Saturday, January 06, 2007

Language Development

We’ve all heard those kid’s stories numerous times and in several formats. As cute and as funny as they are who knows if they are the truth. I’m about to share three with you that I know are the truth. I know this because they happened to me.

As some of you know and some you don’t know, a q-tip destroyed my left ear drum when I was two. I was finally old enough to have it reconstructed when I was eight. The years between two and eight are fairly important for language development and when you are deaf in one ear things get slightly misunderstood.

Fortunately (?), I lived in an area with a heavy accent and many homonyms are pronounced differently that they are in the rest of the US. “There”, “they’re” and “their” do not sound the same in my native dialect (thar, they-ah-r, thir). However, I still confuse metaphors, idioms and some homonyms. If you ever hear me say, “six a dozen,” know that’s my short hand for “six of one, half a dozen of another.” Idioms don’t make much sense when you grow up missing some of the words.

Other things don’t make much sense, either.

Case in point—

For years upon years, I proudly stood in church and sang when the offering was brought forth from the back of the sanctuary. Those of us that have attended the Christian churches are familiar with “Praise God from Who All Blessings Flow.” The offering starts at the front pews, works its way back and then is brought forward by the ushers. At that time, the congregation stands and sings. Ever since I remember, I stood and proudly sang, “Praise God from who all blessings flow. Praise him all preachers him below.” I had no idea those were the wrong words. They didn’t make a lick of sense to me, but I figured this was one of the many things I would understand when I got older. Besides, who am I to argue with a tried and true hymn? (Shouldn’t it be “from whom“? But, I digress.)

When I was sixteen, a situation occurred and granted the opportunity to learn the correct words. The offering was brought forth, we stood, the congregation sang “Praise God from who all blessings flow.” We all went silent. When I say all I mean all—the entire congregation, the choir, the preacher every single one of us—forgot the words at the same time. We stood dumbfounded for a little bit and, under chuckles at our collective mea culpa, the preacher looked up the hymn in the hymnal. It was then that I realized the words were “Praise him all creatures here below.” I am in such a habit of singing it my way that I still say the words wrong if I’m not careful. (I still think it should be from whom all blessings flow, but I digress.)

Another situation --

My brother has always been a Dallas Cowboys fan. By default and under penalty of physical pain, I was thrust into Cowboys fandom. Things like this tend to happen to little sisters. Wanting desperately for my brother to be proud of his little sister, I proclaimed that Roger Strawback was the best football player ever. That got a few laughs that I didn’t quite understand. However, the best gem was that when I wanted to reinforce declaration and said, “If you ever get hit by him, you’ll get that lime green disease and die.” As my family laughed at my devoted fan-ness, I was one confused little girl.

My mother finally calmed enough to say, “Cup (she called me by my birth name, but you guys wouldn’t recognize that), do you mean gangrene and not lime green?” They didn’t bother to correct me on his name and when I finally saw it written down I didn’t recognize the player. They also didn’t tell me that quarterbacks aren’t in the habit of tackling other players; I suppose no one died of lime green from Roger Strawback.

Language development is not just vocal, it is also written.

When I was in the first grade at J.W. Adams Elementary School in Pound, Virginia; I was the only left-handed student my teacher had ever had. She wasn’t a new teacher. Ms. Bolling was probably about 7 years shy of retirement. First grade is when you learn to write on lined paper, this was something I had a very hard time with. Ms. Bolling, being the astute teacher she was (and she was an excellent teacher), noticed that I formed my letters backwards. She did not know how to teach a left-handed person how to write, so my backwards writing was encouraged. She taught me “the hook”. Why not? All lefties have the hook, right? She also taught me to set my paper so that the lines were vertical and not horizontal -- which reinforced the hook as well as let me know that the lines were there for no good reason.

Seeing that this was not working, she taught me to write with my paper upside down. So, here I am with my hooked arm, trying to write backwards and upside down. Following her on the board was difficult and they wondered why I had poor marks in penmanship.

When I entered second grade (a different Ms. Bolling), I had another teacher who had never taught a lefty. I suppose I should stress that I was the only left handed student in the school. This teacher taught me to write starting on the right hand side of the paper. So, now I’m writing with my paper right side up, but with backwards, upside down letters and I’m spelling the words beginning with the last letter. They actually wondered why I had a really hard time differentiating between left and right as well as lower case b’s and d’s. My mother grew frustrated with my poor penmanship. My grandmother couldn’t read a thing I wrote.

My mother learned that the only left-handed teacher in the school happened to be a third grade teacher. This is also the time when kids graduate from the tan paper to the white ruled paper we all use as adults. My mother arranged for me to be in Ms. Hampton’s class. Ms. Hampton did her best. She told me to set my paper straight instead of a slant (or sideways or upside down), she tried (but failed) to correct “the hook” and she went crazy trying to figure out why I was writing on the backs of my paper. She would stress and stress that the holes in the paper go on the opposite side of the hand that you write with. So, I did -- for half the year I did. For half the year, I couldn’t understand why it was that I failed for follow such simple instructions.

Finally, I had reached a point where my letters were right side up and starting on the left-hand side of the paper. I spelled the words in the correct order, but alas not only were most of my letters backwards, but I was now writing on the wrong side of the paper. Life is so hard for a third grader.

One day in Ms. Hampton’s class, we were working on a writing assignment. This began with her usual instructions about the holes in the paper. I think she stressed this for me. No one else seemed to have a problem with this concept, I felt like a complete dunce.

Before we started writing, she scanned our desks. She spoke, “Cup, look at your paper.” Ms. Hampton did an excellent job of encouraging students to determine their own errors.

I looked down and looked back up at her. I saw nothing wrong.

She repeated her instructions, “The holes go on the opposite side of the hand that you write with.”

I looked down. I looked at my pencil in my left hand and my holes on the right side. I was one confused little girl. I knew the definition of the word opposite; and boy, did this look opposite to me. I looked back up at her. “Yes, Ma’am.” I held up my left hand with my pencil and pointed to the holes with my right hand.

Ms. Hampton brought a hand to her mouth and nervously chuckled. “Yes, dear, you are right.” She shook her head, “I forgot.” She laughed. “You are special. Your holes go on the same side of the hand you write with.”

That’s when I learned I was special. Not only was I special, but I was special enough for it to be declared to the entire class and I was special enough to write on the back of the paper. From that day forward, whenever she would issue those instructions she would follow it with, ”Except you, Cup, because you’re special.”

I never got called down for writing on the back of my paper again. I guess all of my teachers could just tell that I was some kind of special.

So, here I was writing on the backs of my papers (because I’m special and that rule doesn’t apply to me), with my “hook”, forming most of my letters backwards but at least my paper was the correct orientation.

Forward onto cursive. Again, I had a teacher that didn’t know how to teach a lefty to write. Ms. Barnette (fifth grade) and Ms. Skeens (fourth grade) just sighed and told me to make my letters look like what the picture looks like and they didn’t care how I got it that way. However, they did want me to slant my paper.

I slanted it the way my first Ms. Bolling taught me and my words were now disregarding the lines. I didn’t understand what my pens and pencils had against lines. I suppose they just didn’t like being forced to follow ink. This, apparently, was unacceptable. So, I slanted my paper like everyone else with the bottom angled toward the right elbow. My pens and pencils had a problem with me. They didn’t want to stay on the lines and now my backward formed letters were slanted wrong. Great. Finally, I slanted my paper so that the bottom was angled toward the left elbow. Why pens and pencils formed a conspiracy against a little girl, I will never understand. It was at that point, my teachers gave up trying to get me to slant my paper and once again I was special enough to keep it straight. Whew.

After that, teachers paid less attention to how you write, but what you write. I would get strange looks when I wrote on the board or an overhead projector with my backwards, non-slanted, hook formed letters, but no one spoke on my “special-ness”. I figured they all knew that some rules didn’t apply to me.

All of this is the set up for this story…

I was sixteen driving down the road with some friends and we came across a Toys “R” Us. Wordlessly, I pulled to the side of the road and got out of the car. Needless to say, my friends were baffled, but a bit jaded to me. One gal-pal got out of the car and blinked at me. “What is it this time?”

With my brow knitted, I looked at the sign. “When did they change the sign?”

She looked around. “What sign?”

“The Toys “R” Us sign.”

She looked. “It’s not been changed.”

I nodded as fury grew inside of me. “Yes it has. The “R” is backwards. Who gave them the right to mess with an American icon? This just isn’t right. Do you have any idea how many little kids this will confuse?”

“Cup, listen to me. The “R” has always been backwards.”

I pointed at her and shook my head. “No. No, it hasn’t been and I’m going to prove it to you.”

I ignored the protests and babble from my mistaken friends and drove to the store. Needless to say, I was one upset young lady and that was one confused store manager.

It wasn’t until years later while watching a commercial did I see the letter flip on the TV screen and realize that indeed the “R” has always been backwards. I wish I could apologize to that store manager.

Sigh, at least I’m still special enough to write backwards on the “back“ of my non-slanted paper while cheering for Roger Strawback, all other players him NOT below.


MissWrite said...

You're a wild ride, Cup, and definiately special.

By the way, we always sang it: Praise God from WHOM all blessing flow. Praise him all creatures here below....

IM Cupnjava said...

I see now that the churches I went to were more messed up than I thought. Rather fitting.