From July 8, 2012.
Flora comes rushing over, excited. “Look, look!” In her hands, is a dragonfly larvae, crawling out of its old skin. Five minutes later, “Look, look!”–from another exoskeleton, a brand new adult dragonfly emerges, glistening. “I’m going to watch him until he dries off and is ready to fly away,” she says. “This is the most vulnerable part of life for him, you know. He’s weak.”
Ender watches, owl-eyed. Cinder spots a dragonfly eating a horsefly. “That’s so cool and gross,” he says. Doubly-so because the dragonfly’s having his lunch on his dad’s shirt. Sean goes a little pale. “Mostly gross,” he says. “Mostly cool,” Cinder corrects.
And I take a moment to think that these children will never forget what a dragonfly’s lifecycle looks like. Without ever having received a formal “lesson” on it. Although… surely that there was Nature delivering lessons in spades to anyone willing to learn?
But a moment for a more formal lesson comes shortly. I’m trying to finish a story that’s due tomorrow, and I keep on grabbing snatches of the day to work on it. “How many more words do you have to do, Mom?” Cinder asks. “I have to take out about 800, actually,” I say. “I’m over.” “Why don’t you just file it like this and have the editor take care of it?” he asks. (I’ve been freelancing all of his life; he’s heard all of these conversations.) “I really like this story and I don’t want to run the risk of him taking out the wrong ones,” I say.
He looks over my shoulder. “That word looks lame. Why don’t you take it out. There, 799 to go.” We laugh. “Is that what you’re worried your editor might do?” he asks. “Kind of,” I say. “Except with whole paragraphs. Gah.” I slam the laptop lid down. “OK. Let’s go swim. I’ll come back to it after lunch and cull all the adjectives.” Flora prances up the stairs in time to hear this.
“What are adjectives?” she asks. “Words that describe things,” I answer. “Like… Beautiful Flora. Flora is a noun—a word that’s a person, place or thing. Beautiful is an adjective—a word that describes Flora.”
“Cool,” titters Flora. “Mom’s blue bikini—blue is an adjective?”
“Aha,” I say. “And… stormy lake—stormy is an adjective.”
“How about Cinder’s shorts—is Cinder’s an adjective?” Flora asks.
“No, that’s a possessive…” I pause, swallow the desire to meander elsewhere. “Cinder’s grey shorts–”
“Grey is an adjective!” Flora shouts.
We play with adjectives for the next 15 minutes.
I really like Susan Wise Bauer’s and Jesse Wise’s First Language Lessons. I’m seriously thinking about drawing on some of the tools of The Complete Writer at some point in my children’s learning journey. But almost everything that’s scripted there—the lesson in which the Parent (Teacher) tells the Child (Student) that a noun is a person, place or thing, and the Child (Student) repeats it… well. It just happened. Naturally, organically, in an unforced way.
Cinder and Flora won’t forget it. Maybe they won’t remember it just right forever—but the next time adjectives come up, I’m willing to bet money one of them will say, “Oh, yeah, I remember, we talked about it at the lake. Remember? Cinder’s grey shorts? Glacial lake? Voracious dragonflies?
On our way to the dock for a boat ride, Cinder says, “Why is Daddy always the one which is the last co come?” “Who, not which—when you speak about a person, you always say who, not which,” I say automatically. Cinder whips his head around. “Hey, Mom,” he says. “We had our grammar lesson for the day already with the adjectives, ok?” I raise my eyebrows. Chiefly because I didn’t think he knew a) that the word grammar existed and b) what it meant. “Um,” I say. He makes a face at me and runs off. “Daddy!” he hollers. “Why are you the one who is always last?”