Curly hair, a sharp nose, and a laugh you can hear from backstage: that is how most people would describe my mom. Intense, goofy, and always making an impression. They would say she is a fantastic teacher, friend, and daughter. However, when I think of my mom, I think of words: of bedside stories and snack-time chapters, of the different voices she would use for each character, and how she would pretend the chapter ended with a huge cliffhanger. I think of magic, entire worlds created with nothing but a hat from the costume box, a pillow fort in the living room, and her explosive imagination. When I think of my mom, music plays in my head. The 70s rock-and-roll we would dance to in the kitchen, the musicals we watched repeatedly, her hands on the piano keys, and her voice effortlessly harmonizing with mine.
My mom’s name is Beth Key, and she was all these things long before I was a part of her life. She taught at public middle schools and high schools for over ten years before retiring to be a stay-at-home mom, and though she didn’t know it at the time, she would also become a homeschool mom.
As I left the terrifying toddler years, my parents began to teach me how to read. This is when they realized something was wrong. I’m pretty sure it started with a book about princesses. We read it every night; however, as I read along with my dad, a single word kept tripping me up: “princess.” No matter how many times my dad sounded it out, I could never read it easily. It didn’t matter if the word had been in the previous sentence, I never knew it. This experience and a few other symptoms pushed my parents into getting me tested for a learning disorder.
Scene change to the Fundamental Learning Center, which is currently a full-time school for students who have dyslexia and an assessment center which creates curriculum and trains dyslexic tutors. I don’t remember much about the assessment, except for a row of wooden blocks I had to line up in different orders. They were heavier than they looked, and I wasn’t very good at it. Afterwards, I was officially diagnosed with Dyslexia.
So, what next? This was a question that dogged my family constantly as I began tutoring sessions three times a week at a small Catholic school down the street from my neighborhood. The tutor was amazing, but my mom longed to be more involved. The place I got diagnosed was, as mentioned, more than an assessment center. It also certified teachers to assist dyslexic students. This aspect began calling to my mom, and soon, she began training to become a dyslexic tutor. After several weeks of hard work, my mom got certified, and we began working together. That turned out to be tougher than either of us expected.
Homeschooling is hard, teaching dyslexic students is very hard, and homeschooling while teaching your own dyslexic child is even harder. Receiving assistance for learning disorders can make a person feel extremely vulnerable. Acknowledging you have a problem with learning, thinking, and understanding can hurt. After all, what kind of person are you if you can’t think right? Dyslexic students are not stupid. Dyslexic people are not stupid. However, when you can’t even spell the name of your own diagnosis, there is a part you that can’t help feeling…stupid.
Having to sit there and watch your tutor across from you rip out every coping mechanism you rely on, open every inconsistency you have hidden, unbolt the walls over the parts of life you just don’t understand, is scary. When that tutor is also your mom, there is something that can make every mistake seem a little more permanent. She had to make me rewrite the same sentences twenty times because the letters were tilted incorrectly and misspelled, and no tears of defeat could stop her from making me do it again. When I got papers back with big red slashes over them because ‘L’s only go right, and ‘b’ and ‘d’ are not twins, and ‘q’s are not whatever I just turned in, it was so frustrating because I know she knew I had learned it, even as it never came out correctly. I worried about what she thought of my future. How, I often thought, while clutching another failed assignment, could my mother ever be anything but disappointed? How could she ever not be disappointed in me?
However, vulnerability is not like a wound, it is like a flower bed, and teachers are the gardeners. If instead of being overlooked or beaten down, students are sowed with hope and encouragement; with hard work, they can grow into full bloom. The hour of my day that I dreaded most as a child enabled my mother to guide and encourage me. Not only did my mom help me work through my dyslexia, she also showed me how this disability could never keep me down.
My mom helped me continue in my love for reading, develop a passion for writing, and overcome my fear of failing. She helped me see that not only was she proud of me, but I could be too.
As my training became less hands-on, my mom began to take on more students, which she continued to do even after we moved to Texas. I think this is what I am the proudest of my mother for. I watched terrified parents come in with confused, vulnerable kids by their side. They would go into my mother’s office, and they found peace there. Whether they go on their journey with her or not, they find answers, and a warm smile. The communities my mom has helped through bringing awareness and assistance increase every day, and I could not be prouder.
I don’t know how different my life would be without dyslexia. However, I can say that because of my mother, this condition has not kept me from anything I have wanted to do. Because of my condition she can now help people in a way many people didn’t even know they needed. Seeing her work, I will never regret having introduced her to this world. With my mom’s help, I have been successful in school, made friends, and excelled at activities. And that’s just the stuff she’s helped me do by being my tutor! I have also continued to love books, poetry, and music. For a while, it felt like words had made me their enemy and cut me when I tried to use them. They weighed heavy in my head, becoming useless when I attempted to create. However, they are now weapons I am trained to use. They are building blocks that I can create worlds with, just as my mom does.
My mom and my favorite musical is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton,” which talks about the life of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. In one of the most beautiful lines in the musical, Alexander’s wife talks about her disloyal husband’s prolific writing. She says, “You and your words flooded my senses/Your sentences left me defenseless. You built me palaces out of paragraphs/you built cathedrals.”
My mother may not have built the palace of my childhood dreams, but she helped me and so many others build something much more, she helped build us a future.