The Colours and the Shapes

Maybe they don't teach grammar in Jr High anymore, but they've clearly got shapes in kindergarten down to a horrible, grizzly science:

Mom, if you cut my arm off my body, and cut my hand off my arm, you'd have a cylinder!  

 

Day Three

When you go to alanon, they warn you that every time your qualifier relapses, it will be worse, and if you choose to stick around you'll need to brace for that. What they forget to tell you is that every time they bottom out, it will be worse. They don't tell you that bottom is verb, not a noun, or that "rock" is subjective and prone to change without much, of any, notice. 

Every time he bottoms out, I think it has to be the rock bottom bottom out because it simply can't get worse than it did *this* time. I think nothing can be worse than months of jail, nothing could affect him more than losing his family, that there is no punishment worse than losing a job of 11 years, that driving every single person out of his life must be the final straw...but what I forget is that, for him, there is nothing at all worse than not having vodka in his veins. 

Sobriety is his rock bottom. 

Ten weeks ago tonight, he hit rock bottom. 

Ten weeks ago, he walked in the door -13 hours after he walked out of it, 11 hours after he blacked out drunk in the middle of his work day - stone-cold sober and, for the first time in the 17 years I have known him, said he had a drinking problem. He lost ten hours, his car, his job, and himself that day. I am trying to decide if he lost me, too. 

He's been gone for three days of the three weeks that he'll spend at rehab, and while I haven't remembered how to make my jaw unclench itself just yet, I am reveling in the quiet solitude left in his wake. I forgot what silence sounded like. I forgot what it was like to be able to make phone calls. I forgot what it was like to be able to leave, and not worry about what was going to happen while I was gone. I forgot what is was like to let myself feel anything at all, and beyond this raging headache and the throbbing in my jaws I think there is something. 

The Editing Games

My brother and I weren't allowed to read children's books when we were little kids. Momma say chill'en book are da debil, which made children's books no different than the lorikeet, my stuffed Ziggy doll, the avocado-green Chinet plastic plates, the china hutch, the Alvin and the Chipmunks cassette taped over the Blue Oyster Cult because my father cannot resist poking a stick at a hive full of crazy, the silverware, and (occasionally) my big brother. 

Chinet plates and silverware will not melt, no matter how hard you try to make them. Neither will my big brother. Bygones. 

We were allowed to read the bible all we wanted, and we had a book of bible stories that we could read, too. Aside from that, my mother read us only two books -- The History of Physics by Isaac Asimov and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Those were our bedtime stories. This may have been the only good choice my mother made in her 24-year-long career as a parent. 

This information is simply context for the rest of this post; I have a massive bias against (most) children's books. I am also still convinced the world is probably going to end before, like, 2017 or something. There are some things you can unbrainwash, and then there is dogma. More on that later.

I try, like all mothers do, to give my kids better than I was given, and so we have children's books in the house. I've even read a few. *gasp* There are some really great ones (Sandra Boyton? *piles* of win.) and some really horrible ones. Have you ever tried to read the first five Magic Tree House books? It took them five books' time to find an editor who didn't instantly commit harakiri with the nearest semi-colon upon reading that woman's "writing."

Grammar isn't just a snobbish set of preferences; it's like the traffic laws, or maybe even the sheet music, for words. Pixies sounds amazing, all jumbled up and off-key and wah-wah-peddled to death, but if you sat down and tried to read No. 13 baby you'd gore a hole in your frontal lobe with a bass clef. 

The thing is, fragments? Can be used cleverly to make a point, or. Well. You know. They just make sentences choppy. Difficult to read. Doubly so if you're reading them aloud.  

I pretty much banned the Magic Tree House books from my house during my sons' formative years because they were impossible, annoying, and insulting to read out loud, but also because I didn't want them learning to read with that nonsense as their model for acceptable grammar. This whole deal sucked, because the stories are actually quite lovely.

When I attended Parent Night at my kids' middle school this fall, I learned that they don't actually teach grammar to children anymore, at least not in our school district. A parent had asked when they would cover grammar, in between creative writing and reading comprehension and all that jazz, and the teacher said, "Oh, we don't teach that." When asked why, she replied, "because they aren't tested on it," and then alluded to the fact that they would learn it as they went, by, you know, reading

This is what they're, you know, reading.

Supple leather that has molded itself to my feet wwwwhhhhaaatt??? ::tears hair out:: 

This is not me saying that I am so much better than anyone else, or some master writer or anything. I didn't go to one day of college; I went to high school and then made martinis and babies, both in bars. I end sentences in prepositions all the damn time, I start sentences with and, but, and/or/also because. I personally guarantee you no fewer than three grammatical errors in any given post. And then there was this.   

But hell, I'm not a New York Times best-selling author who has a team of editors *at freaking Scholastic* working like crazy to make my book the best selling tweeny-bop novel of all time. 

Hunger Games, however, does

That paragraph up there in the picture is from page two of Hunger Games, and that's as far as I got into the book before I had to walk away from it. Those "liberties" she takes with grammar are brick walls that we crash into going 87 miles per hour with no airbag, and the entire story stops while we scrape our brains off of the ground, scoop them back into our heads, and ram them against that sentence again. 

I think the arguments that it's written for young adults or that it's all just 'creative writing' are malarkey. Why on earth don't we need to use proper grammar when it comes to our teenagers? For little kids, sure, taking license works, and sometimes it works gorgeously, but for my 14-year-old? He can read through a semi-colon and if he can't yet, I'd like him to learn now before he becomes an adult and has to write as a professional man in the world. 

All I'm saying is that I'd like my children's first exposure to proper grammar to come from something other than the internet

In Chinese, if you use the wrong tiny little line in a word, your boss' business cards say Big Sauce instead of Big General. They execute motherfuckers for less.

Maybe what we really need is The Editing Games, where we pit editors from different publishing companies against each other in a race to the dangling participle. We could pair them boy/girl to create some future-perfect tension, and equip them with white-out, those ridiculous horn-rimmed glasses that are all the hipster-rage these days, and red marking pens filled with the blood of the last round's losers. 

The publishing team who actually has a fucking clue how to write a book in English gets the contract. May the subordinating conjunctions ever be in your favor.  

Square Dances and Full Circles

 

My father wore that cowboy hat at every show he played over the course of my entire childhood. He was the lead guitarist of a (fairly popular, local Philadelphia) band (called Legend, if you care, which you don't) but instead of standing at the front of the stage, like lead guitarists are wont to do, he always stood waaaay in the back corner of the stage, behind everyone else...only ever visible by the silhouette of that hat against the orangish spotlights of smoky, sweaty nightclubs.  

I don't really know why he gave it to me, except that Josh inherited all of his dad's cowboys hats after he passed, and he gave me all of his hats right after he found that out, so I can only guess that my dad wasn't about to be out-cowboy-grandfathered by some dude he'd never even met, or something. Competing with the dead is a weird concept to me. So is my dad. Bygones.

There are pictures of my brother and me both wearing that hat at around my daughter's age, but she's never seen them. She's also never seen a picture of my father wearing it. I don't know that she's ever actually seen a picture of my father at all, now that I think about it.

No matter; there she is, wearing it just like he did a million years ago in another life when he was my father, not a hat I sometimes cup to my ear when no one is looking, so I can hear - across the ocean of time - the strum of guitars through humid, smoggy air, over the hum of a window air-conditioner, beneath everything that hurt, to the precious few moments of time when I got to be nothing else but a little girl who worshipped her dad. 

I think when I cup it to my ear, now, I'm going to hear nothing but the giggles of her childhood, when I got to be nothing else but a mother, starry-eyed in love with her child.