We were coming back from visiting our friends’ parents’ farm and my two girls were discussing the bull they had been within a metre of. Lilly, who likes making her younger sister feel like a sack of shit said, ”When a bull climbs up on a cow, that’s how they make a baby cow. You didn’t know that, did you Malina?” To which Malina responded, ”Well, you didn’t know that 7 + 3 is 10, so ha, ha.”
I laughed. Which was nice. Because eight hours earlier I had my 19th catastrophic heart-attack of the week when I was teaching them how to read. Let’s go back, and zero in on the exact moment Lilly broke her father by not knowing how to read the word ”Know”-
”THE ‘K’ IS SILENT. IT’S SILENT. I’VE TOLD YOU THIS A HUNDRED TIMES, NO, FIVE HUNDRED – WHY CAN’T YOU REMEMBER IT? WHY? WHY?”
Hold on, let’s go back earlier, as in a month earlier when my cousin visited from London with his five-year old daughter Caitlin. She pulled out a book the size of a brick and started reading it by herself. A kid’s book, yes, but nothing simplistic, definitely not Horrid Henry which is basically a virus in pulp form and only read by kids who are strung-out on Ritalin. Honestly, it’s seventy per cent bad drawings to the point where Horrid Henry’s parents are so ragged and straggly that by the end of the book they resemble HIV+ patients circa 1989. The remaining thirty per cent of Horrid Henry is made up of giant words written sideways and zero-dimensional characters the author essayed whilst overhearing a drunken conversation about The Simpsons. Sorry, where was I? Yes, Caitlin – so she’s reading like a prodigy, like she’s this miniature Salman Rushdie who got a sex-change and whitened his skin and somehow ended up on holidays in southern Poland.
And my daughters are listening to this, freaking out because they can’t read. They can speak two languages, but they can’t read in any of them. My daughters’ panic is nothing compared to mine, owing to the original sin of all parents in that I think the walking, talking, anthropoidal form of my semen has got to be blessed by genius. I’ve been showing them educational stuff on youtube for the last five years and this is how they repay me? By not being geniuses? By having my cousin’s child read like a Kashmiri Indian, Fatwa-suffering, world famous novelist while they sit there, shoulders hunched, breathing through their mouths – not my daughters any more, but a combination of Woody from Cheers and Dr. Zoidberg from Futurama.
In the following weeks, I decided to go hardcore. I decided to get all Roald Dahl on their asses – Fantastic Mr Fucking Fox – and each day we hunkered down to read a new page. I did this with the manic persuasion of a man who wants to make his children clever so by association he will appear clever and have something to boast about at cocktail parties other than he once burped the entire alphabet backwards.
This was a mistake of gargantuan proportions. Reading Fantastic Mr Fox has been the most anhedonistic period of my entire life.
My daughters, those two shining beacons of joy, my Butch and Sundance, my Mick and Keith, my Bambi and Thumper well, I want to fucking kill them. Why? Because they can’t tell a ‘b’ from a ‘d’. Because it takes them thirty minutes to read a sentence. Because they get confused by ”where” and ”were”, ”they” and ”the”. Because the English language is as sneaky as a serpent hiding in witch’s hat, home to stupid words like ”know” with its silent ”k” and its retarded silent ”w” that everyone forgets about – but my daughters shouldn’t forget about it, they shouldn’t.
And I scream at them, and threaten them because I’m not like Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society, no, I’m the evil thunderbastard music teacher from Whiplash, I’m a complete asshole of a teacher and after I want to kill them, I am awash with self-loathing and guilt, a tsunami of remorse floods the ventricles of my asshole heart and my kids are hating me, hating reading and it shouldn’t be like this, it shouldn’t, I just want them to be smart and happy and relaxed, but they won’t be unless I’m like that.
So I put the book away, we spent the day with our friends, we ate nice food and met a bull. I watch them. I can see they’re smart kids. It’s not them who has to learn. It’s me.