Okay, and maybe wash dishes and take an occasional run with the vacuum cleaner. Also included in the house-spouse package is a fully-functional and frequently eccentric cook. But teacher? I think I just threw that towel completely in. LB, who just turned 6, has become a reader. Oh, she's not up to Pride and Prejudice quite yet. In fact, she's still inclined to put in what she thinks ought to be there instead of what is actually printed on the page. But even so...she hasn't just memorized what Mom says when we get to particular pages. When she stumbles over familiar words in unfamilar places, it's because she doesn't quite yet have confidence that her identification is right, but I can see that tentative i.d. take place. And today she pulled out long-dormant flash-cards and began quizzing me on them. (It usually goes like this: "What's this one, Mom? Well, how is it spelled? B. E. D. How do the letters sound? Beh-eh-dd...bed!!" Followed by much jumping around and excited squealing.)
I am well and truly flummoxed, but in a good way. I've been thinking for well over a year that I really needed to sit down and teach this child how to read. I'd gotten books at CHN's Expo; I faithfully collected Dr. Seuss; I pulled out my childhood Matt-the-Rat books; I even bought Dick and Jane and ever once in a while I'd vow to have formal lessons and set reading times. Well, anyone who knows me knows that schedules and I don't even exist in the same material plane. We read together when we have time, but I swear that my instruction for this child has been minimal and nearly all at her pace. Which is, by the way, slow enough to make glaciers take note.
So when I bounce into the living room a couple of days ago, ready to spit fire because once again every Banshee in the house has decided to Ignore Their Chores despite being reminded about them, oh, every thirty seconds -- I'm not quite annoyed enough to miss that LB is holding her precious Dick and Jane book as if she really wants to stash it under the couch in a hurry but she's too far away for that option. Hm. That's the look EB gets when I catch her reading two hours after she's been put to bed for the evening. As soon as LB figures out that I'm not mad mad anymore, she curls up on the couch and quite happily rips through three or four Dick and Jane adventures.
My baby is reading. Reading!! Naturally I had to call my father and have her read to him. He's proud of her and he's proud of me, and he's a really good sport and a very patient man.
I'm still marveling. It's a miracle. Possibly all the more so because the older two Banshees learned how to read at a public school and I never really connected with what happened there. I faithfully performed all of the rituals that the public school wanted me to, helped to fill out endless worksheets and coloring sheets and cutting-out-only-to-glue-back projects. They spent whole weeks on letters and then simple words, learning to adore their never-wrong teachers while simultaneously figuring out that I was an eevil person better to be avoided before I inflicted more homework. I came away from the whole experience firmly convinced that giving kindergartners hours of homework and pretending that it's no big deal and that the endless piles of paper shouldn't take that long to do, is truly a horrendous practice that should be abolished as soon as humanly possible. These are five year olds, for goodness' sake, they aren't cramming for the entrance exam to Harvard.
And yet, in the back of my mind, I was always convinced that nobody could learn how to read without these elaborate and endless exercises. Learning how to read was the result of a rigid schedule and insistent routine. I just knew I was failing my youngest child because I couldn't make myself do to her what was done to her brother and sister. I can be a miserable person to live with; I really don't want to be a miserable teacher to deal with. It was so easy to put off formal education; there was always one more episode of Judge Judy to watch, after all, and a magazine article to work on -- oh yes, and that math worksheet site that the Banshees would beg for every so often -- and the brush-clearing to work on, not to mention the soap batches to cook up, or that NaNoWriMo is coming up again. There is always something to do around here, even if it does look suspiciously like inspecting the inside of my eyelids for cracks.
I've resisted the term Unschooler forever and three days now, mostly because what I do is done out of sheer laziness, but I think that I may have become one without realizing that was what was happening. As a household we're filled to the top with learning opportunities, but unless it's very important that they learn something right now (which doesn't happen as often as you might think) I don't try to stuff any education down their throats. They get curious, they ask me, I say I haven't the foggiest notion, they ask me to Google it. I get asked if they can play with the human brain before breakfast (my Dad got them one of those models that has detachable organs. What can I say? It came in very handy when EB asked where the stomach goes on a human being.) MB catches ants on a piece of tape so EB can look at them with her new microscope (Dad again.) I've had to threaten to take the lightbulbs out of their rooms and hide all of the flashlights since they insist on reading well past midnight when they aren't supposed to.
Yes, they have days when they conspire to drive me crazy. There are days when I consider re-researching Ebay's policy on selling children at auction. There are days where the only reason we all make it in one piece to the other end is because they're in the living room rotting their brains out with endless Disney dvd's and whatnot, and I'm in the back room knitting to one of my court shows. I suspect that every family has those days, no matter where any member happens to be educated or employed. I'm just grateful that I know how to knit, and that the door locks.
And then there are the days when I walk into a room and my 6-year-old rattles off the book she's taught herself how to read. Those are the days when I just cannot manage to get my feet back onto the ground, no matter how hard I might try.