“Having a 1-year-old is like living with a perpetually drunk person. She stumbles around everywhere, hugs random & inanimate objects, cries for no apparent reason, I can’t understand a damn thing she says, and when it’s time for the rest of us to go to bed, she wants to chat and laugh (at offensive volumes) about subjects that aren’t as compelling or important as she thinks they are, and then, invariably, she craps her pants.” –Josh Janicek, April 23, 2013
Maly’s a first-grader. Every week her class has a spelling test. Often I’m surprised with the words that she’s required to memorize. I think when I was in the first grade, I proudly knew how to spell “dog” and “fart.”
I’ve taken on the role of schoolwork whip-cracker for our offspring. Elise and I share the same values and appreciation for hard work and commitment to our children’s school work. I’m the diligent, meticulous & methodical one when it comes to just getting things done, so Elise and I have an unspoken agreement that we want our children to be trained, honed, and follow suit in being diligent, organized and committed to their studies. When Maly brings home her new list of spelling words each Monday, I enter them into Things and we begin committing the words to memory.
Here is this week’s spelling list:
Some of the above words are tough, and Maly has a tendency to want to spell them phonetically. For example, she wants to spell “joint” as “joynt.” I pointed out that a lot of this week’s words have the oi sound, like “oink.” So, now she remembers “oink” when she here’s a word with the oi sound.
She had a hard time with “shawl” because that word just has some weird sounding stuff going on at the end of it. So I taught her the concept of the acronym: “A shawl is a little afghan blanket thing that little old ladies wear in the winter to keep themselves warm. So think of this: SHAWL – Stays Hot All Winter Long.”
This week’s spelling words were a bit more tricky than usual and this morning Maly struggled with one of the easier words as we were doing a quick quiz before heading off to school for the day. We use a Boogie Board to do our spelling quizzes. Maly misspelled “royal” this morning. It was a word she hadn’t had any problems with up until today. I was concerned, so I decided to flip our roles. Instead of me grilling Maly, I decided to let her be the proctor. I gave her my phone with the spelling list and had her quiz me. She told me the word to spell, and I had to write each word on the Boogie Board. I intentionally misspelled every other word. When my “quiz” was over, I had her return my phone to me, I handed her the Boogie Board and said, “Okay, check my work to make sure I got them all right!” She found and corrected all of my errors. Hopefully she’ll be proud of her hard work and diligence when she gets her graded spelling test from her teacher this afternoon.
Maly confided in us a few days ago. It was a rare opportunity where Elise and I needed to indulge our oldest daughter in a very serious topic. She thinks that our appreciation and adoration of her is waning.
Our youngest, Mara, is 11-months-old and is at a point in her life where she needs a lot, if not constant attention. I attribute this need for attention to the fact that she is very mobile now and has become equally verbal. I think she is trying to warn us that her people will be arriving on Earth soon and they plan on taking all of our Nutella with them. Prior to the 10-month mark, Mara required somewhat passive attention from us. She wasn’t as mobile, and as long as we knew the vicinity in which she resided and hadn’t fallen into the bathtub full of our moonshine, we knew all was well.
Well, Maly has taken note that her younger sibling is getting a lot of Elise’s and my attention. Maly has kept her thoughts and emotions bottled up and it finally came to a head. I kind of always feared that the day would come when one of our kids would come to us in tears and professing, “you pay more attention to HER!”, but I maintained an inkling of hopefulness that maybe our family would be the exception — that our family’s ecosystem would balance itself out with empathy and harmony.
While she didn’t cry, she definitely sulked. She sat, sulking and slouching on the couch and with sheer honesty, conviction and a hurting tone in her voice, she told us how she felt that Mara gets all of our attention, and because of this, she felt ignored and sad.
As Maly is spilling her guts to us, I know Elise and I are thinking the same exact thing from our respective sides of the couch: Our child is such a beautiful little girl. She’s entrusting us to approach us with her deep-down emotions and fears. She’s presenting us with a problem of the heart. Her feelings of safety and worth are being challenged, and she’s having to learn how to identify a solution. She’s bearing her soul to us and is humbly asking for help. We both know that we have to wholeheartedly acknowledge and address these concerns and fears that our brood is presenting. We have to reassure her that we love her no less. We have to convince her that, if anything, we love her even more today because she has taken on a new level of responsibility within the familial ensemble. She is the big sister. Her mom and I will hold her high as the eldest offspring, our cherished first born, the enlightened, experienced and wisest child in our tribe. She is the one that Mara, and any other forthcoming children will look up to, emulate and adore. Although she doesn’t realize it today, she is the strong one and will be the leader. She is the Alpha Dog.
These thoughts, and probably a thousand others, are spinning through Elise’s and my head as we attempt to formulate our respective consolatory remarks and answers to Maly’s emotional plea. While we dutifully maintain our composure, I know we’re both on the verge of tears as our sweet, sweet almost-seven-year-old baby is pouring out her heart and soul before us. She is solidifying and strengthening the bond of love and trust that is the foundation of our family.
Just as the swell of emotion is about to crest, the child, with undying conviction says, “I just wish Mara would move away to college with big moles on her face!”
I lost it at that point. I jumped up from the couch and covered my face as I walked toward the front of the house and laughed harder and louder than I can remember laughing in a long, long time. And everyone laughed too. Even Mara.
I kept laughing, probably for five minutes, even after I’d returned to the family meeting on the couch. I might’ve relayed some of my consoling and reassuring commentary, but I don’t remember. I’m pretty sure Elise took the lead in making sure Maly knew that we’ll always love her more than she’ll ever know. But the laughing is what saved us all. It diffused us. It was the best medicine.
Now whenever Mara learns that her idol and older sister wanted her to move away with moles on her face, I’m hopeful that Elise and I have provided them both with the right tools to work through that conversation.