Johanna Shapiro, PhD

In kindergarten, our daughter
Was a rabbit in reading
Is that good? We wondered
Oh yes, enthused her teacher
The rabbits are adorable
Only later did we learn it meant
She could not read

Could not read?
How was that possible?
How was that possible in our family
Where everyone could read by three or four
And the bright ones could read
The encyclopedia by two – for fun

How was that possible in a family
Where the dull ones were professors of English
And the brighter ones physicians or physicists?
Where intellectual one-upsmanship
Was a family game and cultural literacy
A given

At night I would cry
How can she not read?
Phonics were a mystery
Incomprehensible, impenetrable
Like the virgin birth
Words themselves uninteresting hieroglyphics

Later there were other mysteries
Spelling for instance
She strung letters like beads in random fashion –
Made pretty patterns, hoped for the best
Multiplication tables would not imprint
Division long remained an unbreachable concept

Testing gave us labels
Atypical dyslexia
(she’ll never spell that one)
Information processing deficit
Learning disability unspecified
We collected diagnoses like precious gems

But in the end they had no value
Special classes, special lessons, special tutors
Our daughter cried because she could not learn
When she became bat mitzvah
Our rabbi said in awe
She reads Hebrew better than English

Concepts rolled off her brain
In unretainable gobs
Abstract thinking, her father would urge
Who is buried in Grant’s tomb, he hinted
Our daughter was mystified
Teflon brain her sister teased

We told our daughter about the theory
Of multiple intelligences
We reminded her that she had never failed
At anything she set her mind to
We told her when life comes too easily
You aren’t ready for its challenges

Her favorite book was called
Leo the Late Bloomer
About a little tiger who
Didn’t amount to much
But after a time came into his own
Until he shone like a sun

Eventually our daughter learned
To read, although she still can’t spell
She learned to add and subtract on her fingers
And uses them still to good advantage
She learned to work a calculator for the
Harder stuff

Our daughter went to college
Worked twice as hard as most
Then studied to be a Montessori teacher
And wrote in her application that
She wanted to help kids with disabilities
Because she knew what it was like

So our daughter learned enough
And more than enough
To know how to make her life work
How to find what was important
And not let go of it
Learned how to make it shine

And we, desperate parents, what did we learn?
In a family where intellect counted
For everything
We learned it really didn’t count
For that much
Didn’t really matter at all

We learned that our daughter was
Loving, brave, determined,
Where at first we saw only gaps
Now we understood
Gaps let the light shine through
Our daughter shone like the sun