529 Jeannette and Theresa

Jeannette is an outgoing seven year old girl who lives near me. She shouts out “Hi, Bob!” every time I pass by where she’s playing. And if I don’t shout back, “Hi, Jeannette!” (if I have something in my mouth, or am talking with someone else), she shouts “Hi, Bob!” again. She doesn’t give up. If I’m not busy (and I’m usually not), I go over to talk with her. I enjoy talking with her.
Five year old Theresa is Jeannette’s friend. As far as I can tell, she almost never says much when Jeannette is around. Jeannette explained to me, with Theresa listening, that Theresa doesn’t talk much because she’s shy. And Theresa did not contradict that statement, nor show any sign of taking issue with either the pronouncement or Jennifer’s decision to deliver it to me. She seemed quite comfortable about being dubbed the shy one; she seemed to feel fine about letting Jeannette speak for both of them.
But today, Jeannette was away. I went out to the playground near my home to watch children playing (I do that a lot), and Theresa was alone, blowing little bubbles through a little wand that had three tiny holes in it. I asked if I could watch, and she nodded. I always carry bubble water around with me. I offered some to Theresa,
thinking she might prefer to blow bigger bubbles, but she turned down the offer; she was having fun blowing the little ones. For a while, I sat quietly and watched. I respected the role Theresa had been given (the shy one), and let her be shy.
With my face, but not with my voice, I reacted to the bubbles she produced. Sometimes she blew seven bubbles in one blow, and sometimes a bubble came out a little bigger than most – about the size of a marble. Gradually, Theresa began to show signs that she knew I was interested. When a bubble or two stuck to the wand, she pointed to it and looked at me, saying, “Look! It stuck!” When you think about it, this was not really earth-shaking news. But it felt that way. I opened my mouth and eyes wide to show how impressed I was with the news. Theresa liked that.
This session lasted about twenty minutes. By the end of it, Theresa was talking to me. Not the way Jeannette spoke to me; she was still tentative. But we’d made some progress. Theresa’s grandfather came out and sat on a bench near me. I introduced myself, and he smiled and nodded. I began to suspect that he didn’t speak English. I said, “Nee-how” (I think that’s Chinese for “hello”), and again, he smiled and nodded. Together, we watched the blowing of the bubbles a little longer.
When it was time for me to go in and have dinner, I asked Theresa how to say “good-bye” in Chinese. She told me (I don’t remember it now, though), and I said it to the two of them. Both of them smiled and waved.
The next time I see Theresa, she’ll probably be with Jeannette. She’ll probably let Jeannette do the talking. Maybe Theresa’s first language is Chinese, and English is new to her. I don’t know. But I feel as if that twenty-minute session was a tiny little victory for us.

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