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Did She Just Use the "S" Word?

While my two children are on vacation in Greece, I've had the rare experience of parenting three children. The temporarily oldest child is my 6-year-old son, Kiserian, who loves being the "big" brother of my 4-year-old daughter and my 20-month-old son. Since we're preparing to start school again, I engage them for about 25 minutes with a few worksheets and a couple of coloring pages. We were fine until a weird thing happened.

Son: "Mommy, look, look in the [news] paper. I can read this word...fff-am-ee-lee. Family."

Of course, I jump for joy as his mom AND his teacher.

Me: "I am so proud of you. You go boy. I think that this deserves a victory dance."

Yes, we dance this funky dance that's a combination twist, cha-cha, hustle with an occasional breakdance move by my son.

While we are having our victory dance moment, my 4-year-old is sitting in a corner with her head buried in her knees. I knew where this was going.

Me: "Honey, what's the matter with you?"

DD: "I'm stupid."

Did she use the "s" word? We don't use that word. Well, except for that time I saw a Cartoon Network show with a dead body as a character, but other than that, "stupid" is a word we do not use casually.

Deep breath.

Self-talk: Don't overreact. You'll make it worse. Try something deep and philosophical.

Me: "Why do you think that, honey?"

Self-talk: Yeah, that's pretty profound.

DD: "'Cuz I can't read like Kiserian."

Pause, there's more...

DD: "And you haven't teached me." She's 4. She doesn't know it's "taught."

Oh...wait. Is she trying to lay a guilt trip on me?

I spent my oldest daughter's early years trying not to make her an overachieving perfectionist. Uhh..."the apple and the tree" thing. I tried to loosen up, really, but I felt that I needed to give her an edge by teaching her to read at age 3. My husband and I were both reading at 3, so why shouldn't she?

I wasn't thinking my decisions all the way to the end eight years ago. I set up my first homeschool. I had a little table over in the living room corner of our 810-square-foot townhouse in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She practiced tracing lines and began learning to write letters and numbers. She spent hours off and on all day. Yeah, she had an "edge" alright. More like on the "edge" of hating school forever. She'd much rather be playing in that big sandbox right outside of the house. But I thought that I was doing the right thing, the best thing for her.

I had planned to treat all of my children the same way and I knew that they would happily comply with my "table in the corner" school rules. I would be crowned Ultimate Mama Supreme, and Phylicia Rashad (Clair Huxtable!) would give me my tiara and my flowers. How cool!

While our oldest daughter was being given "the edge," we had another child, a male child. This male child didn't follow a single rule laid out by the Ultimate Mama Supreme. He didn't want to be potty-trained at age 3. He couldn't sit in one place and practice tracing lines. He preferred to climb walls like Spider Man, to conduct experiments like seeing if his sister's teddy bear could swim in the toilet. He was just different. Just when I thought I knew the game, he changed all of the rules.

I learned a lot from him in his first 3 years of life. I stopped being so concerned about my children being "behind" in life and started appreciating every moment in their journey. From the tantrums to the picky-eating phase to the running naked period (are my children the only ones?), I started to enjoy them. To my now 8-year-old, I give thanks.

Yeah, I kicked back.

Probably too far back.

My 6-year-old didn't show an interest in reading until he was 5. No problem. Now my 4-year-old is ready and I'm not. I want her to finger-paint, play with her brother's action figures. Just a little longer. But no time. Self-esteem at stake.

If I don't hurry, she'll be on one of those "J" shows (Judge Judy, Jerry or Jenny Jones): "I can't read (or I'm stupid) because my mama..."

You know the rest. It's always the mama's fault.