As I walked into the classroom Cady’s third grade classroom, her homeroom teacher touched my arm, “I want to talk to you about Cady.” That’s a sentence that strikes fear into the hearts of parents everywhere. Your mind starts to turn over all the possibilities of why the teacher would want to talk to you, and minds can be mean. They never rush to the good, and based on our history, they were often bad.
I knew something was wrong in kindergarten. Call it mother’s intuition. It started with sight words. She would cry every night. I would get frustrated when she would say we instead of me or in instead of it. Could she not she see the difference? “Sound it out,” I would say. “What sound does an m make?” She knew all the letter sounds when you quizzed her verbally, but putting those sounds to the letters she saw never worked.
The day she brought home her first reader I was so excited. From the moment she was born I dreamed about the day she would learn how to read. I have always loved books. I could not wait to share that love with her. But when I sat down to read it with her she stumbled over the words. She told me they danced and moved around. I got frustrated. She got frustrated. And what was supposed to be something fun to bond over became nothing but a chore that ended in tears for one or both of us.
Her teacher assured me it was developmental, but the problems followed her into first grade. As the year progressed her reading grade slipped into the Bs, and homework became even more of a challenge. She still complained about the words dancing. Her handwriting was almost illegible. Spelling was a nightmare.
It was a horror show, and I was the monster. “Just write the words five times and you will memorize them.” I instructed her. She would cry trying to read the little assigned books sent home from school. “Are you really trying?” I would ask. Now, I cringe at the things I said and tried to make her do. I knew something was wrong. I talked to her teacher again. “Do you think she has dyslexia?” I asked. “Wait,” she told me. I waited and saw things get worse and worse.
At the end of the year conference I was finally told that she needed to be tested for dyslexia as soon as school started. Her teacher felt it had moved past being a developmental problem. She told me that waiting out the summer would be best so I agreed.
After struggling through most of her second grade year with an uncooperative teacher, having her grades fall to Cs, losing all of her self-confidence about school, feeling like she was “stupid” and that she could not do it, they finally tested my baby at the end of March in her second grade year. She was diagnosed with dyslexia and Irlen syndrome, a disorder that causes the words to “dance” on the page.
Her dyslexia intervention teacher told me, “I can’t even imagine how hard this has been for her. I have no idea how she has managed to keep grades as good as she has.”
I did. But I’m her mother, and I knew what she was made of.
That day in her third grade classroom my heart started to race. I thought she was doing so well ran through my mind. Finally the kids were settled and her teacher approached. “Cady is doing so amazing. We love having her in class, and we can’t believe how far she’s come this year. I just wanted you to know how proud we are of her.” In that moment, I knew what pride truly felt like.
A year and a half after her diagnosis, I walk into her room at bedtime. I sit in my spot on her bed. We pull the covers up to our chests and recline against pillows. “Read me a story,” I tell her with a smile. “Okay honey. Now be quiet and listen.” She responds with a laugh. For the next twenty minutes she sits and reads to me a book of her choice. Some of the words are hard and she stumbles. She has to ask for my help. Sometimes she will say the wrong word, like throw for though. But she reads to me.
My baby is finally learning to read.
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