Sunday, July 3, 2011

I Stand Here Ironing

Okay, I am not actually ironing nor do I even own an iron (I believe the man has one secreted away in a closet for special occasions). I do, however, think the nod to Tillie Olsen is appropriate when one is writing about the oldest child. 

If referencing what I am currently doing, a more accurate title would be "I sit here drinking coffee watching my first born in his morning routine of basking in a sun beam and playing with his morning wood". 

And that is why I always lose home school debates because I come out with something totally brilliant like, "I think school is too demanding and kids need more time for pre-pubescent masturbation in early morning sun light." 

And now, he flips to his stomach to feel the sun on his back. 

My son. He's the one who still doesn't read and barely knew the alphabet a few months ago although he's nearly eight. He's the one who primarily made me want to home school.

I fully recognize that the part of him who wants to troll the wine section at the liquor store because "I just love how organized it all is" would love school and its straight lines and cubicles. But I also know that other part of him, the part that has never lets him embrace a regular sleep schedule (sleeping one night seven hours, one night fifteen hours) and the part of him that is over-stimulated and needs a lot of time to wind down would hate the craziness of it, would hate that he had to rush to get dressed, rush to the bus and never or rarely ever bask in the morning sun. 

Apparently, I have the task of deciding between those two sides and what's best for him. 

Almost eight years ago, feeling relatively unready, I birthed him. Big and unable to latch, he wailed. And he wailed.  I waited for someone to claim him, to show me what to do, to take over, but no one came. And at that moment, I realized I had the arduous task of caring for him in this world. 

And am I going to fuck up sometimes or more likely a lot of the time? Of course I am. I believe, and Tillie may have implied, that raising the first born is an inevitable fuck-up on the journey to raising the rest of the lot.  

Seriously, though, Minger, he doesn't read? Shouldn't you be a little concerned? 

Even if you home school him, Minger, surely, you must have thought that he should read by now? He's almost eight for gosh sake's and as your mother said, kids now days are reading at five.

Alright, here's where I am regarding reading: We love to read. I read all the time. The man (I almost upgraded him to my husband but I like the tone of the man better) reads. Knowledge is no stranger in this house. 

Even my illiterate first born claims to have read Harry Potter 1 through 7 and claims that he is currently reading Little House on the Prairie, but he has conflated listening to books  on CD with actually reading them. (Incidentally, he's receptive reading abilities are top notch.)

However, I would contend that most of the early reading advocates conflate decoding with reading, and I would further assert that all the lowered scores in reading comprehension that we are now seeing on even a post collegiate level are directly tied with the fact that early reading as decoding penetrates a good portion of a reader's reading lifetime.

So, no, I don't think early reading is important. Being read to? Yes, extremely important. Knowing that books are awesome sources of knowledge and entertainment? Yes, important. Learning the alphabet when you're three? Pointless (unless you're ready for it which some kids are).

This kid, however, certainly was not. We have tried to read with a phonics approach, and he doesn’t get it at all. I may as well try to teach Sarah Palin how to not mix a metaphor. It's painful. 

If he's not ready and it's too frustrating, I'm simply not going to force the issue. He sees the advantages of reading, and I'm sure that someday he'll want to. 

The last time we tried, he hated it. It went horribly, and I decided that the best thing to do was to just back off. I told him that I would wait until he wanted to learn. He petulantly said that it would be at least two years.

However, we've been talking about going to school, and he realizes that he should learn to read a bit if he's going to go. So, he's interested. We found a linguistic based approach that doesn't rely on phonics, and he really likes it. When he read his first sentence, he beamed at me and hugged me three times which is rare for him.

So, he'll learn to read. I'm not too worried about that. What I'm more worried about is that he's the first born. He's the one that says, "Mama, I'll take Holdy and watch over him. C'mon, Holdy." He's the one who feels confident and ready enough to ride three miles to his Pokemon league by himself with a bottle of water and my phone number in his pocket. He's the one who notices everything. Tangible things. Emotional Things. He's the most empathetic one, but he also seems to have the largest penchant for cruelty.  

But when he's naked and stretched into a yoga-like pose with his arms on my shoulders while he stands in the kitchen and earnestly tells me his plan for something, I wonder one thing. I don't wonder whether he'll learn to read because he will, and I don't wonder whether or not he has a penchant for cruelty or anything else. 

But I look at him, and I wonder if I spend enough time loving him. I wonder if he knows or if he gets pushed to the side because he's usually so capable, and I usually have something else to do. 

And I think I should spend more time doing that. Loving him.

And that, more realistically, is what Tillie implied, and I ask myself if anyone can ever do justice to this difficult endeavor of raising the first born. 


  1. Wow! This gives me a lot to think about ...

  2. As a first born married to a first born raising a first born (as well as a second) this really got me thinking too.

  3. Ugh, what a beautiful love song.

  4. kate(merlicia's cousin)July 11, 2011 at 5:43 PM

    I worry the most about messing up my first born too. In general I try not to give myself too much credit for who my kids are(positive or negative). However, I spend a lot of time debating nature vs. nurture regarding their behavior...I know it is a combination, but I like to torture myself with the question anyway