“No Kid Could Right That Good”

I have a confession to make.  I like to read Dear Abby.  I’m not sure why, but there it is.  I read it on uexpress, which now has a comment forum on each letter.  There are many ‘regulars’ who comment – sometimes supporting Abby’s advice, sometimes offering different advice, and sometimes ridiculing Abby herself.

A recent letter on September 17th resulted in  people claiming the letter was fake.  This is a frequent claim, especially when it results in a plug for one of her pamphlets.  Here’s the letter:

DEAR ABBY: I’m a 15-year-old girl. When I’m with the high school group of kids at my church, I try to extend myself and talk, but they never reciprocate much. I always have to try to think of something to say and be careful I don’t embarrass myself. Especially around guys, I feel awkward and self-conscious.

I feel OK about myself, but I still get nervous. Other girls find things to talk about to each other but not me, and guys never talk to me first, either. I don’t know if I’m doing something wrong or being too careful.

I’m an only child. I get along pretty well with adults, but I have a hard time with kids. I heard you have a booklet about these issues. If you think it might help me, how can I order it? — UNPOPULAR IN SACRAMENTO

Now, some of the reasons given for it being fake were potentially sound.  How would a 15-year old girl have heard about Abby’s pamphlets?  And if she had heard about them, why wouldn’t she just Google for information about them?  For that matter, why wouldn’t she have just Googled for an answer to her question anyway?

There was one reason, though, that really got under my skin.  It’s a reason given often when an underage letter writer is deemed “fake.”  Here was one instance of it:

Dear Abby, Is it ethical to pretend that I’m a 15 year old girl who writes to you using words like “reciprocate” and “extending myself” and who actually spells the word “embarrass” correctly, and who asks about a booklet I’ve “heard” that you sell? Sign me: Peddling Books Under a Pseudonym

One person responded to that comment with:

“:D That’s what I thought too! I figured it was either Abby or the girl’s mom pretending to be the girl. I have a 15 year old who is an only child and she’s very intelligent but she doesn’t talk that way at all. I would, but not her.”

Yes, because the fact that you think your child is highly intelligent yet doesn’t speak that way means that no intelligent child would speak that way.

Another person said:

No way in a small, unfortunately named town in Michigan did a 15 year old write this.

This example of poor writing caused a lot of confusion since the original letter was from Sacramento – the doubter was referring to the town of Hell, Michigan.  “No way in Hell did a 15 year old write this.”

My children are readers, and Jane, in particular, is a writer.  They have impressive vocabularies and use them.  They are also exceptional spellers.  (And I would hope the average 15 year old would know how to use a spell-checker if they didn’t know how to spell ’embarrass’ anyway.)  Jane has some trouble fitting in with some of her peers because (according to one of her friends), she doesn’t dumb down her language for those around her.  It makes the other kids think she’s a little strange.

Yesterday, one of her teachers asked the class if anyone could think of a synonym for ‘valor’.  She claimed that no one had been able to come up with one yet.  Jane suggested ‘chivalry’.  Everyone turned around and looked at her.  The boy sitting next to her said, “Do you even know what that word means?”  Her response, not geared toward winning many friends, was “Of course I know what it means.  Do you think I would have used it if I didn’t?”  Jane is thirteen.

In sixth grade, she got crosswise with one of her teachers at the beginning of the school year.  After we talked through it, she decided (unbeknownst to me) to write a letter of apology to the teacher.  When she told me about it later, she said the teacher had said thank you but not really responded to the content.  I happened to have a parent teacher conference with several of the teachers the next day so asked her about it.

She made it clear that she believed I had written the letter because “no sixth grader would use big words and long sentences like that.”  I, in turn, made it clear that there was currently one sixth grader who would and that I had not written the letter.  She had actually dismissed Jane’s letter entirely because she didn’t believe a child was capable of communicating like that!

When Daryl was in third grade, a girl on his Destination Imagination team was making a sign that was to say “Flower Shop.”  Only, she had written ‘shop’ as ‘shope’.  All the other kids told her there was no ‘E’ in ‘shop’.  Daryl walked by and said, “If you want to spell it with an ‘E’ at the end, then it needs to have 2 P’s.”  His team manager was blown away.  She now turns to him for all spelling questions.

Surprisingly, the tendency to dismiss people with solid writing abilities is not limited to child writers.  When my husband re-enrolled in college in his late twenties, his English Composition professor actually accused him of cheating on his papers.

Personally, I think this is a sad commentary on our society as a whole.  Do we really expect so little of each other?  My oldest two children had both maxed out the reading level grade equivalency by third grade (12.9 – equivalent to a graduating high school senior).  When they would brag that they read at the level of a high school senior, their Daddy would say, “No it means the average high school senior only reads at the level you do.”  He took it more as an indication of how poorly others read over how well our children did.

We have always spoken to our children the same way we speak to each other.   I remember talking to Jane when she was 18 months old in such a way that my mother-in-law’s husband asked, “Do you actually expect her to understand you?”  He was laughing.  But my perspective was this. When do you know when to stop the baby talk?  How do you gauge when the child is ready for more complex conversation?  I always felt it was best to just talk, and explain if need be.

Do I think my kids are exceptional?  Of course I do.  Do I think they are the only ones out there?  Of course not!  That’s why responses like that above irk me.  There are a lot of children out there like mine.  Shoot, the thirteen or fourteen year old daughter of a friend of mine is learning to write in Japanese Kanji.  So maybe instead of dismissing a well-spoken child as a fraud, people should consider that there are still people out there learning how to maximize our rich language.

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The Inner Dragon Let Loose

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A stone support near the entrance of our local Braum’s.

It’s Vacation Bible School week.  The coolest thing about Vacation Bible School week is that we go out with friends for ice cream at Braum’s nearly every night afterwards.  This is a pretty crazy thing to do since it’s already bedtime when we get there but, hey, it’s summertime.  Why not?

I was standing near the above pictured item with Daryl while Hal and Daddy fetched some bread and bananas from the market before we left.  (If you don’t live in a close enough radius to Western Oklahoma, then you may not know what Braum’s is.  It’s primarily an ice cream store except it also has great hamburgers and cherry limeades… and a pretty decent grocery section where we buy eggs, milk, bread, and some produce.)

Anyway, I was standing there with Daryl, who was wound up and hyper.  He was hopping around and throwing his arms around and talking trash like a rapper.  Actually, he looked more like a pale, skinny, nerdy white kid trying to imitate a rapper, which made it kind of hard not to laugh.

“Momma, momma.  I’m tellin’ ya.  I’m gettin’ ready to let loose.  I’m gettin’ ready to let loose my inner dragon all over this stone plinth here.” He slapped his hand on the support in demonstration.  “I’m gonna let loose my inner dragon on this stone plinth.”

Ok, let’s just set aside the whole “inner dragon” business for a minute.  My ten year old son used the word “plinth” in conversation.  I mean, who does that?  *I* don’t even do that.  In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard the word spoken before.  It doesn’t come up in everyday conversation.  It just doesn’t.  Unless you are talking to Daryl, that is.  Which is what makes him so awesome.

Now, I must have heard the word before, because as soon as he said it, I corrected his long I sound: “It’s plinth, not ply-nth.”

He paused from his tough guy act.  “Are you sure?”

“Not positive, but I’m pretty sure it’s plinth.  You can go ask Daddy.”

He returned from checking with his dad to tell me it’s pronounced “ply-nth”.  The tone of his voice would have been enough to label that a lie even if I hadn’t heard his dad protesting in the background.

This kid uses the vocabulary he gains from books, which makes him awesome.  And the fact that he mispronounces almost all of them doesn’t faze him one bit.  Which makes him doubly awesome.  I love this kid.  And that crazy inner dragon of his.

Learning via Eavesdropping

Sometimes I forget that my cubicle neighbors at work can hear my phone conversations.  I think that if it’s important (like with my doctor’s office), my lowered voice is sufficient to keep the conversation basically private.  But when I’m not trying to hide it, they can – and do – hear every word.

Today, my daughter, home for summer break, called me.  Only, when I answered, she didn’t say anything.  I did the whole “Hello?  Hello?  Jane?  Can you hear me?” bit before hanging up.

When I had arrived at work this morning, the light indicating voice mail messages was blinking.  I was surprised to discover that there were 3 messages waiting.  Most workplace communication occurs either a) via email or b) during regular business hours so I am unaccustomed to unexpected voice mails.  The expected ones tend to be automated messages from the school that I already know about because they also went to my cell phone.  Plus, school isn’t in session.

I was surprised when the computer voice recited my daughter’s phone number as the originator of the first message and further surprised when it gave a time that was obviously after I would have left work.  And then I heard the message.  No talking directly into the phone.  Just background noise.  Background noise that I recognized.  It was the school board meeting from the night before.  She had obviously “dialed” me while leaning against the wall waiting for recognition for an achievement.

I quickly dispatched the other two messages as well after confirming that they were more of the same.  So when she called again this morning and did not say anything, I assumed she was doing it again.  I immediately called her back.

“Hi, Mommy,” she said.

“Hey, sweetheart.  Can you do me a favor?”

“What’s that?”

“When we get off the phone, please immediately call someone else.  Anyone.”

“Why?”

“Because then when you butt dial, it’ll be someone else instead of me.”

“But I didn’t butt dial you!  I was calling you because you called me this morning.”

“Well, you didn’t say anything so I assumed it was another butt dial.  I had three on my voice mail when I got here this morning.  You kept butt dialing me at the school board meeting.”

While we then discussed the reason for the call and her assertion that this was why she needed a better phone (read that as ‘an iPhone’), I heard my nearest neighbor laughing.  The laughter was not dissipating and I strongly suspected it was due to my conversation.

I then heard him move to the cubicle next to him and whisper (loud enough for me to hear because he is *not* a quiet man) to the next guy about the term “butt dial” which was apparently completely new to him.  He was incredibly tickled by the term and I found myself chuckling at his amusement.

I then quietly related the situation to my daughter since I suspected I wasn’t giving her my full attention.  She laughed but then reiterated her claim that the butt dialing was her phone’s fault.

“Phones don’t call people, honey; people call people!”  This assertion cracked me up, in part because the guy behind me is such an ardent gun enthusiast that he probably has the original phrase about guns on a bumper sticker or two.  Jane didn’t get it though so I had to explain it.

So the woman who is usually the most clueless person in the room was able to enlighten two different people.  I feel so worldly and knowledgeable.

 

Mediocre Mommy

Hal brought home a sheet of paper from school recently with a series of boxes that had an English word, its Spanish equivalent, and then his artistic representation of the idea behind the words.

I was impressed with a number of the pictures – the school house had no fewer than 20 windows on it, for example. But the best, by far, was his picture of family.

We all had necks and five fingers, an improvement over older drawings, although we appeared to have no arms, our hands sprouting directly out of our sleeveless shirts. We were also bald, and the family was comprised of three members instead of five. But one of us had some wicked heels on our shoes.

family

I asked him who was whom while his siblings began to argue over who was left out. He explained that he didn’t have time to draw his Bubba and apparently had no intention of drawing Sissy. The one in heels turned out to be me, despite the fact that I very rarely wear them. The small guy with no feet at all was Hal, the other person was Daddy.

Daryl, who was standing too far away to see the assignments announced his assessment on who was whom. “Daddy is the big one and Mommy is the mediocre one…”

He cut off as Daddy and Jane burst out laughing and I expressed feigned indignation.

“I think you meant the medium one, Buddy,” my husband said as he got his laughter under control.

“No, I mean mediocre.”

More laughter.

“Doesn’t it mean average? Like, the middle one?”

“No, not quite, honey,” I said. “It’s got a more negative connotation than ‘average’. Here, let’s look it up in the dictionary.”