I say that the last thing I want is for her to hate reading. For her to feel forced. For me to push for what I want instead of what works best for her. The real last thing I don't want is for reading, or any lack of understanding, to wreck our relationship. I take the book from her to finish. Together we sink into the pillow and relax into new posturing, trading places of reader and listener. Reprieve. The flash cards of sight words lay beside us in her reading tote; I just can’t.
It’s been a year and a half since I wrote about reading, and how my daughter wasn’t. Long after kindergarten and into first grade, and still no. I was at a loss, jaw slack, trying to remember to breathe through my nose and out my mouth. My heartbeat sinking into my stomach; what was going on? At the end of the school year she was laboring to read a Little Critter book. Clifford was out of reach. Forget about Nate the Great.
Sitting on her flowered comforter with a stack of books spread before us, she implores, “please, please can you read tonight? [Sigh.] It’s hard. [Sigh.] I just want to listen.” Lucy labors over each line in saying this to me and reading. Sifting through her memory for sight words she’s memorized is not easy. Sounding anything out is asking her to read a foreign language. By the time she’s produced the sounds she can’t remember what the line was trying to say. It’s word by word. I help her through the phonetics, giving away more than I’d like to, afraid she’ll shut her stuttering mind and struggling mouth in frustration. I say that the last thing I want is for her to hate reading. For her to feel forced. For me to push for what I want instead of what works best for her. The real last thing I don’t want is for reading, or any lack of understanding, to wreck our relationship. I take the book from her to finish. Together we sink into the pillow and relax into new posturing, trading places of reader and listener. Reprieve. The flash cards of sight words lay beside us in her reading tote; I just can’t.
Blaming her erratic teacher situation is tempting. With multiple shifts in teachers and aides, continuity of care was flagging. The revolving school staff problem was a real problem, but the classroom couldn’t be the sole source for her slowness. I knew she was struggling. At school she succeeded at down playing it, not calling attention to herself for the help she so desperately needed. In the evening I fingered through her backpack, past the perfect machine-woven poly fabric, slick and nubby against my fingers, to find crumple-edged pages. Her writings and seat work, scrawled with sometimes backwards letters and numbers, evidencing her anguish at translating cognizance into print. “Lucy isn’t ever a trouble at school. She’s so mellow and easy going, so well-liked, and so well-behaved!” Her teachers gushed. How would her behavior would be rated if she fidgeted or got distracted every time she got stuck on a syllable, twisted a letter on the page or struggled to string together a sentence? Would they then tell me it was time to get additional help? Sending her to the extra help group for reading was all that happened. When would they get really concerned? When would I know if her lag was really a lapse? Who would spot a learning disability if that’s what it was? How would I know what to do? When should I know when it was time to make a fuss to get what we needed?
I was struggling.
Flashcards weren’t going to fix this.
After school we walk over to the Reading Room, the enrichment program where kids can chart their reading earn prizes for their pages. A familiar wavy yellow ponytail faces out, Addison. Lucy’s dearest friend is facing a computer screen, quickly clicking through a comprehension quiz to earn more points from The Magic Treehouse chapter books she’s buzzed through. The girls’ kindergarten teacher gave them each a wrapped book from the series at the end of the year, promising if you can’t read it yet, you’ll be there soon. We’re still waiting for soon.
Oh, but she’s acclimated, attuning her listening skills, paying rapt attention when the teacher reads worksheet directions aloud. Planning, so she wouldn’t be stuck trying to read what she could not. One day she sputters “remember when Mister Edwards brings a little cup, candy and a penny for Laura’s Christmas in Little House on the Prairie?” We read that book almost two years ago. She’s honed this skill well. The difference between her as a listener and her as a reader is startling.
What’s my job in this? How long to honor her timing and when to let my freak-out out? I was at a loss.
I took it to God and good friends and my gut.
* * *
We got help.
At the end of first grade I was done waiting.
It’s been five months since then and now she’s a second grader. I can’t put proper words to what it means to listen to my daughter read words everywhere and all the time now. Extensive testing confirmed my deep concerns: she was experiencing a disconnect in sound cognition that was inhibiting her comprehension in independent reading. Now, with a new research-led plan and trained tutor at the university literally down the street for our house, she’s getting the help she’s needed. Finding this new program and having it a bike ride away; my years-old worry is wiped at this gift.
She hasn’t made wild zero to sixty, bottom to top reading group progress. Last year’s revolving teacher snafu is in the past and Lucy is coming along. It’s in the light in her face as she reads. Fluidly. Finally. She still has yet to crack that book from her kindergarten teacher. But, we’ve both learned something I’d rank higher: value in struggle. Hers has taught her she can do hard things, she can be patient as she slowly works through words. She does it now without loud aggravation. Quietly, slowly she strings the sounds together. She honors what she can do and does the hard work. I sit beside her and witness. She knows now that she can.
Me, I go back to my desk overlooking the persimmon tree, the summer sun is shining through the leaves and onto the green fruit. I’m sobbing to the thrum of the air conditioner. Catherine, who has been here and done this, is on the phone with me, leaning through the line, telling me I already know the answer. Trust yourself. Don’t wait. Go wrap your arms and energy around your daughter.
* * *
After the hours of testing and even more analyzing the results, I sit down and breathe. Whatever the results, we are in the right place now.
“You actually caught this early, most people won’t show up for another six months. Good work knowing and coming.”
I cry again.
This was never just about her.