Personal Statement

Personal Statement

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Eternal Sunshine of the Kindergarten Mind

In the weeks leading up to the first day of school, I found myself repeating the same odd (but true) thought - namely, that I was looking forward to the start of kindergarten, perhaps more than Parker was, because I would finally get to know my youngest son. You see, it's hard to really get to know a child when he is always around an older sibling - particularly when that older sibling is as larger-than-life as Parker's older sibling is. We know how he is with Connor, but who is Parker in isolation? Adding to the problem is the fact that Parker enjoys his role as international little man of mystery. This kid is all about roles - if you observe him closely, you can see him change from persona to persona. Sometimes you can tell that he thinks that he's changing into the person that you expect him to be. Other times the change is for our amusement, and a lot of the time it's for his own.

Thus - to cite one example - we started kindergarten not knowing whether the kid could actually read, or ever would learn. Admittedly, we did not spend as much time teaching him to read - or trying to teach him - as we did with Connor. In hindsight, I recognize that a lot of our efforts with Connor originated not from a desire to help him succeed but - to be blunt - out of boredom. He was our only kid, he was too little to do a lot of things, and so we read a lot of books, and we watched a lot of "Baby Einstein" and educational TV, as a means of bonding with him and filling what I recognize now were empty hours. We tried to do those things with Parker, in between big brother's sporting events, school carnivals and camp carpool routes (there's a reason that we refer to PJ as our "luggage child"), but when we did make the effort, he was far more interested in what Connor was reading (Star Wars encyclopedias, not Dr. Seuss) and watching (Cartoon Network, not Noggin), and we quickly discovered that a Leap Pad Learning System can't hold a candle to a Wii in terms of attracting a young child's attention.

When Parker did sit down to read with us, he quickly became frustrated and dissolved into tears: "I can't do this. I'll never learn to read." Or he would shout out wrong answers - "It's a Q! 56! A raspberry!" - until we gave up. So we wondered: Is he dyslexic? A closet perfectionist? Overly dramatic? Playing us like fiddles?
Answers: No, yup, OH YEAH, and ditto. After my spouse suggested that maybe we should take him to see a reading specialist, which totally freaked me out - overreactions and unfounded worries are supposed to be my department - I was forced to go the other way and temporarily become the voice of reason: "School's two weeks away, he clearly doesn't want to do this with us, so maybe Mrs. Sylvester will have better luck - and she'll tell us if there's a problem." So we waited. Math skills assessment tests were administered right off of the bat, and we were advised that he knocked that one out of the park. (Not really a surprise - he comes from a long line of math geeks, and the first week of school, he corrected his brother when Connor said that there were sixteen kids in Parker's class: "No, there are sixteen ENROLLED students, but two were absent today, so we only had FOURTEEN." This elicited one of those "swerve off of the road" reactions from his parents - um, did the kid just do subtraction in his head, involving two-digit numbers?) So, okay, math is not an issue - but what about, you know, LITERACY?

Fast forward to the beginning of week three. After spending a good half hour spelling words with magnets on the fridge ("Take the H away from HAT, then add an R, and you have RAT. Add an E to the end, and the vowel says its name, RATE"), he retreated to his room and returned with a book that he had spontaneously written and illustrated. About Batman. (Yeah, no surprise there, either.) What impressed me were his efforts at phonetic spelling: "Ridulr" for "Riddler," "Itrgin" for "Etrigen," etc. But what had me rolling on the floor was his response to me awarding him a package of Batman stickers for his efforts: "WOW. I did NOT see that one coming. Thanks, Mom. I should write books more often."

So "reading panic," officially over. For those scoring at home, that's two McGlinchey children who prefer to do things on their own time, at their own pace, with minimal interference from Mom and Dad. Which I know to some parents sounds like an absolute dream, but it does take some getting used to. Twice, apparently. But I am sort of pleased to know that a hunch I have been carrying around was correct: little brother is a lot more like big brother than you would think. When they are together, you tend to notice the differences, but cut little brother away from the herd, and you start to see the similarities.

His artistic tendencies also echo his big brother's. One of his first take-homes from art class is reproduced below. He explained that the building on the left (the one with a very detailed shingled roof and distinctive furnishings) "is my room, Mom. See? There's my loft bed with the blue tent. Only I couldn't color it the color of my actual bed, because you wouldn't be able to see it, so I colored it black. Which means that we need to paint my actual bed black now."

What's the building on the right - the one that sort of looks like an afterthought, with minimal furnishings - a bare bulb and a chair? "That's Connor's room." Ah, of course. (In his defense, Connor's bed and fan, which are both sleek and space-aged, are battleship gray, as are his walls. So this is a more faithful depiction than one might think.)

What about the stuff in the middle? "That's a waterfall, Mom. For the tigers."

Ohhhhhkay. And why are there tigers? "Because I'm good at drawing them."

Yup, the kid's alright.

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