Dubsie Learns to Read

The milestones for Dubsie are so tightly packed that you can’t really call them milestones; call them footstones, or inchstones.

In the last six weeks, she has mastered her balance bike (and is now insisting on an upgrade to pedals); committed to memory significant chunks of the soundtrack to the musical Hamilton, with an astounding vocabulary for someone so young, scrappy and hungry; and skied her first bunny slope, straight downhill without a turn, her mother by her side and her fingers daintily extended like she was delivering little cups of tea. Too fast Mummy! she yelled.

But no accomplishment fascinates me like her learning to read. It’s happening right before my eyes. In the last month, and especially in the last week, she is recognizing word after word: House. Mouse. Water. Glue. Present. Elbow. Mess. Love. Piano. Spaghetti.

This morning she read her first poem, ‘Magical Eraser’ by Shel Silverstein, all the way through:

She wouldn’t believe
This pencil has
A magical eraser.
She said I was a silly moo,
She said I was a liar too,
She dared to me to prove it’s true,
And so what could I do?
I erased her!

What a damnably difficult language English is. How does a young mind ever decipher the word ‘eraser’?

To a four-year-old the letters are still barely more than a jumble of lines and swoops. Dubsie’s only been able to draw the alphabet for maybe six months now, and has remained innocent to what tricksters the vowels are. They didn’t seem too different from the rest, just a mellifluous a-e-i-o-u sprinkled among the consonant cousins. But try using them to pronounce an actual word.

I point at ‘Eraser’ in the title of the poem. What’s that word, I ask. She examines it for a long moment. The ‘r’ and the ’s’? No problem  — they’re the hard consonant handrails. But this word starts with an ‘e.’ That letter can be pronounced any of six different ways. Which one should she use?

She vocalizes it like throwing spaghetti against a wall. “aaaa-a-ayrrre-e-e-e-eyssss,” she tries, and trails off.  She looks at me.

eeeeeee, I cue her, pronouncing it like glee. She tries again.

e-e-e-e-erea-a-a-aze…

eeeera-a-a-ahsssuh…

eeeeraysuherrrr…

…eraser!” she says.

Phonemes snap into place like Legos. Her eyes light up. The problem is solved. A synaptic bridge has formed in an instant, and a group of six symbols have magically come to signify that pink and rubbery thing that sheds flecks when she rubs it against paper.

The other day she declared she would read a book. I couldn’t wait to see what she’d pick. I was disappointed when she returned with Alvin Ho, a book for older kids, an austere prairie of words with only the occasional drawing to make it interesting. She’ll get nowhere with this.

She plopped onto the couch and flipped through the pages. Flipped forward. Flipped back. The leaves opened to a drawing and she stared at it. Flipped some more. She examined a group of letters, her lips parted in concentration. I was such a bookworm as a child, spent hours and days lost in the pages of books, and to see my daughter absorbed in one took my breath away. She riffled the pages once more, then tossed the book onto a cushion. “Done!” she said. “I’m done, Daddy! I read a chapter and a half! I’ll read the rest later.”

Yes you will, I say to myself. Yes, you most certainly will.

 

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