Tag Archives: culture shock

Blood, Sweat & Hooked on Phonics

I was born and initially grew up in a bilingual country. My Canadian public school system sought to make its students proficient in both French and English by high school graduation. French was taught from kindergarten to sixth grade and English from six grade through twelfth. The problem was that my dad was transferred when I was nine, and though I had French proficiency at a third-grader’s level, I was effectively illiterate from the perspective of my new, all English school.

Elementary school in a new country was difficult enough without having to simultaneously catch up and keep up. It took an incredibly difficult couple of years for me to reclaim my literacy. I was incredibly lucky however. When my dad’s company arranged the paperwork for us to immigrate, they were unable to acquire a work visa for my mother. She decided to devote her time to tutoring my brother and me after hours.

To this day, I remember coming home from school, completing my assigned homework to the best of my ability, and then sitting with my mom at the kitchen table for hours. My nights were largely occupied with hooked on phonics, supplemental workbooks, and educational games. As any third grader would, I resented the extra homework, but I hated feeling stupid more, and so I worked my butt off.

Over the months, I struggled my way to literacy, graduating from games and primers to picture books, and eventually working my way up to novels. My mom gifted to me my love for reading through patient hours, frustrated tears, endless encouragement and enthusiasm. Though hesitant to give us toys, treats, and video games, my mom was ever generous with books. I could have as many as I could read. The library became an awesome place.

Eventually I caught up to my peers, but the momentum I had built up in my struggle carried me forward, past many of my classmates. My mom’s work permit was eventually granted, and she returned to a day job. By that time, however, working on my reading was no longer extra homework. I loved the stories and the adventure. I loved to read.

I never knew how much my mom kept from those early years until I was packing everything I owned to move halfway across the country. A few nights before I was scheduled to leave, with most of my life packed away in boxes for storage or for travel, my mom found me and showed me a giant Tupperware box, grayish from years of dust dulling the maroon of the plastic. Together, we opened it and inside I found not only the standard detritus of a young child’s life, but those months of workbooks. More importantly, I found stacks of stories written by a barely literate me. I thought that writing was a passion I had picked up in high school and college, but she showed me that I have been writing quite literally since I learned to read. Some of the stories were even in French.

I credit my mother with giving me the gift of literacy. Sure, I worked for it. I shed blood, sweat and tears, but without her patience and love, I would not have the passion for storytelling that is my calling. It is because of her that I can be a writer at all.

Thanks mom.