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When Your Child Struggles

When Your Child Struggles

It seems that we moms brag a lot. After all, our children are amazing and wonderful and incredibly advanced. We compare milestone notes: What age did he walk? Can he swim? Does he catch a ball? How far can he hit? Is he reading yet?

I've written about it before, the internal struggles mothers have; this inner battle that leaks out into the world and causes us to compare. But worse, we don't admit to struggles our children have, as if without a proper diagnosis, those struggles are taboo. It feels wrong for us to admit that our child isn't advanced on every level. It begins to feel as though, perhaps, there's something wrong with us, with our parenting.

When Joseph started first grade, he knew 8 out of the 100 first grade sight words. We were mildly concerned when we discovered that, leaving kindergarten, he should know 25.

I spoke to some of the teachers I work with and got a book to work on with him over the summer. We worked in the book a bit and continued our nightly reading. I couldn't understand why, but it just didn't seem like anything was sticking.

Still, when he started first grade, he knew eight words. And not necessarily the same eight words.

I felt guilt eat away at me. Working the summer schedule of four ten hour days, I hadn't concentrated on his reading enough. I should have done more. I should have stayed home on those Fridays and practiced with him instead of the three of us heading to the beach. I didn't do my job.

Within a couple of weeks, we got a phone call suggesting we enroll him in the early morning Reading Recovery program. We did, hoping the extra half hour would help him make the connections.

We continued working with him at home. I borrowed a program from a co-worker. Rachel worked with him while homeschooling Benny. Gee used flash cards. We all worked hard. And still, by the end of the first half of the year, he knew 25 out of 100 words. He'd made progress, slow progress. We were told that at his current rate, he'd be at the mid-year level by the beginning of second grade, putting him behind.

His teachers assured me he tried so very hard. They told me he didn't get frustrated, that he approached reading with good humor and reassured them not to worry, that he'd keep trying. Still, no matter what they did, he just couldn't get the words. Mrs. G suggested we do a team study to rule out dyslexia.

My heart thudded.

I took home the packet of paperwork and started reading.

Dyslexia didn't make sense to me. His math skills were off the charts. He didn't transpose his numbers or write them backwards. They didn't jumble around on the page.

Yet his difficulties with reading...

Finally, Rachel gave me the business card for Academic Associates.

I called.

I set up an evaluation and discovered, to my great relief, that Joseph was not dyslexic. He did not have any learning issues that we'd need to address. He simply didn't learn the way the school was teaching him.

Ten weeks later, after two hour long sessions a week, I was in the kitchen...

"Can we read Harry Potter now?"

"In a minute, baby. Just let me finish the dishes."

Joseph left. I heard him talking while I stacked plates. I paused. He wasn't talking. He was reading Harry Potter without me. He was making his way through the tenth chapter with barely a stumble while Elizabeth sat and listened.

He'd gone from struggling over four letter word combinations to reading Harry Potter. From reading "see Spot run" to Harry Potter. I stood in the kitchen and cried.

Now, in the second grade, Joseph is reading at a nearly a fourth grade level. The world of books and words has opened to him. I find myself standing just out of sight behind the door jam and listen to him read stories to his sister. And every time, I tear up.

With relief.

With joy.

With pride.

The other day, a mom posted on Facebook that her son was having issues with his sight words. Suggestions poured in. They were familiar suggestions—Starfall, workbooks, word games. I sent her a private message and asked a couple questions. Her son was having the exact same issues as Joseph. She too was feeling like a failure. And she too was feeling that particular pressure one feels when one's Facebook wall and mom groups are filled with talk of children reading Shakespeare and one's own child does not recognize the word "the".

I provided her with a virtual introduction and, I hope, with the knowledge that she's not alone. Kids learn in different ways, at different rates. In a world obsessed with charts and milestone markers and test scores, it's easy to forget. It's even easier to feel like a failure at this job of motherhood.

But you're not. So keep posting pictures of your child's painting being featured at the Getty. Keep emailing links to your ten-year-old's upcoming novel to be released by Penguin. But also, sometimes, remember to keep it real. Because watching your child struggle can be painful, but it doesn't have to be isolating.

Categories: essays

Mandy Dawson

I'm the creator of In Mandyland where I've documented my life for the last six years. In addition, I write for Momtastic, have been featured on BlogHer and Mamapedia, was a contributor to Aiming Low and Makes Fun of Stuff and am an editor at Bannerwing Books. I've been published in three anthologies and am currently working on a novel.
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