“Quiet, Mommy, I’m havin’ a day dream,” Laila said to me. I was driving. She wore a back-to-school motorcycle jacket kindly sent our way that had just arrived via UPS.
“I’m dreaming I’m on my motorcycle,” she said. “And I’ve just arrived at Target. I’m going to buy a toy now.”
“OK, sweetie. Dream on! Don’t let me disturb ya!”
It was an evening like any other.
Except we were going to the library. She was going to “read to dogs.”
We arrived and found one dog, named Charley; Charley’s minder, a man with silver hair and kind eyes; and a narrow, glass-walled room full of children.
That made Laila very nervous.
I’d told her we’d be attending “read to dogs,” not “read to a dog in front of an audience crammed into a tiny space.”
My heart sank a little because I’d really wanted her to give it a go, and now I wasn’t so sure she’d go through with it. We headed to the shelves full of ‘learning to read’ books.
“Amelia Bedelia?” I asked. The title made me nostalgic.
She started thumbing through reader after reader, shaking her head.
“No, not this one. No, not that one.”
Laila told me recently she didn’t like second grade, “because it was hard.” That broke my heart. She also told me she’s convinced everyone is staring at her and she’s afraid to ask questions.
I rocketed off a panicked e-mail to the school administrator. She’d fallen woefully behind in Grade 1, per the multi-colored bars and numbers of a standardized test. We arranged for her to see a reading specialist last year named Mrs. G., and under Mrs. G.’s tutelage and M&M rewards, Laila jumped up five reading levels, the bars and numbers informed us. Then the Title I funding ran out, and with it left Mrs. G and her M&Ms. Could we call a meeting? I wrote the administrator. Could we see if she’s falling behind again? Is she asking for help when she needs it? I messaged her teacher a similar panicky note on the app we parents use to tap out our stream of consciousness concerns and questions at literally any hour. Poor teachers.
Her teacher messaged back that Laila was keeping up well with everyone and also doing a good job asking for help.
We’ve had training sessions, Laila and I, working out how she should stop and ask a question if a teacher got too far ahead during instruction.
“You’ve got to speak up for yourself,” I told her. “Don’t worry about what other kids say or do.”
I’m often the idiot in the room asking the most obvious question. It’s taken my entire life to get used to it. To be brave enough to admit, time and time again – nope, I don’t get it. Why don’t you back up and explain that one more time.
“There is nothing wrong in asking for help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” I’ve told Laila again and again.
Do as I say, not as I do, I thought as I let that last piece of advice air, which was totally something my mother would have said. I’m comfortable demanding explanations I’m piss poor at asking for actual aid.
Laila thumbed through a good ten readers. Indeed. Stalling. I picked the easiest level reader for her, because we had never done this before, so I didn’t want to make it too hard.
I wondered – is she struggling to read, or is she struggling to try knowing that she could mess it up at any moment, because she’s not great at it yet. So does she have a reading problem or a self-confidence problem? Or maybe she has both problems.
Either way I’m obviously responsible! I’m a parenting failure!
Not true, asshole who lives in my head, but it’s easy to go down that road.
Another easy road to travel is called: What are we doing wrong here?
Ha, don’t answer that.
I’m a journalist. Mark is an English teacher. Why can’t our daughter read well yet? BTW I was writing full sentences in kindergarten. OK, the same two sentences, over and over again. My mom kept my kindergarten journal. In it I wrote: “Is the TV on? Yes the TV is on,” roughly 45.8 times. I totally busted my mom.
The TV was so on!
Obvis I was watching Care Bears. Did parents freak out like this in the 80s? I’d actually like to know. As I recall, when the TV was off, my mother just sent us loose to run about the neighborhood while she went about her business. Sure, sometimes there were tasks to attend to, such as, but not limited to, piling us into the back of a station wagon, where we didn’t wear seatbelts or sit in car seats, and driving to the salon, where I received my quarterly bowl cut. It’s a look I like to call ‘The long bowl of ’84.’ And maybe on the way back home she’d crack a window and spark a cig, because, 1984.
I’m not looking for advice about Laila. Unless I ask for it. Which I’m not. Unless someone can put me in touch with my now-deceased mother. I read to Laila every day. We practiced the sight word notecards all summer. I’m not getting her evaluated by the experts. She’s friggin’ 7. The only thing I’m considering is getting her eyes checked, as children sometimes have trouble tracking words on the page due to vision problems that aren’t always super obvious, like weak eye muscles. Even though her teacher thinks she’s doing OK, I may call a meeting and see what’s what and how we can help without going Tiger mom on anyone’s ass.
Right. Back to the library.
The book Laila picked for reading to the dog called Charley was about Fancy Nancy’s sister, JoJo, who was just trying to do some magic tricks with different combination of sticks, towels and magic sayings, to the horror of her sister, Fancy Nancy, who was being a total hater. I never liked that Fancy Nancy anyway, JoJo!
We went through the book, Laila and I, in a corner of the library. I read a line, she read the same line. Then she practiced it on her own. But words like “Bippity Boppity,” “Magic,” etc. tripped her up.
As did the thought about reading to this dog Charley in front of a bunch of kids.
Laila hushed me if I dared speak in anything other than a conspiratorial whisper.
“I should have brought ‘Holiday Helper,'” she whispered, her s’s hissing through her adorably absent front teeth.
“Oh dear Lord Laila. You memorized that book. That wouldn’t be fair. Charley’s not going to care if you have to stop and sound out a word or ask for help.”
“ssssSHHHH MOMMY ssssSHHHHHH.”
We pitter pattered over to the little room where Charley sat by his kind-eyed minder who sat in a rocking chair.
Most of the kids had cleared out.
The remaining audience of three sat on a padded bench across from Charley and his minder, including a woman by herself with a ‘library regular’ vibe, a grandmotherly type and girl who looked 9. I sat on the floor. A confident and husky child of about 10 finished up her tale and hopped along to her mother, satisfied.
It was Laila’s turn, said the man in the rocking chair.
She walked, sat down next to Charley, crossed her ankles and cracked open her reader.
I could tell she was nervous. That made me nervous. Her voice was tiny.
But as she started to read, I beamed.
When the first word stumped her, she looked up at me.
I told her it was OK to ask the man, so she did.
Here and there she had to stop and ask him to help her with a word.
And every time she got through a sentence all right, the dear man said something affirmative, like “Excellent.”
She cast a few smiles at the dog, Charley.
Her voice grew louder.
She got through the whole book.
We all clapped. Charley panted. She hopped off the bench and smiled. I gave Laila a hug.
“I want to do that again, mommy. But I was nervous! Did you take photo and video??”
“Well, just a picture,” I said. “I just wanted to watch you, just me.”
We went to check out her reader, and another one. A level up.
And I thought as we walked out the library doors and to the playground that I should aspire to be more like Charley.
Calm and quiet and satisfied, listening to the voice of a child who is learning to read.