By Deanne Snape
My mother can be described as something of a perfectionist. From the cakes she bakes to the way her kids look she always feels as if she has to go the extra mile to make sure that everything goes the way she pictures it in her mind. She’s the type of person to make you do things over and over again until you learn and get things “right.” This is a part of her personality that definitely had its pros and cons for me growing up, but nevertheless it works for her. Now please don’t get me wrong, I love my mother, her personality and everything that she has done for my siblings and me growing up. But I can recall one time when I really hated how perfect things had to be for my mother and that was back when I first learned how to read and write.
When I was younger, I would say about the age of three, my mother started to teach me how to read and write. I loved spending time with my mother so in my eyes this was just another fun thing for us to do together. I remember when she gave me the pencil to write with and I shifted it between my right and left hands until I figured out what was comfortable for me. She showed me how to trace over the letter “A” and told me to continue doing that until I filled up the page. At first this was fun for me; I was getting to do big kid work like mommy.
But as time went on and the letters got more difficult to trace over, I began to hate having to write. I tried to rush to get through the practices so that I could get them over with, I mean after all, they were cutting into my playtime. But unfortunately for me, that only upset my mother and made things so much harder. I guess she felt like she needed to give me more of a challenge so in addition to having to trace the letters I also had to do it neatly and make actual sentences. I was shocked that she would up the bar like that; I thought she loved me! I worked through my astonishment and I stuck it out because I wanted to make mommy happy. I began to write neater, well what I thought was neater, so that I could get out of this torture. But since my loving mother was such a perfectionist, it still wasn’t good enough. I had to start over and over and over again until she realized that my poor little hands couldn’t write any neater no matter how hard I tried. She gave me a break. But after overcoming what seemed like the greatest, longest battle I would ever have to face in my life, my mother threw a whole different kind of mission at me, and it took my outlook on life to a whole new level.
One day my mom took me out into the living room. Since I was so young I didn’t ask why, I honestly didn’t really care, Mommy shad aid to do it so I just did it. On the table there was a book; at this moment I can’t recall what book it was but I’m almost sure that it was Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss.
My mom and I sat on the couch and she proceeded to teach me how to read. She would say “Look Dee Dee, sound that out and tell me what it says.” Little did she know that she might as well have given me a book of Hebrew scripture to read because at that point in time there was no way in the world I could have told her that the first sentence of the book said “I am Sam.” At that point those letters weren’t even words on a paper for me. They were just things in the book that were blocking the pictures. We went through that routine more times than I can count until I finally was able to read through the entire book. My mother never allowed me to memorize anything that I read either. She made sure that I sounded out every vowel and consonant with perfection. I remember that feeling of accomplishment and from then on I remember wanting to read lots more books. That of course made my mother happy so she bought me books to read all the time.
As I got older I still had to practice reading and writing for my mom and since it was work, I never wanted to do it very much. Up until about the sixth grade, my mother had me do my homework in a practice notebook every day before I could do my homework on the real sheet of paper that I was going to hand into my teachers. Writing my work with my practice notebook gave me confidence; in fact, once I no longer needed my practice book, I acquired a kind of arrogance that I would display to my peers when it came to my writing. I felt as if I had just finished learning how to ride a bike and I was finally able to take off my training wheels. I carried on as if my writing was better than everyone else’s since it was always displayed on the bulletin board in the hallways of my junior high school. I thought that I had finally mastered my writing and that I didn’t have to work on anything else. I had thought that I was finished with worrying about English all together.
Then high school hit. In my sophomore year I had an English teacher who was the equivalent of my mother when it came to my writing. Ms. Pacheco was the kind of teacher who exposed your flaws and left you with no choice but to work on them until both she and I were satisfied with the work that was produced. She pushed me beyond the edge of frustration each and every time I had to revise an essay for her. Her class took so much out of me. To make things even worse her class was my last class of the day so time used to creep by while I was in there. She would call me out on my laziness and she would call me out on the fact that I never wanted to be creative. Whenever it came to putting more than enough effort into a paper we would bump heads because I was perfectly fine doing just enough to get by. I was fine just getting the grade and she didn’t agree with that kind of mentality at all.
Despite my resistance to her pushing, after awhile I grew to love her class because of the honest help that I got from her with my writing. I went from being pissed off at how hard she made me work to loving it and appreciating the guidance that she gave me. I valued her instruction in English so much that I tried my hardest to make sure that I had her again junior year; unfortunately I wasn’t able to. I got stuck with a teacher who didn’t help me with my writing at all. The only thing that she did do was assign me a 25-page paper that was supposed to help me in college. Fortunately for me, in my senior year of high school Ms. Pacheco and I got reunited and she went right back to helping me work and improve my writing.
My first experiences with the fundamentals of the English language are definitely lessons that I keep in mind today. I laugh at how far I’ve come and how much I hated having to learn. To this day, I’m not the best writer and my mother would still probably want to murder me for how bad my handwriting is. But I still try and I do practice. There are even times when I write out everything in a practice book just like I did when I was younger. My mother teaching me how to read and write -- along with the instruction and assistance that I received from Ms. Pacheco-- were definitely big pluses in my writing life. I consider myself very very fortunate to have had such a devoted mom, and a wonderfully attentive teacher. But the truth is, though, English is still not something I love. I write and read because I have to get them done, because I mean after all they are cutting into my playtime.
Deanne (Dee Dee) Snape grew up in Brooklyn, New York. She is currently a freshman at the University at Albany, SUNY, and intends to major in psychology and minor in criminal justice.