Te Quiero is The Better Way to Say I Love You
So many nights, my husband and I are so rendidos from the marathon we are running right now- three young children and two flexible but preoccupying careers- that we hardly talk.
We are happy together but worn out, and so, the momentum we keep up throughout the day falls short when we come to each other. And recently, this has meant we fall short when it comes to Spanish.
When I’m tired (or tense, or grumpy) I either feel unable to make my mouth form Spanish or unwilling to be the only one speaking it in the room. I feel like I’m talking to a wall, or like I’ve gone crazy. And after a long day, my husband would much rather relax into a stupor state than participate in my Spanish intercambio.
My husband studied Spanish in college, and since. After we got married, he had me label the house in Spanish vocabulary; by the time the post-its fell off, he knew the words for the things in our rooms. He watched Spanish-language movies with me, even turning the subtitles off. When we committed ourselves to raising bilingual children, he got Rosetta Stone software, and downloaded the Notes from Spain podcasts, and put them to use at best daily, at worst a few times a week.
He benefits from immersion- the best Spanish I’ve ever heard him speak was during the times we were in Guatemala, adopting our children. But we’re not in a dominant Spanish environment often enough.
Of course, he makes mistakes. He can’t roll his Rs, he always mixes up the words miga and migra, and he has a charming way of mispronouncing the word damas (imagínatelo, he says it: “dumb-ass”). It’s just to say that, even when I pick out mistakes, what I hear more loudly is the sound of a person I love speaking a language I love to me.
I can never hear it enough, and, to this end, the intercambio is one of the most useful things we can do in Spanish together. My logic is that: 1) just hearing him speaking in Spanish makes me a bit glowy, and 2) if I’m bilingual, I want my husband to become bilingual, too… for our relationship, for our parenting, and also, for himself. I want him to experience how the ability to really communicate in more than one language feels half like the payoff to very hard work and half like magic. There’s nothing like it.
And so, what makes me enfurecida is when he doesn’t practice. When our schedule or our fatigue turns our house into an English-only zone.
Maybe it’s too ambitious to expect the amount of Spanish-only that I’d like sometimes, but it’s not altogether optional. If we don’t use my language, we’ll lose it. Our children will never fully own it. If not now, then never. Neither of us wants to accept the consequences of filling our home with less Spanish.
My husband and I brainstorm: maybe we could do our intercambio with our eyes closed, maybe we could get up earlier…or, what, drink Red Bull? The only real solution is to just to seek out more dedication, the way you do for the things that are necessary. One night, after the children are in bed, we sit across from each other; he begins, haltingly, piecing together vocabulary to tell me about his day in a language that is not one of his own. And, as he speaks, we both start to uncoil, the intercambio an opportunity to remember and relax into an ease that we have only with each other. The next morning my husband tells me he’s dreamt in Spanish. Me hace sentir que me quiere a mi-a nosotros- más, and whether or not this is fair, it feels true.
* this piece first appeared in a different version, under a different title on Literary Mama
**photo by Crissy Teena