You Are Good At Floating
By Nicole Matos
Now we have to make new letters, even though I really wish my son would cool down a little first (he is spinning in my desk chair like a top, all hyped up from swim class, his second ever with the “regular” kids). “It needs to say, “You are good at floating, and you are best at swimming,” and as I get a piece of paper, he is already cautioning, “Do you remember the words that I said? How do I know if you remember it? Would you still remember it tomorrow?”
“I do not know whether I would remember it tomorrow, but I guess I would.”
A long pause—this whole effort might founder here—so I add, “Anyway, we are writing it down, so tomorrow I could read it, tomorrow it would still be the same as what we write right now.” This is reassuring; we both know this is what letters are for.
But I cannot tell, from his increasingly frantic repetition of “lines, lines!” whether I am to draw a grid with squares for each letter or each word, and I am also trying to count a grid that will exactly fit under each of these conditions. All factors are crucial, as he worries, “You do not understand my words! This is not going my way, oh, it is not going my way!”
“My love, you are not being very flexible. If you calm down, I can draw what you want, even if it takes more than one try. Mommies do not always get it right the first time.”
“I know, you don’t!” he says, in utter unqualified certainty that that is the case.
“No more lines, OK, I will do a new idea, letters on a clean paper,” and I am bolstered by this compromise, “Great idea! Thanks for being flexible! How should we start?” He says, “Start like this” and places my hand over his hand.
These are our letters.
Soon he is impatient with my guiding, so we flip the page and he writes the next part himself, “AT FLOATING”:
It is not half bad—he is very patient even though it is “so many letters.” All are in there except for the final “G,” which he substitutes as an “I,” because “G is a scary letter, it looks mad,” to which I nod sagely.
I am thrilled with this result, when he cries: “No! None of this is right! It needs lines! It needs lines!” and rushes over to my bed and crushes himself against it, sobbing. “We have to start again!”
Somehow I convince him that he will instead say the word, and I will, at the same time write the word, and through this mystical transubstantiation, all demons will be quelled.
That is soothing, that goes well. I complete the second half, I think I have done it correctly, when he flies away from me again, the bed again, the grief, and the part I hate the most, when he tears at his mouth and says, “I can’t say it! I can’t talk!” and lapses into his baby gibberish, the originary but so lonely language, that in his case, lasted way too long.
I am angry despite myself, I am all out of patience. I fall back on honesty. “Dude, I am starting to get angry, I have tried very hard to make this go better, I am sorry that I do not understand your plan, but I have tried very hard.”
“You wrote the!” he chokes out at last. “You did not listen to my words! I did not say THE!” It takes me several iterations to, at last, understand: I have written not “YOU ARE BEST AT SWIMMING” but “YOU ARE THE BEST AT SWIMMING”—“And ‘the,’ what is that, that does not make any sense!”
I laugh out loud—foiled by an article—and to not hurt his feelings I smooth his face between my two hands and say, “I am not laughing at you, I am laughing because I am surprised, and I understand you now, you are right—‘the’ is an empty word, it doesn’t really mean anything. It was my mistake, but I can take it out.” “Cross it out,” I add quickly: please, please, not to have to patch it, or start again-again-again, this time, and for the rest of our lives?
I can cross it out. That is good. These are our letters.
About the Author
Nicole Matos (http://about.me/nicole_matos) is a Chicago-based writer, professor, and roller derby girl. Her credits include Salon, The Classical, THE2NDHAND, Vine Leaves, Chicago Literati, Oblong, neutrons protons, and others. You can catch her blogging for Medium, publishing tappable stories on Tapestry, and competing as Nicomatose #D0A with the Chicago Outfit Roller Derby, too.