New to the Rodeo

When you become a parent, all of your senses become heightened. This is a fact. Ask any parent the following questions, and I guarantee you he or she will answer a resounding “yes!” to every one.

1. Can you distinguish pain and hunger solely from your child’s cries?

2. Can you lift a baby, sniff his bommer, and know immediately what type of diaper you’re dealing with?

3. Can you differentiate the various shades of green on your child so that you know exactly when you need to pull over for him to yack when he’s carsick?

 This list could go on and on, but the most important sense that becomes heightened when one becomes a parent is one’s intuition.

 Parents just know when something’s not right with their child.

 I knew something was not right with Tucker for a good 3 years before we finally received confirmation that he is dyslexic.

 When he was barely 3, he could write his name, but at first he’d switch the crayon back and forth between his right and left hands. Sometimes he’d hold crayons in both hands and write letters with both hands simultaneously (“T” with left hand, “U” with right hand, etc.). This just isn’t right. “Don’t worry! He’s not determined his dominant hand yet,” educators would tell me when I asked about it.

 From age 4 and on, after he’d been capable of writing his name for a solid year, he began to mix up the sequence of letters in his name. Some papers or artwork would come home with “Tcuker” on them, others with “Tckr” on them. Again, this just is not right. “He’s fine!” educators told me. “He’s just experimenting with sounds.” 

 Once he began kindergarten, he would not write his name with a capital “T”. So then papers came home saying “tcuker” or “tukcer”. “We’re not worried,” educators told me. But of course, I still worried.

 I worried even though we’d met with Tuck’s teachers and the curriculum development head at his old school. They heard me out as I spouted pedagogical theory and other nonsense but then insisted that children aren’t even assessed for dyslexia until they are at least 6. I worried when his teacher said she’d “caught Tucker writing with his left hand.” I worried when Tucker would struggle to sound out words in a BOB book that were nowhere close to the corresponding letters in print. I worried that I, an English major and attorney, had somehow produced a non-reader.

 But worrying gets you nowhere, so we plugged onward, even though by this point, my intuition was screaming at me on a daily basis.

 Day after day, I fussed and chided Tuck about not capitalizing the T in his name. Day after day, I was on his case about making the most of school, especially in the morning when he’d come into our room at 5:30 a.m., crying and with an upset stomach because he dreaded having to head off to school later that morning. Night after night, we read books before bed, me forcing him to sound out words or to read every other word or just to read one single word. Our happy, happy child was spending more and more time crying or hiding or avoiding books altogether.

 Again, this just was not right.

 Finally, his teachers suggested he pay a visit to the Learning Specialist at his school. She gave him a few assessments and immediately recommended we meet with an Educational Psychologist.

 Tucker spent 2 entire days with the Educational Psychologist. During this time, he completed 13 separate assessments, each consisting of multiple parts. Tucker also told this paid professional that words come off the page and go into his brain just fine, but then someone–God, or maybe Zeus–tells him to say the wrong thing. Yes, he actually told his doctor that he might be a demigod. Trust me; we all had a good laugh about that one (thank you, Rick Riordan, author of the great Percy Jackson series), and his doctor used it to prove a point. To him, the way his brain works is magical. Frustrating, but magical.

 Tucker’s doctor called me back to her office at the completion of the 2nd day’s worth of testing and told me what I’d suspected for well over 3 years: Tucker is a gifted dyslexic. A few weeks later, we received the full 17-page report; while Tuck has deficits in orthographic processing, retrieval, rapid naming and fine motor ability–difficulties that have been a source of anxiety for him and are impacting his confidence and self-esteem–he is quite gifted in math, spatial awareness, and perceptual reasoning. And his spoken vocabulary is off the charts (see demigod reference, above). Mother’s intuition was spot-on.

 I couldn’t help but think back to those frustrated nights of sounding out words, those days of me harping on capital “T”, and morning after morning of us trying to explain that he would be going to school for a long, long time, so he better buck up and accept it. His troubles and disgruntlement and non-cooperativeness weren’t due to him being a bad kid or having a bad attitude (things I’d never, ever even considered). He was trying to tell us something just wasn’t right.

 After we met with the psychologist and were walked through the report in its entirety, I spent the afternoon weeping. At and about everything. At the flood of information I needed to wrap my head around. At the fact that my child had a learning issue. At the fact that it’s not “curable”. And especially when Frances England’s song “Tugboat” came on KidsPlace Live. I was a weepy, emotional mess of a mom…for one afternoon. Since then, I’ve gone Mama-Bear all up in here on this stuff. Bring it, dyslexia. Bring it.

 As for our Tucker-Bear? He is a new child. You can visibly see that a weight has been lifted off his shoulders. He recognizes that we are helping him. He understands what is going on in his magical brain, and he’s begun to tell us things, things he never could figure out how to explain before. Like this one:  “Mama, I cannot get my pencil to make a big T when I’m writing my name. I know it starts with a big T, but my pencil will not do it.” This isn’t because he’s lazy or is not smart enough or is defiant. It’s because he is dyslexic. Or maybe a demigod.

 Our son is dyslexic. 

 We may be new to this rodeo, but we’re going to be roping this steer in no time.

 And what once was just not right, in the end, is going to be just fine. 

Oh, no, Tucker…you are wonderful; you are the best.


lyrics by Frances England

I may be little

I may be small

I may be young

I may be green 

I may be raw

But I’ve just begun

To understand what’s inside of me

To know all that I can be

And I’ll be your tugboat

Guide you safely back to our home

I’ll be your tugboat

Know that you’re not alone

When you’re blue, I’ll be the sunshine

When you’re down, I’ll pick you up

Like a tugboat pushing overdrive

I’m stronger than I appear

And I want you near

And I’ll be your tugboat

Guide you safely back to our home

I’ll be your tugboat

Know that you’re not alone

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