Seeing stars and learning lessons about how to learn
He told other parents on the way home. He told cousins and aunts and check-out clerks and strangers in stores.
"I'm a Star Reader!" he'd crow, grinning broadly.
The accomplishment itself isn't much - it means he knows 26 letter sounds and can read at least five words. But earning the honor meant the world to him, and long-term the sustained effort he put into the achievement will matter as much as the sounds and words he's learned.
Big Guy hadn't had to put sustained effort into anything for a while - not since I'd asked him to learn to write his name so he could sign his letter to Santa when he was 4.
It's not that he doesn't work hard. When he decides he's ready, he'll whip through the house like the Ajax white tornado and dirt doesn't stand a chance. He plays his butt off on the soccer field but because it's fun, not because he's trying to score a certain number of goals.
When three school friends were called to the principal's office and honored as Star Readers in the autumn, though, Big Guy found himself with a goal that would require more effort than kicking a ball at a net. He wanted one of the coveted Star Reader dog tags, too.
Big Guy had earned Math Master status and the accompanying rubber duck from the principal, but the literary honor eluded him. Which, of course, made him want it even more. If his friends could to do it, then so could he.
Except he wasn't entirely convinced that he could. That made the flames of homework hell even hotter on a nightly basis as he alternated between struggling with penmanship and the frustration of repetitive writing and wanting to press on so he could earn the dog tags.
"Why do I have to do this every night? I don't want to do this. I'll never be a Star Reader."
"Yes, you will, if you keep working at it. These are the things you need to learn to be able to be a Star Reader," I'd repeat daily, adding for good measure the story about how he once swore he'd never be able to write his name.
It was over Christmas break when he didn't have to do it every night that things started to click. Part of it was the lessened pressure, part of it was because his brain finally was ready to make sense of it.
By the time he went back to school in January, he was reading a bigger chunk of his bedtime story. He'd started to sound out words where in the past phonics had flummoxed him.
"Do you think I'll be a Star Reader now?" he asked.
Friday, his teacher answered that question. Monday, he came home dog tags bestowed in a super-secret ceremony in the principal's office. All I know about the rites is they involve barking. I'm not sure whether to call ASPCA or animal control.
So far this time, no one's asked if Boots dumb. He, too, wants a dog tag, and Big Guy is making the appropriate encouraging sounds. "If you work hard when you get to kindergarten, you'll get one, too."
He still, of course, gripes about homework. "Why do I have to do this?" he asked yesterday. "All I want to do is read."
That's certainly a tough one to argue with.
Last night, he took charge of the book with me helping him through the rough spots, a reversal of the way it had been all his life. "I can do this now," he said. "I'm a Star Reader."
Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.