Thursday, October 17, 2013

Fear the Chin

by Betsy Ashton

No, not Jay Leno's chin. Mine. My chin is an early warning sign for everyone who knows me. Now this picture doesn't adequately represent what the chin's power is. Face on, I look fairly normal. Nice even. I can smile and not alarm people. I can laugh and others join in. I can frown but not frighten women and small children.

From a very early age, my mother knew I'd be a handful. I was bratty at age two. Weren't we all? I was precocious by age three and a half. I've written about being able to read that early. Really. Because my mother and grandmother read to me every night, I learned to follow along, my finger tracing the letters and words. Once when my grandmother read a word differently from the way it was written, and I had the audacity to tell her she was wrong, I went from precocious to holy terror. I read everything. I learned the alphabet and the sounds of each letter. I learned to read by phonics, you know that old-school way of sounding out words which became popular again after decades of students failing to read well through sight reading. But this is not about my precocious ability to read early on. Or about phonics and the failure of modern education.

When I went to kindergarten, my chin got me into more kinds of trouble than you can imagine. One of our first lessons was on the alphabet. I already knew it, but my teacher made me sit through the drills anyway. Out came the chin and I was sent to the principal's office. I got to know every principal in every school I went to. I was labeled a troublemaker who didn't get along well with others. I got along fine with the kids. It was the teachers where I had problems.

Why? Because I was bored out of my flipping skull. By first grade I was reading at a third-grade level. By third grade, I was already reading adult books and understanding them. One school wanted to jump me two grades. Thank goodness my mother refused. You see, I was already one of the youngest kids. California changed the law the year I started. Under the then-current law, a child had to be four years and six months old for kindergarten. A month after school began the new law called for four years and nine months. I would have been held back a year.

My mother didn't want me to graduate high school at fifteen, so she refused to let me skip grades. I'm glad for that. I may have been a reading wiz, but math? I still don't do numbaz.

My chin remains a barometer of my behavior. If you see my chin jut out, be afraid. Be very afraid.


Margo Hoornstra said...

Nice you have a way to give physical warning of what's to come. Kudos to your mother and grandmother for giving you the precious gift of reading.

Alicia Dean said...

Haha. Too funny. I'll remember to watch for the chin if we ever meet face to face. What a handful you must have been! :-)

Barbara Edwards said...

My children say my warning is my voice getting softer and softer. It came from giving up on shouting over battling boys.

Jannine Gallant said...

My oldest daughter was reading at a high 3rd grade level when she entered Kindergarten. At 16, she's still a bossy handful. I didn't let them skip her either. Good for your mom for knowing there's more to success in school than knowing how to read!

Diane Burton said...

Funny story, Betsy.