Reading Break-Through

Hal has been slow to show an interest in reading.  I see several factors in this, all of which are related to him being the baby of the family.

  1. We have not devoted nearly as much time to reading to him as we did for the older two.  Our evenings, more often than not, have been full of his siblings’ extracurricular activities.
  2. We have relaxed and not pushed so much to get him to read, trusting in both his basic intelligence and the school system to get the job done within an age-appropriate window.  No need to create another superstar.
  3. Electronic entertainment has been a reality for him at a much younger age than it was for his siblings.  Why bother trying to read a book (in his mind) when you can task various plants to kill attacking zombies?

The effect of this has been that he entered Kindergarten unable to read.  This is perfectly normal in the population at large, but a new scenario in our household.  The older two were reading, and reading well enough to take comprehension exams over the book, by the same age.  Daryl, at least, appeared to think this made his brother inferior in intellect.

And while I, of course, did not share his view, I did feel a little guilty for having not given Hal the same benefits as the others.  With the advent of the school year came the reading log, with the reward of a free Pizza Hut pizza if at least 25 books were read each month.  This motivated Hal to request reading time more frequently.  It did not motivate him to attempt reading himself, though.

When we would sit down to read, he was typically not interested in trying to sound out the words.  He just wanted us to read to him while he looked at the pictures.  If you paused at a word and pointed at it, he’d grunt and complain that he didn’t want to read it.  If you insisted, he’d scan the page looking for a visual clue on what the word might be.  And then he’d guess.  Even once he could correctly sound out the letters, he resisted putting it together.

In retrospect, this is not that different from when we worked with the older two.  The main difference is that he is 2-3 years older than they were.  And, unless my brain is playing tricks on me, much more stubborn.

So sometime last week, I told him to retrieve a book and he selected “Being Friends” – a book that Jane’s friend had given her for her fourth birthday.  I smiled when I saw the tracing of the girl’s hands on the inside cover and the awkwardly scrawled name.

Opening the book to the first page, I noticed the words seemed Hal-appropriate simple:  I like red.  You like blue.

And so I pointed to the first word.  He squirmed and protested.  I said, “Oh, come on.  This one is easy.”  He read it.  I pointed to the next word.  It was apparently a sight word because he read it.  And then the next one.  I helped him with “you” and then he finished the page.  Almost eagerly.

We progressed fairly rapidly through the book.  He squirmed and twisted and barely stayed on the couch next to me.  In fact, he often read while sitting on the floor, poking his head up somewhere near the book.  He told me that he would read all the shorts ones and “the ones I know” while I was to read the long ones.

His squirming made it difficult to hold the book.  When I said as much, he popped up onto the couch and grabbed the book.  He set it firmly in his lap and took over word pointing duty.  And read.  And read.  And read.

At one point, I jumped in for the long word in the sentence and he pounced on me. “I was going to read that one!”  Yes, sir!  I assured him that I would delay before reading any remaining long words, to give him a chance to try it if he wanted to.

Eventually, he showed the tell-tale signs of boredom.  When asked to sound out a simple word, he’d stare and then shout out an absurd answer.  I’d insist and he’d repeat.  Point to the word cat.  “kuh-kuh-kuh aa-aa-aa tuh-tuh-tuh… Poop!”

“Ok, so you are done?  You want me to finish reading all the words?” I asked.  He nodded.  I began to read.  I turned the page.  He grabbed the book and resumed reading.  Finally.  The joy of successfully decoding the words on the page had infected him.  Even when he tired of sitting still, he just couldn’t leave the task to me.

Finally.  He was reading.

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Rudeful Ravioli and Traitorous Bay Leaves… Or Something Like That

Jane was gone to a retreat this weekend so for approximately two days, we were the parents of two boys only.  Here’s a sampling of things I overheard.

“My secret ingredient will be poop.” – This in response to the older brother telling the younger that he would teach him how to make eggs… including his secret ingredients.

“Stupid bay leaves!” – Muttered by the older as he rifled through the spice cabinet.

“Captain, don’t forget our dog is immune to lava!” – Something to do with all the floors in the house being lava and this statement allowing the dog to traverse the floors without either hopping from chair to chair or dying a horrible, slow, burning death.

“I’m not a traitor!  No, wait.  I am a traitor.  I’ll tell you where he is.” – Overheard during an apparent interrogation behind closed doors.

(cheerfully) “I’m not a traitor!  I’m the delivery man!” – Said by the youngest when “delivering” a “package” and being accused by the oldest (who answered the door) of actually be a traitor.

(in the wrestling ring, aka living room)
older, in a sinister voice: “I. Am. Black. Mamba.”
younger: “I am Death Snake!”
older: “No, you can’t be death snake because black mamba is already the deadliest snake in the world. You should be… The Brown Recluse. That’s a vicious spider that when it bites you, your skin falls off.”
younger: “But I want to be Death Snake!”
older: “No! We can’t have two snakes!”

(during make-believe school) “Hal!  No swords in class!”

(also during make-believe school) “Ahh!  No fair.  Dogs don’t go to school!”

“Well, Bubba, your head looks like a ravioli!” – said by the youngest at church Sunday morning.

“You said that very rudefully.  You shouldn’t talk like that.”

Oh, honey.  Rudefully or not, I have so thoroughly enjoyed listening to the two of you talking this weekend.  We should deprive you of your electronic devices more often.

What’s On The Other Side?

Hal is the youngest member of our children’s choir at church.  As such, it’s sometimes necessary for him to step out of the choir room before rehearsal is actually finished.  This could be because he’s just gotten too restless or it could be because they need to work on a song with the older ones.  Either way, the ladies running the choir seem to always have a plan for him.  This week, he made a miniature “paper doll”.  He told me it was him.

20140928_203114I told him it was great and I really liked that he was wearing pink shoes.  The shocker was when he turned it over.  The back, in fact, shocked everyone.  His big brother told him he was stupid, which earned a sharp rebuke and lecture from me.  Later, his sister, standing in line for dinner with the youth group, expressed her shock without insult but a handful of teenagers bursting out laughing as he proudly showed his ‘doll’ was too much for him.  He buried his face in his dad’s leg in shame.

It hurt to see him hurt like that.  He was so proud of what he had done.  What none of the other children had bothered to do was ask why.  Why had he drawn what he did on the back?  It’s simple, really.  Take a look.

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Those are butt cheeks.  What possessed him to draw (albeit too small) butt cheeks?  Isn’t it obvious?  Do you see any pants covering the back of that boy?  No?  Me neither.  Which means we’d obviously see his butt cheeks.  And that’s why he drew them.  Because that’s what we’d see.  And even though it’s a bit off-color and most people won’t be able to keep from laughing, I’m proud of him.  It shows intelligence and creativity and attention to detail and… humor.  He knew he was being funny.  In a silly little boy kind of way.

Sometimes I ache for him, growing up as the youngest of three.  Worse, growing up five years younger than the next youngest.  And, without a matching partner in any of our friends’ families.  One of our closest sets of friends has two kids: a girl 2 weeks younger than Jane and a boy 2 1/2 months younger than Daryl.  Our kids have been close friends for years, but when Hal is around, he’s the third wheel and is often treated as such.  One of our newer sets of friends also has two kids: again, a girl in the same grade as Jane and a boy in the same grade as Daryl.  Jane and the girl are friendly, not as close as they’ve been in the past, but Daryl and the boy are pretty much best friends.  And Hal wants to be part of it.

Hal gets upset every time the boys get together and he’s left out.  He doesn’t understand that he’s too much younger.  He doesn’t understand that he’ll eventually make friends of his own.  But even if he does, it won’t be kids from the families we currently socialize with.  So when those families gather, he’s still left out.

I don’t know what kind of effect this will have on him long-term.  I certainly don’t regret our decision to have another go at the kiddo roulette wheel.  But sometimes I wonder whether this was fair to him.  Whether we spent any time thinking about the impact of this gap on him.  Whether we even had the capacity to understand it had we thought to consider it.

Take this doll, for example.  If he had been Jane – the firstborn, he would have been met with nothing but praise and merriment.  He would have only had adults to show it to – loving, supportive adults.  He would have been validated, his creativity rewarded.  But as the “baby”, he still receives the love and support, but he also receives ridicule and rejection from people he truly looks up to.  Even if he believes the supportive adults, he is still left with the sense that something about his creativity was maybe not-quite-right.  And that’s sad.

All we can do now, of course, is make sure he knows just how much he’s valued.  And how much I love his tiny-butt-cheek, pink shoe wearing, googly-eyed selfie and every other wonderful thing he comes up with.  And help him (and his siblings) navigate this tricky path we’ve laid for them.  And teach his siblings that he is worth their respect.  He has feelings too.

 

A Few of our Favorite Things

I recently noticed a purple wrapped box on the kitchen counter. It had a note written on it: “To Everyone”.

I idly wondered which of the children it was from but then went on about the things I needed to be doing. I think a week or two went by without all of us being together at the same time, near the box, and with someone cognizant about the box. I never got a chance to ask who it was from.

Today, I walked through the living room as Hal tore into the box. There were several layers of construction paper wrapping. I heard my husband comment that there was something for everyone. And then he and Hal began to thank Daryl.

I looked up as I passed through a second time to see Daryl curled up in the recliner, playing on his Nintendo DS, and trying his best to hide the self-conscious smile spreading from ear to ear.

Then I looked down at the little table where the contents of the box had been spread out. I now remember him asking me what my favorite thing was so he could draw it. And that’s what he did: draw his family’s favorite things and wrap them up in a box. Sometimes this kid is truly special and thoughtful.

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Ants

Another family car ride conversation…

“I really like that silver boat,” said Hal. “Bubba said there could be two people in it but there can’t. There can only be one person in it.”

Daryl responded, “A thousand people could fit in it.”

“No they couldn’t.”

“Yes they could.”

“NO. They couldn’t!”

“Yes they could.  A thousand ants could fit in it.”

“Oh. I thought you said people.”

“He did say people,” I said.

“Hey. Ants are people too!” added my husband at the same time Daryl said, “Ants think of themselves as people.”

“You don’t know how ants think of themselves,” I objected.

“Yes I do. I can talk to ants.”

“Hey,” my husband said in his usual attempt to stir things up, “As long as their siblings have children, they are ants.”

“Only if they are female,” said I in my usual role as straight man, “Otherwise they are uncles.”

“Hey. This is the 21st century. We don’t discriminate like that!”

Sleepless Nights and Logical Consequences

I was blissfully asleep when soft sobbing across the hall awoke me. I glanced at my sleeping husband and briefly considered waking him so that he could go comfort the child. Most likely, Hal had rolled away from his blanket. All I would have to do is go in there and tuck it back into his hands. To get my husband to do it, I’d have to shake him awake and explain what’s going on. No, I decided, I will get back to sleep quicker and with less fuss if I tend to this myself. I glanced at the clock as I got up. 2:30.

When I entered the boys’ room, I found Hal standing in his bed, holding his blanket. So much for that theory. The sobbing was getting stronger. Soon it would be all-out crying. “Hal, what is wrong, baby?”

“My tajamas are wet!”

“Did you pee in them?”

“Yes! And not just a little bit!”

I reached out to touch his pajamas. Sure enough, his fuzzy footed monster pajamas were dripping wet. As was the blanket, the pillow pet, the sheets. Everything. I sighed. “You didn’t go potty before you went to bed, did you?”

He admitted tearfully that he had not. My husband would make him carry the wet items to the washing machine. I knew from experience that that would cause me considerable grief and delay my return to bed. Natural Consequences, Logical Consequences, none of that mattered to me right then. The voice that urged the best parenting move for long-term gain was ruthlessly shoved to the back of my head. My decision making was centered completely around getting back to sleep as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, this boy was soaked. I peeled off his clothes and walked him to the bathroom. Walking naked to the bathroom is not what sleepy four year-olds like to do in the middle of a cold night so he screamed and cried all the way down the hall. I began to wipe him down with a wet washcloth.

The crying was loud enough to wake Daddy, who soon appeared in the bathroom doorway. “What happened?”

“Hal peed in his bed. Not just a little bit. He peed a lot. I mean, A LOT.”

He addressed Hal very sternly, “Hal? I asked you if you went potty. You said you did. I said, ‘I don’t think you did. Are you sure?’ You said you were. You even said, ‘I went potty earlier. Didn’t you hear me flush?!’ And I warned you, didn’t I? I told you that if you wet your bed, you’d have to carry your sheets to the washing machine and take a shower.” A shower? No! When am I ever going to get back to bed?!

We returned to the bedroom where Daddy flipped on the light! Poor Daryl! He started gathering up the sheets while I helped Hal get another pair of pajamas on. Then he told Hal to pick up the bundle and carry it to the laundry room before heading down the hall himself to get paper towels and cleaner. I found myself staring at Hal, who was staring at the bundle.

In a tired voice that dreaded what was coming, I tried to encourage him, “Go ahead and pick it up.”

“It’s too big!”

“Honey!” I called out, “He says it’s too big and it’s going to get his pajamas wet.” Please let’s just take care of it so we can get back to bed!

“Well, I guess he better take those pajamas off then, huh?”

With yet another sigh, I helped him back out of his pajamas. Daddy returned with the cleaner, which I took and he shepherded the wailing child to the other end of the house. I cleaned the plastic bed cover and then looked for new sheets. Oh, yeah, I decided to store all the sheets in Jane’s closet. Brilliant.

When I entered her room, she looked up at me. Of course. She hadn’t been able to sleep through all the mayhem. I grimaced at her and felt around in the closet for some sheets. By the time I got Hal’s bed made, Hal was wailing in the shower. I finished up quickly and turned the light back off.

As I practically ran back to my now cold bed, I heard Daddy joking with Hal. He had kept his temper the whole time. He had sternly enacted the consequences that had been promised, but never got angry. “Are you ready to get your pajamas back on?”

“Yes!”

“Do you want to take another shower?”

“No!”

They both laughed. Daddy hugged son and then helped him back into his pajamas before carrying him to bed. He then crawled in beside me and, with a brief “Goodnight sweetheart,” returned to the wonderful world of slumber.

I was destined to lay there awake for another hour and a half. In the morning I learned that Daryl had slept through the entire ordeal. Jane was tired. I was exhausted. But you know what? Now, when we ask Hal if he went to the bathroom, he only says yes if he actually did. Otherwise, he stands up straight, fesses up, and heads off to the toilet. I guess one sleepless night was worth it.

Wisdom Comes With Age

Daryl: “I’m a lot smarter than Hal.”

Me: “You don’t know that.”

Daryl: “Sure I do. Hal, what’s 12 times 12, huh? It’s 144. I know a lot more than he does.”

Me: “That doesn’t mean you are smarter than him. It just means you’ve learned more than him. He’s too young for us to know how smart he is. He could be smarter than all the rest of us put together.”

Daryl: “Well, I’m wiser than he is. I’ve lived some long, hard years more than him.”

Yes, son, nearly nine long, hard years makes one a very wise young man. Indeed.