Halfway through last summer I realized that I had forgotten to teach my youngest child his ABCs.
It was one of those rare moments where I had just Little C in my car and had the luxury of turning on toddler tunes, some age-appropriate music to rival the Kidz Bop that my then 3-year-old had grown accustomed to.
There we were heading south on Interstate Highway 101 when the ABCs tune came on and I heard my son’s rendition. It was an eclectic version that even included numbers!
“ABCRF8Q, 7555XBDE, QRCEUV, W23and D … ” He went on to sing in perfect pitch, what I found to be a harmonious lie: “Now I know my ABCs, next time won’t you sing with me.”
I nearly crashed as I watched my son in the rearview mirror in disbelief. He didn’t know his ABCs.
I pressed the repeat button time and time again on that short freeway trip, making sure that he really couldn’t sing them correctly. His version had been memorized; it was the correct order, according to him.
Who forgets to sing this educational classic with their child? At that moment, I felt mommy-failure, that small burst of anxiety that begins low in the stomach and then internally dings you in the head as you introspectively flash forward wondering how this experience will scar the kid.
And then worry set in. What else did I forget to teach him? His little three years had been busy. With two older siblings, he had become the perfect sideline cheerleader, familiar with soccer and baseball fields, basketball courts, girls’ dance and gymnastics environments. He wasn’t sitting on his mama’s lap all afternoon reading books and singing lullabies in a quiet house, and as a result he didn’t know his ABCs.
So for the next few weeks, we practiced and practiced, vociferously working to override his memorized adaptation of the ABCs.
It really got me thinking – distressing, actually. So I began testing him with everything. I began cooking spaghetti for him to cut with scissors to assess his fine motor skills. Practicing flashcards and creating letters with Legos, beans, pennies – anything I could find to fashion a letter that he might recognize. Instead, he was more interested in creating “spooky houses” or triangles with “sharp points,” never once recognizing a letter as a symbol I believed he needed to imbed in his mind for future academic success.
Being a baby born on Sept. 10, I grew more concerned that maybe he would be the child that, although born just nine days behind the new age cut-off for Kindergarten, might suitably need another year to learn the basics.
After an exhausting few weeks of makeshift homeschooling on my part, Carson turned 4 and started preschool in a Pre-K class. And I became more certain that my youngest was not even close to kindergarten, due to his extreme separation anxiety. He cried every time I had to leave, crushing me with every sob.
But after just four days, something miraculous happened. Carson began to trace letters in the art room. His teachers helped him by dotting the letters of his name and he even began to grasp a writing utensil tight enough to create a heart and a smiley face that he proudly brought home and stuck to the refrigerator with 15 magnets.
Ah, the power of preschool. Carson has been in school just three weeks and is now trying to write his name – and it’s a much more accurate interpretation than his previous attempts at the ABCs. He is recognizing letters and is enjoying the strokes he receives for his efforts.
As parents we worry and worry and then at some point it just all comes together. We focus on what our child is or isn’t doing at what we perceive to be the right time – and it consumes us. Once that hurdle is leaped, we look just a few dusty steps ahead at the next hurdle to climb – and at the time it looks more like a mountain.
This ABC experience reminded me that each child is different and their skill level at a mere three years old is in no way an indication of their educational future. It also reminded me that you can’t make a judgment based on one aspect of a person – like, say, if a mom forgot to teach her 3-year-old his ABCs.