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 Ease has been replaced by frustration; intuition bound by rules and social mores.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.

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