She called me over to the group seated in a circle on the right side of the classroom. Everyone had their thick reader out, In The Big City, it seems strange that I should remember the title so many years past. Nervously, I joined the already seated group and opened to the page assigned. All was well until it became clear that each of us were to read a portion out loud. Dread pounded in my gut in rhythm with my heart. And, while I remember the day leading up to my exposure as a fraud, I don’t remember my attempts at reading – I must have blocked them out. I do, however, remember the fallout.
You see, until that fateful day at St Ann’s parish school, I had been simply keeping up appearances. In public school, I had been able to sit near the back, turn the pages along with the rest of the children, and figure out what I needed to by looking at the pictures and listening to the conversations of the students near me. It was not so easy to blend in here, and the teacher took a much more hands-on approach. Public school was in the throes of a whole-language revolution, and Catholic schools were still hooked on phonics. I had fallen through the cracks.
So that evening, when the red phone in the kitchen began screaming for attention, I was poised to listen in. It was the first time I was the subject of a call from school and the turn from resignation to alarm registering on my mother’s face as she turned to peer at me caused me to sink low in my chair at the kitchen table.
What seemed like years of torture ensued. It was really more of a severe ego lashing than torture. From then on, I was no longer allowed to “read” silently for homework. Instead, I spent all my reading time glued to a kitchen chair while Mom cooked or washed dishes, or puttered around, reading out loud. Mom was an excellent listener. If I skipped, substituted, or stumbled while reading, she caught it and had me sound it out and read it again and again until I got it. I hated every moment. My fasçade had been shattered, and I resented every time she made me fix my mistake. I was embarrassed, above all. She was relentless and let no misstep slip, slide, or sneak past.
My teacher was replaced mid-year by an awful new instructor. It ended up being the only year I went to parochial school. Between my new-found allergy to bees, which kept me off the playground, the one-year free trial ending, and my brother’s expulsion, I was sent back to public school for third grade. I had been there just long enough to earn one of the dearest gifts of my life – the ability to read. By the time I had started fourth grade, I was already reading on an eighth-grade level. I would stay up late into the night reading. I especially loved adventure stories. Reading had become my treasure – my escape.
I sometimes wonder what would have become of me had I never been forced to take that long hard look in the mirror – had I never had to struggle and fight for every syllable under the tutelage of such a persistent task-master – had I not swallowed my pride and got to work on bettering my position. Who would I be without language?
The truth is, I had a mother who was just as stubborn as I was. She had far more practice at digging in her heels, and more than anything she loved me like no one else on earth ever has or ever will. She didn’t care if she had to drag me along kicking and screaming; she didn’t care if I raged at or resented her; she cared only that I did what was right.
I think about our heavenly father and His love for us. As astonishing as it is to me, He loves me even more than my mother did. He knows my weaknesses and my propensity to keeping up appearances. Yet, He too is an excellent listener. He also will pull on my conscience when I am only pretending to be right. The question is, will I stop kicking and screaming and start the hard work of breaking down each area of my life sentences until they sound like Him?
Psalm 40:7 & 8 Then said I, “Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.”