7.19.2008

No lo comprendo pero me gusta mucho

One of my massage appointments today was a woman who recently moved to Texas from Colombia, to spend two years studying English (immersion classes) in order to obtain her master’s in psychology. She was telling me (in halting English) how stressed she is this week because she needs to decide whether to move to Houston or Tampa for the second year of her studies. She would choose Houston, but she thought Tampa would be better for her young daughter. I (in rusty Spanish) debated the pros and cons of each city with her for a few minutes and talked about moving in general, travel, trying to communicate in a foreign country, etc.

The woman asked me if I had any children. I hesitated. Usually this is the moment my professional persona takes over and murmurs a vague (safe) “Not yet…” But for some reason (perhaps because I couldn’t in that second remember the word for “yet”) I simply replied “No.”

The woman fell silent for a few beats. Then, from somewhere deep in the face rest came the following response:

“If I did not have my daughter I would close my eyes and jump to Houston. But because I have my daughter I will be choosing Tampa. Life with no children is more free, sometimes more interesting, and maybe stress, but not the same stress. So. Maybe you will choose to live with no children and maybe you will have children. If you choose to live with no children I would say to you-“

And this is where I closed my eyes and braced myself for any or all of the following:
*You are missing out on the greatest achievement of your life.
*You HAVE to have kids! They're hard work but they are so, so worth it.
*You will regret it when you are old and there is no one to take care of you.
*That’s pretty selfish.
*But you'd make a great mother!
*Your life won’t have as much meaning without children in it.
*You’ll change your mind someday.

Instead, I heard “Congratulations.” And then she laughed and fell asleep before I could pick my jaw up off the floor.

I’m not even sure what she meant. Maybe the language barrier between us was larger than I thought and she actually meant to use a completely different word with a completely different meaning. I confuse ABOGADO (“lawyer”) with ABUELO (“grandpa”) all the time, so perhaps instead of “congratulations” she meant to say… “condoms?” And I was supposed to thank her for this advice on how to remain child-free? I don’t know. And there’s no point to this story except that I’m thinking of using “congratulations” as a standard response to people from now on, no matter what they tell me.

“Traffic’s a bitch!”
“Congratulations.”

“I have a headache.”
“Congratulations.”

“I think I’ll go with the toasted bagel, instead of the wheat toast.”
“Congratulations.”

Kind of refreshing, no?

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