Monday, December 25, 2006

A few Christmas words...

Maybe it's just because A Christmas Story has been on TV too many times in a row, but I'm wondering if my six-year-old son, CJ, is going to grow up with memories like Ralphie about this Christmas.

He woke up at about 3 a.m. this morning with a nasty belly ache and what I think was an unfortunate case of nerves. It seems to me that he's been unusually nervous since last week, when he received a letter from Santa Claus in the mail. He had attended a children's holiday party at the high school where I work, and during one of the craft activities he had written a note to Santa Claus. The annual party is organized and run by students in the child development classes at the school. The letter was in response to that note. Overall, the letter was positive and told him that he had been a good boy all year - just what every kid wants to hear this time of year. What my son picked up on, however, is that Santa's letter also said that he hadn't been as good a listener as he could have been all year, and it suggested that he try hard again next year.

That's what he focused on. Try again next year. Several times in the last week he asked if he was going to get presents or would he just have to try again next year. He said the same thing when he went to bed last night. Each time we tried to reassure him that it was fine, nobody was perfect, and he had been a good boy. Even more important, we told him that we thought he had tried his best all year. We told him again and again during the week, and again when he woke up at 3 a.m. - this time to vomit. As we watched him get sick, we looked at each other - there was nothing my wife and I could have done to reassure him, short of revealing the entire unglamorous adult truth to him about Christmas. We know that CJ is an extremely kind and sweet little boy. None of that seemed to matter in the wee hours of Christmas Day 2006. He had already worked himself into a full panic. And it wasn't until he opened the air hockey table, assorted clothes, electric toothbrush, and Leapster game cartridge that he finally began to settle himself down.

It's obvious that my son was a victim of an incomplete understanding of what he read, caused in part by his elementary reading level skills. If he did the same thing in my high school English class, I might instruct him to go back into the text and re-read it to adjust his comprehension. Maybe I would suggest highlighting relevant passages or recording his thoughts in the margin. It might also have been an appropriate time for a mini-lesson on different active reading strategies. Too bad my class set of yellow highlighters was locked up in room F14 at BHS.

What probably was a throwaway line in the Santa letter - written no doubt to make a generic letter from Santa sound realistic - seemed to have created a real piece of childhood trauma. That and probably a touch of the flu.

When school starts up again, maybe when I'm doing a think-aloud activity in class, I'll probably be reminded of CJ and his case of Christmas anxiety. I hope I can save one of my sophomores from a similar fate. Until then, I'll have to wait a few years until CJ can really be able to laugh about the whole thing.

Thank you for reading and Merry Christmas.

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