**BABY VOCAB UPDATE**
Hazel’s got two new words:
Uh-oh – ‘owei if a female is saying it, ‘eiyoo’ or wiy if the speaker is male
Baby – neniisoo is my baby, hiniisoo is your baby, heniisoo is his/her baby; a baby is “obligatorily possessed” meaning you have to say to whom it belongs
What we’ve learned so far
This project (learning Arapaho while we teach our girls) started on January 1st, 2014, and a lot has happened in these 10 months of trying to learn more Arapaho every day. The truth is over the summer life got overwhelming and I didn’t reach out to learn new words for several straight months — then it all got exciting again, got into my blood, and we’re back in the saddle. That’s part of the lesson: when learning a whole language seems too huge, if you give up for a while, no worries; the energy comes and goes like that, and no effort is ever wasted. For me it’s a lot like trying to live healthier, exercise and lose weight — if I think too much about the long-range goal, I get disheartened and give up, but if I concentrate on right smack now — on how cool it is that a baby-crumpled vocabulary list named “Toddler Words that Aren’t Commands” is taped to the window behind my computer, or that Amelie said “I’m petting my he3 today” an hour ago — then that makes right smack now fun, and I can keep putting energy into the project.
So, Lesson #1: Enjoy right smack now. It’s a fascinating language, an honor to have the opportunity to learn it. The effort to wrap your mind, your tongue and your parenting around Arapaho is like learning to play the violin; it’s a very refined skill, something to work on for the joy of working on, to be proud of and humble about at the same time. And it’s just fun. Remembering a new word is satisfying like getting a puzzle piece to fit in a huge puzzle is satisfying, or like shooting at something hard and actually hitting it. It feels good.
Lesson #2: Praying before bed really works. Maybe it’s because bedtime never changes, so if you pray last thing of the day, it’s easy to do it every day. It’s also not at all stressful, because you’re in the darkness with your kid and no one else is listening — it doesn’t matter at all if you say something wrong or if you can’t remember something, because your kid has no clue what you’re saying anyway, given that there’s no context. I open every prayer with the same words (though I intentionally change it after that, as an elder instructed that prayers need to be creatively different every time), and a couple months ago our 3-year-old Amelie asked if she could pray for me — then started her prayer with those same words, in Arapaho, on her own. I had no idea she’d learned them because she lies there in silence while I pray every time, but it was wonderful to hear her say it. She doesn’t know what it means but she knows she’s talking to the Creator for me, and she’ll learn the rest later.
Lesson #3: Tape Arapaho words up with clear packing tape around the edges, not on the back with rolled-up masking tape. Signs hung up with masking tape on the back peel right off and fall down if wind blows or if they’re anywhere near moisture, but paper that is taped up around the edges stays forever. Don’t forget to say the words out loud every day; just having them hanging up doesn’t get it into your brain.
Lesson #4: Friends really inspire us, so support others who are trying too. It’s easy to feel like we’re alone doing this, but the truth is, we’re not. There are hundreds of people on Wind River Reservation and off it that really care about the language and want it to be strong again. Many use Arapaho words every day, and a great many pray for the language in sweat lodges every week. We are doing something meaningful and lasting for the people we love and the elders who have passed when we learn and use Arapaho — together, even if we feel like we’re fighting alone. Every positive word that reminds us we are a whole team, every connection helps. So connect. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org and I’d love to hear your story.