Lost in Translation

“I think I broke my neck.”

Foster Son

These could be terrifying words if you heard them in a scenario where this was a possibility. They were spoken to me one morning as he walked across the kitchen rolling his head on his shoulders.

I stomped down my initial response (which would have been sarcastic) and asked him why he thought that. “It feels funny.” was his answer.

This is not the first time he has used language in a way that causes us alarm. What he means by his words and how we understand them have been different before! There was a day he told us he puked five times at school that day. I was horrified that he hadn’t called me if he was feeling that ill. He calls me when his socks are wet to ask me to bring him dry ones… when I asked why he hadn’t called he said he was fine.

At a later date he mentioned that he felt like today was going to be a “puke fest”. On this occasion I was able to get him to explain a bit more and he was able to tell me that he had “puked in his mouth” that morning and was probably going to do it all day. The light went on!! He had an acid burp. Through further clarification, which is painstaking for both of us, I was able to determine that what he calls puking I call acid burp. What I call puking he calls barfing… To be fair, I looked them up in the dictionary! I was justified in using them interchangeably but it was not how he uses the words.

I no longer react with concern when he says he puked. So stating that his neck was broken was also just his use of the language. It makes me wonder how many other things we misunderstand on a daily basis. The English language is very fluid and how we use words is morphing constantly. He grew up in a household where English was a second language so learning it was probably inconsistent. It makes sense to him that if something isn’t working properly it is “broken”. And to be fair we have been after him fairly regularly to tell us when things break! . Read that post here . But a broken neck is a different idea!!

When I realize how many of these differences in definition we have discovered as we have gotten to know these kids I have to ask myself “How many of them have we missed?” I wonder how many times we have given them an instruction and they have acted on it according to how they understood it…

When we’re getting everyone ready to go somewhere and it’s time to actually get out the door at our house the call is “Boots and Saddles”. Our family knew it meant get out the door! These kids had to have it explained to them. Including where the phrase comes from (Cavalry term) and why we use it (I have no idea…it just rolls off the tongue nice). We have been around horses a lot in our life but don’t currently own any horses. This is one example of something they didn’t understand and asked about… but what else have they missed because it’s not an odd phrase and they think they know?

Even when we are officially speaking the same language we are not all understanding it the same. This makes me pause when I hear the kids talk about their past. What might sound horrific to me could be how I understand the language they are using. I can’t really know what all happened. I wasn’t there. And there are many things that get lost in translation.

The other mother loves her kids. She was devastated when they were taken from her. I need to use caution when I interpret her words and actions in this season of turmoil. We both need a universal translator to help us see the true heart behind the words and actions of each other. Google translate just isn’t going to do the job. For these situations I will choose love as the filter through which I see her world.

Next time he walks through the door and tells me “I did horrible on my test today.” I will also know to clarify what that means. (It meant he got 3 questions out of 27 wrong). I will learn to translate his meanings from his words so that my actions are what he needs. But it worries me that at some point the drama in his words will be justified and we won’t respond appropriately. The story Never Cry Wolf comes to mind.

Communication can be messy. Not just with Foster kids but with our spouse, our family and our friends. Take time to clarify if something seems off to you! You won’t regret understanding someone better! Don’t let a good relationship get “lost in translation”.

In the midst of the mess,


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