When your child doesn't share your passion

Kylie Orr's son thinks books and hats are interchangeable ...
Kylie Orr's son thinks books and hats are interchangeable ... Photo: Getty Images

Writing is my drug, my passion, and my obsession.

My children are not always so lucky their mother is a writer. Partly because the stories I share are most often about them but predominantly as they grow and learn about the basics of writing, they are quickly discovering that I’m a hardarse. I expect enthusiasm and commitment from my children, irrespective of what they’re attempting, but practising correct spelling and grammar are compulsory in my home. Reading is more than encouraged; it has infiltrated our daily routine since they were born.

My Year Two child brought home his mid-year portfolio of work which was an impressive collation of colouring, random number charts and of course an analysis of Einstein’s theory of relativity. What stood out for me was a little summary he’d written about books that went something like this:

Books are good because they can shade your eyes. They don’t cost money and they don’t waste energy.

Holy Mary, Mother of God. They shade your eyes? What are you, some pampered prince lying on a beach lounge? They don’t cost money? No, because I buy them for you! They don’t waste energy? You’re right there. Although we do have to “trim” some trees to print them … After I picked myself off the floor from hilarity and shock, I reassured him that his statements were indeed correct and I was simply amused by his interesting observations, rather than laughing at his answers. What I didn’t say was, You live in a house drowning in books, your mother is a writer, your father usually has his face transfixed to a screen reading something, and what you’ve chosen to share about books is that they shade your eyes?

Clearly I need to work on this kid. I have time. He’s only eight.

As for the ten-year-old? I may have missed my chance.

I volunteered for parent help in his classroom when the teacher was conducting a session on writing. Confident I’d witness my son’s shared passion for the art of reading and writing (unlike his brother who found books more a useful apparatus, less gift of vocabulary), I was in for another rude shock. Just call me Mrs Disillusionment.

Twenty-five recounts of the camp they’d just returned from ALL began something like this “On Wednesday 1st August, Level 3 students and teachers boarded the buses for our camp.” Oh the pain. The pain for the teacher who had to read this repetitive introduction to a story he already knew (given he was there). The pain to think how unoriginal and herd-like we all are, that no-one felt compelled to break the mould. I had to remind myself the goal was teaching sentence structure, paragraphs, introductions, bodies and conclusions. The basics.

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It was evident they’d mastered the basics. I struggled to muzzle myself about those introductions but seeing as I was a volunteer helper, with no teaching experience, no right to be telling anyone how to do anything, I vented my spleen at my son and his unfortunate friend sitting alongside. I implored them to start their recounts with a little more gusto.

“C’mon guys! Is there a more interesting way you could start your stories, do you think?”

Blank stare. Times two.

“How were you feeling the morning of camp?” 

Excited. Answer delivered in unison.

“Right, so how would you describe that to your audience?”

I was excited to leave for camp? Asks my son.

“Okay, yes, but you need to show your excitement, don’t just tell the reader. What happens to your body when you get excited? Do you feel like jumping? Do you want to burst out of your skin? Was your stomach doing cartwheels?”

My son exchanged glances with his friend and then dropped his head to the desk laughing. I’m not sure if it was because I was the most embarrassing mother in the universe, my suggestions were ludicrous or that he just didn’t have an answer.

“I’ll let you guys have some time to think while I help your classmates.”

Off I pottered around the classroom, impressed by the neat writing, and the pages of camp schedule reciting, but feeling flaccid at the beginnings which were double, triple, quadruple duplicated. I joked with the teacher that he was in for a boring night reading the recounts and he agreed they needed a shake up, reminding the class about a previous lesson on “sizzling starts”. So far it was more fizzling failures than sizzling starts.

I returned to my son’s desk to see eraser debris and two new beginnings. His friend’s brand new introduction said, “COOL! On Wednesday 1st August, Level 3…” My son’s introduction?  “SWEET! COOL!! On Wednesday 1st August, Level 3…”

It appears you can lead a horse to water but you can’t put passion in the drinking pond.

Anyone want to recite some multiplication tables?

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