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News & Features » December 2013 » “A Bilingual Battle” by Richard Priebe

“A Bilingual Battle” by Richard Priebe

Are you a parent going through the Terrible Twos? Did you live through them and survive? Terrible Twosdays is a place to commiserate over the unending shenanigans of your Darling Children (as the online parenting communities say). Nonfiction stories will be considered, so long as names have been changed to protect the guilty. Inspired by our best-selling gift book for parents, Go the Fuck to Sleep, Terrible Twosdays joins the roster of our other online short fiction series. Unlike Mondays Are Murder and Thursdaze, we’re looking for stories with a light and mischievous feel, all about the day-to-day challenges of parenting. As with our other flash fiction series, stories must not exceed 750 words.

This week, Richard Priebe talks about the struggles of raising a bilingual daughter.

Richard PriebeA Bilingual Battle
by Richard Priebe

“Put them on,” says Alma, my wife’s aunt, extending a pair of pink and sparkly shoes with two Velcro straps that remind me of something my great-grandfather would have worn if they were a different color and weren’t twinkling like one of my daughter’s glitter projects.

I shoot a look at Carolina, my wife, but it’s not about the shoes—Magda, my three-year-old daughter, can totally pull them off. My mother-in-law catches the exchange and comes to my aid.

“En español, hermana.”

Alma nods her head in agreement but doesn’t repeat the command in Spanish.

This is what drives me crazy about these barbeques, about my wife’s family—all the English-speaking. When my wife first started bringing me to meet her family, everything was all Spanish all the time. Now that I’m fluent and trying to raise a bilingual daughter, they speak English—with us, anyway.

“Look how beautiful,” says Alma as Magda runs around on the deck, testing out her new shoes on the wrong feet. I can’t keep quiet.

“¡Coño!  Hablas más inglés que la reina de Inglaterra,” I say, comparing her language use to the Queen of England with an expletive.  Alma pretends like she didn’t hear me, but I know she’s fuming. Now it’s my wife giving me the look. It’s worth it. I’ve been quiet a long time—almost an hour.

“The food’s ready,” says Alejo, my father-in-law. His timing is perfect. I shrug my shoulders at my wife’s glower and head for the paper plates and plastic silverware.

I’m first to the grill and firmly grip three plates as Alejo stacks on hamburgers for Carolina and me, hot dogs for Magda. I remember when Alejo used to cook pernil and chicharrones and sometimes even a full lechón. My in-laws also used to play Salsa and Merengue music and dance all night. Now that I know a few turns and have learned to stand up straight, Barbra Streisand’s singing “Second Hand Rose” and Celine Dion just finished up “That’s the Way It Is.” A childish guilt sets in—everything changed when I came along. It must be my fault. My whiteness has spread.

I bring the plates back to the picnic table on the lawn where Carolina and Magda are waiting and take a seat across from them, a lesson I learned the hard way after once sending both myself and my mother-in-law to the ground, along with everyone’s hamburgers and hotdogs. Now I refer to the table as the seesaw—it helps me remember.  I’m 341 days without an accident.

“Alma’s upset,” says Carolina, placing her hand on top of my mine. “I think you should talk to her.”

“In Spanish or English?” I ask, looking her in the eyes. Sarcasm is not one of my favorite traits, but I can’t seem to quit it. I think I have a problem. What I should say is that, when Alma speaks English to Magda, I feel like she is robbing my child of a great gift, a gift that doesn’t cost anything but is terribly important: the gift of bilingualism. It’s not enough for her gringo father to speak Spanish; Magda needs to be surrounded—Carolina and I need all the help we can get. In the rural area we live in, raising a bilingual child is a battle. Why can’t Alma just speak Spanish? I want to throw the question at Carolina, but I’ve already heard the stories, terrible stories, of how Alma was treated when she and my mother-in-law first came with their parents to New York as preteens. I feel like an ass. In my battle for an open-minded daughter sensitive to other languages and cultures, I’ve proved myself ignorant. Alma is protecting Magda from something I’ve never experienced, something I can’t fully understand—linguistic discrimination.

“And you swore in front of Magda,” says Carolina, her disappointed seal-brown eyes chiding me. And she’s right. Sometimes, when I swear in Spanish, it doesn’t feel like swearing. Maybe it’s because I didn’t know those words until adulthood—I never had to eat soap over a coño or carajo. But, being bilingual, my daughter will have to know the difference, and I need to be a role model. Today, I’ve done a pretty shitty job of it. My reflection is interrupted by one of Carolina’s cousins.

“Carolina, Titi ‘stá bien enojá. ¿Qué pasó?” she says, taking a seat on my side of the picnic table.

My wife points at me with her lips. When Alma’s mad, she lets everyone know it unless you’re the person who upset her. It’s too much drama for a barbeque, but it’s not over yet. Carolina’s cousin continues.

“She says she wants to go home, but no one will drive her.”

“I’ll drive her,” I offer. The wicked part of me just wants to call Alma’s bluff about going home, but the real reason I offer is it gives me an excuse to talk to her. I need to apologize. I need to finally be the kind of person I want my daughter to be.


RICHARD PRIEBE is a writer, musician, and educator with stories published by Fiction365, Linguistic Erosion, and The Plume. Richard has an MA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University and is currently interning with Kaylie Jones Books to complete his MFA, also from Wilkes University. He resides in Forest City, Pennsylvania with his wife and two daughters.


Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Terrible Twosdays flash fiction series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines:

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should focus on the challenges of parenting. Ideally, stories should be about children aged 0 to 5, but any age (up to early teens) is acceptable. Stories may be fiction or nonfiction.
—Include the child’s age at the time of the story next to your byline.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission to info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Dec 17, 2013

Category: Original Fiction, Terrible Twosdays | Tags: , , , , ,