In October, I had surgery and was on medical leave for what was supposed to be six weeks. Due to various complications, it ended up being nine. Most of that time was spent in bed. Since I couldn’t do stairs, when they were home, my 10 and 8-year-olds often cuddled upstairs with me. I brushed hair, signed forms and permission slips, wrote checks for lunch and extracurricular activities and helped with homework, all from the comfort of my room. We read books, watched TV and when my Blackberry crashed, they taught me how to operate my new iPhone. As enormous a learning curve as that was, it wasn’t the most important lesson learned during my leave.
Though my children are bright, they’ve each experienced academic struggles. Liv is challenged by math and Levi with reading. The reading has been of particular concern due to the Third Grade Reading Guarantee which requires children to read at a certain level by the time they test halfway through the year in order for them to pass to fourth grade. Levi was one of the children in jeopardy of retention.
Prior to my leave, our routine was for the children to come home, play until I got in from work and then we’d start homework. I’d hover and supervise the process, assisting where needed. My biggest role was that of encourager. Leading up to the surgery, my husband and I explained that they’d have to be more self-sufficient, do the work independently and only rely on me to check it. This worked for the most part until two weeks in when Levi was lying at the foot of the bed and got stuck on a word. When I saw that it had a “v” in it, I encouraged him to try again since the word contained a letter he and his sister use daily since it’s in their names. When he refused and began to melt down, a seismic shift occurred inside me. I bent over (bad move with incisions in my belly) and hauled him up to look me in the eyes. “Levi, you are going to fail third grade,” I told him matter-of-factly. “Not because you’re unintelligent but because you won’t make the effort to sound out a letter that’s in your own name.”
That was so harsh coming from me, but a seismic shift must have occurred inside him, too. When I told him to stop whining and read; he did so flawlessly! From that moment on, the child who was on the bubble has consistently put forth his best effort and has been making 100s! While at school for their Christmas parties, his teachers and reading intervention specialist couldn’t say enough about his improvement. But as much as I relished hearing this, nothing compares to the call I received right before winter break.
“I wanted you to know that Levi scored high enough to be able to move on to fourth grade,” his teacher explained. My heart swelled with gratitude for Levi’s outcome. Everything in me knows it would have been a different one had it not been for that tough love convo. Levi knows it, too, and even shared it on a paper when asked to describe an event that changed his life. That’s powerful!
Whenever possible, I’ll always prefer being positive and encouraging with my children, but now I realize there are times when a dose of harsh reality is needed. In Levi’s case, it injected some motivation and boosted his self-efficacy. As parents, it can be hard to speak the truth in love because it doesn’t feel good to us or them at the time. But is good for them in the long run and may even prevent a child who’s capable of pulling all As from repeating a grade.