Class, today's grammar lesson is about, well, apparently it's about unresolved childhood wounds.

Seems that a two-page assignment in the cheery elementary school textbook series Great Source, a division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, asked students to identify independent and dependent clauses in 14 sentences.

Let me just say that there was no part of childhood I detested more than having to dissect sentences, even though they make it sound like so much fun:

"A dependent clause begins with a subordinating conjunction -- after, although, because, before, when, while, and so on -- or a relative pronoun -- who, whom, whose, which, that, and so on. See 710.1 and 744.2 for additional examples."


Obviously, I am no help to my kid.

"Some writer," she tells me.

But there we were the other night, attempting the intimidating task of keeping her on track in sixth grade when, suddenly, I'd never been so fascinated by a grammar assignment in my life.

Of the 14 sentences assigned, about half, I would say, fall into the category called: Honey, find yourself a good therapist.

The first sentence was benign: "Although I always appreciate gifts, I find it hard to write formal thank-you letters."

For those of you keeping track, "I find it hard to write formal thank-you letters" is the independent clause because it presents a complete thought, and "Although I always appreciate gifts" is the dependent clause.

But dependency issues really arise beginning with Sentence No. 2:

"It is especially hard when my mother is on my case." (Probably about those thank-you notes.)

Sentence No. 3:

"Because this is such a big deal with my mother, I'm trying to understand the issues." (No, I'm not making this up.)

Sentence No. 4:

"My mother is someone who is very set in her ways." (Would it hurt you so much to write the thank-you note already?)

By Sentence No. 5: -- "If only she counted telephone calls and e-mail, I would be off the hook" -- I could no longer behave.

"What's so funny?" my daughter asked.

Checking around on the Internet the next day, I learned that Great Source materials are published by Write Source, a Wisconsin group of teachers and writers. Clearly, they have a love for learning and for kids. Their website is filled with the kinds of reading recommendations and writing challenges I relished at that age:

Write an essay about "A narrow escape from trouble," or "A memorable bus ride," or, "If I could be someone else, I would be ..."

And, in what could be a hint of the author of those curious sentences above, there was this topic suggestion, too: "If only I would have listened!"

My several calls to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and to Great Source went unanswered. Somebody should tell them that such behavior is impolite. But it won't be me.

Meanwhile, back to the assignment:

Sentence No. 8: "My mother insists on a handwritten thank-you because that is what she has always done."

Sentence No. 9: "What is so special about writing by hand when there are other ways of accomplishing the same thing?"

Sentence No. 10: "Why do we have telephones and computers if we aren't allowed to use them for everyday things?"

Sentence No. 14: "If I would send him (Uncle Bert from Sentence 13 who, apparently still has not received a thank-you note) an e-mail message, I have no idea what would happen with my mom."

Oh, my.

Fractions, anyone?

Gail Rosenblum • 612-673-7350