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Sunday, October 28, 2007

"Life Is Good" by Conner, Part I

When Conner was a preschooler his backseat chattering often went like this:

"Mom, how much longer?"
"Mom, what's 3+3?"
"Mom, how many more minutes until we get there?"
"Mom, how old are you?"
"Mom, how many is that?"
"Mom, what time will the clock say when we get there?"
"Mom, what's 4+2?"
"Mom, how much longer?"
"Mom, how many more minutes til we get there?"
"Mom, now how many more minutes?"
"Mom, what time will the clock say?"
"Mom, what time will it be when we get there?"
"Mom? Mom? Mom?"

I can still hear that last part ringing in my head.

This consistent and persistant pattern of questions, this obsession, led me to turn it back on him and make it into a game. "What time do you think it will be when we get there?" I would ask, and he would make his guess, and I would make mine. Then he would change his guess to be closer to mine. Sometimes he would ask if he could have my guess. So I would change mine, but then he would second guess his guess, which was actually my original guess. This would continue until I declared a moratorium on guesses.

Numbers were his thang, if you get my drift. Made for some scintillating conversation, I tell you. Ah, the memories.

This continued into elementary school -- up until Olivia joined us in the car, so far as I can recall, and finally provided another distraction from the backseat. Olivia was a player from the beginning.

Right after Conner turned five we moved from the DC area to western Texas for 10 months while John completed some training. And I became a full-time SAHM for the first time since Conner was a baby. Losing my income was balanced out by John's promotion, not paying over $700 in daycare, and the lower cost of living. And it was such a blessing to have that year home with my son, my only child (is that possible?), the last year before he started school. Perfect timing, really. Divine intervention at its finest.

I thought I should try to carry on some pre-K education with some of this time we had. Since he seemed to have the numbers thing down, I thought we should focus on reading. I even got some ideas from my aunt and sister, elementary teachers themselves, about how to introduce independent reading by making "books" with repetitive words and stickers that he picked out. Going through these would last about 10 minutes, by which time he would simply say, "Can we be done now?" He much preferred playing "Trouble" or something else that gave him an opportunity to count to his heart's content.

I wasn't concerned about his inability to read before he started kindergarten. He seemed to know his letters well enough. He obviously didn't have a learning disability or anything that kept him from being able to read: he simply had no desire to.

And he learned soon enough once he did start kindergarten. Conner always did thrive in a structured environment with some healthy peer pressure; one reason I have never been sure that home schooling would work well for us. He simply looks around, sees that most of the other kids are doing this reading thing, so he does it, too.

Once he was in school, it didn't take long before I heard comments from his teachers about his knack with numbers, and pretty soon they were joined by comments about his natural interest and ability in science. Math and Science. That's what I kept hearing. So not my thang, but, hey, I'll go with it.

This didn't change when we moved to Italy and he transitioned into Italian school in the third grade. First, of course, he had to, um, learn Italian. And, naturally, the easiest subject to transition to in a foreign language is math, the Universal Language and all that. Then it wasn't too long before I heard the expected feedback that he sure took to science, too. Yes, yes, I know, that's my son: math and science.

During his three years in Italian school, we made some effort at home to keep up his English instruction. I mainly did this by requiring him to read in English --because although my son readily learned to read once he started school, he never did become a reader. Much to my chagrin. Because this is something I really, truly, do not understand. Having him resist reading -- for enjoyment! -- has always felt so wrong to me. But then, John is not a reader, either. So I just resign myself and sigh. Oh, and maybe complain a little out loud.

I also had Conner write emails. This became surprisingly interesting. When someone doesn't readily sit down and get lost in a good book, you wouldn't think he would readily sit down and compose a letter. But he did. And he enjoyed it. When I would suggest that he take some time to write an email to grandma, say, or to his dad who was away to wherever, he would sit down without complaint and type out excruciating letter after excruciating letter.

And he asked questions. He asked how to spell things, and whether a word meant what he thought it did. And he paid attention when I corrected his sentences for clarification before sending the email. He cared. And, to top it all off, I was starting to enjoy his writing. He really seemed to have a knack for it. I made extra effort not to correct every little spelling or grammatical error that I found lest I stifle his creativity and bring out his perfectionist tendencies. I just wanted him to write.

So for three years his English instruction consisted of inconsistent instruction at home in the very loose form of informal emails and forced reading for fun. Oh, and they did have "English" at his Italian school, which centered around singing songs and labeling rooms in a house and learning that the person working in the kitchen is a "cooker".

Then one day, later on in the fifth grade, he came home from school so happy because of a writing assignment they had had. He was so proud of himself because he was one of the few students (or the only one?) who was not sent back to his desk to revise or add anything to a story they wrote. I had him translate it for me, but honestly I cannot tell you what it was about anymore. I just remember thinking that, yes! it's not just me and he's really got something here.

All of this has been leading to Conner's first project for his English class here. If you're still with me, congratulations! Now you get to read some really fun stuff from a burgeoning writer in the form of a 12-year-old boy. They had to put together a notebook, "Life Is Good", a compilation of pictures, essays, poems, etc. For the "Letter" below they were told to write to a person, place, or thing. Conner wrote this to his bed right after we got our house, but before we got our stuff (and were still sleeping on air mattresses).

"Life is Good" by Conner

Letter to My Bed

Dear Bed,

I like you more than any other item in the house. You're so big and comfy. You're always there when I'm sad and I need something to lay on. If only you could talk, give massages, and serve lemonade, now that would be cool. I love to bounce on you, but my mom doesn't like it at all, you probably don't either. On the bus I always look forward to seeing you. Without you I wouldn't have that soft feeling when I go to sleep. The only bad thing about you is sometimes you let me roll of you, that doesn't feel too good.

I know you still on a boat (cause we just moved) but you'll be here soon. If you think you got it bad, you're wrong, I have to sleep on a mattress, which is kind of like sleeping on the floor. Without you, I would be waking up every 4 hours (like now) and not being prepared for school the next day.

You've enhanced my life in so many ways. The covers that lay on you keep me warm and make sure I don't wake up freezing. You've also given me that extra soft feeling that the bed alone doesn't have. Mattress, you've made sure I don't sleep on the springs and let my back receive all that pain. Feet, you've made me feel so high and important. You've also kept little siblings from getting on the bed and messing everything up. You're all so important and special to me.

He got a perfect score on this, and I hated to burst his bubble when he thought that meant it was perfect. He actually caught an error in it himself when he reread it after he brought it home, but I didn't make a really big deal about it. I'm actually not too sure how picky I should be. I do correct certain things no matter what: they're/their; its/it's. Pet peeves like that. But mostly I just think it's darn good story telling, and isn't that the main thing right now? I mean, how much grammar are you supposed to be shoving down their throats at this age? Especially for a boy who's just reentering an English school system?

I come from a family of grammar nazies, and I do intend to pass on those traits to my children as well. But for now, for at least five minutes, I just want Conner to transition to American school and enjoy his new-found love of English. Because, truly, it is so much fun to witness. I'm not sure why the teacher did not point out any of his errors, but for now I am going to assume that she just wants to encourage his writing, too. And it is fun, isn't it? Stay tuned for more to follow...


Jerilyn said...

Conner, what a GREAT story! More, more, more! I think you could have written me an email every day you were in Italy without it being a big deal at all. I know it's not easy, but your story sounds as if it just flowed out of you. That's good writing!

A Military Spouse said...

Conner said, "It did just flow out of me. I just wrote whatever came to my mind. I'm just surprised anybody liked it."

Kathy from NJ said...

That is a wonderful story. It makes me want to go to bed RIGHT NOW. If it was me, I would note the grammar errors to myself and work on them in another context. It would be awful if any criticism stiffled his creative efforts.

Kathy from NJ said...

I think I misspelled stifled - can we call it a typo?

A Military Spouse said...

Yo, Kathy from NJ, no problem. And I'll pass along your comment to my son!

judy said...

Conner, I read your story at school at the end of the day. It was the best. It made my day about 100% better than it had been.
Aunt Judith

Carmen said...


I love that you could think of all those different things to say about your bed. It helped me to really understand how much you love your bed. And now I know how special it was that you let me sleep in it while I visited Italy!

Keep writing!