the letters go everywhere

the letters go everywhere (Copperlight Wood)

Chamberlain is learning to write. I can’t express to you the joy I feel in watching little lines waver on paper to become faintly recognizable in these early efforts.

She is on the barstool on one side of the counter while I am doing dishes on the other side in the kitchen, and her handwriting book is laid out in front of her. She asks me how to spell her name and I slowly recite it for her while Sophie chews the alphabet magnets off the fridge (she’s a little quirky like that), sending letters everywhere.

the letters go everywhere (Copperlight Wood)

She holds up her work to show me, and her letters are everywhere, too, all over the page. She has taken the creative interpretation approach to writing, completely disregarding the guide line after the word NAME that was intended to buoy it. By sounding the letters out from left to right in order of nearest proximity, her cheerfully printed name reads…


Not too shabby for a four year old with eleven letters in her first name.

Over at the table, Afton’s been testing his accuracy in simple addition, and he brings me his practice sheet to be checked. I scan it quickly while picking up letter magnets that Sophie has strewn all over the floor, and everything looks good except for one problem at the bottom.

“What does this say? Three plus six equals…backwards P?”

He grins. “It’s a nine…” He knows that I know that. He also knows that I know he can write it better.

I think I have these two, and their older two siblings, figured out. We work through tweaking every year to fit different needs, but overall I know what to expect and how they should be doing in any given area.

the letters go everywhere (Copperlight Wood)

But Andrey and Reagan? Those guys are moving targets. They’re nearly impossible to assess using any inside-the-box strategy.

They know most letters, they know some numbers, and they know colors. They know many of the things on a preschool-kindergarten checklist…until you ask them.

I point to an L and put on a huge smile, because learning letters is exciting! “Andrey, do you know what that is?”

Andrey looks, shakes his head, and puts on his best pity-party frown. “I dunno.”

He might be telling the truth, except for the fact that the last two weeks have been brought to us by the letter L and we’ve had it on the wall since September.

Well, fine. Next kid: “Reagan, what’s this?”

I know she knows it. She knows all of the letters frontwards and backwards, only occasionally stumbling over an obscure Q or W. But she just saw what Andrey did, and she’s going to try it, too.

Blank stare. “I dunno.”

In a heroic effort, I refrain from violently and repeatedly slamming my head into the nearest wall…and instead quietly move on to Chamberlain. They don’t know it, but I’m not teaching letters anymore.

“Cham, what’s this?”

“An L.” Duh, Mom.

“Great job! Hey…which sticker do you want?” Because learning letters is exciting!!

The I Dunno’s blank expressions quickly change. That was not the reaction they were expecting – learned helplessness is usually met with extra attention, not indifference. But one of them is learning that those coveted stickers come to those who are honest…and the other is learning to follow a better example.

It feels like a win for today, but it never feels like enough. Reagan will be eight soon, and I know she is capable of so much more. Some days it seems like we are getting the loose ends tied together only to have them cut apart with scissors the next time we go out in public.

They should be learning shapes. We should paint more often. I should read more intentionally to them. I should teach them more about animals. I should email that person about the occupational therapist they mentioned. I should go to sleep before 2 am.

Those letters – the ones that spell should – go everywhere.


Sophie has pulled the magnets and artwork off the fridge again and I rearrange the papers higher. I am thinking about what I should be doing better. I know that in my own way, I make backwards Ps that are supposed to be nines, also. 

Between cooking and bathing and laundry and cleaning, it never feels like it’s enough.  The day is spent in knitting little hearts together and by bedtime everything feels unraveled. Mama feels frayed and frazzled. I feel like I am chasing legos and if I don’t focus, my letters go everywhere and make no sense at all. 

Just feed them and love them, He says. They are learning and healing in that.

It is enough.

When you feel like it’s not, that’s only because you are completely disregarding the guideline that was intended to buoy you. Each day is an enduring triumph, accomplishing My purpose.  

The work of your day is everlasting, steadfastly working out the purpose I’ve set out for it. It’s not fraying, unraveling tomorrow, like dishes that will need to be washed again after the next meal.

I know you’re learning. Your letters go everywhere because you are actually trying. I’m watching your efforts with joy…the same way you watch Chamberlain.

I can’t express to you the joy I feel in watching little lines waver on paper to become faintly recognizable in these early efforts.


wait and listen from Copperlight Wood

 *This is day eighteen of the Wait and Listen series. The other posts are here.


the letters go everywhere — 3 Comments

  1. Love this series – now I’m searching for stickers and guide lines. =)
    What a great response!

  2. Learned helplessness. *Sigh*

    LOVED your response.

    The hardest part about all this is training MYSELF to respond in the most helpful and creative way. You deserve a sticker!