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Learning to Read Later

By Sandra Clark

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.

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