Rain, yŭ. Drizzle, máomao yŭ

The last time the three of us were out in a drizzle—the kind of light, messy rain you don’t realize is happening until you step out into it—Emerson, scrunched inside the increasingly too-small confines of the umbrella stroller (the ideal stroller for subway rides) frowned a little and then commented, “Máomao yŭ.”

I thought she was saying māo, cat, and I paused for a second, trying to figure out if she’d seen a cat, or was pretending to be a cat. Before I could follow down this cat path, though, Rich answered, “Duì de,"—you’re right—”máomao yŭ.“

That was day I learned that while yŭ means rain (a word very close to the word for shark—let’s hope I’m never near to some sharks while it’s raining and so robbed of any context clues) máomao yŭ is a light rain.

Tonight, though, eating pears at the kitchen table while reading books before bed time, I asked her, in English, whether it was raining on her way home from school.

”Máomao yŭ,“ she said matter-of-factly. Finally, I thought to ask Rich if the words translated to something separately.

”Máo is fur,“ he said, seeming to consider the weirdness of that, but then—his expression changing—realizing its perfection. What more visceral a descriptor for the kind of muffled, misting rain one more experiences and endures (than can hold an umbrella to) than "fur rain.”

Looking it up tonight, I also fell a little in love with the written symbol for rain, which (in the noun form) looks like drops falling outside a window.

ps: Let us not overlook the adorableness (and literalness) of the word for cat being essentially the sound a cat makes. Māo

Babah (Or: And then I Realized Something)

Babah (ba-BAH), dad • Guen Guen, your mother’s father/grandfather • Po Po, your mother’s mother/grandmother.

When Rich and I had been dating long enough that his parents became a regular part of my life, the tricky business arose of not knowing what to call them. Initially, I called them Mr. and Mrs. Chang—which wasn’t even quite right, though Dr. and Dr. was weirder. Later, sometime after we got engaged, or maybe early into our marriage, I started following Rich’s lead and calling his fatherBabah—dad, in Mandarin.

It was a pleasing development for me, and I remember explaining to people that this worked out perfectly, since there was no one I already called Babah, and so the word meant nothing to me. But I was still in a lurch as to what to call his mother, since he called her Mom and I already had one of those—it would have been too weird to call her that. If only there was a Chinese word for mother that he used! I’d complained to close friends.

(Ultimately, she told me to just call her Monica, and though this initially felt too informal, with some relief I began to.)

These days, Emerson calls Rich Babah and his father Goong goong (that actually also isn’t the correct name for him—it signifies the grandfather on the mother’s side; but that’s another story). So, now I also call him Goong Goong as well, and in the right context I call Monica Po Po.

Visiting with Rich’s parents last week, it occurred to me how weird it would feel to now call his father Babah,and remembered suddenly the first time I’d used the word to address him—the flash of smile and the look of amusement, or something else, in his eyes that had followed. After that initial reflex, though, he never responded awkwardly, or said or did anything to make me feel uncomfortable about it. He did nothing to make me feel that he was feeling the word.

It mortifies me now to think how lightly I’d used it. No personal emotion was attached, and so I’d treated it with according lightness, not considering the weight that others felt.

Today, of course, it means my spouse; it signifies my family. It means everything.