Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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Poem: "If You Talk to Him in His Language"

This poem is spillover from the July 3, 2018 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] mama_kestrel, [personal profile] sweet_sparrow, and R.R. It also fills the "party" square in my 7-1-18 card for the Winterfest in July fest. This poem has been sponsored by [personal profile] mama_kestrel. It belongs to the Mercedes thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.


"If You Talk to Him in His Language"


When the Finns invited
Joshua and his family
to a casual dinner party,
he accepted gratefully.

Graham had recommended
normalizing activities to help
the toddlers recover from trauma,
because just doing everyday things
would eventually make those things
begin to feel natural for the family.

"It will seem strange to them
at first, but they'll get used to it,"
Graham promised. "We create
party routines by attending parties.
We establish family friends simply
by being part of each other's lives."

So Joshua gathered everyone,
packed up supplies, and
went over to the Finn house.

They went through a round of
greetings and introductions. Pips
stuck close to Joshua at first,
making eyes at one of the girls,
and the kids clung to all the adults.

Then Joshua gently shooed
everyone away from him.

"Go talk with somebody new,"
he said. "It will be fun. You can
come back if you need me."

In addition to the eight Finns
and six Tulls plus Pips, there were
several of Heron's new housemates --
one of them roundly pregnant --
then Bennett and his son Jules.

It was hard to believe that
there were twenty people
in the house, because it was
a big house and they had soon
broken into smaller groups.

The introvert party had already
gone downstairs with Aida,
Walden, Halley, and Jules.

The lower level had
a whole gathering area of
its own, making it easy for
people to sort themselves out.

A range of activities included
watching Aida's various aquaria,
braiding hair, reading any of the books
within reach, or working to assemble
the giant 9000-piece jigsaw puzzle
of undersea life that Aida had gotten
as a gift from her fellow interns after
the unfortunate dive incident.

The more social aspects
spread around the family room,
but Pips had installed himself
in the kitchen as confidently
as if he were one of the hosts.

Edison was proudly hosting
the preschooler party in a corner.

He had constructed a blanket fort
in which Michael and Isobel
were currently hiding with
stuffed animals for company.

Out front, Edison showed Cove
how to slice a banana so they
could make tiny sandwiches
from banana coins and
homemade almond butter.

When they looked up at Joshua
for reassurance, he just waved
at them and said, "You guys are
doing great. Keep going."

The boys giggled and
went back to their task.

Heron had talked Griffin into
letting him wear Dylan for a while,
with the persuasive arguments that
Heron needed practice with baby care
and Dylan needed to get familiar
with friends of her family.

Mallory just hovered around
the edges, not daring to join in,
but listening to them carefully.

"She's so quiet," Heron said.
"Griffin, your baby sister is
a miniature Zen master."

Griffin laughed. "Yeah,
right up until she wets herself."

Graham, Elisabeth, and Bennett
were talking about parenting teens,
which Joshua tracked with one ear.

Molly and Maisie got into a discussion
about first aid techniques, whereupon
Molly drafted Drew as a model and
led the little group to another room
for an impromptu demonstration.

Pips drifted by carrying a tray
full of peach-ginger soda and
lemon drop cream soda made
with a measure of actual cream.

"Would you sit down?" Joshua said.
"This is a party. We all brought things
that didn't require fussing over so that
everyone could kick back and relax."

"I am," Pips said, clearly watching
Joshua through his tinted glasses.
"I like making things, and I like
taking care of people too."

"Okay then," Joshua said,
nabbing a peach-ginger soda.
"Do what makes you happy."

"I'll pass these around, then
take a break," Pips promised,
a fey smile curling his lips.

"Oh, you made cream sodas,
you are the best," Griffin said.

"Homemade sodas, wow,
you guys must be spoiled rotten,"
Mallory said as she took one
of the peach-ginger glasses.

"Maybe a little," Griffin said.

As soon as the tray emptied,
Pips disappeared back
into the kitchen with it.

"Joshua, chime in on this,"
Bennett invited. "What are you
doing about Griffin and college?"

"Nothing," Joshua said with a shrug.
"He's got too much else on his plate
right now to worry about a decision
that doesn't need to be made for
at least another year. Besides, we
don't know whether the transition
will affect his choices or not."

"See, there's no need to rush,"
Graham said. "Jules will figure out
what he wants to do in his own time.
There are plenty of other options if
he feels that college isn't right for him."

Bennett grumbled something about
all the people in town who kept
telling Jules he was a hooligan
and not college material.

"Tell them to stuff it,"
Joshua advised. "They're
not raising your son, you are."

Bennett chuckled. "Don't tempt me."

"Ooh, temptation," Pips said,
sidling up to Joshua. "Tell me more!"

So Bennett repeated the latest round
of hassle at the community center, while
Pips nodded and not-quite-smiled and
Joshua wondered who was going
to get an unpleasant surprise.

He knew what Pips had been
sent to Mercedes for. He just didn't
feel compelled to intervene as long
as no actual violence ensued.

Thus far, Pips had proven
devastatingly subtle in action.

Pips just stood there sipping
his blackberry spritzer and looking
as innocent as a black-and-white kitten
preparing to jump on the mantlepiece.

Then Aida and Halley came upstairs,
carrying on some cheerful argument in
Gaelic the way the Finns were wont to do.

Trailing behind them, Walden called out
a taunt in some other burbling language.

And Pips startled so hard that he
dumped his drink all over himself.

"Oh gosh, I am sooo sorry,"
Walden moaned. "I didn't mean
to bump into you like that!"

But she hadn't.

Pips was visibly shaking
as he tried to wipe purple liquid
off the front of his white shirt,
not like he was afraid of her,
exactly, but something had
given him quite a shock.

"The bathroom is this way,"
Joshua murmured, taking Pips
by the elbow to steer him
safely out of the room.

As soon as they reached
the bathroom, Pips shucked off
his shirt without bothering to close
the door, quickly rinsing it under
the cold running water.

"Where's the laundry room?"
he said. "Can I borrow
a little detergent?"

"No need, I'll get out
the stain-remover kit,"
Joshua said, opening
the linen cabinet.

A plastic tub held
not only detergent but
also Spray 'n Wash,
OxyClean, baking soda,
vinegar, toothbrushes,
and various other items.

"Wow," Pips said. "Now I
want to make one of these."

"We can do that when we
get home, if you like," Joshua said.
"We used to have one just like it,
but that was -- was before."

A sudden stab of grief
wrenched at him when he
remembered his lost home.

"When we get home, then,"
Pips said softly, touching
Joshua on the shoulder.

Once the stain had faded
to a few pinkish smears,
Pips slathered the area with
detergent and left the shirt
in a sink of cold water to soak.

"They won't mind, will they?"
Pips said. "I mean, that I'm
tying up the bathroom sink?"

"Nah, the Finns are cool,"
Joshua said. "Let's go up
to the guest bedroom and
find you a new shirt."

"Shouldn't we be asking
one of them if I can borrow
a shirt?" Pips wondered.

"They keep spare clothes
of various sizes and styles in
the guest room," Joshua said.
"Believe me, I've needed that
more than once before!"

He led Pips upstairs, ushered
him into the guest room, and then
closed the door firmly behind them.

"Button-up shirts are hanging in
the closet," Joshua said as he
opened it. "Smaller sizes are
on the left, larger to the right."

Pips hesitated, then chose
a darker blue denim instead of
the white he wore earlier.

"Just in case I get clumsy
like that again," he said
with a sheepish smile.

"Do you want to tell me
what that was all about?"
Joshua said. "You don't
have to, of course, but
I'm curious. It takes
a lot to rattle you."

"Yeah, well, that was --
that was a lot," Pips said.

"I'm listening," Joshua said.

"That girl, Walden, she caught
my eye earlier," Pips said.

"I thought so," Joshua said.
"I noticed you two eyeing
each other when we arrived.
I'm kind of surprised that you
didn't follow her downstairs."

"I wanted to make sodas, and
besides, I didn't know," Pips said.

"Know ..." Joshua said invitingly.

Pips sighed. "If I tell you, then
it's in confidence, you can't
just blab this stuff around."

"Of course," Joshua said.
"I won't tell anyone unless
you say it's okay or it relates
to an emergency of some kind."

One corner of Pips' mouth twitched.
"You're as good with qualifiers as
a supervillain," he replied.

"I'll take that as a compliment,
considering some of the ones
I've met," Joshua said.

"So, you know I'm a Pict --
not a pixie! -- because I've
mentioned that before. I don't
advertise it though," Pips said.
"So is Walden. I thought that she
might be, earlier, but now I'm sure."

"Okay, you two do look alike, but
what tipped you?" Joshua said.

"She spoke our language,"
Pips whispered. "Our people,
we're divided into a handful of
clans, like big families. We have
a lot in common, only we don't
have all the same customs.
Sometimes it gets rough."

"It sounds a lot like the way
most extended families function,"
said Joshua. "They pick up
some different traditions."

"Well, my family, the Caerini,
comes from the far north, thus
more isolated. We don't speak
our language in public," Pips said.
"It's very private, for our ears only."

"Ohhh," said Joshua. "So when
Walden belted it out at the Finns,
that caught you entirely off guard."

"Yeah," Pips said. "I made
a total fool of myself there."
He sighed. "Walden must be
from one of the southern clans.
They're ... different, more open."

"It's okay," Joshua said.
"She's just a housemate of
Heron's, not somebody you
have to deal with every day."


"You don't get it," Pips said,
twisting his small hands in
the borrowed shirt. "I like her.
I don't want to avoid her, I want
to get to know her. That girl,
she -- she's eligible."

"Eligible for what?"
Joshua wondered.

Pips rubbed a hand over
his face. "My people are
pretty closed about some things,"
he said. "We almost never marry
big people, only other Picts. A lot
of us don't marry at all, but we're
still expected to provide a child for
the clan. Women usually want more,
but some men only have the one."

"That sounds complicated,"
Joshua said, tilting his head.

"It can be, but mostly it works for us,"
Pips said. "Raising the kids together,
it's like one big family. It also means
you can't pair up inside your own clan.
That means finding a mate at one
of the cross-clan gatherings, or
just making an arrangement."

Joshua knew that some cultures
still practiced arranged marriages.
He didn't care for the idea himself,
but he wouldn't speak against it
so long as it was voluntary.

"If that's what works for
you ..." he said carefully.

"That's just it, I don't know,"
Pips wailed. "I thought it didn't!
That's one reason I don't get along
with my family. But now, now --
suddenly I feel different."

"And that really is a shock,"
Joshua said. "Well, we can
deal with that. Sometimes
people discover new things
about themselves, and that's
okay. Why don't we go back
downstairs, and you can
talk with her -- just talk."

Pips squeaked on the inhale.
"I can't. I can't. I'll lose it."

"Take a deep breath," Joshua said,
rubbing a hand over Pips' back.
"Would you rather I talked to
Walden for you, and maybe
smooth over some things?"

"You mean, like an uncle?"
Pips said. "You would
really do that for me?"

"Gladly," Joshua said.
"Just give me a hint what
to say or not to say here."

"Let me think a minute,"
Pips said. "I need to think."

"Take your time," Joshua said.
"Come on, let's sit on the bed
for a few minutes. Maybe that
will help you relax a little."

"Yeah," Pips said, dropping
down beside him as soon as
Joshua said. "I could use
someone to lean on."

"Shoulder right here,"
Joshua said, patting his.

Pips leaned against him
with a deep sigh of relief.
"Thank you," he whispered.

For several minutes, they
just sat together quietly,
breathing almost in unison.

Finally Pips said, "I think that
Walden is cute. She's smart and
funny and sneaky. I would like
to get to know her better, but
it's ... awkward. We don't often
find each other in the wild, and
some people don't like it."

"That part is up to Walden,"
said Joshua. "All you need
to worry about is what you
want, so I can make the pitch.
Whether or not she finds it
appealing is her choice."

"Okay," Pips said. "I'd like
to hang out, maybe see what
we have in common." His tongue
flicked over his lip studs so they
wiggled in place. "And you know,
not have a panic attack over it."

"Just make friends," Joshua said.
"Worry about the rest later, if it
seems like it has potential.
Am I hearing you right?"

"Yeah, I think so," Pips said.

"Okay then," Joshua said.
"Take some time to freshen up
in the guest bathroom, then
come back downstairs
and rejoin the party."

"I will," Pips said,
hugging him. "Thanks."

"Any time," Joshua said,
and headed downstairs.

Walden spotted him at once
and hurried over. "Is he okay?"
she asked, wringing her hands.

"He'll be fine, he was just startled,"
Joshua said. "Could we talk, though?"

"Sure," Walden said, fidgeting.

"Use my office," Dr. G offered.
"Flip the blue switch for privacy."

"Thank you," Joshua said. They
went inside and closed the door,
then he turned on the privacy field.
"Don't worry, Walden, nothing is wrong.
Pips just got a little tongue-tied, so
I offered to break the ice a bit."

"Oh good," Walden said. "I should
probably replace his nice shirt ..."

"He swears the stains will come out,
so let's wait and see on that," Joshua said.
"Meanwhile, he's feeling nervous about
your common cultural background."

"Why would -- ohhhh," she said,
eyes widening. "He must be -- oh."

"Pips told me some things about
his family, and an educated guess
about yours, based on the language
he heard you speaking," Joshua said.

"It's just Pictish," she said. "I mean,
I know some families don't use it
as much as mine does, but
it's not that big of a deal."

"Walden, if you talk to a man
in a language he understands, that
goes to his head," Joshua said gently.
"If you talk to him in his language,
that goes to his heart."

"Oh," Walden said.
"I didn't realize it could
have so much ... impact."

"Well, now you know,"
Joshua said. "I'm not asking
you to do or to avoid anything
in particular. I'm just asking
you to be gentle with him."

"Okay," she said.
"That I can do."

"Thanks," Joshua said.
"Now that we have that part
straightened out, the rest just
comes down to the social stuff."

"Like what?" Walden asked.

"Pips thinks you're cute,"
Joshua said. "What threw him,
in addition to the unexpected words,
was the realization that you're eligible.
He hasn't found that sort of thing
noteworthy in the past, so this
caught him by surprise."

"Huh," Walden said, a finger
tapping thoughtfully at her lip.
"I'm still in college, so I'm not
looking for a mate yet. I could be
flexible about options, though, if
we're talking about the future."

"I suggested that the two of you
just make friends first, and if that
works, talk about other things
later," Joshua replied.

"Sure, we can do that.
After all, this is a party,"
Walden said, then giggled.

"What?" Joshua asked.

"I have an idea," she said,
her eyes sparkling, "but I'll
need to buy some supplies."

Without hesitation, Joshua
took out his wallet and
said, "I'll go half."

So it was that when
Pips finally crept back
down the stairs, Joshua
was innocently demonstrating
his favorite diaper technique
on Dylan while Mallory watched,
and Walden was nowhere in sight.

"She wasn't interested?"
Pips said wistfully.

"Oh, Walden is around
somewhere," Joshua said
with a casual wave. "I'm sure
that she'll show up shortly."

"Party games!" Walden called
from the kitchen. "Who's playing?"

Half the people in the house
piled into the kitchen to see
what she had set up, even
the toddlers clinging to legs
until Joshua and Griffin put
them on their shoulders.

Walden had borrowed
a teleporter to pop over
to the farmer's market for
a basket of Ashmead's Kernels,
and now the tiny russet apples
floated in a dishpan full of water.

"Oh, you are on," Pips breathed.
"I'm going to need a blindfold. These
aren't my underwater specs, and
besides, it'd be cheating."

Bandanas were duly produced
and wrapped into place.

Meanwhile Walden was
bundling her long black hair
into a borrowed scrunchie.

It took Walden two tries
to get ahold of an apple,
but Pips did it in one,
deftly plucking the fruit
from its place in the waves.

Everyone cheered.

Nobody else even came
close to their performance.

"Do you want to try?"
Griffin asked Cove.
"This game is a lot like
blowing bubbles at the pool,
but you try to catch an apple."

Cove was happy to try,
but wound up dumping
the dishpan all over himself.

People squawked and leaped
out of the way of the water.

"Whoopsie!" Joshua said
as he scooped up Cove.
"Let's go upstairs and
change into dry clothes."

"Don't worry about the apples,
they'll wash," Aida said as
she began picking them up.

When Joshua headed for
the stairs, he saw that Pips
and Walden had retreated to
the couch to enjoy their winnings.

Together.

* * *

Notes:

"If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart."
Nelson Mandela

Family routines help children feel safe by making life more predictable. Big routines can be broken down into a set of several smaller routines. Teach children to do the steps themselves. A new routine may be established by identifying its steps and then repeating them. For example, parties break down into "preparing for a party" (talk about plans with friends, make a dish to bring, choose what to wear, get dressed, travel to the party) and "attending a party" (let the host know you're there, introduce yourself to people, play some games). Children often feel uneasy about new things, but if you give them time to watch, most will become comfortable with the situation and join in when they feel ready. If necessary, make accommodations for people with special needs.

Trauma can cause traumatic stress. This may lead to a range of responses including acute stress reaction, acute stress disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder. In this case, Joshua's kids show a lot of symptoms of trauma, but none so extreme as to make normal life impossible. They just need extra accommodations while they heal. After a crisis, emotional first aid can help prevent PTSD. Understand how to support young survivors of trauma.

Healing from trauma goes through phases, because trauma survivors have difficulty feeling safe enough to recover. Therefore, phase one is safety and stabilization, phase two is treating trauma, and phase three is integration. Here is a trauma workbook and some trauma-informed activities for children.

Normalization is the process of becoming familiar with something ordinary that happens often. Abused children may not know what "normal" is and thus need help finding it. Normalizing feelings and experiences will help them settle into a healthier lifestyle.

Attachment styles influence family interactions. Foster children and trauma survivors often have disrupted attachment. They may need extra help to understand the circle of safety due to disrupted circles. Abused children can learn to trust adults over time. Parents can take steps to help them.

Hosting a party can focus on things like hygge or dinner. Understand how to make your events introvert-friendly.

Make some Mini Banana-Almond Butter Sandwiches.

Check out the Underwater Paradise 9000 Piece Puzzle by Ravensburger.

Nonalcoholic drinks include Ginger-Peach Soda, Lemon Drop Cream Soda, and Blackberry Spritzer.

A stain-removal kit is very convenient.

The Picts are associated with pixies, and some people believe the two are related or even the same. However, the Picts themselves tend to consider "pixie" a racial slur. Pips has a real chip on his shoulder about this.

Nobody knows for sure what happened to the Picts in local-Earth, and even the knowledge of their tribes is patchy. Rome couldn't really get a handle on them even here, and less so in Terramagne. (Here's a campaign map of Rome's efforts.) There, some of the Picts have survived as cohesive clans hidden within the larger Scottish society.

In T-America, Pips belongs to the Caerini clan, whose name refers both to sheep and goats. They are practical, sure-footed, stealthy, clever, and capable of seeming harmless while they wreak all manner of havoc. Think of the Three Billy Goats Gruff. They're also on the isolationist side, and they speak Pictish only among other Picts. Unfortunately Pips doesn't get along very well with his relatives, due to his peculiar taste in bosses, so he's the black sheep of the family. Walden's people are the Selgovae, which can mean 'scout' or 'guide' as well as 'hunter' -- the translation is imprecise due to cultural differences. A closer parallel may be found in the braves of Native American tribes. They're on the interactive side, and they speak Pictish freely among wider audiences. If you look on this map, based on Ptolemy's map of British tribes, you can see why: the Selgovae are right next to Hadrian's Wall, exposed to many foreigners, while the Caerini are as far north as possible with only other Picts for neighbors.

While surviving material about the Picts is patchy, it suggests that they practiced matrilineal succession often through the sister-son, and married between tribes.

Heritage language use ties in with ethnic identity. Speaking it conveys belonging and intimacy -- but it can carry an underlying tension between the heritage language and the local vernacular. Some bilingual people use both tongues freely, while others keep the heritage language only for home use, and crossing that boundary can be very disorienting. Teaching a heritage language relies on using it often and in a group context. The Picts are fully fluent in theirs because most of them drop the vernacular and speak only Pictish with other Picts. Where they differ is that some also speak Pictish in front of outsiders, while others never do that as they feel Pictish is only for Picts. This can be a bone of contention in an ethnic group that relies on cross-clan marriages for survival.

Bobbing for apples is a fun party game. Ashmead's Kernel is a heritage dessert apple that can be grown in California.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, ethnic studies, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, linguistics, poem, poetry, reading, romance, weblit, writing
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