Today is Tutoring Thursday. This may be the third school year in a row with a Tutoring Thursday in it. You have to capitalize Tutoring Thursday because it is a major accomplishment every time you live through Tutoring Thursday with only minor wounds.
If you have been reading my series about my Annie, you may be familiar with the pratfalls of tutoring-heavy days. If you have a child that you schlepp to tutoring on a weekly basis, your brain may be dinging with recognition. Perhaps, like me, you schlepp your child to multiple tutoring sessions each week. Maybe if someone asks you how many sessions your daughter has on a weekly basis, you try to count the answer out on your fingertips, but math isn’t your strong suit, and you give up with a shake of your shoulders while emitting a small laugh.
Three years in, and I’m used to being a mom of a kid with learning disabilities. I have often said to people, “It gets easier.” Yes, this often-used cultural phrase is apt. But sometimes I must say this instead, “It gets easier, but today is Tutoring Thursday.”
Annie has sessions sprinkled through the week, just like she does every fall. I drop her off for two sessions near the end of the school day on Tuesday. Wednesday I bring her to one in the middle of the day and read a book in the hallway for 30 minutes. I drive her to speech therapy after school every other Wednesday. I miss all of her in-school tutoring sessions, and I won’t pretend here to know how many sessions the girl actually attends.
Picking up the girl during the school day brings me so much joy. I catch her in her habitat, and these days she is happy, either on the playground playing with friends or gathering up her folder, backpack, lunch box and water bottle with her independent second-grader flair. Her face lights up when she spies me, and my face lights up in return. We make the walk to her session fun with snacks and races and good conversation. I get to be with my Annie, and not much tops hanging out with my freckle-faced 8-year-old girl.
But Tutoring Thursday is a different beast. My daughter doesn’t go to school on these mornings. She plays in her room after we drop her older sister off at middle school. Thirty minutes later we make the trek to our Wired for Reading session. I’m part of this appointment. I have to learn all the reading tricks Annie is learning, so I can practice with her. If Annie doesn’t know how to read or write a word, I know how to help her figure the word out instead of telling her what it is.
In other words, I now know how to teach another person how to read based on this program created for dyslexic children. Better yet, I know how to help calm down a frustrated child who wants to be anywhere but at her Wired for Reading tutoring session.
Our tutor has taught me what it means to be calm in the face of frustration. She has watched my Annie curl up in a fetal position and cry during sessions. After I have held my crying girl and dried her tears, I have watched with awe as our tutor continues the session. She has seen Annie throw a paper block across the room and run away from the table and up the stairs.
Not once has she suggested we pack up and go home. Man, I have wanted her tutor to say, “Gosh, Annie is DONE. Why don’t you go home and we will try again next week?”
Nope, our tutor has let Annie get to calm, and then calmly explained to her why she needs to learn this new rule or try this activity that seems too hard. She has said, “If you don’t know the answer, we don’t care. Just ask us for help. We are here to help you.”
She has explained to Annie why her brain needs to learn the Wired for Reading tricks, even when Annie has growled at her in reply. She has smiled with love at my grumpy, grumpy girl. This is the biggest gift.
This connection has helped me think of my own ways to help my girl. When Annie didn’t know the answer or cried or ran away, I asked her to think up a code word with me. Then Annie could say the word and I would help her. She would say the word “baby” and I would help dry her tears or give her a hint to help her get the right answer.
Did I already say that today is Tutoring Thursday? I’m writing this just after her session. After so many years of weekly meetings, mostly her sessions go pretty smoothly lately, but not always. Today Annie was tired; she was waiting up for me when I arrived home at 9:45 last night even though my husband thought she was asleep. I’m always wiped on Thursdays, too, both because the weeks are long and in anticipation of Tutoring Thursday. Not only do we have Wired for Reading until 10, after I drop her off at school, I pick her up a half of an hour before school gets out for a speech therapy session. And, like most parents, Thursday is the long lead-up to happy Friday, no caps needed.
Today’s Wired for Reading appointment was a doozy. I won’t bore you with all the details. Let’s just say my girl didn’t even want to get started this morning. So I pulled a trick out from underneath my turquoise hat that I wear as soon as the weather turns. “Annie, let’s jump ten times before we get started. Can you reach the ceiling?”
Dude, whatever works. The ceiling helped since it had three different heights. I jumped up and down and reached the ceiling every time. Annie didn’t always reach the ceiling, but she laughed and jumped, jumped and laughed, and agreed to start the tutoring session.
An hour later, after much improvisation and tricks from both the tutor and me, I returned my gal to her second-grade classroom.
Excuse me now while I go lay on the wooden floor and think of nothing for at least 10 minutes. Perhaps I’ll take a nap before Tutoring Thursday continues.
Writer, editor, and writing coach Nancy Schatz Alton is finishing the last draft of her memoir about the beginning of her dyslexic daughter’s learning journey. She is co-author of two holistic health care guides: The Healthy Back Book and The Healthy Knees Book. When not navigating parenthood, she uses her brain power to write, edit, and fact-check articles for websites and magazines. She lives in Ballard with her husband and two daughters. Find her blog at Within the Words .