A Nervous Little Reader

As I pictured a younger me, sitting in the kitchen, I could see a child who was optimistic. I could see a child that was curious. I could see a child who asked questions about everything and wanted answers to everything. A child who was nervous. I was probably in kindergarten or first grade. I remember the clothing style I had. It was horrible. I wore a t-shirt that was a few sizes too big, long and brightly colored pants that went way passed my feet, mismatching socks, and a haircut that was too short for me. I was sitting in the kitchen surrounded by chestnut colored cabinets, granite counter tops, and high stools where I did my homework almost every night for the next 12 years.

I was working on something for school. The notebook I had was one of those cute little children’s notebooks. It had rainbows and cartoon cats on it. I looked to my mother for help as my dad walked in at the usual time he did everyday. The question had something to do with reading and I didn’t understand. My mother agreed to help me but not in the most informed way. She only gave me brief thoughts that were not enough for me. I wanted the answer. I kept pestering her with the same question in hopes that she would tell me. I asked my dad to help me too. He gave me a little more insight but that still was not enough for me. I just wanted the answer, but there was no answer. And this is what I did not realize. They told me hints, gave me clues so that I would be able to figure it out on my own. The answer had to come from me and only me. Since I was so little, I did not realize this. I was struggling really hard and my mother had noticed that.

That night, when I had gone to bed, she walked into my room and sat down on the foot of the bed. She told me that she could not always be there to help me out and that I had to do my own work most of the time. I told her how I could not understand the words on the page. That is when we started reading together. My mom picked up a book and said “let’s read.” The first book that I recall was Arthur. The book was paperback and colorful with red, purple, and yellow.

Francine and Arthur went to the library but stayed too late and got locked inside. I followed along as my mother read to me. I began to understand the words better when they were being spoken and not just written on a page.

Having a parent read to me each night since then had become really important to me. Months had gone by where my mother or father would read to me. One night, I was in my bed reading a book about a horse with my father. The horse in the book was white with gray spots and I thought it was so pretty. The book was short and we could have read it in one night, but we did not. My father was reading when all of a sudden he turned to me and told me to read the next page. I got flustered. My cheeks felt hot, my tongue tied, my heart began to race. I could not do it. I couldn’t read that page. I was so nervous. And it wasn’t like I was not capable of doing it, I was able to read. I thought that I would not be able to read that well. I could not get myself to read that page. I told him this. He encouraged me, “yes you can. Come on, read the next page.” I got even more flustered. My cheeks felt like they were on fire, my tongue was knotted, and my heart was practically out of my chest at this point. I could not read the page. The encouragement turned to frustration, which turned to irritation, which turned to anger. We argued until he got up, said goodnight, and left my room. I was sad then I was mad. I was so mad at my dad for just leaving. I was also mad at myself for not even really trying. I wanted to read that next page. So, I picked up the book, turned to the page we left off at and began to read it.

It was hard, definitely. Some of the words were too big for me to read. I had really no help since my dad had just gone to bed and no one else in the house was awake. I did not do all that well that first time reading but the pictures helped out. I was so nervous, not just to read in front of my dad, but for a lot of things. This whole story took place around the same time I was diagnosed with my disorder. When I was six, I was diagnosed with a panic disorder- a type of anxiety disorder. It wasn’t just reading that made me nervous. Talking to any adult who wasn’t my family made me nervous. Going to a place I had never been before made me really nervous. Reading was just another thing that was making me nervous.

I went to school the next morning and was still mad about the previous night. My teacher, Mrs. McNeil, had called me over. She was a short, stout woman with curly blonde hair and wore glasses with thicker lenses. She was actually the teacher that brought it to my parents’ attention that I was nervous. If she had not mentioned this my anxiety would be just as bad now as it was then. She called me to her desk because she had noticed that I was upset. I told her about what had happened last night. She then asked “why don’t you stay in here with me for lunch and we can work on it?” My throat started to feel like it was closing. It wasn’t but this was another sign of my anxiety. I was also a 5–6 year old that only wanted to go to lunch and recess to play with her friends. So I did not.

When I got home that day my mother talked to me about school. She said that Mrs. McNeil had called her and told her about how I would not stay inside for reading help. My mom explained to me that getting help from someone else was just as important as getting help from a parent. Now knowing that mother was upset with me made me even more upset. So the next day, when Mrs. McNeil had called me over and offered the same help, I stayed. I do not remember really anything that happened during these lessons or how long they lasted. I do remember feeling better about how I was at reading. I started to improve my reading skills and was doing so much better on my own that before. One night, I thought since I was doing so much better I was going to read that page my dad had encouraged me to. When I started reading it I was able to understand what the story was telling. I read through each word with ease. I felt so proud when I was finished.

I don’t know if I told my dad that I had read the page. I most likely did because of how proud of myself I was. Reading sessions slowly started to come to an end. I was able to read by myself and did not really need a parent to help me. Every now and then I went to them for help and them offering little information became more content with me now that I was able to comprehend the text. I felt so good that I was able to accomplish something that I thought was not possible.

Fast forward through the years to high school. My English courses required intense reading and comprehension of complex text. Some of which were maybe too complex. We read Shakespeare, which I think everyone can agree on is tough to understand. But one such reading that I remember was The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. I was given this reading my junior year and I remember how much I did not want to do this reading. I was tired and it was towards the end of the school year, so my concentration levels started to drop. I did the reading anyways and I found myself in the same situation that I was in when I was younger. I could not understand the text. Instead of letting myself be stressed by the situation I took it by the neck and made sure that I could do this reading.

I read the story. When I read the harder paragraphs and didn’t understand what they were saying, I got frustrated and wanted to quit. But I thought that if I didn’t learn it now then I was going to be stressed about it later. So I did the best I could. By the end of the night I was able to comprehend most but not all of the text. We went over it in class the next day and I found that most of my interpretations were correct. I felt pretty good when I realized this.

I think, subconsciously, the moment with my father when I was so little influenced me to push myself when I got mad for not understanding. If I had not been angry at my dad for leaving, or if I didn’t feel bad that my mother was upset with me, or if I had never sat down with Mrs. McNeil to learn how to read I do not know where my reading skills would be. The anger, frustration, and guilt that I felt motivated me to learn how to read and this is something that has stuck with me throughout my life.