The Single Parent, Married-Style.

I am both married and a weekday single parent, and knowing little else, I cannot imagine doing this life differently. I see “the other way” at birthday parties, parent-teacher conferences, on my instagram feed: two parents handling the cake and candles, two parents fielding questions from teachers, two parents touring schools and standing impatiently in the aisles of Fred Meyer, weight shifting from foot to foot while the kids painstakingly select items on which to spend their birthday money. I am uncertain if I would like the “other” way, the two parent model–not so much because it’s unpalatable, but more so because it’s unfamiliar terrain to me nearly ten years into this parenting journey.

There is no right, there is no wrong, there just is–that’s the only truth I know. I refuse to judge either model, because frankly, most people don’t have a choice. Dave is unexpectedly in Israel this week, and I sent him off with my blessing. Because ISRAEL, y’all. (Why can’t I be Dave? The wanderlust never leaves my heart.) I know his going could be my undoing, as tomorrow is Oliver’s birthday party and I’m on my own. But again, not unfamiliar territory. There is strength in practice, a fact learned through soccer and half marathons, careers gone wild, epic life failures, knitting, and parenting, and somehow, I feel like my game is strong going into this weekend. (Although I just realized I kind of forgot about the cake. Whoops.)

I fail a lot as a parent. Like, a LOT (see previous paragraph). I’m late to school pickups, my kids play far too much on their iPads, dinner rarely qualifies as a complete meal, though my kids do eat their fair share of broccoli and raspberries (a small parenting victory, hard-fought). There is an occasional wistfulness for the “other” way; the ability to ping my beloved and ask him to swing by school and pick up a kid or two. The meeting with the head of school. The grocery list and laundry piles that never, ever end.

But there is also liberty in this custom of single parenting, married style. There is guilt-free booking of tickets to Costa Rica for a party of three, while they are young enough to be non-teenagers, and old enough to hold their own on the chicken buses. There is knowing that the hubby will be fine in his lone wolf style way back in Seattle, and that he can join us for the tail end of the adventure. There is meeting a college girlfriend in California next month with the kiddos, just two moms and three boys and one crazy half-planned adventure. There’s the part about doing it mostly all my way five days a week, and not having to check in to make sure my values and these life experiences I create for our kids align with the expectations of their dad. I get to operate under the assumption that they do, and that is so very liberating. Does this always work out? 99% of the time, yes. We are lucky in having found our weekday parenting equilibrium, I suppose.

None of this single parenting I describe would be possible without Dave’s support as the so-called “working” parent. I didn’t imagine myself wanting this gig (ever), and I also didn’t imagine myself loving it as much as I do. Every day is summer vacation. Well, not exactly, but I do pinch myself sometimes to remind myself of our good fortune. Dave works a lot, mostly by choice as I have observed, although there is no question that his job requires an intensity many cannot fathom. He thrives around high-drive individuals, and I cannot imagine him finding happiness without some degree of that in his life. Time will tell, though. You should see him luxuriate in the hot tub and on the slopes at Whistler!

It is possible that Dave could retire in the near-ish future, and this worries me a bit because our weekday parenting boat would rock wildly. The two of us, the four of us, really, would have to relearn the equation. The kids would eat more pizza and french fries and nutella brioche. There would be a lot more weekday skiing, I imagine. Lunch might never get made, and the kids would have to learn to fend for themselves (which at this point usually looks like triple-decker sandwiches with chocolate sauce instead of peanut butter). Oliver’s math skills might just go through the roof. Malcolm would be understood more clearly from 3:30 on, because in some way, he and his dad are kindred spirits in the way their brains see the world. It wouldn’t be bad at all, I suppose, but certainly different, in the same way that newly divorced individuals have to learn single parenting, our family would have to learn the other way. It’s quite possible that more of this:


would lead to this version of me, because she’s in there guys–in all her glory, itching to join the Peace Corps and raise chickens/honeybees/goats/quinoa/potatoes/etc in the Andes. Dave can handle the boys and they will be just fine. I trust his parenting, just as he trusts mine.




Photographs and Memories


On paper, she is completely relatable, profound and insightful, even. She might actually be a kindred spirit, I think to myself as I read her posts. In real life, she is on the spectrum, eyebrows knitted, finding the negative in everything, including lilac blossoms. It gives me pause, pondering for a moment the image I project versus the human that I am.

Photographs and memories in the making are constantly shared on social media, but the reality? I’ve been ice-cold chilled to my core here in Whistler, and couldn’t wait tonight to hop into the hot tub after devouring half a bag of Old Dutch Canadian salt and vinegar chips and a homemade margarita. We all do this, I suspect, knowingly or otherwise. We consciously choose to paint ourselves in pastels and watercolors, when reality often suggests a page delineated with a permanent black marker scribbled haphazardly about.


I’m not sure which part is true, though. My smallest boy, on the brink of his eighth birthday, is still half-clothed in sweaty ski gear, lounging on the couch with the dull roar of cartoons breaking up the peaceful vacation vibe, his head warming my arm as I tap away on my iPhone, stream-of-consciousness style. These are the real moments, the life bits we fail to share because really, they aren’t worth mentioning. But they are also the moments I don’t care to let go of; the moments that disappear in the blink of an eye when he has a wife instead of a mom, when I’m the least important person in his life.

Maybe it’s the tequila talking. I don’t know. I’ve been looking forward to Costa Rica like nobody’s business–you just can’t imagine all that I want to share with my family this summer. But I’m also terrified that the reality won’t match the virtual reality in my head. The Arenal volcano no longer erupts on the daily as it did when I lived there in 1997, and I hear that Monteverde looks not one iota as it once did. Will this make our experience any less, that it doesn’t match the Costa Rica of my memory? Does the fact that we lounge on the hide-a-bed couch watching cartoons at Whistler aprés ski make this experience any less memorable? Or will this be the moment I remember, his heavy head resting on my forearm, my fingers combing his unruly cowlick into submission, the ice cubes in my margarita melting from the heat of the fire?


What constitutes memory, anyway? We don’t get to choose, do we? I look at my boys, wondering if their nostalgia will mirror my own, and I know in my heart the chances are unlikely.

Photographs and memories–disparate moments captured in time, perhaps rarely aligning. I’ll have another salt and vinegar chip (even though potato chips are not my thing). I’ll head down to the pool with my family, chat with an articulate, arrogant, and altogether intriguing local Israeli-Canadian man, fat snowflakes falling noiselessly through the night sky all the while. And I will find myself thinking about stepmother number one, Marlene, the Canadian who in some small part brought a piece of this experience to me. She was short, red-headed, and with a fiery personality and the cajones to throw salad and steaks against the kitchen wall in a fit of frustration. She loved me like her own baby girl, and I don’t remember what we had for dinner that night…probably salt and vinegar chips. Memory is such a trip. No beginning, no end, just points on the continuum, none that we get to choose.



Unlocking Malcolm

Megan Hooks Photography-8499

He sat quietly in the backseat of the Subaru this morning, as he always does on the way to school. He’s usually staring out the window, eyes fixed on the distant Olympic mountains as we cross the Aurora bridge, imagination at level extra-ordinary. If I attempt to engage him in conversation, he’s usually startled, caught off guard. Today we were driving along and he interrupted the silence with, “Mommy, why are so many people reliant upon technology?” As is often the case with Malcolm, I didn’t quite understand the direction of his question, so he clarified at my urging. “I mean, I keep a bunch of stuff in my head, and my teacher has to look stuff up on the internet. All my classmates do that, too, but I just have so much in my head that I don’t feel like I need to do that.”

He’s not talking about what one might assume. He doesn’t have all his math facts perfectly memorized. He doesn’t know who the first twenty presidents were, and in fact, depending on the day, he might not even remember the name of our current president. He struggles to learn phone numbers and has an incredibly poor concept of time. In fact, last week he shared with Oliver that he would be starting college when he turned ten. True story.

The depths to which Malcolm’s brain dives aren’t ordinary, though. They aren’t predictable, and for the most part, they’re challenging for my linearly-aligned brain to understand. I believe he has an imagination the average human can’t fathom, one that he struggles to express because, as he says so often, “You just won’t get it.” This big imagination, all-consuming that it is, might leave little room for the mundane of 9×8=72. But this imagination, unfortunately, doesn’t serve him in traditional schools. After years of watching him struggle in school, I would venture to guess that the majority of his former teachers, while they may not have admitted it, felt the same way.

You see, Malcolm learns differently. He is dysgraphic, dreamy (aka inattentive), and introverted. He’s also a voracious reader. These are labels, but they do not define this boy. What I have learned, and this journey has been arduous, is that Malcolm’s brain is like an ancient lock, one for which the key was long ago misplaced. We’re still combing the fields with our metal detector, looking for the perfect key. It has been trial and error, hit and miss, failure and success.

I suppose the one lesson we have learned is that Malcolm is the cardinal opposite of one-size-fits-all in terms of learning. Group skiing lessons: total bust. One on one lessons: he was skiing down intermediate hills within his first season. Writing assignments in his first two schools: puddles of tears, anxiety, depression. Writing with tools that support his differences: five paragraph essays. (Just kidding! But we will take a five sentence essay any day with Malcolm.)

For as long as he has been a human, he has drawn stick figures and little else. Stick figures holding swords, stick figures with a leash, stick figure families. He broke down last week, perplexed by his inability to draw. I knew the key to his success: one-on-one art lessons. Yesterday, after one hour with a teacher, he skipped out of the studio and said he really actually loved art. Malcolm made this charcoal drawing yesterday. I’m beside myself. From stick figure to three dimensionality, in a matter of hours.


Much of this journey is owed to privilege, and I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge that fact. My heart is heavy for children like Malcolm who are left behind, with either parents who can’t help the child find his way, or who don’t have the resources to do so. I wish there was an easier solution.

T.E. Lawrence said, “All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.” We are truly just perched on the middle rungs of life’s ladder with Malcolm, anxiously awaiting our climb to the top. I can’t wait to see what the world looks like from that second story, but I will also do my best to immerse myself wholly in the journey along the way.



She passed me at the lake today, a Cheshire grin plastered across her face on an uncannily blustery day. Her name was Lucille but she preferred to be called Pearl, because it was her prerogative, she insisted if pressed for a reason. She woke up this morning, piling her coarse grey locks on top of her head in a messy bun, much like the 20-something nannies pushing strollers she would pass along the shore today. She hopped on her Schwinn whose tires, circa 1979, had been recently replaced, whose spokes had been polished with vinegar and her own spit, whose life had been reincarnated after years of solitude spent in the basement of her old home.

She had lived in that little bungalow for 42 years, but the house knew secrets dating back over one hundred. Some of those secrets were stashed away in the walls, old photographs, poems and memories secretly stowed away between studs, covered in age-old dust alongside the knob and tube wiring. She knew none of this. She knew only her own poetry. These secrets were there waiting for the next family to discover.

She lost her husband six years ago and her only son ten years before that. She spent a whole entire eternity in grief, days stretching into months and then years, darkness hovering over her and obscuring the light. She forgot about the existence of joy, instead shrouding herself in shadow. She spent her days caught up in the details of the fabric, analyzing them under magnification. She saw the grey, the blue-grey, the grey-green, the storm cloud grey. Last Tuesday, she put away her magnifying glass and wrapped herself up in the quilt. She caught a glimpse of herself in the full-length mirror, surprised by the colors she had been missing all along. “Choose joy,” it murmured. And so she did.

One by one, she began to learn the names of the trees she had walked by, unnoticed, thousands of times. She started with the deciduous trees, as it was autumn and soon those leaves would drop en masse, leaving her one less clue to their identities. She was surprised to learn about the bald cypress, a deciduous conifer she mistakenly believed to be dying a long slow death this autumn. She was perplexed at having walked by it every year, never noticing the seasonal changes. It’s all metaphor, she was certain. Death begets life every spring. Without death, there is no life, even mother nature understood this truth. She finally understood after ten long years in this moment of her awakening: she had to live through the death, embrace all of the sorrow that arrived alongside death at her doorstep in order to move back into the land of the living. She pedaled on, meeting eyes along the pathway, enjoying at long last the light that was seeping through the darkness all along.

+     +     +     +     +

I saw this woman this morning, my loyal companion leash-pulling and squirrel-wrangling at my side as we walked at Green Lake. Her smile perplexed me, beguiled me just a little. I wrote her story in my head as I logged miles on my feet, because we all have one and we all deserve to be heard. It has been so long since I have written. I too have been caught in an eternal state of hibernation like Lucille. I am happy to have woken today.


Windshields and Mirrors


These are things we find ourselves leaving behind: Expectation. Predictability. Bits and pieces of our innocence. Shards of glass and glitter, tears. Muddy paw prints and footprints in the sand. Cleverly crafted up-cycled projects, growing soggy in the rain. Eggshells, gingerly tiptoed upon two days ago. Bibles, crappy novels, wallets on bus seats. Our very essence, some days.

And then we do our very best to return our gaze through the front windshield, recognizing that the past is a tiny reflection seen in our rear view mirror, when we bother looking up from our screens. The egg shells don’t matter. Yet thinking, in those forward-facing moments–aren’t I clever, wasn’t that a smart decision, world, look at me. And watching it all swirl away in one shit-storm of tears and realization. Forward and backward, forward and backward. I wish I could perch myself on the fulcrum of life: balanced, in reverent silence, content.

My boy is a being all his own, fitting neither here nor there but always finding an enormous room in my heart, where he folds up inside me seeking safety, comfort, belonging. He does that a lot lately. He has a limitless imaginative soul, tuned in to Mother Earth in a way I can only dream of, energized by her quiet, unrelenting beat. When he was still in my womb, I read a book about Eustace Conway, a man who belonged to the woods, because it was most where he needed to be. We toyed with the idea of naming our son Forest. I often think Malcolm is much like Eustace, as if my own reading of that book lit his spirit on fire nearly nine years ago. I often think too much, if you ask me.

I fast-forward a lot with Malcolm, perhaps out of necessity, perhaps to find respite from the struggle. I try to keep my eyes peering out the windshield, eyes on the horizon. I remind myself to run the wipers, turn on the defrost, see the future down the highway. Forward is the only direction worth heading, and I owe it to him (and myself, frankly) to carry on.

This journey–leaving behind, picking up the pieces, rebuilding, loving, learning, holding space, holding hearts–it’s unrelenting. It is exhausting. It is empowering, mind-numbing, and heart expanding all at once. I’m so tired, and yet, I remind myself to continue onward, upward (and maybe sideways, from time to time, buoyed by a glass of wine, a line of chocolate). Courageous warriors, all of us.

All That She Left Behind


She lost herself in the shuffle of motherhood.

A run: leaves drifting slowly from the crisp autumn sky.

Her breath, warm and steady, visible before her (as too, her heart).

Where has she been all these years, months, moments?

She used to have words, and then she lost those, too.

Everything was at once murky and bleak (the resident optimist suggested otherwise).

Sea and sky and surf and rocks, joining hands in a sunless celebration of grey.

She could fill the world with distraction and music,

but inside, the musings were lost, too, in the shuffle.

She missed her old self. (As well, her old friends).

Letting go of the familiar, choosing to emerge from the womb of comfort, safety, warmth.

The door closed, the door of familiarity and all that was once right.

She shut it herself, of her own volition.

She tried to stand in the light of the truth. She trusted her heart.

It should have been no surprise to her when the auspicious new door slowly creaked open.

Light poured out, and it was blinding.

She basked in that light, twirling, smiling out loud: big, laughing, tearful delight.

She looked at herself in the mirror. She stood in awe at her spirit.

She saw the reflection of truth.

She did not find the person she once most expected,

but her center was found.

Full circle.

Leaves falling again, reminding her to be present on this gorgeous sun-filled day.

A child beside her, eight years old, grateful for cursive letters, the color red.

A six year old bursting into laughter over a pair of banana slugs.

A golden puppy, a ray of light the color of California desert sand, loping along.

A husband who so faithfully sees only the light.

Así es la vida. La pura vida.

She is grateful for trusting her heart.


All That is Wild

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

~Henry David Thoreau

When Malcolm was born on a grey April day, my neighbor, upon first meeting him, remarked on the intensity of his gaze. “He is really wide awake, already; tuned in and alive to this world,” he said. Indeed, Malcolm seemed to drink up the world around him from that very first day: the spring leaves emerging from the birch and maple trees, the perennial flowers just coming into bloom, the slobbery greeting of each and every dog–he delighted in all of it as soon as he could smile.

As much as I would like to take credit, the reality is that he was born into this wildness, our boy. He craves nature, and finds solace and comfort in the great outdoors. In the face of disconcerting news, he storms out the front door and up into a tree. He rarely chooses my lap for comfort, unlike his little brother. He insists on walks in the Ravenna woods every day, often at the unreasonable hour of “past bedtime” and frankly, I sometimes feel as if we’ve done his soul a disservice, making our home here in the heart of Seattle.

This summer, Malcolm is quite possibly in his happiest of places. We are 92% unscheduled, mostly shying away from the camps that most city parents seem to find obligatory. Each day is a blank slate, and I never thought I’d be as happy as I am about that fact. (And yes, I get that this is a privilege of being a full-time mama.) We spend our days exploring beaches and forests, mountaintops and alpine lakes. We are cut from the same cloth, Malcolm and I, and neither one of us could possibly be any happier under the summer clouds (ahem, Seattle) this year.

Last week, after dropping the less-enthusiastic Oliver off at puppet camp (indoors, with plenty of crafting under dim artificial light), Malcolm and I set out for what I thought might be an overly ambitious hike: seven miles with nearly 1800 feet of elevation gain in the Cascade mountains. I’m not sure why I am surprised: that 56 pound boy, all eight years of him, hiked up that mountainside fueled only by a half a peanut butter sandwich and four cherries, without uttering one single complaint. Instead, he pointed out nurse logs, fed berries to our dog (“she needs to fuel up too!”), collected roughly ten pounds of rocks (the majority of which I discreetly unloaded in the parking lot), and delighted out loud, repeatedly, over the fact that he was such a “trooper” when it came to adventures in the woods. When we got to the ridge, where I figured we should turn around, he insisted that we descend to the lake so he could truly experience the beauty. I lie: in reality, he just wanted to see Zoe-dog dip into the icy waters, but still. He is a remarkable soul.

“Mommy, I could just stay here forever. Wouldn’t it be great if this was what school was like?” he suggested as we headed back home. I couldn’t agree more. John Muir once said that wildness is a necessity. I wish more humans understood this, but I’m really happy to be raising children who do.



Zoe+ alpine lake = retriever heaven.



*The obligatory selfie, in which Malcolm actually smiled.


(This fine photo of me was taken by the eight year old, who was instructed to take a photo of me and Zoe by the pond. Obviously, that worked out.)

Malcolm’s Annual Interview, Age 8

Malcolm is eight years old. The very act of writing those five words feels a bit like an impossibility. Just yesterday, I swear this to be true, he took his first steps, and now he’s dawning on his third grade year. This boy, he owns my heart. He is my little soul brother, truly, and I look forward to a long life in the woods, on the track and in our own heads, imagineering both individually and together. What follows is his annual interview.


What makes you really happy? What makes me really happy is to be in nature and to do stuff that I really like to do, like walk in nature, and you know, all the other stuff that I like. I like to walk with Zoe and find lots of cool stuff when I’m out in the world.

What makes you sad? I really don’t like staying cooped up in the house doing boring things. That’s what makes me sad, is to not be outside doing what I want to be doing.

Are you scared of anything? Not really.

If you could have any pet in the world, what would you choose? I would choose a dog, for sure. There are a lot of dogs that I like, but for right now, I’m thinking a pug, but just for right now. I’m happy with Zoe. She’s a golden retriever. I still might think about getting a pug, though.

What do you like about being a kid? Well, let me see…I like that I get to do many things that grown ups don’t get to do, like, well, like go on rides that grown ups aren’t allowed on at Disneyland and other stuff.

What do you want to be when you grow up? There’s a bunch of things I want to be. I haven’t settled on one yet. I’m thinking about being a dog trainer and a lot of other things like being a scuba diver, and being an explorer. If I was an explorer, I would go out in the world to places that not even some people have gone to and look at the animals and watch what they do.

What comes to mind when I say magic? Oh, magic! I would say Legos would be magical for me, because when you put them together, the character just comes to life. When you put the last piece on it’s just like, bam, the character just comes to life. It’s like you’re actually seeing the real thing, but in mini size.

Now that you’re eight, is there any big kid thing you would like to do? I look forward to doing some cool things that I used to not be able to do. Oh let’s see, I’m hoping I can do a lot more amusement park rides since I’m a certain height now. I’m hoping I’ll measure up.

What’s your favorite color these days? Green. It’s just that I can see green a bunch of places. You can pretty much see green all over the world: sea turtles are green, seaweed, plants, trees, all sorts of things. You can even paint your house green!

Can you tell me what love is? I can’t really explain it that well. I just really don’t know what love is. I love you, mommy, and also daddy, and I like Oliver, too.

When is a person officially grown up? About twenty years old, or something.

What makes a grown up a grown up? I have no idea. Grown ups do lots of stuff that kids don’t really do, like work and, oh mommy, I don’t know.

What’s your favorite subject in school? Reading! I just like to read because the characters are funny and weird and all those types of things. Reading is fun. Reading is easier than math. Books really make the characters come to life, like they’re actually living inside your head and in the book, and it’s like they’re posed like action figures. It’s like they used to be real characters. (*As a side note, this answer slays me. I never, one year ago, imagined my son would ever say anything like this about reading. My heart is full.)

What is the meaning of life? Oh, I don’t really know this one. I don’t even know the meaning of my own life, yet!

What is the best thing in the world? Right now, basically it’s things that are exciting and adventure-y, the kinds of things that kids like.

When do you feel most loved? There are a thousand times when I feel loved. I feel loved night and day.



Oliver’s Annual Interview, Age 6


Without further ado, here is Oliver’s annual interview, conducted just days after he turned six.

What makes you really happy? Um, bunnies! Because they sing show tunes. Also, Legos make me really happy because you can build stuff.

What makes you sad? It makes me sad when Malcolm won’t let me use my imagination when we are playing together. I also get sad when people hurt my feelings, like at track practice when that kid was annoying me and hurting my feelings.

Are you scared of anything? I’m scared of boogers, because they’re slimy! I don’t like mosquitos. I’m not afraid of them, but I just freak out when I see them.

If you could have any pet in the world, what would you choose? Hmmm. A mummy, because they’re zombies. (I then suggested he choose a “real” pet, to which he replied, “I would like a pirate dog or maybe a chihuala, which is a type of small dog, mommy. I would also like a pet sea turtle, and it would live right here. I would get a sea tank and put it right in.)

What do you like about being a kid? I like to use my hot glue gun a lot and have fun.

What do you want to be when you grow up? I would like to be a Lego Mixel, and then I would jump around in Legos for my job. Actually, I never will know what I want to be when I grow up. What were you, mommy, when you grew up? (I’m still working on that one, boy.)

What comes to mind when I say magic? I think of bunnies singing show tunes. Also, farts are pretty magical.

Now that you’re six, is there any big kid thing you would like to do? Yes! I would like to have my own car and drive it around. First stop, the zoo. Then I would drive everywhere, all around the world, and even on your boobies. Also, I would like to go on the roof and make myself a club house up there and sit there all day and all night.

What’s your favorite color these days? Oh, I know this one. My favorite color is every color, and I don’t just mean every color of the rainbow, because rainbows don’t have gold or silver or pink or clear. I like those colors, too.

Can you tell me what love is? Why should I know what love is? I don’t know what love is. Maybe it is people kissing. I like you. I like Miles and Gio and Aksel, but I don’t love them. I only love you.

When is a person officially grown up? When they’re 25.

What makes a grown up a grown up? They work, they work, they work. Grown ups work on the computer, like daddy. Even you work, mommy. You work here. Daddy goes around commanding people to fart at work. He also punches himself in the face, which is how he got that cut on his chin. Daddy also plays online golf. (I have no idea where that one came from!)

What is the meaning of life? Life and death, mommy.

What is the best thing in the world? You, mommy! (I love six year olds.)

When do you feel most loved? What does that even mean? Well, I feel most loved when I’m around you, when you’re hugging me, because we are married. I’m only ever going to be married to you.

I love you, baby boy. May you always be silly and bright.

+     +     +     +     +


The Reluctant Reader

You know that second grader who holes up in his room for hours engrossed in a book thicker than an antiquated encyclopedia? The one who, at age four, points from the backseat window of the family wagon reading billboards, bumper stickers, and license plates? The one who sneaks your iPhone from your purse and reads your text messages before you have a chance, stumbling upon the shitload of swear words you exchange on the regular with your closest girlfriend before you’ve even introduced said words to him? Yeah, that is most certainly not my child. But what I wouldn’t do to exchange places with you, mama.

I suppose we should have seen the red flags: late speech development and trouble with articulation, poor phonological awareness skills (rhyming and segmenting and blending sounds in words), his chronically poor attention in class, and an ongoing difficulty with decoding words, not to mention his inability, no matter how many times we repeated it, to learn our phone number.

In the spring of his first grade year, we finally decided to acknowledge these issues. We approached his teachers, who, like many educators, believed in the “wait and see” philosophy. But my gut felt differently, and I can’t begin to express how grateful I am that I listened to those quiet whispers and sought help with Malcolm. “As it turns out, the research suggests that if you catch these delays early, you get better results. With language, you’ve got to hit it early — or kids get left in the dust. For instance, a preschooler and a kindergartener will learn phonemes better than a first and second grader. Once you hit first and second grade, you start going into content reading, and so kids who are still struggling with learning to read have a harder time.” (credit here)

We had our son evaluated that spring, and all of my suspicions were finally validated: our boy, while not dyslexic, was at risk for a language-based learning disability. We were advised to act fast and furiously to catch him up to speed. We knew we had a year before his cohort would be reading to learn vs. learning to read. And here is where I feel lucky: we had the time and resources to support Malcolm, and boy have we ever!

In the space of less than one year, with incredible support from both our family and his tutor Colin, Malcolm has grown from a Kindergarten level reader to a boy reading chapter books at bedtime with me. Chapter books, you guys! His frustration with all things reading has turned to a beaming sense of pride and accomplishment. He bounds down the stairs after his sessions with Colin informing me of his progress. He no longer hits the table with  exasperation. And while I am uncertain when the day, if ever, will arrive in which Malcolm might pick up a book on his own and truly love reading, we have come such a long and glorious way along this path.

Yesterday, of his own accord, he read street signs from the car window while we were traveling along at 40mph. When I later peeked in the rearview mirror of the car, his lips were moving, eyes downcast into the pages of a book, which I intentionally planted in his seat pocket hoping he might not be able to resist the temptation. It was a milestone I never anticipated. And I finally feel that we have arrived. All the clandestine pro-literacy things I do have paid off: planting Lego magazines and nature books in the bathroom, surprising him with Pokemon books, encouraging him to read through instruction manuals on new toys, sitting with him every single morning before class while he reads the morning board aloud to me, modeling reading at every turn and engaging him in literacy on an every day basis. My boy has come so very far.

We never thought this would be our fate as parents–supporting the reluctant reader, navigating the world of learning issues. Honestly, I just assumed that our child would be like me: one for whom school came naturally and easily. This journey has been intense, but looking back on the last year, I am incredibly proud of all of us. It is almost unfair how much effort it takes for a child who struggles with reading in comparison to that child who just “picks it up”, but the journey is such a powerful one. I have so much faith in my son now and trust in his ability to be a successful learner. It was an entirely different story just one year ago. Our entire family has had to learn to read this roadmap so unfamiliar, and here we are, veritable masters of our own literacy highway.


(This is a terrible photo, but this day is one I will never forget: Malcolm decided to read to Zoe and Oliver at bedtime, without a push or suggestion from me. I’m pretty sure I snapped this photo with tears in my eyes.)