Young reader creates unexpected moment

Posted by GT on October 9th, 2008 — Posted in Newspaper columns, Personal favorites

Originally published in February 2006, The Daily Sentinel, Grand Junction, Colo.

Thanks to a combination of my wife’s tenacity, a great lesson book and the pupil’s interest, our 5-year-old daughter has a good head start on reading.

She’s even gone beyond the point where she has to sound out every letter; some words are familiar enough that she recognizes them right away, others she’s usually able to figure out pretty quickly – or at least a respectable approximation. Naturally, this delights Lisa and me and we encourage it.

So when she saw a sign as the four of us (two girls, Lisa and me) left a restaurant after lunch recently, she didn’t think twice about trying to read it aloud even though a steady line of strangers was walking past us on the way in.

The first word was familiar: “Happy.” The second wasn’t, but phonetically, she knew it should begin with a “huh” sound, there was an “o” in the middle and an “err” sound at the end.

Speaking loudly and clearly, the way we’ve taught her, she asked, “What’s ‘happy whore’?”

Man, for just a second I was flat shocked. What could inspire my empathetic big girl to use such a harsh word? My eyes jerked around, looking for … something. I wasn’t sure what, but it wouldn’t belong there. What I found was the sign advertising the restaurant’s happy hour, and the most interesting mix of emotions arose.

The strangers filed past, one after the other, on their way inside. Had they heard what had just happened? Did they recognize what an incredible thing it was for a kid not yet in school to get so close to reading something that began with a letter that’s just there for decoration and has that difficult “ou” in the middle?

Of course, what she came up with was kind of a dirty word.

Lisa practically vibrated with suppressed laughter. Chuckles escaped through my nose.

That night we had a brief discussion with our daughter about why she shouldn’t say “whore” even though Mommy and Daddy found it such a funny word.

Really, she can embarrass me like that anytime. I doubt anyone who passed us actually thought I was raising a foul-mouthed 5-year-old and anyone who did can go jump in a lake. It’s nothing like the time I pointed out the great big fat lady who once shared a department store elevator with Mom and me.

Young minds also produce unexpected things when no crowds are around. Sometimes they do it when they’re asleep.

Lisa and I can only guess what was going through our potty-training 2-year-old’s mind when she woke up crying early, early in the morning last week.

As always, Lisa was the one to get our little girl when she woke (no matter how exhausted she is, Lisa can rouse herself at a moment’s notice if the girls need her, while you practically have to pry me off the bed with a spatula). It was obvious right away that this wasn’t a typical discomfort wake-up. Our girl was wailing about something, seriously distressed.

What’s wrong, Lisa asked, what hurts? She kept asking until she figured out the reply mingled with the cries.

“I have to go potty,” our daughter was saying, “and I have a tail!”

Gee, no wonder she was upset.

Funny as it was, it must have been a powerful dream, maybe so strong that she actually still believes she temporarily had a tail. Every night since then, around bedtime, she shakes her head at me and says, “I don’t have a tail.”

No, sweetheart, I say. You don’t have a tail.

Then her big sister reads her a storybook. Sometimes a word comes out wrong, but we don’t worry about that.

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