Friday, September 12, 2008

Through a different lens

I don't know if it was this complicated in previous school years. Maybe it is simply the added complexity of third grade. Or maybe it is that in my juggling I now have more balls in the air than I did in the lazy days of summer. Whatever, the transition into the school year has been much more challenging than I remember.

Memory is a funny thing, like a soft focus filter on a portrait lens. It takes the harsh edges off, given enough time. Worry, on the other hand, stops action like a super fast sports lens leaving hands, feet and contorted mouths in crisp, mid-motion detail. I think maybe it is time for me to change my lens.

My daughter struggles with reading. I am not exactly sure what the struggle is and so far, I'm not having a lot of success getting anyone to explain it to me. One day she reads through with little difficulty and the next day, she has trouble brining out the little words, prepositions and subject pronouns in particular. She gets frustrated. She yells at me, "You're not helping me." I feel terrible. I am not a trained teacher. I don't know how to help her. Sometimes she can sound the words out, which is the only way I know to help her decipher them, and sometimes she gets all the syllables correct but cannot string them together into a recognizable word.

She labors over writing assignments. I have yet to identify if that is because she labors over the act of writing itself (her handwriting borders on the illegible) or if it is because she labors inside her mind over the construction of what she needs to say. "I can't think of anything." "I don't know what to write." I try to help her think about what she wants to say, work it out orally and then move toward the writing of it. But she often is not able to tell me even what she is thinking.

I can tell by her mutterings that she feels unsuccessful: "I can't do it." "See what the problem is with me?" "I'll never get it right."

I have spent the past six years of her life working to find her the help she needs, trying to figure out what makes her tick, and searching out strategies for helping her bring out the success that I know is inside her. She is smart. She is curious. She asks me pointed questions about the working of the world that sometimes require a trip to the internet for the answers. She remembers details of conversations that we have had that I do not and will remind me in a way that seems to say, "Mom, we talked about that, why don't you remember?" Yet, I do not feel any closer
today to an answer to the question of how to help her, how to get her educational experiences to match her learning mechanisms and needs, than I was when she started preschool. Navigating the supplemental support system at the school is cumbersome at best and most often painstakingly slow. I am afraid that by the time an answer is found it will be too late to help her.

In the meantime, I am left with the image of her getting out of the car this morning. She was happy and excited because they were allowed to bring a stuffed animal to school. The class filled their marble jar and voted for reading with their animals as reward. She unbuckled her seat belt and slung her backpack onto the seat to wriggle into to it, but for just a moment she stopped. She held against her chest her Siberian Husky, Hugdog, wearing a pink velveteen skirt and matching hoodie jacket with a red rose embriodered on it and gray Joe-Cool sunglasses between her blue eyes and her furry, pointed ears. Time stood still, as she placed a slow, gentle kiss atop her dog's furry head. Then she got into her back pack and, with Hugdog tucked safely in her arm, walked toward the back door of the school building.

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