In a former life, I was a school teacher.
I fostered all kinds of educational growth in my students (I hope) and was just so thrilled when I saw the light of understanding in their eyes. It was so satisfying. So fulfilling. So wonderful to play even a small role in their personhood.
So lest I be accused of encouraging ignorance, please keep in mind my past profession and my calling to educate the young people of our world.
But dadgum it, literacy has really become a thorn in my side as a mother.
Before any of my children could read, things were just so much EASIER. I could spell out things I didn’t want their little ears to hear in my conversation and they didn’t bat an eye. I could skip long paragraphs of stories at bedtime and as long as I made up something that sounded good in its place, all was well.
When I was hit with statements such as, “Mommy!? There’s Chuck E. Cheese’s! We HAVE to go there right now!” I could reply with something like, “Oh, baby, I’m not sure if they’re open right now.” (You know, in THEORY, I could do this. Not that I ever kinda sorta lied about ice cream stores or toy shops being closed when the sign on the door clearly said OPEN. Ahem.)
But you see, when you are the only one around who can read, there’s just a freedom there which I have found gets lost in the abyss as your children grow and learn.
Take, for instance, the little incident involving my pre-k child last week. In keeping with my tradition, I began working with her in August to learn how to read. Since all my girls are six when they begin kindergarten, I have tried my best to have them reading or at least well on their way by the time school rolled around. I am a teacher, after all. It would be kind of embarrassing to have the oldest kid in kindergarten who doesn’t know any numbers, colors, shapes, or letters for no reason other than her mother was too lazy to work with her in our spare time. Sometimes humiliation is a great motivator, you know?
Anyway, we are about 20 lessons in now and she is doing just beautifully. We are using the book, Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. It really is easy. Ten minutes or so a day and she’s already reading simple words and is super proud of herself.
Too proud, actually. This is what got us into trouble last week.
During one of her lessons, she gasped as the little wheels in her mind turned and she realized, “I know how to spell something!!”
“What? What can you spell?” I asked her eagerly.
She wrote b-u-t on her paper and looked at me with a gleam in her eye.
Now, hear me out. I am not advocating what I did here. But you’ve got to understand something. I have another child who struggles with some dyslexic tendencies and teaching her to read has not been the simplest of tasks. She is such a hard worker and doing great, but it has not been like falling off a log, as those of you who have a child like that in your life can understand. So to have a five year-old clearly understanding and catching on very quickly to how the English language works was thrilling!
So yes, I made a critical error. I taught her how to spell the word “butt” correctly with two t’s. Frankly I was so relieved to see that maybe she would not struggle with dyslexia that I would’ve been willing to teach her any number of inappropriate words in that moment. “Hey, Leighanne, wanna learn how to spell a funny word for poo? S-h-i-*” (okay, too far…mom, I’m sorry and no, I didn’t really do that).
I do kinda pride myself on being able to think of things which appeal to my students to help them remember things, and my method worked like a charm. She giggled and hee hawed as I drew the backside of a stick person with a giant bubble butt and said, “See how this person has TWO butt cheeks? That’s how you can remember the word “butt” has two t’s!”
We laughed at the silly picture and that was that. A fine bonding moment. Educating my child and all. I was really feeling good.
“I’m going to take this to school and show my teacher and friends! I can read!! ” she proudly informed me.
“Oh, no, Leighanne. I don’t think that would be a good idea. That’s not the nicest word and I don’t think your teacher would want you to share that with the class. That’s just between you and me, okay?”
She shrugged and said, “Okay, Mommy,” as she scampered off to get her backpack. Phew.
I dropped her off, enjoyed my morning, and made my way back to pick her up at 12:30.
Her teacher met me at the door.
“Um, you may want to look at the back of Leighanne’s paper when you get home. She wrote something special for us today,” she said.
My heart kind of caught in my throat for a minute. I MAY have thought one of those four letter words I thankfully had not been wililng to teach her how to spell.
“I bet I can guess,” I replied. “I’m so sorry. She figured it out and has been so excited.” (I happened to forget to mention that I had been the one to teach her how to spell it.)
“It’s okay,” her teacher replied. “I just told her that’s not a word we use at school.”
I thanked her, slightly flustered, and rushed my little Mr. Spell out of the classroom. We had a good little talk about it, she agreed not to write “butt” anymore at school, and all was well.
Me and my bright ideas. That’s it. I’m never teaching anyone to read ever again.