With my firstborn letters, words and sentences came easily. He would pass time in the back seat of our Nissan on long road trips his little legs crossed, paging through picture books. But with little one, every word is a battle. It breaks my heart to hear him yell the words “I HATE READING!”
We knew that it would be likely that our kids might struggle since my husband and I both have forms of dyslexia. As an adult he’s learned to cope with it by consuming audio books- reading more than I ever could because he pops in his headphones and listens while he does dishes, or during his commute to work. I learned to cope with it by having a job where I deal with words instead of numbers.
I can’t imagine books being the enemy. When I grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan I passed the time during long, snowy winters with my friends Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, imagined myself living in the metropolitan museum of art in the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and flipped through Archie comics, always rooting for Betty but admiring Veronica’s posh wardrobe and flashy convertibles. Reading is a sensory experience to me that an e-reader just can’t capture no matter how convenient it is to have 1, 247 books downloaded and waiting to be read. I like the feel of a book- a real book with pages, and a cover, that I can put the nearest scrap of paper in for a bookmark. Books make feel safe- knowing I can escape into the pages whenever I desire.
But as I’m working through each painstaking page with my little one, I’m trying to remember what it feels like to hit a brick wall of failure and insecurity with every new page, though for me it was every new math problem. I read a friend’s blog recently about making her home a safe learning space for her daughters who have dyslexia. Because they have to work so hard to conform to neuro-typical learning standards at school, their mom Laura tries to make home a place that fits their learning style.
Thankfully there are other people who have been down this road & her post inspired me to think about how Ozzy is able to learn & what he enjoys. In our basement, Dave mounted swings and a hammock from the ceiling- the boys love to go down there to play, especially now that it’s cold. So I devised a game where my boy could move his body while he learned. I held his list of sight words so he could read them while swaying back and forth on the swing. For every word he read I threw a mini-marshmallow into his mouth, which became a hilarious game. After a few days he was asking me to come downstairs to read with him and play the marshmallow game! It’s become more difficult with books, but I still hold them so he can read them while he is on the swing.
Over the next few months he’s getting tested for “letters” as my husband calls them- the same letters I had as a kid- ADD, LD, and perhaps dyslexia. It’s painful to watch him go through this- to see the smart, hilarious and determined kid he is and know there are just some things that aren’t going to be easy for him. To know that he’ll probably struggle with being labeled with letters. I know it will be a fight for him his whole life, just like it was a fight for me. But dammit if Kelly Clarkson, Nietzsche and Kanye aren’t right- what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.