tiny discoverer of colourful buttons and scraps. He is the realisation that every moment however small or insignificant is a chance for celebration. He is an utterer of shaky syllables and heroic first words.
So as my baby Ryan totters his way on the path of self-discovery, I find myself worrying if he'll find himself stuck in a web of strange words and phonetics.
All day long he spends listening and learning from his Indonesian maid. He coos in response to her Bahasa chatter, gurgles at her jokes and follows her around. Evening time, he spends with his parents playing by our feet, unconsciously picking up on our daily conversations. Conversations which are primarily in English peppered with Malayalam words.
You see, 'A' and I are the products of first generation NRI parenting. We grew up absorbing healthy doses of both Malayalam and English. Enough Malayalam to get us aboard public transport in Kerala. Enough Malayalam to decipher the local newspaper headlines without anybody suspecting. Enough Malayalam to keep up an intelligent conversation as long as we avoid lengthy poetic words. But like most NRI kids, we grew up in the sitcom era, mulling over 'Wonder years' and later laughing over F.R.I.E.N.D.S. I suppose the ensuing greater comfort level with English was inevitable.
But I worry sometimes for Ryan. His one year old mind is constantly being thrust with a flurry of languages. When it comes to sweet-talking with my baby, I automatically revert to Malayalam. A habit formed from years of cuddling and pampering nieces, nephews and cousins back home. Then ‘A’ and I switch back to English. And I see Ryan with all his innocent faced curiosity watching and absorbing the sounds and noises around him.
I feel the unaccountable twinge of anxiety as he claps his hands when the maid sings songs for him. When he turns his head as she beckons to him in her language.
And I silently sigh with relief when he responds to my Malayalam talk. And when he sneaks a guilty look at me when I say a stern 'NO!’. Which is as far as I have got to reprimanding him. (A difficult task when the miscreant looks so adorable).
Selfishly enough I want him to master all 3 of these languages - English, Malayalam and Bahasa. Living away from home, I have realised that one language mastered is one less country in the world to be lost in. No hopeless hand gestures, no puzzled expressions and no unpleasant surprises on the menu. Truly the art of communication is a boon.
But some days, the niggling worries are back. Will he grow up with correct balance of all three? Will he learn to respect his Indian roots and heritage?
And most of all, as a parent, am I doing something wrong?
A one-year old baby is so many things. Luckily, he is also the simplifier of some of Life's worries.
As I sit there with these thoughts, Ryan clambers onto my lap and flashes a toothy smile at the maid. I kiss his cheeks relishing in the impossible softness of them.
My son maybe mixing up his ‘Thank you’s, 'Makasih’s and 'Nanni's for a while, but there’s one language he is learning loud and clear from all of us. The language of love. Luckily, that’s common across borders.