The daughter reading
Deep Thoughts, Love & Writing

Not rubbish. Just still learning.

The daughter readingThe daughter, I am pleased to report, is still enjoying school. In fact, if you ask her, she’ll say “it’s amazing!”

Of course, this doesn’t change the fact that every single morning she objects to having to go (mostly because she’d rather stay curled up on the sofa with Teddy and Cuddly) but once she’s there she seems to be making the most of it.

Still, it’s all fairly new, and I’m not sure the teachers have really got the hang of her just yet. She brought home her first reading book last week – with no actual words in it. As she’s been reading quite proficiently since she turned four in January, I stopped in to check with the teacher what they wanted us to do with this one.

“We just want to be sure that she can follow the story through,” she said, which was fine. Then she added, “She doesn’t put herself forward with her reading, does she?”

No one who has ever met my daughter would say that she doesn’t put herself forward. About anything. Trust me.

I tried to explain that, for the daughter, reading is such a natural thing for her now that she doesn’t make a big deal of it. She just reads everything around her. Even the things you wish she wouldn’t, like the poster for the circus that’s coming to town, or the TV guide that shows that her favourite programme is still on past her bedtime.

“But when we do phonics, she never says she already knows this,” the teacher said.

So, I explained that in her nursery class, she’d had a tendency to answer all the questions, and the teachers had asked her to let some of the others have a go, too. That was all.

“But she has very low self-esteem, doesn’t she?” the teacher said.

Also not something people usually connect with my daughter. Many people burst out laughing at the very idea when I told them.

But, there was a deeper issue here. “She keeps saying she’s rubbish at things,” the teacher explained. And that, I recognised.

It’s a fairly new habit – only since she started school. (Before that, she was more likely to be heard saying “I am a GENIUS!” at regular intervals.) It also takes some translation. When the daughter says she’s rubbish at something, what she means is that she can’t do it as perfectly as she expects to be able to. Which is a very different thing – but also a very different problem if she decides not to try, because she can’t do it as well as she wants.

We’ve had a few lengthy talks, the daughter and I, about how school is for learning, and how boring things would be if she knew everything already. We’ve talked about how Daddy’s still learning science now, studying for his PhD, even after working in the industry for a long, long time. She sees me reading and learning every day. But she doesn’t have a lot of patience, my daughter (no, I don’t know where she gets that from either) and she wants to be able to do everything, right now, please.

And so, the ‘I’m rubbish’ thing. I’ve been thinking back, but I don’t believe it’s an expression the husband or I use regularly around her – in fact, we’ve been careful not to – so I’m not quite sure where she’s picked it up. But we’re trying to replace it – all of us – with something more useful, like, “I’m still learning how to do this,” or “I’m getting better at this every time I practice.”

Sadly, this has had one unfortunate side effect. Whenever we have Chinese or Thai for dinner, the husband uses chopsticks. The daughter, after watching him, decided that she wanted to try chopsticks too. So her Nain bought her a kiddy pair, and she’s been really getting quite good with them.

Last night, at dinner, she asked, “Mummy, why don’t you use chopsticks?”

And the answer, of course, was that I’m still learning how to use them.

“You need to practice, Mummy,” she said, trotting off to the kitchen and finding me a bright pink pair of chopsticks to use (I don’t even know where those came from).

It was a very messy and lengthy meal.

Still, the message is a good one. And it applies to more than school and chopsticks. I just turned in a new novella (more on that in due course) and while the feedback from my editor was great, there were a few changes she wanted me to make. And, as ever, I looked at them and thought, Of course! Why didn’t I see that? I should have thought of that.

There’s always that moment in writing – be it when I’m trying to write a pitch for a new book, or when I’m stuck in the depths of a first draft, or when I’m revising and despairing, or when the edits come back – when I think I’m truly rubbish at this.

But actually, I’m just still learning.

And that’s a good thing.