But his teacher had other ideas, and at our year-end catch up, prescribed a regimen of daily writing practice to prepare him for the perilous rigours of Year 4.
How, then, to engage my perpetual motion machine in stationary – and stationery – activity for a grim fifteen minutes a day?
My rookie attempts to interest him in shape poems or limericks fell flat. No surprise there: These whimsical poetry assignments are dreamed up by instructors who enjoy writing, for students who are similarly inclined.
Everything changed the day Josh asked if he could receive weekly pocket money — “like all my friends.”
“Good idea,” I replied. “Write me a funding proposal. How much you think we should give you, what you’ll do to earn it, and how you’ll use the cash.”
The next morning, when Josh complained that Peppa Pig was teaching his toddler sister bad manners and poor sportsmanship, I shot back, “why not write to the production studio? Tell them what’s wrong with their programme, and how they should change it.”
It turned out that Josh was fully capable of writing fluently, and even persuasively, if the assignment addressed his interest and concerns.
It wasn’t sufficient to choose a topic of interest. Rather, my pragmatic son needed to feel that his writing could have a tangible impact upon his world–whether broadly, or narrowly defined–in a way that mattered to him. Which is, fundamentally, the reason why most adults write (and why some of us choose to make a career of it).
I offer up this shortlist of our most successful writing assignments in the hope of inspiring other parents who are tasked with enforcing the summer writing sentence (pun not so much intended as stumbled upon): A proposal for weekly pocket money
- A letter to a children’s television production studio to complain about the deleterious influence of their porcine protagonist on impressionable viewers
- An one-day itinerary for our vacation — Thank you, Josh, for choosing the beach, and not Euro Disney!
- Tips to help me improve my chess game–sorely needed, as I am proving an altogether unworthy opponent to the family chessmaster.
- A menu for a perfect meal, with at least one adjective per course – Lunch to follow. (Soft fruit is much cheaper than hiring a tutor).
- A letter about the pros and cons of being a big brother, to reassure an ambivalent friend about the forthcoming arrival of her sibling.
- A letter to the Chief of Defense Staff of a country at war proposing an alternative means of conflict resolution.
- An introductory information pack for our new nanny, briefing her on his favourite foods, friends, and activities.
- A letter to his paternal grandmother asking for details about his dad’s boyhood antics. (Nana didn’t need to be asked twice–she’d been saving up those stories for years).
- Questions for a family quiz night.
It was reassuring to read his verdict that although a newborn is an attention Hoover, “on the bright side, your baby is cute and cuddly,” and therefore, “by and large, it’s better having a baby than no baby.”
When he listed “entertaining Jane” as one of his pocket money chores, I had to agree that his knack for toddler taming is a significant contributions to our family (though I insisted that he also add laundry hanging to the chore list — future daughters-in-law, take note).
And as for his proposal to resolve all border disputes by chess — would that the rest of the world could be so persuaded . . .
Gradually, Josh, too, began to approach his daily writing quota with something approaching enthusiasm – perhaps in part, because, in the process of trying to change his world, he was learning more and more about himself.
Contrary to popular belief, writers don’t necessarily put pen to paper because we have something pre-conceived to say — weighty with meaning, thoroughly considered, and studded with witticisms. Rather, most of us figure out what it is that we mean to say by wrestling and fusing elusive chains of ideas on the stark arena of the page. And sometimes, in the process, we extract a nugget of truth that we feel must be said.
I hope that for Josh, someday, those truths will feel so important that he will be motivated to master the pesky rules of spelling and punctuation that will enable him to say them write.