24 Apr 2014

Sheena on Lifelong Learning, and Funny Things Everywhere

When I found out I was pregnant with my son, my first purchase was a book. 

Dr. Seuss' One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. Indeed, my son would be named after this man whose words were the first I learned to read as a child. 

I knew the importance of reading to my child. My parents read to me every day, creating in me an unquenchable desire for words that found me receiving a degree in literature, working for community literacy organizations, and eventually writing for a living. My parents did an incredible job of filling my head and heart with words that will no doubt fuel me for the rest of my life. 

I read One Fish to Theo every day when he was in utero, and when he was born it was how we brought our evenings to a close. "And now, goodnight, it's time for sleep" I'd read wistfully, praying this would be the night he ACTUALLY slept. 

“This one is quiet as a mouse,
I like to have him in the house.”

My son was a bright and happy boy, though one thing was a little concerning. He didn't seem interested in talking. His first word was "Star Wars" followed by "pizza" and after that, perhaps he felt he had things pretty much covered for the next 20 years and he stopped. We taught him to sign, and encouraged his words slowly. Clumsy sounds fell from his mouth that seemed to frustrate him more than they made my heart ache.

You try so hard not to listen to the things other people say, their judgments and unnecessary commentary much clumsier than those of this little boy who said so very little.

Through it all, we never stopped reading. His dad read to him every night at his house, I read to him every night at ours, his step dad started taking him to story time every Saturday. I read signs to him. Packaging. The spines of books on our shelves. We'd sing every lyric of every song. We saturated his world with words, even though he was struggling so hard to come up with his own. 

“Say look, a bird was in your ear!
But he is out so have no fear,

Again your ear can hear my dear!”

Suddenly, the light was turned on. Part of that light was finally getting a doctor to look in his ears and realize he needed tubes. The difference overnight was so astounding. My little boy's world exploded!

And something else became very evident. He might not have been able to hear all that well, and was not able to speak more than a few words, but he was still eating up every word we read, said and pointed out. 

Driving down a street, he would point out signs and logos. He recognized word marks and could differentiate between fonts: "that writing looks like Burger King writing" he'd say. He can, to amazing accuracy, recite the words to "Strawberry Fields" and many other songs. He mashes up words and sounds in a way that even the most distinguished post-modern poet would have trouble competing with.

He even began reciting some of our most loved bedtime stories, and points out with great accuracy when I skip a sentence or two. "Quit being irresponsible, mama!" he says to me if I attempt to turn the page without finishing. He is constantly flipping through books. He loves to recite books to me now. "Everyday from here to there, funny things are everywhere." His love of words is as strong, if not stronger, than my own. 

He still has struggles, but what kid doesn't? Every person is different, and the milestones we hit or miss along the way are truly our own set of stepping stones on our way to where ever we happen to be going. 

“Not one of them is like another,
Don’t ask us why, go ask your mother!”

My son's perceived inability to use words was a premature diagnosis. He had billions of words, words that he learned to experience in a different way than we normally do. I truly believe that reading to my son every day helped create this incredibly enriched inner life for him that was just recently unleashed on to the world.

And what a gift to get in return! To learn from him, this new way to experience something that I've loved all my life.

As parents, we have the amazing calling to help our children learn and grow: into themselves and into the world. And in the process, their own unique ways of seeing is just another way we continue our own ways of learning.

Funny things are everywhere, and who better to teach us than our kids.


Sheena Greer is a nonprofit communications consultant. She would also call herself a writer, but she Googled "how to write a good bio" and ended up reading an article about genetically modifying your housepet. It was weird, and she wouldn't recommend reading it. She is a passionate advocate for literacy, families, and living in a way that is mindful of others. She is thinking loudly and quietly doing, and you can follow her on Twitter @colludos if you're cool (you probably are.)

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