The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday
Updated: Jul 23, 2018
At the beginning of the school year, Landon’s second grade teacher asked the class to write down three sentences about themselves. I was volunteering in the class that morning so, naturally, Landon wandered over and asked me to help him spell out his words.
My name is Landon.
I love to play baseball.
I love to play video games.
He couldn’t think of a third to write. I whispered, “You could say that you’re dyslexic.”
He gasped, looked around the room to make sure no one was listening, “Mom! I don’t want anyone to know about that! Please don’t talk about it out loud!”
“Ok hunny. But it’s not something to be embarrassed about. It’s something to be proud of.”
“Well I’m not Mom. Please stop talking about it.”
My heart broke because I realized he still saw his brain as being broken. He hadn’t grasped his own abilities yet. He was ashamed of who he was. And this would not do.
I went home and told my husband. “This year our mission needs to be figuring out a way to help him own the words, “I’m dyslexic.” We both agreed and began to dialogue, as a family, using the word dyslexia. Landon would listen but whenever it came time to say the words he refused.
We gave him space recognizing this would take time. Some weeks we worked on it. Some we didn’t. But every conversation got us one step closer.
Throughout the year his tutoring program coupled by the willingness of his teachers to learn how he learns. To teach him how he needs to be taught. Coupled by their endeavors to learn more about dyslexia proved a winning a combination. Landon made honor roll.
Everyone was ecstatic! The hard work paid off in grades but soon we began to see just how high the toll for this success would cost. The quarter rolled over and the reading tests increased in difficulty. Because that’s how school works, right?
One day I’d walked away from my phone and in the course of five minutes, it blew up. I had voicemail, text messages, facebooks messages from the school nurse, his teacher, his special ed teacher, and my mother asking me where I was, why I wasn’t answering my phone, and why the school was calling to ask her where I was?
Landon was fine. But he had just had a panic attack and I was needed—urgently.
One of the things Dyslexia can, and often does, is teach the brain how to be fearful of school, tests, and learning in general. Children who go undiagnosed can become adults crippled by anxiety for reasons they can’t explain. Their self esteem suffers. Their identity is challenged and they struggle through life, never understanding the obstacles that suddenly pop up for no apparent reason.
Dyslexia is sneaky like that.
For Landon it was a sign he had been pushed too far. Our doctor placed him on vitamin supplements to help his body deal with the stress. We began to have constructive discussions with the teachers about what was happening inside his brain. How the testing procedure had caused it. How to give him breaks within the tests and to avoid this happening in the future.
And just like the rockstars, his teachers are, they heard us, they listened, and they learned. They changed to meet his needs. They have been our greatest heroes this year.
Our sons battle had shifted from conquering reading and test taking to learning how to conquer his very self. We pulled school counselors in to help. We adjusted his test taking methods. His teachers doubled down on loving him but fear had taken root, and his headaches and tummy aches increased. Everyday was a battle. Everyday his complaining got worse until one day he got in the car and slammed the door shut.
“No one cares about me mommy! Not you! Not my teachers! Not the school nurse! NO ONE!” he yelled.
I raised an eyebrow but managed to control my own reaction to my son’s volatile explosion. Something had just hit the fan. “What do you mean?”
He threw his head back against the seat. “I keep telling you I feel sick. And no one listens. I wasn’t even allowed to call you today when I felt like I was going to throw up.”
“Did this happen after a test?”
“Yes. My head hurts so bad mom. I just don’t even want to talk. Can you please, please, please let me stay home tomorrow? And can you please turn the radio off? My head hurts. I just want to go home.”
I turned the radio off and I increased the airflow to the back. He closed his eyes in the quiet, and after a few minutes he seemed calmer. The time in silence had given me a chance to gather my thoughts too. The headaches were not new. He’d been suffering from one at least once a day since kindergarten.
Some experts will say dyslexia does not cause headaches, however, my experiences as a dyslexic, my son’s experiences, my daughter’s experiences, our dyslexic teacher’s and tutors experiences are that after twenty to thirty minutes of reading or writing a headache sets in. There’s still much to learn about dyslexia.
It was time for brutal honesty, a heart-to-heart, and no coddling.
“Landon you know you have dyslexia, right?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“Your dyslexia causes your headaches and tummy aches. It’s not because you’re sick that you feel this way everyday.”
“So my broken brain is giving me headaches?”
“Not broken. Just different.”
“It happens when you read or write for too long. You need to learn how to take breaks and ask your teachers for a break when your head starts to hurt."
“But Mom!” Tears began to stream. “I can’t take that many breaks all day!”
“I know baby. I wish I could change it for you. But this is your battle. You have to learn how to fight through it in order to do your job at school. I can’t come to school each and everyday and get you just because you have a headache. You have to learn to take brain breaks. And you have to learn how to work through it. And you have to learn to own this.”
The very hardest thing we do, as parents of dyslexics, is to teach them how to overcome. How to never give up. How to try again. How to embrace the suck.
Embrace the suck? I heard myself say.
It’s a phrase my husband and I have adopted as this year has hit us with tremendous amounts of adversity. My husband lost his job in the middle of the summer before school started. We’ve been unsuccessful at securing a consistent job that pays the bills, have scrounged for work here and there. We’ve had every imaginable household problem possible, the roof leaked, the hot water heater flooded the house, the pipes have either, broken, fallen through the raised floor, burst from ice, or have simply come loose unleashing a flood within our kitchen that appears to be in the range of $10,000 to fix. The AC broke, the dishwasher broke. The oven leaked gas (thank God for 14 foot ceilings). Our car’s manifold blew up. Oh, and did I mention I’ve nearly died twice due to a freak bacterial infection that tired to cut my airway off, that then led to a fungal infection which threatened my brain stem? On top of it all we had two tiny human beings, watching how we handled our stress while learning how to be dyslexic in a school system that wasn’t designed for them to succeed in. Suffering from anxiety and struggling to overcome.
One of the ways I’ve kept my sanity was by writing fictional stories and scenes. One of my fictional characters I made into a Navy SEAL. I’m not exactly sure why I did that. I don’t know any SEALs personally. Had never really been that interested in them beyond the occasional movie, even though American Sniper was the first and only movie I, and my fellow movie goers, gave a standing ovation at the end for. Either way my fictional team guy and I had fun in my imaginative world while I processed things we were going through as a family. My husband discovered my writings one day and encouraged me to make it a real manuscript and in order to do so my character needed to be more realistic. Thus beginning a year long research campaign. Who are the Navy SEALs? What are they really like? I read book after book. My husband read them right along with me. It became more than just research as their world opened up and I began to realize how much we owe these incredible silent warriors.
As a family we’ve drawn tremendous amounts of encouragement from their stories of war, of embracing the suck, of never giving up no matter the adversary. The importance of the team—our team as a married couple. Our team as a family. Our team of teachers.
However, what I found the most fascinating, was how many of these warriors were dyslexic.
It would appear that the natural strengths of dyslexia—the outside the box thinking, creative problem solving, ability to see multi perspectives at once, hold two competing ideas in the mind, natural aim, and the ability to train ambidextrously are highly coveted strengths in the military. All common strengths amongst dyslexics.
My worlds of interest had just suddenly converged, and I knew how I needed to proceed with my son. My son, who loves all things related to “soldiers” and fighting bad guys.
“Landon have you ever heard of the U.S. Navy SEALs?” He shook his head no. “Navy SEALs are like super soldiers. They are warriors. But not just any warriors they are the best of the best warriors. They go to the places where no one wants to go. Do things that most soldiers cannot do. They swim under bad guy boats and blow holes in them. They jump out of airplanes and land where the bad guys think they’re safe. They can sneak up on you so quietly you don’t even know they’re there until they say ‘Boo!’” I screamed. Landon jumped out of his skin and began to giggle.
"Navy SEALs are a lot like Master Chief from Halo.”
His eyes became as big as saucers—Master Chief is a favorite fictional hero in my house.
I continued my story, “Every day these warriors get up. They make their bed. They put their boots on. They go to work even though they know it will be hard. It will never be easy. It will suck. It will hurt.”
“Mom, you know suck is a bad word right?”
“Only at school kiddo. But not in our house. Sometimes being dyslexic really sucks.”
“Yeah it does.” he sighed.
“Navy SEALs have a saying buddy, ‘It’s ok to cry. It’s ok to throw up. It’s ok to crawl. But quitting is never ok.’ No matter how hard it gets you have to say, ‘I will still win on this day!’” I might have fudged their actual saying since I was dealing with an 8 year old. But the gist was perfect.
“They have another saying, Landon. A very very important saying. One you need to learn:
The only easy day was yesterday.
He looked up at me through the mirror of the car. Processing the words. They’d hit him like a ton of bricks and I could see it in his eyes. “Landon, you are dyslexic. You need to learn to say that about yourself. You need to learn to accept it. To own it. Being dyslexic means:
You will have headaches—everyday.
You will have stomach pains—everyday.
You will struggle—everyday.
Until the day when it suddenly gets easier. The day you finally are able to read well. To learn your way. Until that day:
We will fight.
We will never give up.
We will win.
We will succeed.
He cried a little more and stared out the window in contemplative silence. My heart hurt for him. As his mom I just wanted to make it stop for him. But as his mom, who’s also dyslexic, I had a much harder mission—teach him how to conquer it. How to wield his dyslexia into a strength that could do his bidding.
The next day when I picked him up I asked how school was. He shrugged. “It was hard. It sucked. But I got through.” I smiled and we fist bumped.
Sometimes he’d fall asleep on the way home. Sometimes he’d ask for the radio to be off. Sometimes he was quiet.
He stopped complaining and silently endured.
A few weeks after our heart-to-heart his teacher conferenced with me. “What’s got into Landon? He’s no longer complaining. Even though I can see he’s still hurting everyday.”
I smiled. “The United States, Bad Ass, Navy SEALs got into Landon.”
Grit and sheer determination to overcome had taken hold. My son was waging war on the curriculum that wasn’t designed for him, that was certainly NOT his friend, and constantly trying to trip him up with every question.
A few more weeks went by, it was baseball season again, Landon was listening as I gave his sister a pep talk, she was struggling to learn to hit the ball due to her dyslexia and nervous about her first game (Check out her full blog post here)
My son shocked me. “Mom? Does Lyla have dyslexia too? Is that why we have such a hard time hitting the ball?” It was the first time he’d owned the word dyslexia.
“So dyslexic doesn’t stop us from learning? Just makes it really hard sometimes?” he asked.
“Yes! That is exactly what dyslexia does.”
He’d said it again! Twice in a row! He was owning his identity. No longer the broken brain.
Completion of second grade came at a great cost. It was painful. It felt like too much at times. But with the help of super hero teachers who understood him. Who learned how to teach him. How to encourage him.
A few bad ass warrior mottos.
A lot of hard hard work through tears, fears, and grit, I get to say, he did it! He made it through the rest of the school year—three long months—without complaint.
He learned mind over matter.
He conquered his fears.
He kicked ass and took names.
He accepted his identity.
He made honor roll three quarters in a row.
He learned he's more capable than he thought possible.
I am dyslexic. I can do anything. Learn anything. I can conquer school. For I am a mighty warrior—a dyslexic warrior. School will not defeat me.