Many of you know that I’ve long patrolled the world as a self-appointed Grammar Cop.
Dudes, you know me. I’ll whip out a Sharpie to correct a misused homonym on a poster. I’ll share “funny” “misuse of quotation marks” photos on Facebook. I try not to correct people’s grammar or pronunciation when they’re speaking, but even if I keep my mouth shut? I’m totally silently judging you.
My thinking has gone something like this:
1. The English language has definitive, time-honored, codified, teachable grammatical rules, which everyone can learn, and everyone should follow.
2. Utilizing these rules leads to clear, correct communication.
3. I mean, really. What’s so hard about correct spelling and grammar? If you can’t get it right, you’re not trying hard enough.
4. And honestly? I’m going to judge you for it.
Until… I just need one word to finish that sentence, really:
If you’ve been around me in real life or the interwebs, you know my son, Sam. And how much I love him. And how funny, smart, insightful, thoughtful, and wise he is.
He is also dyslexic. He has fairly profound dyslexia and other learning differences. (He approves of me sharing this. In his words, “It’s just how my brain works. Namasté, suckas.”)
Maybe I should back up a little bit. Beep, beep, beep.
Harken back to my expectations of parenthood.
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Actually, further back: as a kid, I was in the Gifted & Talented program, and basically an all-around smartypants.
I’ve also had pretty severe anxiety and mental health issues since I was a kid.
My husband, on the other hand, is quite emotionally uh, healthy and stable, as well as being a freaking genius.
So, back to parenthood expectations: I figured we had a 50/50 shot at our offspring being anxious or whatever. I girded my loins for that, and was on the lookout.
But I also assumed said offspring would be clever and “gifted.” Academic troubles were Not On My Radar.
And so came Sam. And what are our children, if not a complete kick in the pants?
Sam has always been exactly who he is. I don’t know how else to say it. Anxious? Yup. Preschool? Nope. Late talker? Yup. Quirky? Yup. Hilarious? Yup. Mountain biker at age three? Yup. Excellent world traveler at age four? Yup. Ridiculous vocabulary? School anxiety? Double yup.
So far, no major surprises. Major struggles, yes. Surprises, no.
Until he learned to read. TRIED to learn to read.
Kindergarten (“reception” in Australia) came and went. First grade. Second grade. Excellent schools, excellent teachers. And: Not. Much. Progress.
We knew something wasn’t right. Multiple consultations and a serious outlay of cash, and we got the gist. Dyslexia and other learning differences.
To paraphrase the neuropsychologist: “He has certain ways of cognition and struggling that I’ve never seen quite so pronounced, not in fourteen years of testing. I’m not really sure how to deal with it, other than keep on doing what you’re doing.”
Er, thanks for your help?
So, back to the present. Sam struggles, mightily, with spelling, and grammar…basically most aspects of written language. And reading. And the way science and math are generally taught. Along with other things.
We are blessed and lucky to have wonderful, truly amazing local teachers and tutors who help him learn “the way that [his] brain works.” And we are even more fortunate that we can afford them.
It shouldn’t have taken my son to show me the error of my ways.
I should have realized ages back, when I was a kid, and I had classmates—one in particular, who was a brilliant poet—who were funny and interesting, but were swept off to the “resource room” for “special ed,” never to be seen by the rest of us “mainstream” or “gifted” kids again.
And so, MY BAD.
My bad that it took one of my own to get me here. But I am here now.
I understand now, that what I’m guilty of, friends, is hubris and snobbery at its worst.
Hubris: excessive pride and self-confidence. That means me being a smartypants.
Snobbery: the character or quality of being a person who believes that their tastes in a particular area are superior to those of other people. That means me thinking correct grammar is superior grammar.
I suspect I’ve made people feel bad, or inferior, or annoyed, or intimidated, or self-doubting, or otherwise hesitant to speak or write.
I apologize. I was so, so wrong.
I hereby renounce my self-appointed title of Grammar Cop. I’m turning in my badge and gun, Sarge.
Please, write down your thoughts. Talk to me. However it comes out—spelling and grammar be damned.
I hate that I’ve been missing out on what you have to say.
Now I’m listening.
j.j. johnson, author