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Number, please (05/06/2012)
By Frances Edstrom

Our three-year-old granddaughter, Andie, is discovering letters and numbers. This is a good thing. Previously, I worried about her, since she seemed actually averse to learning such basic things as the alphabet.

“What letter of the alphabet does your name begin with, Andie?” I’d ask her. “I don’t know,” she’d say. “Would you like to know?” I’d ask. “No,” she’d say. And she would only sing the alphabet song when she thought she was alone. Maybe she thought to herself that one thing just leads to another. She sees her sister reading to us out loud, and probably thinks she’d rather play with her Pet Shop toys than be at the beck and call of all the crazy adults who apparently can’t get enough of hearing kids read. If you don’t know your letters it saves you a world of trouble.

But preschool has inspired her. So now she counts and points out letters all the time. She even read a word, but we think it was either a fluke, or she had heard her sister read it. But that’s a good start for a girl who so recently wasn’t interested in her own monogram. How would we buy her towels for her wedding?

Now, she peppers her almost-constant conversation with letters and numbers, and actually looks in books to find them. Recently, her mother overheard her talking to herself in the bathroom. “I wonder how tall I am?” said Andie, standing on the scale. “Oh, I weigh thirty cents!” she exclaimed.

So she needs a little refresher course on weights and measures. But she is nice and trim at thirty pounds. When I was going through mounds of papers as we moved out of our old house, I came across a copy of a doctor’s checkup of me at age three. I was a little chunk, not svelte like my granddaughters, and weighed thirty-six pounds. At the bottom of the form, the doctor had written “Fran will practice holding her tummy in.” If only I’d been able to read at the time, I might have had a happier high school career, and not have had to buy control top pantyhose. Of course if only I had known that I would have breast cancer surgery, I could have relaxed. Whereas most women worry about their chests falling into their tummies, my tummy now is my chest, and I don’t have to work at holding that in.

I remember my kids learning numbers and their significance. It was usually a happy process, until they decided that how old mommy is was a question they needed to have an answer to. Why on earth any adult with an ounce of kindness in her would ask a four-year-old about her mother’s age is beyond me. But each kid came home to tell me that so-and-so wanted to know how old I was.

“What did you say?” I always asked, at ages 29, 33, and 38. “Oh, I told her you were 45 (or 80 or about 100)”, the little darling would respond. No wonder everyone thought I was an “old mother” as they called them then. Nowadays, some women are just starting to think about having a family at age 45. Not too many 80- or 100-year-olds wait that long, although I’ll have to ask my mother-in-law about that one. I sort of hope that 100-year-olds never are able to bear children. Who would chaperone the high school dances if all the mothers are too old to stay up past 9 p.m.?

But the learning process isn’t always easy, is it? I’m glad that Andie is taking an interest in learning, though. Up until now, the only number she had was mine! 


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