“Let me show you something Grandma. Look!”
I watch as Jet carefully makes a lower-case letter E. “You remembered how to do it! That’s wonderful!” We had practiced this letter a long time last week but I hadn’t realized how well she had mastered it.
Jet beamed. “Hey, can we color now? You can draw something and I can color it.”
“Okay. I can do that.” I have always felt a little sad when children begin to color inside the lines because they never seem to enjoy it quite as much as scribbling, but at least Jet still choses her colors freely. Her pig has an orange body, a blue head and purple ears.
“What word is THIS?”
“Ummm…. Well, you made some letters, Y, e, b, a… but they don’t make a word.”
“Why not? Why can’t they be a word?”
“To make a word you have to write letters in one particular way so other people can recognize it. You put some letters together in a certain order to make your name, but you use different letters to make my name.” I show her how her own first and last names contain some of the same letters in a different order.
Jet nods and says, “But I want to do it my way. I like it the way I do it.”
“Well that’s fine, you can write letters that make you happy, but other people can only read your words if everyone writes each word the same way. That’s the way it works. When you write “grandma” I know it says “grandma” because you write it the same way every time.” While Jet ponders the mysteries of writing, I wonder if it is confusing to her that blue-headed pigs are cool but random letters are not.
“Grandma, can you show me how to write Aunt Mary?” I write it for her and she studies it carefully before announcing, “I’m just going to make some of the letters my own way.”
Jet produces a credible rendition, substituting only a lower case A and M. I can read it, so I decide to save the discussion of capital letters for another day, but Jet has another question for me: “Her first name is Aunt and her last name is Mary, isn’t it Grandma?”