Monday, February 21, 2011

Let the Kid Write It

I had no idea that I would be reliving some of the ugly and embarrassing events of my childhood through my boyfriend’s kids. And how is that possible? We’re not even related!

This past weekend my boyfriend’s twelve year old son (one day I’ll make up a name) asked me to proofread a paper that he wrote. I read through it, made basic grammar corrections, and suggested deleting a few words to tighten it up, you know, trim the fat. He agreed with all but one, and just as I was about to push it, reminding him of who the writer in the room was, I gave myself a time out. Now for the ugly and embarrassing part of the show.

This scene played out thirty years ago. My father often helped me with my homework, especially when it came to writing papers, and anything about World War II. He was so damn smart and could write brilliantly on the fly. I, could not.

Sometimes, my father’s idea of helping me was to write for me. He’d compose in his head and then dictate parts of the essay, book report or college application that was due, while reading the New York Times, sitting on the edge of my bed (the man was that good) and I’d hurriedly write it down verbatim.

We were both culpable. He didn’t want me to hand something in to my teachers and have them think that his child was an idiot. I was impatient, and a wee lazy, so if he wanted to help, then that meant the sooner I could put on my long scotch tape nails and lip-sync to Cher’s, Dark Lady. And not just the song, but the entire album.

Dark Lady laughed and danced and lit the candles one by one
Danced to her gypsy music till her brew was done
Dark Lady played back magic till the clock struck on the twelve
She told me more about me than I knew myself

And that dear readers is more about me than you needed to know.

I’m no expert. I’m just the girlfriend mom, but doing your child’s work for them isn’t going to teach them much. I’ll tell you what it didn’t teach me; to think for myself, process, bad first drafts, rewriting, patience, confidence, and not to wait until the last minute to finish an assignment because Daddy isn’t always going to be there to rescue me!

This is why I kept quiet and let my boyfriend’s son write in his own words.

He called me the next day, wanting to know if I could input a few more corrections, and then send the document back to him. He originally typed the paper on my computer so he only had a printout.

When he said that there were more corrections, I got a pit in my stomach.What did I miss? Who read it and found more errors? Was it his mom? Great, now she thinks that I’m a writer who can’t spell? It’s not fair. I wanted to be the hero. I wanted to be the one that got him an A+ on his paper. Crap. Now everyone will know that I’m a fraud. Again.

I panicked and went to that icky place. I suck. I can’t even correct a twelve year old’s paper where the biggest word in it is ammunition. I started questioning every suggestion and correction I made. Maybe I was wrong about capitalizing Captain. I’m the person who quit teaching English as a second language in Prague. I had no right helping this child with his paper. Who put me in charge? Where’s your dad? Where’s my dad?

But I did help him and once I took my pureed thoughts out of the blender, I gingerly asked my boyfriend’s son, “So, who read the story and found the corrections?” I held my breath and scrunched up my, overdue for Botox injections, forehead.

“Charley.” “Who?” “Charley?” “You mean your friend Charley?” My boyfriend’s son was cute as he proceeded to tell me that, although he knew that Charley wasn’t a professional, he did find a couple of mistakes.

I hardly know where to begin. First of all, the fact that his friend read his paper and gave him ‘notes’ is adorable and hilarious! Secondly, that he acknowledged that, “Charley isn’t a professional like you”, was quite astute for a twelve year old. He didn’t actually say the ‘like you’ part, but it’s obvious that’s what the subtext was.

The two corrections turned out to be typos. With my reputation in tact, I now wait to see what his teacher thinks. Clearly, it’ll be a direct reflection on me... and my dad.

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