Loco Parentis: Beyond Words

The heart really does have a language all its own

My daughter can always tell what boys I think are handsome: the ones with long, retro-hippie hair. I have a harder time with her type. “Him?” I’ll say, pointing discreetly in a restaurant or at the mall, and she’ll snort: “No way!” “What about him?” “God, no.” I do know that ever since we started playing this game, she’s had a thing for mixed-race boys, Hispanic boys, café-au-lait-skinned boys. Who knows why?

But there’s more to love than physical attraction. And after I found out about Mario, I also found out (don’t make me tell you how) that Marcy’s status on her Facebook page had switched from “single” to “in a relationship.” In a relationship? What kind? How close could they be?

“He was supposed to go and get his driver’s license on Saturday so he could buy a car, so he could come and visit,” Marcy reports in a phone call from school. “But there was some sort of problemo. I’m not really sure what.”

Or: “He wants to take me out to dinner,” on a weekend when she’s home. “I’m not sure where we’re going. He has a car now. I don’t think he has a license yet, though.”

They’re gone a long time. “Where were you?” I demand, when she finally returns.

“At a Spanish restaurant. In Phoenixville. Or King of Prussia. Some relatives of his own it. Or maybe they’re friends.”

The ambiguity, the communication gaps, the uncertainty — it all makes me crazy. Not Marcy. Her first month at college, her cell-phone chats with Mario send our family over our (huge) minutes quota. “It’s hard to wait until nine to call him,” she grouses. “He has to get up so early for work.” She carries a Spanish dictionary everywhere, text-messages him endlessly. “He’s learning English, too,” she says in his defense. “He asks me all the time: ‘How do you say this?’”

Could have fooled me. I see him almost every day, as I’m carrying groceries in the front door, or scooping up dog poop out back, and all we ever say is “Hi.” I search his smile warily. We’ve found out so much about each other through Marcy, yet have nowhere to go with the knowledge.

Here’s what I need to learn to say in conversational Spanish:

You better be good to her.
You better be nice to me.