Part 3: 2 years-3 years
In the previous post from this series, I provided an overview of Seenseewia’s and my learning up to her second birthday. There was a lot going on in that time span, and it all happened fairly quickly. This post will cover ages 2 to 3. The changes we experienced during this time span were considerably slower paced as she became able to more carefully process the world around her. We continued to be fortunate enough to be able to involve Seenseewia in as many of our community activities as we could. Stomp Dance continued to be a favorite activity for her, but now that she was older, the dancing was still fun but not as much fun as being silly with eeweemikowaaci ‘her relatives’.
It was around the beginning of this time period that Seenseewia started trying to speak full but very short sentences in Myaamiaataweenki. They usually didn’t make sense to my adult brain, so I often had to use context to figure out what she was trying to say. Her sense of context was usually more accurate but was also produced by her “kid brain,” so even this was quite a challenge at times! Seenseewia’s new favorite activity was going to the “donut shop” (the bakery at Kroger) to get donuts and juice for breakfast on Saturday mornings. It became an entire ritual, so I was able to start trying out more Myaamia phrases to see how she’d respond to new language being used in a familiar situation. I would ask ahtooyani-nko mihšiiminaapowi ‘do you have apple juice?’ when she had grape juice, for example. At first she would just nod, so I’d correct her eehtooyani aahsanteepakwaapowi ‘you have grape juice’! Her response to this was calling all manner of juices ‘powi’ in order to always be right when I asked her. “Powi! Twaani powi! (“twaani” was a shortened version of eehtwaani ‘I have’ that Seenseewia used)
After this development, I tried asking for details about the things she had. I thought that wiinkanwi-nko donut ‘is that donut tasty’ was a good question, but she pretty quickly figured out that she could say iihia miinawa moohci ‘yes or no’ and move on to something else. I loved that she would answer in Myaamia, but to help our conversations grow, I wanted to make her explain further. I really struggled with this, because it was uncommon in my daily conversation (in Myaamia or English) to have someone ask “what do you like about that” or “why is the frosting too sweet”. There very often wasn’t a word I needed (there isn’t yet a word for raspberry filling, for example). Sometimes a phrase or word was very similar to one that she already knew. Noonaakanaapowi ‘milk’ was very familiar to her, but noonaakanaapowi eempahanki is ‘cream’.
Me: “Ciileelintamani-nko noonaakanaapowi eempahanki ‘do you like the cream [in the donut]’?”
Seenseewia: “moohci noona ‘it’s not milk’”
I couldn’t think of a good way to elevate our learning while still making the experience fun for us both but I didn’t want to do nothing. I decided to make it a vocabulary activity by pointing out and naming things around us. It was a good compromise when the activity I was trying for just wasn’t going to work for whatever reason. This led to some fun reactions from people around us. One morning, an older child got up out of their chair too quickly and it loudly fell to the ground. Seenseewia spit out her donut and as loudly as she could shouted kiiponi (a fragment of naahkiipioni ‘chair’) four or five times before trying to go over and stand it back up again. The other child got upset with her, but I really did have to try not to laugh.
A new challenge we faced here was the increasing influence of her English language learning. She spent as much time talking with her classmates as she did talking with Tina and I at home. She’d only been in preschool for just a few weeks the first time she ever told me she didn’t want to say something in Myaamia. I handed her a bottle of water and called it nipi; she corrected me with “I don’t want to say nipi. I want to call it water.” This was disheartening. We’d put a lot of time and effort into teaching her Myaamiaataweenki, and this felt like a direct attack on our efforts. I tried my best to just move past it. She was only 3 years old and starting to let us know her preferences. It still sat heavily on me that she’d seemingly rejected what we’d worked on together for so long, but I knew that moving forward and keeping up with our learning was the right thing to do.
A little while later we had the opposite experience. We were driving home from preschool and a squirrel ran out in front of the car. I shouted at it to move and called it a squirrel when I did. Seenseewia forcefully clapped her hands on her carseat and told me “that’s anikwa! Don’t call him a squirrel if he’s anikwa!” The annoyance in her voice told me that our efforts were indeed not wasted and that we were still very, very early in our learning together. The effects of preschool couldn’t be underestimated, but also weren’t going to be as much of a problem as I had been fearing. I wished that we could have more time at home together, so that maybe I could work on teaching her some of the new phrasing that I’d learned recently. She was very good at paying attention to how words were spoken, so I felt she’d be receptive to it, but I just needed more time.
This is the point we were at just a month after Seenseewia’s third birthday in March of 2020. Due to factors outside of our control, we were about to get a lot more time at home together.