Linguist

Coming home from soccer today (“I really tried to do what you told me!” the Boy declared when assessing his performance: he got into the fray of children running around the ball and pushed his way in. Didn’t go for the ball, just nudged people here and there.), the Boy asked, “Daddy, if the letter is ‘A’ why does it have an ‘E’ sound in it?” I said the letter aloud, noticing that it actually has a diphthong at the end: a long ‘E’ sound.

“I don’t know.”

“Why isn’t it just ‘a’?” he asked, making the short ‘A’ sound.

“I don’t know.”

Point of View

We’ve been taking Clover over to our neighbor’s fenced in backyard while we wait to have our fence complete. Our neighbors, who are absolutely the best neighbors one could have, told us to feel free any time to bring the dog over to let her have unfettered free play, and we take them up on that generous offer daily. They even set a plastic chair out for whoever — usually K — is there with the dog.

Right now, I sit in that chair, and I glance over at our house and see K leading E into the house. It’s not clear if he’s hurt or in trouble, or perhaps neither, but for a moment, I’m an outsider looking at my family as if I were the neighbor.

What do I know about that odd family that lives next door?

The wife is a sweet and hard working woman from Poland, who has a slightly noticeable but endearing accent and a penchant for phrasing things in an unusual way. She’s clearly devoted to her children, and spends a great deal of time with them, often down at the little corner recreation area the family has made in the far corner of the lot. She fusses at her children from time to time, but I’ve never heard her yell.

The daughter was such a little girl when they moved here, a regular princess. How she’s changed and how she’s stayed the same. She was always dancing and prancing about as a princess as a little girl, but now I see her out in the driveway sometimes, roller-skates on, improvising some dance routine with the seriousness of an accountant. And how tall she’s grown: she’ll soon be as tall as her mother, I think.

Then there’s the little boy, who is always so eager to help. Every time I’m out washing the car or the camper, there he is, eager to help.

That’s what I think — hope, believe — my neighbor thinks of my family. And what might my neighbor think of me? That I’m helpful, a good father and husband, a good neighbor — all the normal things, I guess.

Helping

The Boy was playing a computer game just before dinner. He decided he needed the Girl’s help. She eventually helped him.

That’s the short version of it.

The long version includes coaching the Boy about how to ask for help without being an annoying and intrusive presence and encouraging the Girl to take an active role in helping the Boy through difficult experiences.

The Choice

She didn’t want to go to the park to take the dog for a walk. At one point, she adamantly refused. Not at one point. Immediately. Had she not done so, I might — might — have considered letting her stay behind, considering what she wanted to do instead, but that immediate refusal made that impossible. K and I pointed out a few simple facts: she hadn’t gotten much exercise today; she was dying for a dog and now not willing to help; there was time for that other activity when we got back; and so on. So she went on the walk with the Boy and me, with Clover leading the way. (Next training task: get her to stop pulling on the lead.) And it’s safe to say she enjoyed it. We laughed a bit, chatted a bit, and she danced down the trail a bit — all typical. And in the car on the way, she did what she wanted to stay behind to do: she read one of the mountain of books she checked out of the library yesterday.

She wanted to stay behind to read.

I can’t get some of my students to read a paragraph without griping, but she wanted to read. She’s chewed through an unbelievable 2,700 pages so far this school year, and she’s gotten hooked on a new series, which I’m ashamed to say I can’t even identify. Given her year-long obsession with mythology, it’s not hard to guess about the subject matter. But that number, which she shared during breakfast today — 2,700. That’s just impressive. I’ve read 39 books in 2017 so far. That’s probably a touch over 3,000 pages, but that’s over the course of almost nine months. She’s read almost a third of that in a ninth of the time.

So the choice was this: force her to get some exercise and share in the companionship of a walk or let her read. Had she not forced my hand with her fussing obstinacy, I’m not sure what was the right choice.

Today’s Picture

I was too lazy to import and work on the handful of pictures I took of the morning light in our backyard, so here’s one of a fruit and vegetable vendor in Warsaw over the summer getting ticketed for not having the proper paperwork.

Note

Where’d I get that 3,000 pages? I was tired. Somehow I did the math in my head so incredibly incorrectly that it’s laughable, but now that I realize that, I’m too tired to go back and rewrite it. L’s better at math than I am, too.

Busy, Long Saturday

The Game

He runs around the pack of children that are kicking wildly for the ball, circling the periphery without ever penetrating. At one point, the ball comes right to him. He looks at it and then glances around, his expression saying, “Well, I’m not really sure if this is mine or not, and I don’t really want to take it from anyone unfairly.”

I’ve told him several times that he has to penetrate that group, force his way in, push people out of the way if necessary.

“I try,” he insists, but I’m not convinced he even realizes what he’s doing. I try to take a video of it, but the sun is shining right into the phone, making dark silhouettes of all the players.

Even in the best of conditions, I’m not sure he would see the issue. When he runs, he does so with such intensity, such ferocity — his arms pumping wildly as he runs as fast as he can — that you would be forgiven for thinking he’s running down a challenge of existential significance. He sprints towards the ball, then slows and resumes his position as an outsider, a virtual on-looker.

On the way back to the car, he shows once again that it’s all irrelevant, that there are more important things to be concerned with, both as a child and a parent. Particularly the latter. Holding his Gatorade that he got as an after-game snack — most parents just bring juice boxes, but someone went all out, I guess — he declared, “I’m only going to drink half of this. L likes Gatorade, too.”

Maintenance

I’ve never been good about tool maintenance. Other things are a different. The bike I ride to school looks and rides like it’s brand new. My chain is always glistening; my cables are always in tip-top shape; my bottom bracket spins like there’s no tomorrow.

But tools? I let perfectly good things wear out. Isn’t that what they’re supposed to do? But when we retired our lawn mower a few months ago and bought a new, shiny Honda after a fair amount of research, I decided things would change with that mower. I began hosing it off thoroughly after each job, even the underside of the mower deck. (Having a fuel shut-off valve helped a lot.) Today, I took it a step further: I dug out an old brush and actually brushed off the stains forming on the underside of the deck.

“If you could only get that way about our cars,” K is surely saying to herself.

The Walk

We usually are going counter-clockwise, Clover and I. When we reach the yard — that yard — we approach it blindly. I know it’s there, but a stand of trees hides that fact. Clover knows soon enough when we’ve reached that spot, though: the two dogs come tearing at her, barking madly, stopped only by the fence. She pulls and pulls the opposite way, but I pull her in close to me, pet her and reassure her.

“It’s okay, Clover. They won’t touch you.”

Eventually we make it past the house, but she’s positively terrified.

That’s been the reality for a while. Today, we went the opposite way. When we approached the road from up the street, she recognized the house almost immediately, hesitated, then walked on. The dogs came out; the dogs barked; Clover kept walking.

The Swings

Long Saturday

Saturdays these days start with soccer at 9:30. Today, it was tough to get him out the door. K had surprised him the night before with a bunch of Star Wars toys from my childhood that Nana and Papa had saved. He complained about his busy schedule, about his inability to have any time “just to relax.” He just wanted to have some time to rest and play with his new toys. And it grew to a fuss-fit. So I gave him a simple option: “You don’t have to go play soccer today. We can spend the time packing up all these Star Wars toys and taking them back downstairs.”

Needless to say, he was very willing to go after that.

Soccer was fairly typical: after a twenty-minute practice session, the kids played a game. And the Boy played as he usually does, drifting around the periphery, watching, not quite sure whether he wants to engage with the other players. That’s a fairly accurate description of many of the players, to be sure, but for me, knowing him as a parent, it’s a natural outgrowth of his personality.

It’s not something I’m really interested in trying to change. It’s part of his personality. While I think a little more assertiveness might be beneficial later in life, it’s not something I’m terribly worried about for a five year old.

Besides, there were certainly enough assertive players out there today, enough that E’s team won 4-1 (though one goal wasn’t counted, I believe). Again, I don’t care whether his team wins or loses — and E even less so — but I find it ironic that, given all that, his team is so far undefeated.

When we got home, though, the real fun began.

And in the evening, a rarity. The Boy wanted to play instead of reading — nothing really new there. What was surprising was that the Girl wanted to play.

“I thought you hated Star Wars,” I asked.

“I do. But the toys are great.”

So the three of us played for a little while.

“Daddy, is this a good guy or a bad guy?” was a common question. We didn’t really worry about it. Han Solo battled Luke and the Empire collapsed on itself in a grand civil war.

ET

One thing I’m known for throughout the school is a simple, weekly assignment that I’ve been giving for three years now: the article of the week. It’s simple, really: kids read an article from some news outlet and annotate it. I choose a few words that they must annotate, using context clues to determine the word’s meaning (as nearly as possible), and the rest of the annotations come from what Kylene Beers calls effective readers’ skills: commenting on the text, connecting to prior knowledge, questioning the text — skills like that.

I model it for them and provide a video of my own annotating process every week, and after a month or so, most students have figured it out and get straight As on the assignment. I tell them it’s like batting practice for a baseball player or shooting free throws for a basketball player — the essentials. We do it again and again and again and again and again.

It provides a great deal of insight into students’ thinking as well. Sometimes those insights are sobering.

Two things here: first, I’m more than a little worried that this student made the connection with ET in this text. He included it in his summary as well, and I asked him some questions about it.

Look again — does it make sense for an article talking about a hurricane suddenly to switch to a movie? What exactly did it say about the film?

His connection to the film makes me wonder if he was reading closely at all. After all, it talks no where about the film, obviously. The fact that it comes directly after “11 p.m.” makes me wonder if he was thinking critically at all. After all, even an eighth grader who is severely lacking in background knowledge knows what “11 p.m.” means, right?

The second concern didn’t strike me as all that unusual, and yet for that, it seems all the more frightening. “This child doesn’t know what the Caribbean is,” I almost said out loud, shortly followed with the thought, “like most on-level eighth graders.” It’s a sign of the huge gap in cultural literacy that so many kids today have compared to earlier generations. I would wager that many kids in my eighth-grade class wouldn’t be able to place the Caribbean on a map, and some might not have even known it was a sea, but they would at least know it’s a body of water.

This is not intended as a gripe about how kids today have so much less background knowledge, are so much less broadly culturally informed. The same could have been said about us, undoubtedly. At the same time, it’s an indication of how that marker keeps being moved every generation.

 

Irma

It’s all we’ve been hearing about for obvious and logical reasons, but still, it’s not every year that we’ve had thoughts and worries about what a hurricane could do to us here in Upstate South Carolina. Irma was just such a storm, though. For most of last week, we heard on local news that it might impact us significantly, that it might reach us still a hurricane — even a Category 2 hurricane — and not merely as a tropical storm or depression.

In the end, it turned to the west just a little, and the resulting path took it fairly far west of us. Or so it appeared on the map. What we got today — and are still getting to some degree — were sustained winds in the twenties and thirties with gusts up to fifty miles an hour.

My concern was which direction the wind would be blowing. It turned out that most of the day, it was blowing in the most stressful direction: east to west. From the back of our house, with several large trees, each of which with the ability to do significant damage should one fall. What we got was a bunch of leaves and small twigs in our carport and a renewed leak from an upstairs door that was poorly installed. In short, nothing major. And for that, we are very thankful.

As a precaution, though, school was cancelled today. We spent the day feeling a bit like Sally and her brother in Cat in the Hat. Our story might be renamed Puppy in the House, though, for it was especially hard on Clover. How does a Border Collie pup get her energy out when she’s afraid even to venture into the hard to relieve herself?

And how does the day end? With an announcement that, due to fallen trees on roads and extensive power outages, we have no school again tomorrow.

What I Learned

Today, at E’s first soccer game of the season, a certain little boy managed to break from the pack of children that attempt to herd the ball in one direction or another, and he dribbled the ball down half the field and blasted a devastating shot at the opposing team’s unprepared goalie. A few moments late, in a move reminiscent of German’s complete destruction of Brazil in the 2014 World Cup semi-finals,

broke away again and scored a second time in as many minutes. That little boy was a hero all around. That little boy was not the Boy. He spent most of his time lingering around at the edges of the hive of children always swirling around the ball, never charging in and begin aggressive as he does here. He almost shot a goal, but truth be told, it was because he just happened to be where a deflected ball just happened to land. Yet he was so very proud of that.

“I’m going to tell Mommy I almost got a goal,” he told me several times on the way home, as if to make sure I understood that he was going to tell her. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

I’ve mentioned before that the Boy is not overly aggressive, and I even mentioned it in the context of soccer.

First Game

I don’t have a problem with that. I don’t have a problem with him shooting an own-goal (as he did last year) or only barely missing a goal because an ironic combination of luck and misfortune. I don’t have a problem with him wandering around the edges of anything, looking in, unsure and unwilling to commit himself until he is. I don’t have a problem with him giving up on any and all sports.

That is what I learned about myself and my son today.

What I learned about my daughter will have to wait until I have to fix what I learned about myself at the same time.