Tete-a-tete Archives

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Tete-a-tete: Still recovering from Dad’s forays into home education

As another school year begins, I can’t help but appreciate our public school system. Had my education and that of my siblings been left solely in the hands of our father, we would have been in serious trouble.

As is the case with many parents, his attempts to enlighten me (whom he has lovingly referred to as “the practice child”) began during my formative, pre-preschool years. He decided to start by teaching me which sounds are made by which animals, in what he imagined was a clever and funny way.

“What does a cat say, honey?”

“Mooooo!” I replied triumphantly.

“Very good! And what do dogs say?”


“Good job!”

I thought it was, too, until I started preschool. The teacher had a talk with Mom (during which I believe the term “learning disability” was mentioned), and both of them had a talk with Dad.

I am pleased to say that, many years later, I have finally gotten my animals sounds straight, although it did require logging a considerable number of hours on my See-and-Say. Counting, however, is still a little iffy.

Fortunately, Oldest Younger Brother also bears the scars of the counting lesson. Nothing cements a sibling relationship like shared childhood trauma.

One day, when Oldest Younger Brother and I were both in elementary school, Dad asked us to count to 10. Puzzled, we did.

Dad shook his head. “You forgot florp.”

Florp, he informed us, was the number between seven and eight. Between the two of us, Oldest Younger Brother and I were a little bit sharper than I had been as an impressionable toddler, and we managed to figure out that he was only kidding before either of us said anything in class.

Even so, when we studied more advanced mathematics in high school, both of us had to fight the urge to raise our hands when our teachers asked if anyone could name an imaginary number.

My father’s crowning glory came one evening when Oldest Younger Brother was working on a project for his high school social studies class. Quite innocently, he asked Dad how many syllables were in the word “Maine.”

Without hesitation, Dad replied, “Two.”

“Two? Really? Are you sure?”

“Of course. Sound it out. May-nuh. That’s two syllables.”

“Hmm. Well, I guess so. It sounds right.”

Mom called Dad’s bluff immediately, but Oldest Younger Brother wasn’t convinced. We spent the next half-hour alternately knocking the syllable(s) on the kitchen counter like they teach you to do in elementary school and interrogating Dad to see if he would crack and admit that he was joking. He didn’t.

Just as Oldest Younger Brother was on the verge of accepting Maine as a two-syllable word and printing out his project, Dad confessed to the ruse. I believe he saw a parent-teacher conference looming in his future if he continued to nudge us down the garden path.

With Youngest Brother and Younger Sister in school themselves, they too are learning never to take Dad’s words at face value. When they’re being rowdy at the dinner table, Dad will frequently tell them to get their “fanny perpendicular” in the chair, a turn of phrase that induces so much giggling, they can’t help but obey.

Lo and behold, at the end of the last school year, the word “perpendicular” ended up on Youngest Brother’s spelling list. Naturally, his teacher went over the meanings of the spelling words with the class before sending them home with the list.

Before the school day had ended, Mom was reading an email from Youngest Brother’s teacher, informing her that he had explained to the class that “perpendicular” was another word for “backside.” She quickly called Dad at work and asked him how she should explain this one.

It turned out that the phrase “fanny perpendicular” refers to the geometric relationship created between the horizontal line of the chair and the vertical line of the crack of your bottom when you are properly seated. Therefore, if you’re sitting the right way, your fanny is perpendicular to the chair.

It’s a not-so-obvious allusion that makes perfect sense, providing you’re not a small (or not-so-small) child who, in spite of all the reasons he’s given you to the contrary, takes everything your father says as gospel truth.

Youngest Brother’s teacher was very understanding, especially when we mentioned some of Dad’s previous crimes against education. She got off easy in comparison to my preschool teacher.

Since that last incident, Dad has been slightly more subdued in his educational efforts. This may only be temporary, though, as summer doesn’t afford many opportunities for academic reinvention.

Who knows what this school year may bring? Younger Sister will be studying New Hampshire state history. I have a sneaking suspicion that the Granite State will turn out to have been settled by Pilgrims who were blown off course and landed at Portsmouth instead of at Plymouth Rock.

I think I’ll put aside a few copies of this column for when Mom gets that inevitable email from one of my siblings’ teachers. Or perhaps we should just send a copy in with them now and save time.

– Teresa Santoski


Originally published Sept. 4, 2008.

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