Men of Few Words

Posted by mwallach on January 4, 2012 in My Kids, New To You |

Dear That’s Life,

As a parent, there are numerous stages in a child’s development that register in my memory as seminal moments. A first step, a solo in the school play or a child’s first night sleeping out of the house all serve as major milestones, each with their own significance. And while we are proud of our children and each of their accomplishments, the personal satisfaction they feel at a job well done is far more important than our own recognition.

The English teacher in me takes an unusual pride in my children as they learn to read. As the world blossoms before their eyes, opportunities present themselves and they begin to see all that is available. Everything is an inspiration and a possibility as they read the words that have surrounded them their entire lives but yet could never “see”. Now, with the number of words they can recognize increasing daily, every day is more exciting than the one before. As if they never realized it beforehand, the world is filled with words, and the world is theirs. Membership in the world of literacy certainly has its privileges.

Context also plays a part in the written word. While a student might not understand a new word initially, he can often discern its meaning by looking at its context. A younger child, however, cannot always appreciate those details and to him, a word is a word. Being able to recognize it is enough of a thrill – figuring out what it means may be for another time.

Pretending we are tourists in Manhattan is one of my favorite treats, one we do not do nearly enough. A number of years ago, however, I took a few of my children on a double decker bus through lower Manhattan. From South Street Seaport to Wall Street, my camera conspicuously located around my neck, we played “tourist” and rode the bus one beautiful spring day. My eldest son, an emergent reader at the time, enjoyed reading signs as we rode along. Some of the advertisements atop the taxis we passed also provided reading material – especially the ones that came with pictures. Stopped at a red light, he read the ad on the cab idling next to our bus. It gave him an idea as to where we could go next on our tour of Manhattan.

“Can we go to the New York Dolls Club?” asked my son, innocently but proud that he successfully read the sign. Without pause, a loud, “No!” came bounding out of my mouth. “She looks real,” he added, referring to the blond woman in the advertisement. “She IS real,” I said, but that just confused him. “She’s not a doll?” he asked, assuming this ad was actually for a doll house museum of sorts. “No,” I said, explaining that this place was not really about dolls nor was a place we were ever going to visit, either as tourists or natives.

It had been years since I thought about that story. With more children learning to read, however, that story was either destined to be topped by some other insanity, or at least repeated in one form or another. Leave it to an innocent shopping trip to provide a new winner, one that proves words are everywhere – even where they should not be.
In recent years, clothing companies have begun printing sweatpants or pajama pants with wording located on the seat. When I was younger, the names of one’s school or even camp could be read on the leg of the pants, but never on the seat. Someone thought that writing on a person’s rear was a good idea, I presume to draw attention to one’s assets and so the trend began. Personally, I think it is in poor taste, but no one asked me. Nevertheless, it does attract interested eyes, especially of those who are just learning to read and for who those words are at eye level.

Standing on line waiting to pay for my purchases, I was accompanied by my younger son. To him, reading has become an Olympic sport. Few things for him are as thrilling as figuring out a new word and when approached by a word that he recognizes, being able to both read and spell it provides great satisfaction. The line moving very slowly, he was able to take in all of the stimulation that surrounded us, including what was written on the tush of the woman directly ahead of us.

“Mommy,” he exclaimed with great pride, “I know what P-I-N-K spells!” One could not blame him for reading what he saw, as the word was right in front of him, staring at him directly in the face. Immediately turning bright red, I was somewhat relieved when the woman with the sweatpants burst into laughter. After all, no one made her put those pants on and if she did not want people reading her rear end, she might have considered wearing pants without words written on them. In addition, my son’s exuberance at being able to recognize the word was also a sign of his innocence. Regardless, she took it all in stride.

“Sorry about that,” I said to her between my own hysterical laughter, but she too was in stiches and in no way offended. “It’s fine,” she said, adding. “It’s not his fault.” I agreed. Not one to leave well enough alone, I said, “I have to tell you, though – I am really happy all it said was PINK.” Suffice it to say, I am pretty sure she is going to think twice before she puts those pants back on.


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