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Spiritual Practice of Parenting: Being Brave and Doing Hard Things

March 19, 2014

These pics bring back memories of first moving to Austin.  I believe I have a picture of Jenni and I on these rocks somewhere.  My, how time has passed.  I never thought I'd be in Austin long enough for my kids to climb on this statue!

My boy, that middlest, first grader, seven year old of mine still isn’t a reader.  You may remember, not quite a year ago, I described how hard he worked and how little progress he made.  At that point, I committed to advocate for him, be his biggest cheerleader, and help him continue to love books.

Not much has changed.  But now, instead of having a kindergartener who was a little bit behind, I have a first grader who is a lot behind.

John isn’t really reading yet.  It is hard.


I’ve found sometimes there is a lot of value in rabbit trails.  Way back when, maybe last November, we were with our small group from our Sunday School class.  One of the guys talked about being a Malcolm Gladwell fan, having read Outliers and Blink.  Malcolm Gladwell’s name rang a bell to me, because my alma mater had some Facebook links to him.  Turns out Malcolm Gladwell is Mennonite.  His latest book, David and Goliath, helped bring him back to the Mennonite church.  So, I put myself on the very long hold list for David and Goliath from our public library and thought nothing more of it.

In January, I finally started David and Goliath.  I read along happily, agreeing with his premise that supposed weaknesses can really be strengths.  He gave a few examples and then started talking about dyslexia.

As he described symptoms of dyslexia my heart sped up a little.  Poor rhymer in preschool?  Mispronounces common words long after what is normal?  Difficulty reading sight words like the, then, that?  Extreme difficulty sounding out words and remembering the sounds letters make?  Slow reader?

Oh, shit.

All of those described John to a tee.  We had been waiting for reading to click, knowing all the teacher things I knew like kids read at their own pace and boys often read later than girls.  It was late January though and reading still wasn’t clicking.  I read the footnote on the page of my book:  Proust and the Squid is a very good book on dyslexia was the gist of the footnote.  I ordered Proust and the Squid that night.

Thus I have started my next project–learning about dyslexia.  John hasn’t been diagnosed with dyslexia yet.  We signed the paperwork yesterday to allow the evaluation to occur through the school district.  Even if the school district says he doesn’t have dyslexia, something is the matter.  I know that.  John knows that.  I am immersing myself in websites, between parental rights of a 504 student (in Texas, dyslexia isn’t under the special ed umbrella, it’s in the 504 label), resources for extra help for students struggling with reading, classes I can take as a teacher so I can help John better, and books how to help dyslexic kids learn to read.  I am talking to neighbors with children with dyslexia.  I have a short stack of DVD’s on dyslexia waiting to be watched.


And I am crying.  I shed tears for my sweet boy, who wants to read so badly, who loves books so much his first grade teacher was convinced he was a high reader for the first few weeks of school because he was always carrying a book.  I mourn the fact that reading may never be easy for him and those books he loves so much may remain elusive.  I cry when spring break ends and he begs me not to go back to school because it is just so hard.  True, he would rather play all day at home with legos or outside with neighbors, but for John, school is a six hour reminder that he is not good enough–he can’t do what the other kids can do and he knows it.  He both notices it himself and has it pointed out to him by his friends.  He comes home indignant because a friend (a friend, who he loves) tells him he can’t read.  “But I can read!”  he tells me.  But he can’t.

We talk a lot about doing the hard things these days.  I tell John regularly, “You are brave.  You do the hard things.”  He does.  School is an entirely different animal for him than it is for his older sister.  I force him to go to school on the days he thinks they are having a spelling test. (They’re doing spelling differently at his school this year–no spelling tests on a regular schedule–just spelling rules they work on in class until the rules are assessed.  While fabulous for some, it doesn’t work for my boy.)  I acknowledge his struggles, hug him, and reassure him, “You are brave.  You do the hard things.  You are an incredible, smart kid.  I love you.”

We keep reading at home, searching for books John can read.  We spend a lot of time laughing at the story and the pictures.  John celebrates finishing books by getting tickled.  We talk about brains being different.

My role hasn’t changed all that much since that post last May.  I advocate for John and insist something isn’t right here (dyslexia is best addressed when diagnosed as early as possible, instead of waiting of until upper elementary or beyond).  I am his biggest cheerleader.  I work hard not to get frustrated when he has to sound out the word “cake” for the second time in three (very short) pages.  I encourage him to love books.  I suspect I will read to him long past when I stopped reading to Madeleine.  Since kindergarten, we’ve read through all eleven books of the How to Train Your Dragon series (which I can not recommend enough!!!).  We’re currently on book two of the Gregor the Overlander series (by Suzanne Collins of The Hunger Games fame).

I struggle too.  When I check out books from the public library, I am acutely aware that my first grader can’t read the Easy to Read books at the library.  I take deep breaths to get through wondering if I have failed him someway.  I know I haven’t, but my mom instincts tell me that I have.  I deal with the shame of not having a reader–that measurement of all educated families—“how high is your child’s reading level?” makes me feel like a failure as well.  Surely I didn’t do the right things when John was younger, with him being the middle child and all, he must have been overlooked or not read to enough.  Reading my dyslexia books, I am convinced the problem is I didn’t say nursery rhymes with him like I did to Madeleine.  However, when logic kicks in, I realize I didn’t read those books to John because he never wanted nursery rhymes like Madeleine did.  Madeleine loved them.  He didn’t.  Early sign of dyslexia or signal of my failing?  It could go either way.

John and I?  We’re brave.  We’re doing hard things.  John keeps going to school and trying to read.  I keep researching, hunting for books that John can read, and planning little reading mini-lessons/activities with phonics.  We are loved.  We are enough–struggling readers and mamas and all.


6 Comments leave one →
  1. March 19, 2014 1:56 pm

    You are both doing hard things. And you both ARE loved. And if you ever want to cry about having a son who doesn’t fit the educational mold, I am here. With coffee. And understanding.

    • March 21, 2014 1:36 pm

      Thanks, Julie. I know you have been through the hard things too. We’ll need to do coffee again, with or without tears. 🙂

  2. March 21, 2014 11:47 am

    Just catching up on this – my heart goes out to you – you ARE doing a great job & everything right that you can for John. He is so blessed to have you as his teacher-mama & advocate. We have gone through this path with Z – finding out he is dysgraphic, advocating him to be tested & trying to create solutions. I’d enjoy coffee & conversation on this, we are experiencing some of the same heartache with reading & C, even having teachers suggest holding back.. I’m glad you are testing early & doing your research. Seriously, john has the right mama for this – you are doing everything right.

    • March 21, 2014 1:38 pm

      Kate, sorry you are struggling with this with Z and C. Hang in there. We’ll need to compare notes sometime before school is out for the summer…..


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