He wanted to read, "EVERYONE could read," and he insisted. That summer my husband took him to a course given by Fordham University for new readers. Dad read a page, then he read the same page. At the end of the class, the kids would struggle to read through the book, missing words but reading. Mine recited the book page by page, triggered by the picture and not always looking at the words. The next week, that same book was completely new to him. Still, no red flags for us. We didn't know what we didn't know.
Fast forward to first grade. We moved houses within our town which had a different grammar school, and we found that he was dramatically behind with reading skills. We thought he'd catch up (maybe it was just a different curriculum between the schools in town). He began to fidget, become a class clown, got pulled out of the general class for extra reading support and we started hearing the word "attend." He was not "attending in class."
Spoiler: "attending" is the code word for ADHD which the school isn't allowed to say. They can only hint at it.
We began to get reports from his reading teacher, "It's odd, one day I will read him the book and then he will read the book. The next day, he says he has no idea what it says. In fact, he didn't recognize that he was trying to read the same book." We were encouraged to see the pediatrician and did so after, while looking at an upside down "F" he "knew it was a word to read but didn't know what it said." All of the sudden, I felt scared.
My pediatricians response was he may not be attending, but ADD kids recognize an upside F. Her son was dyslexic and she recommended that the school do testing. Our schools are very inclusive and serve children with all sorts of challenges, his challenge didn't warrant testing. He was young and wasn't failing enough. Um, what??
I decided to teach him. Hell, I knew how to get his attention. "Throw the ball at the paper plate with the 'B' on it." "Draw a 'C' in the shaving cream spread over the counter."
Flash cards, books, teacher talks, day after day, but nothing stuck. I was frustrated that I couldn't help him and he was frustrated that he was different. He'd tell me that other kids were reading Harry Potter and he was reading the baby books, "the ONLY one reading the baby books, mom." He'd bring them home and he wasn't even able to read them. Then his mood started to change and he vehemently did not want to go to school. My sweet, happy, smart baby was becoming irritable, cranky and "felt stupid."
We had him tested at private learning center. It was EXPENSIVE and worth every penny. I couldn't stop crying when they told me he had dyslexia, the worst skills at decoding they had seen and ADHD. I had no idea what the diagnosis meant. Was he reading backwards? He was not, in fact reading backwards. He saw words as hieroglyphics, words were images to him, not made up of individual letters. Now what?
He started at The Windward School in second grade. Windward is a coed, independent day school providing a proven instructional program for children with dyslexia and language-based learning disabilities. Here's their website if you need it: https://www.thewindwardschool.org/
There, he had a magical transformation. Quickly, he was happy again, he felt like everyone else, he understood the teachers and, it was bussing distance from our house! He worked hard every day at school with homework every night, weekend and summer. Hard work became normal, just what he did. It was a total lifesaver and he thrived academically. The purpose of the school is to give their students strategies, tactics and skills that allow them to learn in a traditional education system. Each year students who are ready, transition out, and new kids needing help replace them. It's a temporary phase of their education. We live in NY, Westchester County (the "worst of the chesters!" according to Joey on Friends, lol). Kids come from all over the tri-state area, some with more than an hour's commute each way.
Fast forward five years. He's now in sixth grade and progressing as a student. He will always be dyslexic, and it's gives him (and us) the outlook that nothing is hard, because everything is hard. At each parent teacher conference over the years, I shared that I wished they would keep through eighth grade. At Windward he was safe, supported and happy, but something shifted this year. He participated in our town's football program and LOVED it. He bonded with kids he had known in kindergarten and first grade and got to experience the best of both his worlds, skill based school tailored to his needs, AND a feeling of belonging to our community.
When the season ended he was lonely. Then sad. Then resenting school and withdrawing. It was like everything was happening in reverse. His dad and I began to rethink what the priority should be - which is what brings us to today and one of the hardest decisions we've made for him - to return to our local school in the fall and allow him to have a community. He can walk to school, participate in middle school sports, and have friends.
We chose education over community, originally. It was scary, though what he needed and, the right decision. Now, we are choosing community and friendships over purely academic needs. You can't underestimate how important it is for kids to have a sense of belonging (for grown ups, too!).
Will school be easy next year? Probably not. Will he immediately feel at home? I hope so. Is there a need for extra help in school and out? Absolutely. Adjusting may be hard, but luckily, we do hard.
Author's note: If you are dealing with any of the above, please reach out. There's a lot to navigate but luckily there's tons of us who've gone through it already. I'm more than happy to chat or listen or help.
My mom and my oldest son were super close when he was young. His relationship was very special with my parents (I became a single mom when he was a baby) and of course they came to the rescue while I juggled work, traveling for work and going through a divorce. It was a blessing in disguise, and they helped make him the 18 year old man he is today.... but I digress.
Grant’s birthday is December 20th and for a while now, when I talk to my mom in my head and am seeking an answer, I seem to get it at 12:20. It makes me feel close to her (and sad and happy).
Well this weekend, I had some questions and needed my mom’s advice. I was at an event and went to charge my phone - when I picked it up, there it was 12:20 and I snapped the screen shot. This picture makes me feel close to her and sad and happy and blessed. And, answered.
#justsharing #missmymom #thoughts
In August 2016 my mom was having trouble swallowing. We were away in Biddeford Pool, ME as a family. My parents, two sisters and I rented houses there each summer so we could spend time together, and give nine cousins a chance to hang out together without the typical conflicts of school and sports. My mom complained that she felt like there was something stuck in her throat. She described it as that feeling you get after you take a pill. Like something was stuck.
The next detail that comes to mind is that she went for an endoscopy and it took the doctor over a week to get us the results. She and my dad (and I feel like my sisters too) were at my house when the call came in. I don't remember if my dad heard first, or handed me the phone but hearing, "You should come in. We've found something, a tumor and need to talk." It took them a while to classify the tumor. It was melanoma of the esophagus.
Then the whirlwind began, oncologists, commuting to Sloan Kettering, immunotherapy, binders with daily medicine tracking, prescriptions, good scans, bad scans, tumor shrinking, tumor growing, feeding tube, radiation, being thankful for Hoteltonight.com, a "clean bill of health", Memorial Day hemorrhaging, stints, and new tumors. It's amazing how easy it is to remove yourself from your daily life when you need it. The whole thing was terrifying but we had faith. My mom was full of life, how could that just go away?
At the same time, over the 10 months of the illness we were our nuclear family again, as grown ups. Lot's of time together, laughs, tears, decisions, role reversals with patience and a ton of love. In a weird way, it was great while it lasted.
She died on July 24, 2016 in hospice at the hospital three miles from my house where two of my kids were born. It's taken me this long to be able to nutshell the illness details (you're welcome) and I no longer remember what she looked like while she was at her sickest (that took a long time).
I reread her eulogy that I don't remember delivering, often. Meet my mom:
Hi, I’m Laura. Sandi and Richie’s oldest daughter. My family and I want to thank you for being here today for my mom. It’s been wonderful hearing everyone’s memories of my mom – even among my sisters and my dad.
My mother was a blessing and was blessed. Fiercely loyal, open and supportive to everyone around her, with a true belief that you could do anything, be anything, and learn anything you wanted – and with her in your corner, you could. And she was proof of it.
I can’t talk about my mom without talking about my dad. Sandi & Richie. My mother adored my father. She loved spending over 50 years of her life with him and they had quite an adventure. My mom was from Brooklyn and my dad from the Bronx. From the day they met in college at City University of New York (where they apparently smooched in many an empty classroom – a detail I learned recently) to driving across country as young newlyweds to live at the Presidio it was “Sandi & Richie.” My father was stationed at the Presidio and my mom worked in the general’s office, she told us about seeing my dad’s deployment paper for Vietnam come across her desk and going to the general to see if he could change it. He couldn’t, but what he did do was help make arrangements for my mother to visit my dad during an R&R break for the soldiers. The R&R was held secretly in Japan. My mother, with only one goal, to see her husband, travelled by herself on a plane (without speaking Japanese, without knowing anyone, without a cell phone) out of the country for the first time equipped with an address and money for a taxi.
She told us how she was mistaken for being Japanese with her cat eye makeup and big bouffant hairdo. She described the taxi taking her out of the city and into the barren countryside. She was nervous but kept showing the driver the address. They finally arrived at an army base.
The troops were in a huge meeting hall and unaccompanied, she walked right in – a woman, an American – and brought the meeting to a halt. Hundreds of faces turned and it took her breath away. She was able to spend time with her husband in the middle of a war in a foreign place at a scary time because she wanted to and she believed that she could and she did. It was a blessing.
She wanted to be a teacher and she was. She loved her career and was proud of her students – mostly immigrants here to start a new life – she believed in them and refused to let them fail. Her retirement party was beautiful and it was touching to see what an impact she had on so many people – as a teacher, co-worker, employee, as a mentor.
My parents were empty nesters in their 40’s and were able to travel and explore – a winter in Italy and many winters in Naples, Florida. Yellowstone, the Queen Mary, Newfoundland, Quebec – they loved the people, they loved the food and they loved being together.
She 100% loved her life with my dad and I know she wouldn’t have changed a thing.
As a mother, Colette, Aly and I were blessed to be hers. And we were blessed to have her sense of humor and love of laughter (in just about any situation). Our family always came first and our way was “the” way. We moved from Brooklyn to Chappaqua when I was going into the 2nd grade. Italians, from Brooklyn, in Chappaqua. It was the ‘70s. It was a peanut butter and jelly on white bread with the crusts cut off town, and we were giant meatball sub kids. I remember asking her to make me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with no crust for my school lunch and she carefully explained that the reason the other kids were given those sandwiches was because their mothers didn’t love them as much as she loved me. I had a meatball sub every day through middle school.
She always encouraged us to go for whatever we wanted and was our biggest champion. And that extended to our friends as well. Everyone was welcome and everyone was fed and was given an ear and a hug and a place in her heart, especially her sons-in-law.
My mother was never a detractor, never critical of our dreams and always believed in us regardless of us being in the best or the worst times in our own lives. I don’t want to express that we were never strictly parented, we were – but to reach the level of “whatever, literally, whatever you do is the right thing,” you had to be one of her grandchildren.
Sophia, Grant, Nina, Jack, Dave, Luke, Mary, Jackie and Mark she loved you so very much. You were her little dollys. She loved sharing stories of her childhood and family with you. She loved cooking for you, playing with you and most of all hugging. She had a special relationship with each of the kids – nine of them – she loved having nine unique, uniquely special little loves. My mother was the definition of a proud grandmother and she will continue to be - I know she will be a blessing for you kids for your whole life.
I see so many friends of my mom’s, of my parents here. Her relatives were her friends. Going through tons of picture books that she made of her escapades was a testament to how many people she loved. And what great times you had! Funny stories, silly times, new restaurants, happy hours – from old friends, to new friends, work friends, our extended family - my mother loved life and loved experiencing it with you.
My mother continually said she would love us forever, for eternity. My mom’s love for her husband, children, grandchildren, family and friends was a forever gift from her – this 71 years is just a brief moment. We all still have her love, her humor, her support – forever.