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Taming those ums and ers

A 5-year-old learns to order his thoughts and speak clearly.

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Achilles was just about to launch an enormous rock onto Hector's head, leaving his wife a widow and his son fatherless, when 5-year-old Joah interrupted, "Mom, um, er."

I laid the book down and turned to him, "Yes, Joah."

"Um, Mom, um, er."

Three-year-old Anna sighed deeply, while 8-year-old Lael puffed in despair.

"Um, Mom, um."

"Jo, can I carry on reading while you try remember what you wanted to say?"

I picked up Rosemary Sutcliffe's retelling of the Iliad, and began again.

Just as Paris was about to shoot that fateful arrow, the arrow that would pierce Achilles in the one place he was mortal, the arrow that would end the Greek's confidence and force Odysseus to build the Trojan horse, Joah interrupted. "Mom, um, that man, what um, that man, um er."

"What man, Jo?" I said, as my girls murmured in the background.

"That man, um, not Hector, um er that man, not Paris, um, that man, not...."

"Jo, can you try figure out what man you want to ask a question about while we carry on reading?"

We managed to make it right through to that fateful night when Ajax, in a fit of madness and rage, slaughtered hundreds of sheep. Then, just as he was to throw himself on his own sword in shame, Joah stopped him, "Mom, um, er, um, why um er?"

"Sam," I said to my husband that night, "do you think it's OK to tell our children that they need to get their thoughts in a row before they speak?" I want to love our children by listening to them and allowing them time to express themselves. But I also want to love them by teaching them to be articulate. It won't take much to train them to order their thoughts before they speak. In a sense it's tough love. A little bit of firmness now, will help them win a greater hearing when they are older.

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