Overcoming Childhood Dyslexia: All Alone in My Kids Klub
My Story of Overcoming Childhood Dyslexia.
By Maureen D. Friedman
“Mommy, do you think I will have to do homework in Disney World?”
The steady chopping of onions stopped and my mother sighed sadly, wiped her hands on her apron, and turned around. I blinked back at her from across the kitchen. I was sitting at the family dinner table, copying the illustration from the cover of The Little Mermaid using my lighted kiddie drawing board.
“Well, you’re teachers haven’t given you any makeup work yet, no.”
As my chubby 9-year old face began to light up with an incandescent excitement of a child freed from the oppression of school assignments, my mother continued.
“But I am going to give you an assignment myself.”
The betrayal cut through the fog of fairy dust that had filled my head for the past several months. I let my mouth drop dramatically.
“Don’t give me that face for a second, Maureen Louise. We can’t let your mind turn completely to mush for nine days. You would just become even more behind your classmates.”
I didn’t understand why I should even bother. Being behind was being behind. I felt like an idiot every time I cracked a book at school. While the other students read loudly with monotone excitement, I would sweat through my polo shirt, diligently following along with my pointer finger, heart racing in anticipation of my turn to read a paragraph. When the time finally came, the page began to give off a glare from the snowy whiteness of the paper. The weak, black text seemed to almost drown in the shimmer. It reduced me to recognizing the shape and length of the words to those I had seen again and again. “You. Me. Go. Do. Hello. Today.” I would linger on the sound of the first letter, waiting for my teacher to have pity on me and complete it so I could go on with my memorized nouns and verbs.
My mother continued tiredly. “Mrs. Bostic suggested that I give you a journal, and you write what you did each day of the trip. Then you can share it with the class when you get back.”
The mere mention of my Specials teacher made my face burn with resentment and shame. Every day when my classmates were instructed to pull out their bright orange phonics workbooks, Mrs. Bostic would appear in my classroom doorway like the grim reaper, beckoning me with her veiny hand to follow her to my Specials class. My cheeks never failed to flush to the tips of my ears as I would cross the room followed by the taunting eyes of my fellow 9 year olds. Mrs. Bostic would grip my shoulder sternly and then briskly walk me up two flights of stairs to my own personal hell: the attic room of our old school building, hot, tight, stuffy but hidden, where I would be greeted by 4 other Special children.
Nobody ever used the word Dyslexia to me. While it frustrated and humiliated me that I could not read as well as my friends, I could never wrap my brain around the fact that writing my numbers and letters backwards was a problem. What was the big deal, I would ask my dad as he corrected my homework at night. The right way and the wrong way of the written letter “K” were so similar to my mind’s eye that I could barely distinguish them. The only answer my dad could give me was that it was a big deal to grown-ups because “grown-ups know how much harder school gets if you never read and write your letters forwards.”
My mother handed me a 4x4 inch Lisa Frank diary, covered in rainbow-hued kittens and unicorns. It was so beautiful that I forgot for a moment that it was homework.
“I want you to write at least 3 pages every day,” she said, trying to sound authoritative. I sank into my chair, nodding obediently as I fidgeted with my dust-matted pink ankle socks. She softened, and somehow mustered a fake but cheerful wink. “You can also draw a picture on the back of each page.” The green streaks in my hazel eyes lit up and sparkled by the light of my drawing board. After a victorious “Yaaaaaaaaay,” I returned to my Princess-drawing labors, and my mother turned back to finish preparing the spaghetti sauce.
Years later, as I cleaned out the toy chest in my old bedroom in preparation of relatives staying at my parent’s house for my wedding, I found that old journal from Disney World. The first few entries are written in painstaking detail, and despite atrocious spelling, the letters are mostly forward facing. But as the entries continue, my focus slips from the writing and as the pictures become more detailed, the writing becomes almost entirely unreadable. As I rubbed the kitten water-marked pages, a few tears slowly made their way down my face and pooled in the corners of my lips. In 5th grade, after several more years of Specials classes, and increasing maturity and determination on my part, I learned how to read and write quickly and coherently and even began to greatly enjoy it. Once my teachers could understand what I was writing, they complimented my creativity, vocabulary and style. My stomach would flutter with pride and I kept advancing.
I didn’t end up majoring in English, and haven’t finished my novel yet, but when my Kindergarten students read to me, I remember my struggles and accomplishments. It never ceases to impress me how literate my students are by the age of five.
As I sit on the carpet in my classroom, listening to the student on my lap read The Cat In The Hat to me, her curly hair tickling my nose as her head moves left to right to follow the words carefully, she stumbles on a word. After several attempts to pronounce the word, I say it for her. She turns and looks up at me and confides that she isn’t a very good reader. “You wanna know something amazing?”
“What?” She says, sounding unimpressed already.
“I couldn’t read until the 5th grade.”
She gasps, and a huge smile lights up her face.
“And now I’m your teacher! So keep going. No excuses!”
She giggles, turns back around, and continues to read to me, with a quicker pace and a voice that could only come through a pair of smiling lips.