What’s the good word?

"Give me the children until they are seven, and anyone may have them afterwards." – attrib. St. Francis Xavier

“Give me the child until he is seven, and anyone may have them afterwards.” – attrib. St. Francis Xavier


“C-R-O-S-S-“ Nick’s voice falters as he tries to remember the next…word.

“Nick, hon, just sound it out.” We’re driving to school, running through our morning routine of reviewing the week’s spelling words.  Beside him, Gabe plays the TeachMe Preschool app that features a teaching mouse and lots of sticker rewards, while Olivia is happily reading her Elmo TouchAndLearn book, complete with song snippets.

The car is…loud.

I lift my eyes from the homework packet to catch his in the rearview mirror.  This is our 3rd time spelling this word in as many minutes, and for the life of me I cannot understand why 4 simple letters won’t sink into his wonderfully absorbent brain.

“Crossword, C-R-O-S-S-W-O-R-D, Crossword.” I say impatiently. “Just do it like that. Say the word first so you remember.  That’s how spelling bee kids learn their words.”

He matches my impatience with a healthy dose of his own. “Ug-GUH!” is his new favorite expression. “I know my words!”

“Well, clearly you don’t” – then I get that warning look from Lori who is navigating early-fall construction traffic to get us to school on time.

“Let me reframe my position, Nicholas.” Lori rolls her eyes at the formality. But really, I can’t let him think he’s gained any territory in this early-morning skirmish.  “This is one of the more efficient ways for you to get 100% on your spelling test on Friday.”

He sulks in silence, muttering the letters under his breath so I can’t hear him.

“If I don’t know what you’re saying, I won’t know if you’re right. So we’ll just have to keep doing this until you get it.”

“Find the…OVAL.”

The electronic voice – chirpier that Siri, but nevertheless insistent – chimes from Gabe’s iPad.  He is still trying to pick the oval, having already clicked on the octagon and trapezoid.  “Gabe, hon,” I try to keep exasperation from creeping into my voice. ”it’s an egg – look for something that looks like an egg.”

“An egg can look like a circle when Mommy poaches them,” Nick suggests, and I can’t tell if he’s really being helpful or just disruptive.

Gabe presses the screen.

That is the…CIRCLE.  Where is the…OVAL?”

By process of elimination, there’s only 1 option left, which he chooses.

Good job,” the mouse chirps.  “You found the…OVAL.”

“Crossword, Nick.” I raise my voice above the din.


There has got to be a better way.


In yoga class, I purposely place my mat slightly askew from the straight grooves of the hardwood floor. As a recovering perfectionist, I have chosen to be “off center” so I can meditate on “imperfection”, even though I know it will drive me batty as I move from downward dog to plank, then cobra.

My yoga instructor breezes in, takes a quick survey of the room, then walks directly to me.

“Up,” she commands, then realigns my mat. “You have to start in alignment.” I sulk as I get back on.

“Namaste,” she greets the class.

I mutter in response.

“Namaste my a- ”


“Ask me if you have any questions, Nick, ok?”

Nick has spread his homework out on the coffee table, in clear defiance of our usual routine.  He’s hasn’t taken his backpack down to the distraction-free homework nook that we created for the kids, complete wall decorations chosen for their subliminal messages –

  • A Bucky Fuller Projection map (The world is not as we see it.)
  • A Spider Man poster (With great power comes great responsibility.)
  • An Iron Man poster (Make cool s&^% and save the world.)
  • The previous week’s school work (We know you can do it because you’ve done it before).


Instead he’s in our front parlor looking through the picture window as he chews on the pencil’s eraser. I watch surreptitiously as he reads thru the spelling test words, then copies each one on the spelling test page.  It’s not the way we usually do it, where he has 5 minutes to look at the words before I give him a closed-book test. Any word he gets wrong he must write 3 times, saying the letters as he goes.

He presents his self-administered “test” to me a few minutes later. And I can clearly see where he has erased his errors.

“I got them all right,”

“Well, technically – “

A loud throat-clearing from the kitchen forces me reconsider my approach.  Why is Lori always one mouth-noise away from letting me make my VERY IMPORTANT POINT?!  “I see that you have written all of your words.” I choose to make an observation, rather than pass judgment. “How do you feel about your test tomorrow?”

“Great!  Can I go play outside now?”

I want to test him, to make sure those tricky words like kitchen and since are firmly in place, but instead I nod. The proof will come when he brings the test home, when he sees that my way is clearly the best –



Nick waves the 13/10 test happily, gold start glinting in the sunlight.  Not only had he correctly spelled this week’s words, but he gotten the bonus words right too.

“That’s great, sweetie!”

“Ask me a word!  I know all of them!” And without waiting for my prompt, he runs through them.

Nick has his own way of learning, a style that works for him. No longer a malleable mass of random ideas and feelings – though, I doubt any of our kids are truly that – my son is a reflective, insightful, complex, sometimes exasperating, human being. I do my best to guide him, but have to remember that this is his journey to take.

I’m just along for the ride.

“I am so proud of you, kiddo. Do you know why?”

“Because I got them all right?”

“There’s that,” I concede. Then I pull him close, because I really want him to get this.  “You really know yourself. And I love who you are.”

We fist bump, miming an explosion in the air.

“I love you too, Nana.”


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