One of the great joys of parenting small children is that your kids, along with passing on your genetic material, also serve as constant companions. You don’t ever have to do anything alone again, mostly because they don’t own their own cars and, even if they did, their feet don’t reach the gas pedals yet. Likewise, one of the great dissatisfactions of my marriage has been that my husband is tall.
So, mostly due to their lack of height, my children have joined me on a number of excursions that my husband
conveniently mysteriously is unable to attend, such as the Grace Kelly exhibit at the Michener Museum last year, when he came down with a brief (later that day, he ate a chili burger for dinner) illness that forced him to stay at home and watch football instead of gawk at all of Princess Grace’s magnificent gowns and view video clips from her classic films.
“She had a lot of dresses,” my younger daughter offered as her critical assessment of the show.
“Some of her movies were in black and white,” my older daughter said, shaking her head.
In addition to being subjected to their mother’s interest in the Golden Age of Hollywood, my daughters have also
endured enjoyed the experience of eating with their hands (not as fun as you would think) at an Ethiopian restaurant, attending modern dance performances (about as fun as you would think) at a local “art space,” listening to Wait Wait. . . Don’t Tell Me every week on public radio (that’s only fun for me), and an annual subscription to the community theater company where we’ve seen productions of Bye Bye Birdie and Our Town (also only fun for me).
Despite my best efforts to prevent it, my children have begun to develop their own personalities and likes and dislikes. While my older daughter shares my interest in fiction, my attempts to steer her toward the classic novels (David Copperfield, Little Women) I loved as a kid have been met with the militant resistance of a Black Panther at a KKK rally. Instead, she gravitates toward depressing novels about children in hopeless situations (Divergent) or terminally ill (The Fault in Our Stars).
“I finished reading my book,” she announced the other day. “They all died in the end, except for the main character.”
“That’s an unusually upbeat ending for one of your books.”
“Well, she’s still sick. She might die in the sequel.”
“Let’s try to remain optimistic,” I said, patting her on the shoulder. She responded with a non committal shrug.
My befuddlement at the strange, unfamiliar little people my children are becoming grew more pronounced when my six year old came home from school last week with the results of her first test: a spelling quiz in which she spelled eight out of ten words wrong. Particularly vexing for her were three letter words: she spelled “of” and “my” correctly–two of the trickier words on the list, I thought–but often selected the wrong vowel for the longer words, though just as frequently she left out the vowel entirely, leaving the spelling list looking like stenography.
“I didn’t get a grade that bad until I was in college when I was hungover and worried about a missed period,” I whispered to my husband later that night.
My husband, who is a pediatrician and knows a bit about child development, listened quietly as I continued to rant.
“How could we produce a child who can’t spell?” I asked him and then, looking for somewhere to cast blame, I felt compelled to defend my own spelling credentials. “I won the class spelling bee in the sixth grade, you know.”
Of course, he knew. I’m sure I told him on our first date.
“It’s not just about spelling,” he said before launching into a speech that included phrases like “sensory processing” and “cognitive threshold” and other stuff that I can’t tell you about because I stopped listening to him.
But what I can tell you is that there have been a few philosophers who have argued that we have children in order to ensure our immortality. Let me tell you right now, that’s just so much bullshit. Sure, my younger daughter looks a bit like me and my older daughter looks a bit like my husband, but inside, where it counts, our offspring resemble us no more than any other two kids on the playground.
As for me, I’m beginning to suspect I took the wrong babies home from the hospital. I just know that out there somewhere there’s a ten year old staying up late to read one more chapter of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and a six year old memorizing practice word lists to prepare for the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
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