Our children take after us in so many ways. Your nose, his ears, grandma’s slender feet. Their personalities do this Frankenstein match-up as well. His sense of humor, your temper, grandpa’s love of music. My kids didn’t use Frankenstein as a model. They just came out like Tim. Luke is a carbon copy. The only thing he may have inherited from me is his temper and total disregard for rules and authority. (Lucky me.) Sally came out looking exactly like Luke. Clearly, I was merely a vessel to create little Tims. I had no genetic input.
Luke’s Timness isn’t limited to his looks. He is incredibly physically adroit. This body awareness, athleticism, and stamina certainly don’t come from me or my side. It’s all Tim. Lately we’ve had the two of them diving into the pool side by side. Not only is Luke crazy good at diving for a 6-year-old, but he does it exactly like his father. The run up, arm swing, timing of the chin tuck, angle they hit the water – it’s uncanny. I dove beside him to see if it was just a matter of two people diving together, and it’s not. Our bodies took different shapes as we ran up, sprung into the air and hit the water.
Luke’s mind works as differently from mine as his body does. This morning he was playing with his Skip It toy and kept tripping himself up. I suggested he try to say the alphabet while doing it. Having his mind on something else, his feet easily maneuvered the toy, spinning and hopping to the rhythm of the ABCs. Next I asked him to sing Twinkle, Twinkle.
“OK! Twinkle, twinkle ….” He tripped. “Um, twinkle, twinkle…” Tripped again. “How does it go?”
“You don’t remember the words to Twinkle, Twinkle?”
“No. I really don’t.”
“Twinkle, twinkle little star…”
“Oh yeah!” He begins skipping again. “Twinkle, twinkle little star…” He stops. “What’s next?”
We sang the entire song this way. My son doesn’t remember the words to Twinkle, Twinkle, a song he’s heard a bajillion times! I asked if he could sing Happy Birthday. He couldn’t. I’m not kidding. WTF? The kid is just like his father.
While Tim probably does know Happy Birthday, (I’ll have to ask him,) he can’t remember Twinkle, Twinkle. Or Row, Row, Row Your Boat, or Baa, Baa Black Sheep, or ANY other song in the universe. This is insane to me. I can hear a song and remember it. (Especially a children’s song full of repetition, rhyme, and glaring obviousness.) Words are my thing. It’s hard for me to understand not being able to remember the words. They both can’t even repeat a line of a song back to you the instant after you sing it to them.
As Luke learns to read, we practice the same simple books over and over. Each time he reads a book, he has to really read it. He doesn’t have the books memorized, or even remembered well enough to guess and predict. It surprises me that he needs to sound out the same word with every reading. Doesn’t he remember? Can’t he see the picture of the goat? It’s a GOAT for goodness’ sake! He finds reading extremely frustrating, and I don’t blame him. I find his reading extremely frustrating too. But there’s something that’s making it worse: Sally memorizes the books after one reading. Turns out words are Sally’s thing too.
She can speed “read” all of his books. While he’s stumbling, slowly pronouncing the letters, she’s filling in the blanks. Even in books she’s never read before she correctly guesses the words before he struggles to read them. She uses the pictures and rhymes (and basic common sense) as clues to finish the sentences. When she “reads” a book it’s easy to follow the story because she speaks fluently with regular intonations. When Luke reads a book it’s impossible to follow because he reads it in stops and starts, robotically, ignoring normal pauses and intonations. The disparity between them is not lost on him.
I feel for Luke and worry that he will be forever turned off of reading, falling behind his peers, causing lifelong scholastic under-achievement and misconceptions about his own abilities. I mean, if he can’t freaking guess “house” after reading “mouse” in text that is immediately beneath a picture of a mouse and a house, how can he not get frustrated and want to quit? Especially with his baby sister shouting out “house! house!”
I’m a reader, always have been. Tim reads just about never. I can count on one hand the number of books he’s read since we met fourteen years ago. He read each of those books at my prodding. I know I can’t change Tim’s reading, but it saddens me to think of Luke not loving books.
When Luke was born I read him Goodnight, Moon every night. Every night for about two years. He never once sat down to listen. Had I juggled or bounced a soccer ball on my knees instead, he would have sat there, mesmerized, learning. Of course I can’t do either thing to save my life, and they’re not important to me. But reading?
Turns out I can’t control anything about my kids. (Surprise!) Luke will probably be a just fine person, who happens to not love books or reading. Afterall, I think Tim is a just fine person despite this horrible character flaw. Likewise, he thinks I’m just fine even though my soccer skills allowed our child to outplay me when he was just four. To him, this trite inability might seem important. Even though that’s silly.
But while I worry for Luke, I am so proud of Sally. Finally, a child that takes after me in some way! She remembers songs and sings along. I remember songs and sing along! She stays up at night in her room “reading” books. I stay up at night reading books! She plays back her arguments with Luke accurately, despite Luke’s protests and completely wrong versions. I play back my arguments with Tim accurately, despite his protests and completely wrong versions! She’s a mini me! At last, a child I can understand.
While I’m determined to teach Luke to work through his frustrations with reading, and I hope to keep him on par with is peers, I need to accept that he might always struggle with wordy things. I write. Tim doesn’t. If a letter needs composing I do it. (If a lawn needs mowing he does it.) If Luke struggles with writing the way he does with reading it might break my heart, but I should prepare myself. We already know he can’t make up a story to save his life.
Recently, Sally told this story:
Did you know the microwave is running away? It’s true. It’s going to Target to meet a girl microwave. They’re going to get married and have babies. Their babies will be toasters. Then he’ll come back so we can still cook in it. Is that a good story?
Impressed and not wanting to be outdone, Luke told a story of his own:
The, um, refrigerator and, uh, the microwave, no not microwave, the oven are getting married and they’ll have baby, uh, um, blenders!
His is lacking a certain something, no?
Oh well. At least I know one of them is mine.