It took about 6 long years for me to finally start sorting through the multitude of little bits of paper with Vanja’s words scribbled on them, always in obvious hurry, by my hand.
Ripped corners of newspapers, backs of grocery receipts and parts of utilities bill envelopes lived all these years scattered in desk drawers, in documents folders and budget files, stuck between pages in various books, pinned on the board above my desk, shoved at the bottom of my bag…
When Vanja was born, we couldn’t wait for him to start talking.
Both C and I were incredibly excited and curious to hear what he had to say and to get to know him properly.
I mean, babies are cute and all, but thank god that’s just a relatively short phase and they do grow into chatty toddlers.
C is Dutch. I am Serbian.
We met, fell in love, got married and started sharing life, all in English.
A friend of mine used to say that the only worse linguistic combination would be if one of us spoke Finnish and the other one Hungarian.
The truth is that Finnish-Hungarian would be a much easier combo then our own ‘cos, unlike Dutch and Serbian, those two languages actually do have the same origin.
We were very curious to meet our boy and see how will our North meets South trilingual circumstances effect him exactly.
When Vanja finally started speaking, he spoke all three languages equally well and often.
In fact, his very first word was – appel! Apple – in Dutch.
He sure loved his appelsaap/apple juice/sok od jabuke. He still does.
A few weeks ago, C found some old audio recordings from when Vanja just started talking.
C, as a proper music producer would, used to put the mic in the room and just let it record.
On this recording, Vanja was answering my questions in English, C’s in Dutch and then my mum entered the room and he immediately switched to Serbian, obviously fully understanding his grandma and answering all her questions correctly, in Serbian, in the cutest tiny baby voice ever.
Since C and I continued to speak English with each other (first out of sheer necessity, later out of sheer habbit), Vanja of course picked up on that and followed our example.
So, even with me being Serbian and all of us actually living in Belgrade, Vanja’s native language turned out to be – English.
As he was growing up, it became apparent that he’s got a special thing going with language, mostly English.
Prior to kindergarten, Vanja’s English was excellent but it was also always very interesting for us to listen to his way of speaking and linguistic systems and ideas he would use. It was very unusual and often really funny.
And that is when and why I started writing down his thoughts, questions and ideas he’d share with us.
He was 2 and a half or so, when I wrote down the first quote.
Most of the quotes are in English, some are in Serbian and there’s also a number of quotes in Engbian or Seblish.
When he was about 3-4 I asked him: „So, why do YOU think you speak English so perfectly even though we live in Serbia and you know daddy’s Dutch and I’m Serbian?“
He looked at me like I was stupid and said: „Pfff…that’s easy… it’s because I’m from England!“
Needless to say, not only that Vanja is not from England but he’s never even visited the UK. The most English thing about him is probably his grandpa, C’s stepdad, a lovely English gentleman living in Holland for the last 40 years.
Vanja is 8 and a half now. He is about to finish 2nd grade with great success. Of course, now he knows all about the origins and circumstances of our little mixed collective household and his Sebian is excellent.
He’s got the most adorable „foreign accent“ which I’m sure will be a plus with girls in a few years, and he occasionaly uses the wrong case in a sentence, just like the majority of Serbian population.
English is still his main language though. He is now truly and extremely eloquent and a most interesting, fun interlocutor.
But most importantly, he is a bright, curious, sensitive, thinking boy with wildest imagination and sweetest heart.
And that is why I still always carry pens and notepads everywhere with me.
C likes to make audio recordings, not just of music but of situations and of people too. It’s like taking photographs, but it works on a whole different level and, to some, hearing old recordings can trigger amazing vivid memories and bring back even more sensations then just looking at a picture.
I write things down. To me, those little quotes are almost like a diary. Vanja’s and mine and our family’s, 3 in 1.
Whenever a little ripped newspaper corner falls out of a book I open, and I decipher the doodles, everything comes back instantaneously and it feels like watching a family video.
I first started writing down things Vanja said because I thought they were fantastically sweet, imaginative, clever and very, very funny.
I wanted to keep them for myself and C, sort of as a diary before Vanja could write a diary. And also, I wanted to save it all, collect it and retype it so it’s all in one place and then – keep it for Vanja. For when he’s old enough to be interested in it and to enjoy it.
Apparently, that time has already come.
As I’ve been typing various quotes last couple of days, and making these little posters for each, Vanja would sit next to me, read them and just giggle his ass off.
I couldn’t ask for anything more.
However, after showing to several friends some of these VQs I put together, their reactions made me think that maybe other people (kids and grown-ups) would enjoy them too.
One idea lead to another and right now, I am very happy and very proud to present to you this post, which is kind of an introduction, an illustration of what should become – a book!
A proper book, with all these and many more of Vanja’s thoughts, questions and observations about Life, Universe and Everything Else.
Vanja is,of course, the main character of (t)his book, which will begin at the time when Vanja first started to speak in sentences.
The storyline will follow our main character, from the age of about 2,5 to present day. And trust me, our main character certanly has a lot to say. And to ask. And to comment on. And to share. And to sing, instead of just saying it.
Right now, I am working on collecting all the notes and writings from past 6 years, assembling all parts and adding them to the storyline, making the perfect combination of all these ingredients and, last but not least, I am trying to come up with the perfect graphic representation of Vanja for the book.
This will be something between a children’s book with wonderful (simple and warm) illustrations and a comic book.
So, here are some of Vanja’s quotes, which used to (and still do) make C and I laugh out loud and which totally make us mop each other off the floor.
And if I may suggest to all the parents of wee ones – do keep pens and paper handy. It takes just a few moments to write down your kids’ brilliant thoughts but trust me, those notes will warm up your hearts forever. Theirs too, you’ll see.