It wasn’t until fifth grade that the pieces began to fall into place for me. Oh, I still panic when playing navigator in a moving vehicle and the pilot springs the difficult question on me, “Do I turn right or left at the next corner?” Panic raises its ugly face as I wrestle with an answer that will inevitably be the wrong response. It’s an issue that continues to mess with my life as a dyslexic. I can’t remember double digits when required to enter them. When making a purchase using Rick’s debit card. Is it 19 – 21 or 21 – 19? Given any situation where there are only two possible answers I’m going to be completely flummoxed. It’s how my dyslexia gets in the way of my mind, but in fifth grade a key unlocked a door in my brain and I began to learn how to deal with it. Until fifth grade most of my teachers assumed I was stupid and placed me in the remedial groups left to fend for myself while the teachers spent time with those kids who seemed more worthy of their attention, but in fifth grade some magic happened. It was fifth grade when Mrs. Larson saw something in me that gave her reason to push my capabilities and lift my sense of worth. My self-confidence had a real growth spurt that year and I continued to grow academically all through the rest of my educational life.
Emmy’s moment of “Ah-ha” happened this year, the year she turned thirteen. Previously, prior to our New York demise, she constantly devalued herself, thinking she was slow or worse, stupid. The competition at Friends Seminary was brutal and even though she felt socially safe, she felt completely academically deficient in the face of such salient competition. The two of us worked a schedule of 6:30am breakfast, school, bath, dinner, and homework until eleven before I tucked her into bed and the cycle repeated the following day. It was a heart-breaking existence watching her try so hard and failing so miserably. Like I did in my early years, we both had our successes that kept us from giving up. We both had strong visual communication skills but like many dyslexics our verbal capabilities lagged miserably behind the rest of the pack.
Emmy’s seventh grade scores on the standardized testing ranked her in the bottom 15% of all private school students, a fact I would never have revealed to her. Testing is always a dreaded experience for dyslexics. While most kids were whizzing through the multiple choice questions I was left trying to figure out if it’s my left or the stove’s left that has the six quarts of boiling water needed for the pound of pasta before I could even start to tackle the issue of converting the quarts to pints and the pounds to ounces. The process of decoding the question was frequently more difficult than knowing the correct answer. These tests were always traumatic for her because of the way they pounded on her self-confidence. This year the results were reversed. The results of Emmy’s eighth grade testing placed her right on the line between proficient and advanced in reading, well into proficient in language arts, mathematics and science and into the coveted advanced area in social studies. She leapt from a seventh grade English teacher giving her an unsatisfactory and suggesting she not return to Friends in the following year to getting an A- in her third quarter at her new school in Madison. I don’t know if it was completely due to the new environment, a place where she might have sensed a bit of a leg up given the advanced nature of her previous New York schooling. Her finding the key to her potential might have occurred no matter where we were, but if the move to Madison escalated Emmy’s treasure hunt to finding her academic self-confidence then I am eternally grateful. If this was our one reward coming out of our catastrophic failure and the cosmic reason for our moving out of New York, the sacrifice of leaving the city both Rick and I so totally loved was worth the gift it has given her.