Faith is a funny kind of thing. A deceptively simple word, it contains a whole universe of meaning...and it requires unparalleled strength and commitment to follow through on it.
And I’m not even talking about the spirit-greater-than-us kind of faith.
I’m talking about the kind of faith that’s much, much closer to home. Faith in ourselves as parents, and in our children. In some ways, I think that kind of faith is even harder than the spiritual kind, because while we don’t feel responsible for whatever deity we believe in, we feel very, very responsible for those little beings we bring into the world.
We have expectations for them and ourselves. Society has expectations for them and us, too. And if we don’t meet those expectations, the eyebrows go up and the self-doubt sets in. Breaking away from that isn’t just hard, it’s brutally hard. And that, my friends, is where faith comes into play. The kind of faith that requires you to leap into its embrace and hold on with all your might as you close your eyes and ears to the naysayers and learn to trust yourself and your child.
There have been many such leaps of faith for us where our daughter Mika is concerned. I think having her learn to read was the most dramatic one. Notice my choice of words there: having her learn to read, not teaching her to read. It’s a deliberate choice, because Mika didn’t actually learn to read until she was...are you ready for this?...sixteen years old.
Need to make a gasp of disbelief there? It’s okay. We get that a lot when we tell this story. ;)
If you read last week’s post, you’ll remember that Mika was initially diagnosed with dyslexia rather than an autism spectrum disorder. While the diagnosis may have been incomplete, it was still accurate in and of itself (she actually has dysgraphia, and discalcula as well, but those were also missed at the time). Anyway, when she finished grade 2, we decided to homeschool her for a year in order to bring her reading up to grade level and give her a chance to catch up with her peers. I took my role as teacher very seriously, and designed an entire curriculum for us to follow.
Reading, of course was a big part of that curriculum. Every day, we would bring out the grade-appropriate reader (carefully sourced), and I would have her practice reading aloud to me for ten minutes. And every day, that ten minute time frame grew a little longer, because of the fight that needed to be fought in order to get her to do the damned reading. She grew ever more resistant, I became ever more frustrated, and we rapidly spiralled downward from there...
Until one day, she hid the reader and flatly refused to tell me where it was.
Of course, being the good mother who lived up to societal expectations, I did what I thought was needed and sent her to her room, where she cried her little heart out while I sat in the living room and cried my little heart out.
Then, somewhere amid the tears, I had an epiphany.
In my research into homeschooling, I’d come across a number of stories about kids who had learned to read at their own pace...some of them later than the ‘norm’—and some of them much later. Their mothers all advocated the importance of trusting your child. As a child of the 60s myself, this was a novel concept indeed. But as I howled on the couch that day, I realized that my daughter and I had hit an impasse when it came to reading, and I was no longer convinced that it was in her best interests (or mine) that I continue to force the issue.
And so I leaped. I chose to believe those other mothers’ stories, and to trust my daughter. I called her out from her room, dried her tears, cuddled her on my lap, and told her we were done with me teaching her to read. She would read, I declared, when she was ready.
Of course, I didn’t know then that it would take another seven years to get there. O.o
Seven years is a lot of time to cling to your faith, and I had many moments of doubt in those years. So many moments of doubt. I had to stand up not just against the system, but also against my family. I lost count of the discussions my husband and I had over whether I was doing the right thing. Ultimately, he made a leap of his own in trusting me, but it took us a long while—and some pretty impressive battles—before we reached agreement.
In the meantime, I read to Mika for hours every day. She loved stories, and I provided them. We made weekly—and sometimes twice-weekly—trips to the library, sat on the couch together, and read about everything. Medieval castles, the history of numbers, books about animals, historic novels, adventure stories, books about cool science facts...you name it, we read it. As a result, her vocabulary—formerly a weak point for her—exploded, and friends began to comment on how articulate she was.
When she reached 12 years old and still showed no interest in reading (but my voice showed every sign of giving out), I had a eureka moment and introduced her to audiobooks. She took to them like the proverbial duck to water, with the added bonus of solving a whole other issue we’d been struggling with: audio processing.
You know the old “in one ear and out the other” saying? That was Mika. Her ability to pay attention to verbal instructions was almost nonexistent...and an ongoing point of conflict between us. How perfectly marvelous, then, that all on her own, she discovered the frustration of having to rewind cassettes or go back on a CD to find information she’d missed—and then made a point, again all on her own, to train herself to listen better so she wouldn’t have that frustration. Parenting for the win? I think so. ;)
But let’s be honest here: she still wasn’t reading. And yes, we remained concerned, and yes, I second-guessed myself—every...single...day. :(
Fast forward to age 16 and the introduction by her sisters to MSN messenger, the precursor to today’s social media. Of all things to inspire the desire to read in my child, this was the last one that would have crossed my mind (or that I would have wanted, frankly)...but it’s what worked. Because friends. *sigh* Suddenly my daughter had all kinds of interest in reading, and dived into teaching herself...not so she could read great works of literature, but so she could be online. *rolls eyes* But hey, you take what you can get, right?
Six years later, Mika’s dyslexia remains a definite impediment for her, but her reading fluency continues to improve. She is still overwhelmed by too much print on a page, especially when she’s tired, and she still finds audiobooks more enjoyable than physical reading. But she can and does seek out information independently when she needs it, and she is comfortable asking for help when she needs that, too.
Would I do it the same way again? The leap of faith part, yes. The stressing about it part, however, not so much--because I’m pretty sure I could have found more productive ways to use my time while my daughter was off enjoying her audiobooks or my husband and I were out on a date. ;)
What about you? Any particular leaps of faith you’ve made where your child is concerned? Or that you're contemplating? Leave me a comment below!