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Sunday, February 3, 2013

One child is not like the other

I taught Kathleen to read when she was three.  Now before any of you start thinking I'm one of those overachieving parents who teach their babies sign language, in Chinese, while doing yoga together, I'm not.  I'm just lazy.

I have four children, all born within five years, so I'm a very busy mother.  Worse than that, however, I planned to have four children close together, so not only am I busy, but I'm obviously a little bit... shall we say... insane.  Since I knew I was going to be in for a whole lot of crazy for quite awhile (although there was no possible way to grasp the nature or degree of crazy I was getting myself in for), I decided it would be a good idea to formulate and adopt a parenting style that was going to work with the endless chaos of small children all around me all day long.

I like to call it the Lazy Parent style of parenting.  There are two guiding principles: 1. Take a nap every single day.  2. Teach my children how to be self-sufficient as soon as humanly possible.

Which is why Kathleen got reading lessons at the tender age of three.  I had no interest in her being some kind of wunderkind who would make me look good as a parent and shame everyone else, I just wanted her to quit asking me to read books and instead read books to herself and Sophia.  See?  Lazy Parenting.  A little bit of effort in exchange for never having to read Bill and Pete again.

And behold - it worked.

Kathleen took to reading without any difficulty at all, finishing the reading text we were using in less than six months.  I started teaching her when she was three and a half, and Grandma gave her some Amelia Bedelia books for her fourth birthday, books she snuck away from her birthday party to read - and read all of them in one sitting.  The only problem with teaching her to read, however, is now we have to take her books away so she will go to sleep.

Teaching Kathleen worked so well that I started teaching Sophia a few weeks after she turned three.  "Great," I thought, "she'll be reading even earlier and that's two children who can amuse themselves indefinitely."  And so I started teaching her the alphabet.  

That worked well, mostly, and Sophia was about halfway through the alphabet when we moved.  I tried to pick things back up in Virginia, but between preparing to move here and having Joseph, school definitely was not my top priority.  

So when we had settled down after a month or so here, I pulled out the school books and started reading lessons again.  I wasn't too worried about starting a little later with Sophia - after all she had three or four months until her birthday, and did it really matter if she was proficiently reading a little after four?

And now all of you with older children can laugh at me.  Because you know in reality what I only knew in theory - one child is not like the other.  Of course I knew that in the little things - Sophia loves to dress up and Kathleen loves horses, Sophia cuddles more than Kathleen, Sophia started walking much later than Kathleen.  But I didn't realize that two children coming from the same home environment with pretty equal exposure to the same things can learn so differently.

I have now been teaching Sophia to read for almost a year, very consistently, and she is now finally able to read short vowel sentences with some help from me.  Despite the fact that she has read the word 'and' several hundred times, she still has to sound it out every single time.  She still can't quite tell the difference between 'b' and 'd' and sometimes mixes 'a' and 'p' up.  We have finally made it to the point where she doesn't cry any more during the lessons.  Mostly.

Before I became a parent, I was sure I could game the system.  "Yeah," I thought smugly to myself, "some people have children that struggle with things.  But not my children.  Because they'll be my children and I'll teach them better than that."  And as an added trump card, I was going to homeschool which meant of course they would all be good at everything they did.  Because I was the one teaching them, of course.

Pause for laughter to subside.

It's funny how when you are young and inexperienced and you watch other people go through difficult things that you aren't going through.  You think that boy it sure is good that you are much more virtuous and so won't have any troubles because you are just so good.

There's nothing like parenting to realize that you are just as much a member of the masses as everyone else and you get your share of troubles just like everyone else does.  Because each child you have is an individual.  And even with all of the best parenting practices you can muster, it doesn't change that fact.  Despite the fact that you feed them exotic foods as much as possible, one might love new and exciting food, and one might only ever want peanut butter and jelly every single meal for the rest of their life.  

But that's the great thing about parenting - each child is different.  One loves to cuddle and the other gives great hugs.  This one gives you kisses all of the time and that one tells you non-stop that they love you.  One thinks that peek-a-boo is the best thing in the world and the other prefers tickles to kisses.  Each one is unique, each one brings something different to the family.

And so, Sophia and I continue the reading lessons every day.  I try not to get frustrated because she's not like her sister, and she tries hard to sound out 'and' one more time and forgive me when I do get frustrated.  One day, when she's written a Pulitzer-prize winning novel (those prizes are for novels, right?), we'll look back and remember the rocky start she had and laugh together.  And maybe she'll be kind enough to forgive me for thinking that all children are the same.  


UnkaDave said...

So, that's now one of my favorite pictures. Tell Sophia it's OK; I've been trying to teach Grandma to speak Spanish, and let's just say it will be at least several more weeks before she fool people that she's not a gringa.

PaulaJean said...

It will be several more decades until I can fool people with my Spanish. Thoughtful post; oh what we learn AFTER we have children!!

Laura said...

Well, I can see how you got confused, I mean you, Brynn and I are all pretty much the same. :)

Probably Sophia will be your soccer player and Kathleen will be the librarian.

Bridget said...

Now I feel lucky that I had the hard-to-teach reader first. It is SO NICE when they can read to themselves!