Code-Switcher

Photo credit: Sarah Scicluna

Photo credit: Sarah Scicluna

Daddy takes a long toke on the joint, it sounds like he is saying “PSSSSST” when he inhales.

“Erica was interviewed for her scholarship at the [name of fancy private school in Washington D.C.] school. They don’t really do interviews, per se, instead they have the candidates join the classroom for the day and observe them.” He holds his breath, suppressing a coughing fit. “They were very impressed with her.”

It had been a lovely day. Mrs Lee, the first grade teacher, welcomed me warmly into her class room, introducing me to a circle of well-scrubbed boys and girls. Her ample bottom filled the chair and slanting autumn sunlight filled the classroom. Mrs Lee raised her brown arms to get their attention and declared, “Let’s all go around the circle, boys and girls, and share your name and say something that your parents always say to you.”

Little Johnny, a Senator’s son, is wearing corduroy pants and a striped button down shirt with a red tie. He says that his mommy always tells him to pick up his toys before bed.

Another child in impossibly clean white slacks, is poised quietly on the edge of her seat, [“this is a very PROGRESSIVE school,” my Daddy proclaims, passing the joint to his left, “no dress code. The girls can wear pants, if they want to”], her waist length blonde hair brushed smooth, like a glassy pond, quietly states, “My mother tells me to change my clothes before we go out in public, so I don’t look like a hoyden.” She slightly emphasizes the word “hoyden” so that I know it is special.

When it’s my turn, I squirm in my chair, pulling my feet up on the seat and holding the toes of my leather shoes while I think . My mom has recently given me a haircut, so my cowlick [I really WAS licked by an ox when I was four years old!] waves gently above my forehead like moth antennae while I ponder my share.

“And the principal told me that when it is Erica’s turn, she contributes something very unusual! I’m thinking uh-oh. You never know what they are going to say – It’d be best if she didn’t mentioned that the CIA has our phone is tapped, or that we smoke marijuana, or that we have friends that are Weathermen — ‘Mommy and Daddy always tell me that I have GOLDEN EYES!’ Very precocious. Very imaginative… sign of intelligence!”

I feel so warm. My skin is warm on my chest. My Daddy’s eyes shine with pride. It’s as if he were the sun in the sky, and I am so warm in the glow of his approval. I use my fingers to twist spaghetti onto my fork, grinning with pleasure.

Eventually my father recovers from the coughing fit that started as proud laughter – the entire table of bearded and bra-less hippies had erupted along with him in raucous delight.

“Remember, Andrea,” he continues, turning to my mother, who flicks a cigarette ash into the now-empty salad bowl on the dining room table, “remember that time when we were driving to New York to see my parents?”

My father turns back to his audience at the Round Table, “Erica was only four years old. She was in the back seat slapping her hands. Andrea and I stopped chatting so we could hear her scolding herself. ‘Bad girl! No, no! DON’T SAY ‘SHIT’ at Nana’s house!!!! Bad.Bad.Bad!’ She went through all the swear words, slapping her hands after each one and admonishing herself not to use them at my folks’ house!” Daddy beams.

“She’s a Code-Switcher, always has been!”

In linguistics code-switching occurs when a speaker alternates between two or more languages, or language varieties, in the context of a single conversation. – Wikipedia

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