It was devolving fast.

There was a clipboard, a pencil and a spelling list, with a nine-year old squirming on the couch in frustration, responding to my words, “Close, but not quite correct.”

“Ugh! This is hard.”

Yes, although is tough (as is, tough).

“I know, this one’s tricky. You’ve just got to memorize it. Let’s see if we can find a way to help you remember it.”

“That’s not how we do it at school, mom…”

Jeb is tired and so am I. The pressure of tomorrow’s spelling test is upon us both and I’ve been in this alphabet soup with him before. I glance up to the Bohemian, who meets my gaze from across the room. He knows this recipe, too. Soon, we could be boiling in a cauldron of melt down.

“I would like to try,” he says casually.

Jeb’s squirms subside. “Ok.”

Soon, the Bohemian has his own clipboard and a pencil, and Jeb has a newfound leg-up on the one adult in the room that spells worse than he does. This is, of course, because the Czech-born Bohemian was never very exposed to English until he came to the States. And it’s only in the last two years that he’s been immersed in the language, having learned it all by ear.

For Jeb, what was drudgery moments ago, has now turned to a healthy competition he wants to win.

“Ok, mom, next word.”

As we work our way through the list, I see letter combinations I take for granted, revealed in new ways.

The Bohemian tries, “b-e-t…w-e…” He looks to me. “n-e?”

“Ah…good try. I can see why you put the ‘e’ at the end. But that’s not it.”

“I’ve got it. I’ve got it!” Jeb’s muscles squirm with fresh force now.

“Ok, Jeb.”


“Yep, you got it.”

“Ahhh…” sighs the Bohemian, as he edits his word on his clipboard.

Our exercise culminates with the challenge of different. It’s a doozey with double consonants and it’s one of those words that are spoken differently than it’s spelled. Often, I hear “difrent” rather than “differ-ent.”

Jeb wants to do this one spelling bee-style. No writing down. And for every misspelling, he does not want a hint, trying multiple letter combinations again and again.

I’m rounding up stray papers, wrapping up the night’s study session, while Jeb lies on his back still spelling to the air.

“Ok, ok. I’ve got it this time…D-i-f-f-r-e-n-t.”

“Not quite.”

“You have to wrote it down,” says the Bohemian.

Write it down,” I say quietly. He’s asked me to correct him when he’s wrong, but I don’t like to. The poet in me actually loves to hear the English language filtered through his Czech brain.

Write it down,” he repeats.

“No. Here. I’ve got it. D-i-f-f-e-r…e-n-t!”

“Yes! That’s it!”

There I am with my nine-year old and my husband, doing fourth grade spelling.

But the Bohemian’s no dummy. He saw Jeb and I in our soupy homework slop, and came to the rescue to help avert a boil over.

Yep, we’ve got it. Our little family is different.

Sometimes I’ve got to see it all spelled out.


2 thoughts on “Simmering Down the Alphabet Soup

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