Of solid projectiles and Writer’s Workshop

My Webster’s New World Dictionary lists two dozen definitions of the word “shot.”

There are seventeen for the noun form, four for the adjective, and four idiomatic, including shot in the arm, call the shots, and take a shot.

For my daughter, however, there is only one definition. No. 14, “a hypodermic injection, as of vaccine.” She got her kindergarten immunizations yesterday. It had been more than three years since the last round. When the doctor told her she needed shots, it clearly meant nothing. She waited patiently for the nurse to bring the syringes, climbed up obligingly on the exam table and laid down, no questions asked.

Until that first poke. Like a shot (couldn’t resist), she jerked upright, screaming. “It’s hurting! It’s hurting!” ShotPic

In the next hour, she used her new vocabulary often. “I don’t like shots.” “When will the shots stop hurting?” “The shots felt like when the bee stinged me.

Clearly, others in her generation define shot singularly, too. Her eight-year-old neighbor friend came by after we got home. “Audrey’s not feeling so good. She just got some shots,” I explained.

Her eyes grew wide. “Oh, I don’t like shots,” she said, backing away.

I felt normal maternal sorrow, the regret that one’s child must feel any pain, no matter how fleeting or worthwhile. But I also marveled at the language lesson she got as a bonus, just in time for this new school year.

“Guess what we did at school today!” she said last week.

“I don’t know. Tell me.”

“Writer’s Workshop!”

I choked up. Truly. My child? Excited about writing? Visibly excited? I try hard not to project my expectations on either of my children. To have her spontaneously fulfill the desire I wasn’t allowing myself to harbor swelled my heart, just like her thigh after that needle poked.

And it wasn’t just that one time. We’ve completed seven days of school and she’s mentioned Writer’s Workshop three times. Her subjects were 1) Ozzie, our neighbor’s dog; 2) the community pool where she swims, and 3) a volcano. (We live in Michigan. Go figure.)

Language is so amazing. We can take a collection of 26 geometric shapes and agree, for example, that when combined as v-o-l-c-a-n-o, it means a vent in the earth’s crust through which lava, rock fragments, gases and ashes are ejected (my Webster’s happens to still be handy.)

Change those letters just slightly, to v-u-l-c-a-n, for instance, and it now means the Roman god of fire (or, to certain generations and fanatics, an extraterrestrial humanoid being.) We can speak those words and write them down. When we write them down, we preserve them for future generations. For the common good. (“Don’t build your house next to that volcano!”) For education. (“The last people that lived by that volcano found it a bit unsettling.”  For history. (“No one’s lived by that volcano in 100 years.”

How audacious. And, to me, how simply marvelous.

It doesn’t stay simple, of course — as two dozen definitions for a four-letter word tell you. But it must start with one. Now, she has one. The foundation is being laid. Letters become words become meaning. Meaning becomes stratified into layers, becoming relationships, becoming life.

And it is a fact of life that shots hurt. I’m sorry, Audrey. Eventually, you’ll learn that shots can be risky, too — a long shot. And rewarding — a moon shot. Shots can be something you slam. (Don’t in a bar, but go ahead on a basketball court.) Shots can be solid, deadly projectiles, or, like your red hair, shot through with gold, they can be variegated and beautiful.

In the meantime, I can’t wait to read about how Ozzie went swimming in the volcano.

– The letter M brought to you by Daily Drop Cap. 

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