The (Lack of) Love Language

The longest relationship in my life is now fraught with complications. Ease has been replaced by frustration; intuition bound by rules and social mores.

Like Louis C.K. says, “It’s the kids that do you in.” I wouldn’t say that having children ruined our relationship, but I’d be very comfortable saying that children have strained the enjoyment right out of the practice of everyday living.

I am, of course, talking about teaching Maggie to read, and not my marriage.

English and learning to read, in case you weren’t aware, has to be one of the biggest pains in the ass to teach. Much is made of the Finnish educational model, and rightly so. It seems that children are allowed to be flexible and free, and formal reading isn’t pushed until age seven. Thing is, their alphabet is totally phonetic and shorter than ours. If I understand correctly, that means no tricks, no weirdness, nothing to trip kids up.

Like Scout Finch, I have no conscious memory of learning to read. I have no memory of the time when letters took on meaning and became decipherable as words, sentences, paragraphs, and structures. My parents tell me it happened so early for me that I couldn’t possibly remember, a condition I’ve stumbled across in my education research called “hyperlexia.” Decoding words was as natural to me as breathing, and I had nothing but disdain for readers sharing classroom space with me who stumbled over what I perceived to be simplicity itself.

I am officially going on the record: I am SO sorry, elementary school classmates. English is a total fucking pain and I was a smug jerk.

Maggie’s reading is coming along reasonably well, I think. I have nothing else to compare it to, and nobody posts darling little Facebook pictures of their child’s lack of reading progress. Precocity carries the day on social media, so I try not to play the comparison game. Most of her letters usually face the right way, and she can read a few simple primers without a lot of help. By God, that’s good enough for me.

But oh, holy Christ on a cracker, did it take FOREVER to come even that far. Homonyms are horrible. Sight words are so confusing, and so many fall under the pronunciation guide of “It’s just that way, sweetie. Sorry. That’s why we learn them by sight and not by sounding.” Two seconds later: “Oh, you can sound that one out.” Maggie looks at me like she wants to say “You have got to be kidding me.” I don’t blame her.

WHAT? English, you twit. We had it so good, you and I. I love you; I love working with you and partnering with you to create works that please me (if no one else). But you are a jerk to my kid and I don’t want her to hate you, so I’ve had to tear down our whole relationship and rebuild it to make it palatable to her. The very last thing I want is for her to find reading a chore.

YOU ARE NOT MAKING IT EASY, ENGLISH. I DON’T WANT TO RESENT YOU BUT I DO.

For the sake of the children, we will tough this out. I will mask my contempt at the ridiculous rules you impose and grit my teeth and make this as enjoyable as I can. We will go slowly.

Even so, I can’t help but think we are forever changed. The kids have done us in.

Go Round and Round

I owe Maggie (if not the rest of you) a birthday letter. She’s six! Six years old! One-third of the way to legal adulthood, I tell you what. We followed the algorithmic instructions in the decree from the Lego Marketing Gods for her birthday present:

Six year old girl plus year 2015 plus interest in Legos = LEGO FROZEN CASTLE!

Maggie had other ideas.

Years ago, we bought her a balance bike. The idea was that she’d learn to balance so well that she’d just take off on two wheels when the time came. We had really no idea at the time that the process of using a bicycle would require gross motor planning skills that we’d need to call in specialists to work on. Wheeled toys fell by the wayside. The balance bike has been used sporadically, but as all items in a multi-child home Maggie didn’t really take a huge interest in it (or in our 3-wheeled scooter that I grabbed at the local charity shop figuring “Why not?”) until Moira decided she wanted to use it.

Then it was ON.

I brought them out front to the sidewalk, gave them perimeter boundaries, and set up a chair. Using the handlebars to turn…eh. Not so much. But she does have the basic idea of sitting on a bicycle and lifting her feet, and what happens if you wobble when you should wibble. (You fall, or ride into a tree. Good life lessons for the kindergarten set.)

As it happened, my niece’s third birthday was two weeks after Maggie’s sixth. As dictated by other marketing algorithms of the day, she got a Frozen-themed big girl bike with a purple basket. I showed it to Maggie and hinted that perhaps, with the birthday money she received from generous grandparents, she might like a big-girl bike of her own.

And wouldn’t you know it? She was game. “Yes! I would like one, with stabilizers.” (The UK term for training wheels.) Next we had to find one on Amazon that would ship to APO, and we found ‘er. She’s a beaut.

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Yep. Flowers, purple tires, a basket AND doll seat attachment, AND streamers?! Boss.

It hasn’t arrived yet, but she’s been telling everyone how excited she is. “I’m going to practice my skills! I have balancing skills.”

Indeed you do, sweet pea. You’re a big kid now, for sure.