Pata likes to hear a story every night before she goes to sleep. She has long tired of following along as I read, preferring instead to babble to her dolls or bears. Whenever I pause, she insists that she is listening. I ask her questions just to be sure.
“What is he looking at?” I ask, pointing to the Little Nutbrown Hare.
“The lune,” she tells me.
“What? A loon is a bird. What is that?” I ask, indicating a white crescent.
“The lune,” she tells me once again, giggling.
“That is the moon. It is not a loon.”
“Moon,” she says, smiling. “Moon,” she says again, emphasizing the ‘n’ so much that it sounds as though it is followed by a vowel. Laughing, repeats herself: “Moon-uh,” she says, as though it were a Neapolitan word.
“A terra! (On the ground!)” she exclaims, pointing to the pile.
“Dirty people,” I tell her, “dirty people put it there.”
“Where they are?” she asks, looking around.
“Where are they?” I correct her.
“I don’t know, Mommy. I don’t see them. I think they went to their home.”
She pushes her armchair next to mine and snuggles up to me. “Mommy, I want one thing good because I love you.”
“You’ve had enough today,” I tell her.
“Mommy,” she says, shaking her finger, “now I am angry to you because you won’t give me a caramella!”
“Papà’s mommy is nonna my,” she tells me, as she draws a row of faces on a bit of scrap paper.
“Oh, really, and who are you?”
“I’m the baby your,” she says smiling.
“Yes, you are my baby.”
A couple of minutes later, I see her jabbing at the table with the pencil. “What are you doing?” I ask.
“No Mommy, I’m not ruining your cloth table,” she assures me.
“This, Mommy,” she says, poking at the tablecloth with the pencil, “I am not marking up your cloth table beautiful.”
Preschool hasn’t caused Pata’s English to suffer as much as I feared it might, but it has made it clear that even though she is a native English speaker, it is not her first language.