“Sweet tea,” said my 6-year-old, from the back of the van.

We were waiting for our “food” in the drive-through lane at McDonalds after karate. I looked at her in the rearview mirror. She was gazing through her window into the interior of the McDonalds window. There was a huge aluminum tub near the glass, with a cheery looking label on it that read: “Sweet tea.”

“Yes,” I said. “Sweet tea.”

We got our bags of “food” and drove off without further comment. She’d been doing this sort of thing on occasion since last fall, and each time, I just let it slide without making a big deal out of it. It had become a much more frequent thing by this spring, but still, it was better to not talk too much about it.

Lest we jinx it, or something.

That was two or three weeks ago. The beginning of her breakthrough. Each day after that one, she’d accidentally, automatically read something, at least a dozen times. A store sign, a book title, food labels, all of it began to snowball. Within a week, she was automatically figuring out suffixes and two and three syllable words. Which we haven’t even gotten to in her primer yet.

And primer? Yeah. Now she loves it. She wishes we could do two lessons a day. She counts the numbers of sentences in each story in her primer and cheers for the longer ones. She sits quietly, reads the words with a smile on her face, and eventhough she still squirms when she can’t figure it out and I have to help her, she gets through it without any tantrums.

She’s upstairs right now in bed, with a dim light and a copy of the complete collection of Dick and Jane. Once she’s blown through that, there’s the complete collection of Biscuit stories waiting on the shelf. In six months she’ll be wandering around with an apple and a copy of Black Beauty and I’ll have to tell her to stop reading when she’s walking. Or to stop reading in the dark.

I need to seriously re-think my library schedule.

What a long haul it’s been, teaching her to read this year. We struggled all winter over it, after the newness of it had worn off and it became the hardest of all her work, her only absolutely REQUIRED subject. How many mornings when we both gritted our teeth and growled at each other. And sometimes, we cried over it. She wailed for all the world to hear. I sniffled quietly alone late at night, wondering how long we’d be able to go on like that.

And with two little words at the drive-through, it all began to change.

Remember that scene in Apollo 13, near the end, when the Gary Sinise character finally figured out the re-entry plan? Remember how quiet it was, and they were all watching that Amps needle to see if it would jump into the red, and it hovered right there at the mighty edge, and that scientist guy said: “Is your computer up?” And Gary Sinise was all: “Yeah, it’s up. Did I go over?” And the scientist guy said: “I think we got it, buddy.” And then Gary Sinise sort of collapsed in an exhausted heap in the simulator, and how the trumpet-music in the background went duh-duh-duh-duh-DUH!!!!! in that uber-dramatic way?

Remember that?

Yeah… hitting the breakthrough is Just Like THAT. With the trumpet music and everything. So, if you find yourself in THAT PLACE someday, the place that you get bogged down into, when primer seems like a struggle that will NEVER FREEKING END? Hang in there. The breakthrough is coming. And it’s AWESOME.

Sweet tea, she said to me.

There’s nothing sweeter.


12 Responses to “Breakthrough.”

  1. 1 RegularSis June 17, 2009 at 10:17 pm

    Hooray! The joy of reading…the freedom it brings. The places she’ll visit from the corner of your couch, the minds she’ll explore through typeface on a page, the words she’ll savor hours after closing a book. Hooray for RegularNiece! Hooray for you! Hooray!


  2. 2 Obi-Mom Kenobi June 17, 2009 at 10:36 pm

    That’s so poignant. I love hearing about things just really falling into place with kids and learning.

  3. 3 Ami June 17, 2009 at 11:13 pm

    It’s such a rush when reading happens, isn’t it?

    Savor the excitement.


    ::tossing confetti:::

  4. 4 Sara June 17, 2009 at 11:59 pm

    That is just beautiful. I hope we come to a moment like that soon, because right now reading is just our most Awful part of the day.

  5. 5 Michelle June 18, 2009 at 3:24 am

    Thanks for this post. My son is 5.5, and our reading lessons seem to go this way, too. We’ve been at it for a year now and he doesn’t really like his lessons (until I pull out a game). If I ask him to read a sign or random word, he usually won’t, but is happy to do it on his own occasionally (and feels oh-so-proud when he does). We seem to be stuck in a rut; he can read pretty well, he’s learning the phonics rules and persevering, but it seems like he’ll *never* become a ‘reader.’ Reading is huge in our house; I read all the time, and I read to him all the time, which he loves. He loves books. He just doesn’t like to read. Yet. Reading this post has given me hope that it will happen…it’s just a matter of time.

  6. 6 Mom #1 June 18, 2009 at 7:50 am

    Hurray for the breakthrough! That’s awesome!

  7. 7 RegularMom June 18, 2009 at 8:34 am

    Sara and Michelle, I hear you. Totally. It’s hard. But keep on going. And let me know when your breakthroughs happen. Let me know if you hear those uber-dramatic trumpets.

    Thanks everybody. 🙂

  8. 8 Maria June 18, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    I’m totally verklempt. (Sorry about the spelling..not Yiddish genetically).

    This is a metaphor for parenting in general, isn’t it?

  9. 9 RegularMom June 18, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    Maria, that spelling looks just right to me. But then again, I’m Polish, so don’t go by me. 🙂

    Now, here’s a topic: “homeschooling rocks!”


  10. 10 Hillary June 19, 2009 at 9:43 am

    That gave me chills. We’re on our way! Still in the “You know what I hate the most, mama? Phonics!” stage. Coming around the corner after you… Can’t wait for the sweet tea!

  11. 11 Robinella June 19, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    That IS a sweet moment. It look a long time for that to happen with my oldest DS but it did. He was 8.5 when it happened!

  12. 12 Tasha August 1, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    Wow, I love that feeling when you know that they’ve finally “got” it. All that white knuckle “when is it going click?” feeling just dissipates and the knot in one’s stomach eases. One down, one more to go in my house.

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