“But I Can’t Read”

Her face was solemn, her mouth turned down at the corners when she said it. “But I can’t read.”

We were playing a game at a friend’s – Silly Sentences – and near the end she walked away from the board, unwilling to finish the game. It broke my heart. I’m a writer, an obsessive reader, and the thought that my child is having such difficulty, such issues with believing in herself and her own abilities breaks my heart.

I had to do something, but not there, when we were alone, just the two of us. I decided to wait for the right moment. It came later, as we were driving home.

I asked her, “Emily, do you know how to count?”

She paused for a moment and then said, “Well, yes.”

“And do you know your ABCs?”


“And can you talk?”

“Yes.” She sounded bewildered.

“Now, if I asked you to count to 5,625 could you do it?” (she had just finished counting from 1 to 70, pausing only on the 30, 50, and 70 for help)


“But you can still count, right?”

“Yes, just not that high.”

“Okay. And if I asked you to repeat the following word – supercalifragilisticespialidocious – could you do it?”

She giggled, “Super…umm…supercal…ummm, NO!”

“But that doesn’t mean you can’t talk, right?”

“That’s a really big word, Mama.”

“I know it is, sweetie. What I want to know is this, if you can talk, even though big words are still hard, and you can count, even though big numbers are difficult, why is it that you think you can’t read when you can sound out words?”

ThereĀ  was a long silence. “But I don’t know the big words like you do, Mama.”

“Sweetheart, few people do. That doesn’t mean you can’t read.”

I left the conversation there. I can see her progress, every day, and it blows me away. She amazes me. Just when I started to get worried that she might never get past counting to 20 without error, she did it, and went straight up to 70 with little hesitation or difficulty. It was the right time, she was ready, and it happened.

Learning, how and when we make those leaps in understanding still baffles me, but it hasn’t stopped either of us from continuing to make remarkable progress. It remains a mysterious process, in which I continue to attempt to scale the wall, her right beside me, sometimes a step ahead, sometimes a step behind. We find a chink here, a handhold there, and we pull ourselves further along, trying to ignore the slips backward, our eyes on the prize.

My heart hurts when I see her frustration, her lack of belief in self, her fear of never understanding the challenge that has been set before her.

How do I express to her this love that I have? For her. For her sister. For watching a life grow before me, stretching, expanding, the synapses madly making these amazing connections. The honor I feel to be a part of another life, to touch it, to help her move towards more.

How is that joy and pain go so closely together?

Recent Article on Homeschooling

I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts on this article Are Progressive Homeschoolers Lefty Frauds?

All I can say is wow while suggesting that those who are so convinced their families can’t afford to homeschool take a hard look at their spending habits and reconsider which is more important, your child or your brand-new SUV in the driveway. I was a single working mom with no child support, and I managed to homeschool my daughter. Anything is possible if you want it bad enough.

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