Ethan is on the front porch, reading

I turn away, so my dyslexic son won't see my tears.

Published April 12, 2000 4:00PM (EDT)

Ethan says, "Mom, I'm going to the front porch to read."

I'm rooting through the refrigerator, trying to decide what to make for dinner. I straighten up and look at him.

"OK," I say, trying to sound casual. Then I turn away, so he won't see my tears.

Ethan is 14 and severely dyslexic. Our file cabinet folder bulges with reports from years of expensive testing -- educational, psychological, neurological. It could be worse, I know. A friend, losing patience with me recently, snapped, "It's not like he's in a wheelchair!" Still, I've spent many nights lying awake, my heart heavy. Will he ever be able to read a menu in a restaurant? Fill out a job application? Drive a car?

By fourth grade Ethan still couldn't write his name, couldn't begin to read "Hop on Pop" or "Go, Dog, Go!" He listened to the entire "Lord of the Rings" trilogy on audio tape and could, with ease and eloquence, discuss plot twists and favorite characters. But he couldn't spell "dog" to save his life.

We tried phonics programs. We tried tutoring. We tried tricks: Pour Kool-Aid powder onto a cookie sheet and finger-spell the word. Get it right and you can lick your finger!

I'd read a theory of kinetic links to reading, so in our tiny living room we did jumping jacks together. "D!" clap over head. "O!" slap arms to side. "G!" clap again. Ten minutes later we sat down to milk and cookies. When I asked him to spell "dog" he looked stricken. Gone. Irretrievable.

By fifth grade Ethan's reading level hadn't budged past pre-kindergarten.

Finally, after years of struggling with the public school's special education classes (and hiring an attorney to fight for Ethan's right to an appropriate education), Ethan was placed in a private school with a cutting-edge program to teach dyslexic students to read.

It's working, albeit very slowly and only with extraordinary effort. And not without innumerable nights of fury, of bedroom door slamming. "This is too hard! This is not fair!"

At 14, Ethan is tall for his age; over 6 feet and lumbering, yet still with the lingering softness of childhood. He's changing though -- a shadow on his upper lip, a pulling away from me.

So I'm chopping onions and peppers; the oil is sizzling in the pan. It's unseasonably warm for the end of February. I've opened the back door and early evening light floods the kitchen.

The paperback novel Ethan has carried to the front porch has large print, with plenty of white space in which to pencil decoding strategies.

I sob, wipe my eyes on the shoulder of my T-shirt, toss hot sausage into the pan.

Ethan is on the front porch, reading.

By Virginia Tubeck-Drozd

Virginia Tubeck-Drozd is a writer living in Hartford, Conn.

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