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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Joey's First El Ride & An Experiment

First thing this morning, Joey and I were going to the zoo today with my friend Ida and her new adopted daughter, but Ida called at the last minute to cancel. Poor Joey had to get out of bed at 8 a.m. for no reason--if it had been up to me we would have left a lot later, and I would have cleaned the house this morning!

However, I still had to run some errands, and Joey still needed a book from the library. So we decided just to go downtown and get the book and come back.

"What time will we be home?" Joey asked me.

"What time do you want to be home?"

"About one."

"Why?" I asked him, expecting to hear he was going to play with his friends.

"I want to work on my report."

Just when I was getting all excited over this amazing display of initiative, he said, "I want my game back." He got a new Nintendo game for Christmas and his mom has taken it away until he gets all his vacation homework done. Go Mom!

So off we went to the library. We got off the bus at the shopping center by Ashland and the river so I could drop off some dry cleaning and get money at the Dominick's. "What is dry cleaning?" Joey asked me.

"It's a cleaning process that uses a lot of chemicals," I told him. "Some kinds of fancy clothes can't be washed in plain water, so they are cleaned this way."

When I walked us to Archer and made to cross the street rather than wait at the bus stop, Joey looked surprised. "Are we taking the train?"

"We sure are," I said.

"I never took the train before." (He's been on the bus, but mostly he rides around in his folks' minivan.)

"Well, we'll go in the first car so you can look out the way the driver does. It's fun."

It was fun. Another train came the opposite way between Ashland and Halsted. "What if it hit us?" Joey asked.

"I don't think they've had too many head-on crashes," I said.

He liked looking at the police headquarters building. We got off at the Library stop and I took us to the post office and Radio Shack before we went to Harold Washington. As we were leaving the post office, going south on Dearborn, Joey noticed a statue on a skyscraper that I'd never seen before. It was a stature that looked like Mary with the infant Jesus on a building I think on Jackson west of Clark. Anybody know what that is?

Joey didn't have any written instructions about this report--whether because he wasn't given any or because he lost them, I don't know. At first I thought it could be any book, so we were trying to track down something on the Great Wall of China, but then he looked up and said:

"I think my teacher said something about it had to be fiction. That's when it's not true, right?"

Yes, indeed, that's when it's not true. So we crossed to the opposite set of stacks in the Thomas Hughes Children's Library, and found the Goosebumps section. Joey picked out one with some scary zombie-like monsters on the cover, dripping mud and snarling.

Then we went to the McDonald's on State Street and he had a Big Mac because yesterday when I thought we were going to the zoo I had said yes he could go to McDonald's for lunch. So I kept my word, even though it was only 11. "I'm full," he said afterwards.

"I'll bet," I said. His mom had made him bacon and pancakes for breakfast, he told me.

When we came home I tried an experiment. I read him the first few chapters and asked a few comprehension questions as we went along. He got most of them and he was cheerfully predicting away--R.L. Stine puts little cliffhangers at the end of every chapter, making it very easy to ask, "What do you think will happen next?"

Then I let him read on his own. "Can I read like this?" he asked, indicating reading aloud under his breath.

"Yes," I said. I don't know what expert opinion is on this, but he clearly needs to do something to help himself decode.

"My dad doesn't let me do that," Joey said. (Dad may be on to something, but I just don't know.)

I went and got myself lunch--I just had some fries and Coke at McDonald's, since I'm in the New Year's phase of trying to whittle my waist and fatten my wallet.

About 20 minutes later, when I came back, Joey had read less than two pages. "So what happened in the story?" I asked him.

He told me the kids were going to do something about making a face to scare the girl they didn't like. (This was inaccurate--they were arguing about putting a rubber snake in her lunch. He seemed to have no clue about the snake.) We talked a little more, and it was clear he had stuck on a phrase where one of the kids had made a face and turned that into a bigger deal than it was.

So I made an executive decision and read him half of the book today. Shoot me, but there was no way in hell he was going to read that book and understand it. His attention was fine--he held up for about two and half hours with just a few short diversions and one bathroom break. I told him to go home and write down what he remembers about the story so far and to draw pictures of some of the main characters. (I don't know what he has to do for this report, but that ought to help him get started.) And I called San Miguel the minute he left. We can go over and visit anytime, they said.

During one of our short conversational diversions, we talked about school. I pointed out the difference between how much he understood when I read to him and how much he was struggling to read the book on his own. "Somebody has to teach you how to read, and I don't know how to do it," I said.

"They can teach me at Chavez," he said stoutly.

(They haven't so far, kid, and you're ten years old, I thought to myself.) "Joey, how many students are in your class?"


"At San Miguel they have 15 students for each teacher, so that teacher is going to have twice as much time for you," I said.

I'm going over now to talk to his mom about visiting on Friday.

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