Monday, 22 July 2013

Reading between the lines (Διαβάζοντας ανάμεσα στις γραμμές)

My children know I write a blog and that I have a facebook page, but they rarely follow what I do on the computer. They aren't yet at the stage of surfing the web to discover the world - they are at the stage where they want to download new music, play games and chat with friends. One day, I know they will google their parents' names; I wonder what they will discover. In my case, it will probably be information overload, which tends to make people switch off because they are bamboozled with too much data. For this reason, I do not get them to read what I write at this stage, even though I know that I am writing this blog for the purpose of keeping a record of what we are doing together.

The other day, my son watched me typing on the blogger platform, which came as rather a shock. You know people read you, but you don't think it's your own family. I felt 'discovered', so I thought that this would be the right time to ask him if he would like to read something I wrote on the blog. (Actually, he knew I had just been interviewed by the BBC4 Food Programme on the topic of frugal food, so I suppose he was taking an interest in why others were interested in me.) I wanted to see how much he understood of what I was writing: I don't send my kids to private language schools to learn English, and we don't do formal lessons together (even though I am an English teacher), so their knowledge of English is based on the exposure I give them to the language, and more importantly, the opportunities they get to use the language. 

The post I gave him to read contained a lot of what a teacher would call 'unknown words' (or phrases) in the passage, as his Greek school teachers would call them too: come of age, clientele, contribution, on her behalf, etc. So I was curious to see what he might make out of what he was about to read.

The first thing he asked me about was the person I was writing about. "Did you work with her?" That's what it sounded like in the text. But Thalia is an imaginary person, something I didn't want to reveal at this stage. (Most people think I write about a particular person, but that is not the case at all - my characters are an amalgamation of different people I have met; they don't actually exist in real life.) "Does she have a broken arm?" he asked me. I told him to check the tense of the verb that contained this information (it was in the past perfect, not the present tense). "Oh, she HAD a broken arm, but NOW it's NOT broken," he said. (Good, I thought.)

But I was in for a surprise: "Frappe and cigarettes - everyone wastes their money on this, except us, right?" He was reading between the lines. On the one hand, I was pleased to see this happening because it will have a great bearing in his future studies; on the other, I wondered how much I had influenced my kids, and in what way. By swaying them to think of smoking as a waste of money, I could actually be creating a prejudice in them towards smokers. This is something that I believe can't be helped in parenting: we have no control over the place where we were born, and the people who raised us. We can change the rest, but not those two things.

"What's drachma, Mum?" My son was born during the last year of the drachma being in use. He has no concept of the drachma except as something old and no longer in use, hence he could not immediately see that drachma was a Greek word transliterated into English. Despite this hiccup, he rarely asked me to explain other words in the passage, even the ones that I thought would be unknown to him, which possibly shows that he was comprehending unknown concepts by trying to fit the unknown ideas into the known ones and working out their meaning in this way. We all do this during times of information overload in the internet age.

But what impressed me most about his relationship to the drachma is that he has no memories of it. He sees drachma as something you read about in books or see in a coin collection. Drachma is not something real or useful in his life. It represents historical stories for him, ones that his parents tell him about from time to time. Drachma for him is like cassette recorders, vinyl records and dial telephones. In the future, he will be able to say he knows what those things are because his parents still have things like that stuck somewhere in the basement, or he may look them up on the internet, but he will not have any direct experience of them himself because they are not a part of his life. They are to do with the past - and that part is over and done with. 

"Is Thalia really going to go to New Zealand?" he then asked me. "Where you write 'Δεν ξέρει που πάνε τα τέσσερα,' you mean that she doesn't understand what life is like there, don't you?" My comment here is very subjective; again, his reading between the lines shows that he is using his experiences to understand what he is reading about. His experiences are based on what he hears being said at home. The theme of immigration often comes up in our discussions, but it is not a theme that my own children have lived through: they know that we aren't interested in emigrating, and now that I think about it, they have not lost any school friends to emigration. This fleeing-abroad business is a figment of the media's imagination to a certain extent - some Greek problems do not concern all Greek citizens; they simply concern the media, both in Greece and abroad, when news is sensationalised.

"Why do you think she wants to go to New Zealand?" I asked him. He didn't take long to think about his answer:

"She's got everything she needs here, but she wants more than that, and it's difficult to have everything in life when you're starting from the beginning, but she isn't thinking about that now, is she?" I dislike it when I realise I have influenced my kids in such a way, because, like most parents, we believe that we have allowed our children to make their own choices. But the truth is that at this age, they are making choices based on their parents' choices. That's part of parenthood; it can't be helped.

I was also surprised by what he understood when he read this sentence: 
If I bought styrofoam coffee on a daily basis, then I wouldn't be able to tell my kids that they should make their own chocolate milk instead of buying it ready shaken.
"But you don't buy us any chocolate milk, Mum, not even powder!" I was tempted to reply that I don't drink styrofoam coffee either, but I decided that I was probably being a bit harsh. So I bought a box of chocolate milk powder for them. And even I have begun drinking a styrofoam coffee here and there, in the form of a 'freddo, metrio me afrogala' when we go to the beach.

I notice that the packet of chocolate powder is still quite full. Perhaps this is because the kids have already understood that we can have all things in moderation, as a famous Greek once said; and on that matter, know thyself. That also helps.

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