Simmering Down the Alphabet Soup

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.




These are just some of the spelling words Jeb has to learn this week. Test is today and last night we were studying.

It’s become a family affair.

Not having been taught English in school, the Bohemian has learned the language solely by listening. This leaves a little room to brush up on his spelling and he’s taking advantage of Jeb’s second grade weekly list of words.

There they are. Jeb and the Bohemian, their blank pages numbered one to fifteen, pencils poised.

“We’re ready,” the Bohemian says with that slightly rolling ‘r’ of his.

Tonight’s prize is a special dessert to the one who gets the most right.

And when it comes time to correct their work, it’s all stars on the right ones and a little furrowed brow and shake of the head from the Bohemian on the wrong ones.

Afraid he may miss a sweet treat, Jeb tries to finagle out of misspellings.

“I just forgot that ‘n’ there, but I meant to put it in – can that one count, Mom?”

Words that give trouble: since, species and amphibian (though, for the record, Jeb gets ‘species’ right and a short dance with triumphant hands in the air ensues).

In the end, we don’t even tally who got the most right. We know there is the Bohemian’s left over birthday cake and everyone’s going to get a slice.

Homework with Jeb has been a downer all year. I honestly don’t know who dislikes it more, him or me.

But I can chalk another one up for the Bohemian, in the countless ways he makes the unpleasant, pain-free. Thank God my fiancé’s at the second-grade spelling level.

Translating Molasses

The Bohemian is peering over my shoulder. I’m at the laptop replying to an email from his family in the Czech Republic. They have been generous and written to me in English, and though the grammar isn’t perfect, the kind sentiment is clear. Congratulations on our impending marriage.

I want to reply in Czech and think how simple it all could be with a little help from Google Translate. Simply write all of my words in English, have that nifty Czech box fill up with words I can’t pronounce. Copy, paste. International communications accomplished.

But when I ask The Bohemian to proofread he says my email doesn’t make sense. The words are in strange tenses and phrases don’t relate. Why use Google when you have a Czech fiancé? Ok, easy. Sort of.

Let me just say here that, for one, my fingers are used to rapid fire on the keyboard. My phalanges are just pitter-patter taps behind my spiraling brain that seems to be zipping off thoughts at an even faster pace. Usually, when it comes to words, I’ve got them. And lately, when it comes to doing, I’ve been dancing my way through phone calls, emails, reservations and appointments like a tap dancing fool. Fast, effective, ta-dah!!

Well, here’s where the taps slow to silence. Finger pads paused on keys. The Bohemian spelling out words over my shoulder as we gaze at the email on the screen. He moves fairly effortlessly between English and Czech, but when he’s spelling a Czech word, he uses the Czech pronunciation for the letters. Hence, ‘e’ sounds like “eh”, ‘i’ sounds like “ee” and once in a while there is some random letter not found in the English language.

“You know, ‘ts’. It’s the letter ‘c’.”

No, actually, my Pimsleur’s Czech 101 doesn’t cover how to actually spell the words.  And I would never associate a ‘ts’ sound with the letter ‘c’.  I can barely pronounce the ‘ts’ sound.  Foreign territory indeed!courtesy of wikiversity

And I believe this is a good thing.

The Bohemian likes to look at me once in a while with a smile and say, “you’re running.” He’ll say the verb with that rolling Czech ‘r’. The man can most definitely bust a move but he does it in some kind of steady style. Thick and permeating like molasses rolling downhill. I’m that airy flutter of a butterfly or maybe a hummingbird on a nectar mission. Light and speedy. Running. I want to be molasses and roll.

So there I am at the keyboard, letter by letter, syllable by syllable, slowly seeping in the thick accent of a foreign language, trying to complete one, seven-word sentence. I’m certainly not running. My toes are barely unfurled. And when we finally finish with an Aloha and Na shledanou!, I add a PS, confessing I don’t speak Czech. That I used the aid of Google and The Bohemian.

I’ve always wanted to immerse myself in a foreign country with a different language. Would time in Czech just find me living, mostly, in silence and smiles? Would everything in my life – even my thoughts – simply slow waaaay down due to the effort in just buying a loaf of bread?

A five sentence email took 30 minutes, but it sure was fun. I’d like to take a pause on running. I like this molasses roll.