“Momma, What’s This Word Mean?”

(I wrote this in my first English class at Tri-C. The prompt was to write about a defining moment in our lives and I could think of none better.  🙂 – JM)

“Momma, What’s This Word Mean?”

Being told I had to repeat the first grade was the catalyst for a great defining moment in my life. It all started at the end of first grade during a parent teacher conference. The faculty had decided to place me in second grade; this confused my mother a great deal. She has told me since, that she always thought I was a bright child but had resigned to the fact I was slated to repeat the first grade. I couldn’t read a word, and my mother would not accept that that was “perfectly normal” for some kids my age.

Learning to read probably doesn’t sound like much of a defining moment and generally events happen suddenly, but I can think of no single event that has made such an impact on my life. I was young when this happened and was worried that I was now a year behind my friends, and me, in my infinite six-year old wisdom decided I must have been a dummy. I heard someone say, “no one fails the first grade.” That hurt me a great deal because I didn’t want to be different.

I’m not sure if it was that week, or the week following, but it was soon after this conference in which my mother demanded I repeat the first grade that my great change occurred. An unlikely thing to be appreciative for some may think, but I couldn’t be happier. My mother had always spent time with me, but like most parents she was under harsh time constraints; trying to raise my brother, my step brother and myself. I am not sure how she did it all. She’d get home at 5pm or so, cook dinner, help my brothers with their homework and do all the other household chores. My step father usually worked late back then, so she was on her own in the evenings.

Despite all her duties as a mother, which she never complained about, she somehow squeezed in my favorite time of day, “Reading with Momma time.” I can’t remember everything we read, but I still clearly remember sitting there at the kitchen table captivated as my mother taught me how to sound out the words. She spent the entire year I was repeating the first grade working with me every evening before bath time patiently listening to me stumble through the bigger words.

My mother’s hard work had paid off by the beginning of second grade, I could read the newspaper front to back and over again with little difficulty. I smile every time I think of my mom balancing her check book as I run into the kitchen she looks up, smiling, knowing the inevitable is coming, “Mommy what’s this word mean?” I’d ask anxious. I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud as I was the moment I was presented with my very own Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary. My mother was equally grateful I am sure, now she could get some peace. The first word I looked up was unabridged:

Unabridged (un-a-bridged)  n. a dictionary that has not been reduced in size by omission of terms or definitions; the most comprehensive edition of a given dictionary. After I read that definition I got even more excited. It was just a blue dictionary, one I nearly wore the cover off of over the years, but it was so much more to me. To me that silly book was like the world’s biggest decoder ring, and I used it as such.

I developed a voracious appetite for books. Reading never lost the novelty for me, even after all these years. I am always reading something. I so long for those simpler days when the only worries I had were how much later I could talk my mom into letting me stay up because I was dying to know what adventure the next chapter held.

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