Monday, September 22, 2014

Betrayed by English

The girls are in school now (*sigh*) and are learning at a rate reminiscent of Keanu Reeves’ ability to pick up kung fu in The Matrix. Every day, they come home with new songs, new stories, new skills. It is amazing to watch them and it gives me a profound appreciation for the teachers who not only can mentally and emotionally bear a baker’s dozen of three and four year olds day in and day out, but actually teach them something every day. It’s astounding.

Of all the learning that has taken place over the last month or so, the literacy skills have been the most salient. It seems that we no longer have conversations with our daughters. Instead, our interactions go a little something like this:

“Yes!” (trying to squeeze in a response before she takes a breath and can start the “mommies” again).
“I have a rhyme! Cup and dup! That rhymes!”
“You are right!”
“Also, dough and no! That rhymes! Aaaand…. Airport dairport, that rhymes!”
“Yes, you are right. Those are rhymes!”
“Also, paper, daper. Water bottle dater dottle. That rhymes!” (exchanging the first letter of any word and replacing it with a “d” seems to be the rhyme of choice for the moment.)
“Yes! Great job. What did you do at school today, honey?”
“I see an L! And a D!” (indicating something in the room with writing on it)
“Wow, honey, yes, that is great! What words start with D?”
“I see a W!”

Imagine about thirty minutes of this and you have an average mealtime conversation in our house. While on somewhat of a repetitive loop, the fact that the girls are developing this linguistic capacity is incredible. We’ve been bootlessly trying to teach “A” for about a year now and now in the space of a month, they almost have the whole alphabet. Again, kudos to you, preschool teachers.

So, tonight started out all fun and games with a conversation like this one. We finished eating and they asked to read a book. Delighted with their newly rejuvenated literary affinity, I gladly curled up with them on the couch to read the classic Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? What could go wrong?

It started off swimmingly. We were going through the pages, pointing out letters and making their sounds. We laughed at the blue horse and the purple cat and stuck out our tongues like the green frog. Then, along came the black sheep. I should have known this ill-fated animal would bring me nothing but trouble.

“Sh-sh-sheep. What letter does that start with, Mommy?”
“Well, do you see? Sheep starts with an “s””
(I can see the wheels are turning) “No, Mommy. Sh-sh-sheep. What letter does it start with?”
“Well, this one is a little funny. It really starts with two letters. ‘S’ says ‘sssssss’ but when it is 's' and 'h' it says ‘shhhhhh.’”
“No, Mommy. Not two letters. What letter does it start with?” (Clearly losing her patience with my incompetence.)
“Well, sweetheart, it starts with ‘s’ but with an ‘h’ next to it, it says ‘sh-sh-sheep.”

That was the last straw. She knows what sound “s” makes and “sh” wasn’t it. I was clearly holding out on her. She erupted into a tearful rage.

“What letter? WHAT LETTER?”

I held her and patted her back. She wept the tears that only someone who has been betrayed by their native tongue can. 

“I know, honey. English is a funny language.” We sat like that for some time. She cried over the loss of the simplicity of the alphabet. I comforted her thinking of all the tricks English would play on her like “laugh” and “pneumonia”. Unfortunately, life, like the alphabet, is not always black and white, dear daughter. It is a tough lesson to learn.

I knew I should have stuck with Spanish.  

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