Max pressed his forehead against the warm window. From the backseat of his mother’s mini van, he watched Parker Elementary shrink as they drove the familiar route toward home. Today, however, they were driving toward freedom rather than toward hours of homework. With each mile that distanced him from his perceived prison, his jubilation increased until laughter unexpectedly bubbled out.
“What’s so funny?” He could see his mother’s eyes staring at him from the rearview mirror.
Max was surprised an explanation was necessary. “It’s summer...no school for three months!” He pumped his fist in the air.
At home, Max lugged his backpack, overflowing with nine months worth of wrinkled papers, art projects, and a few surviving school supplies, to his bedroom. He tossed it onto the carpet, kicked off his shoes, and headed outside to the nearest tree. Sitting on his favorite branch, he could hear a lawn mower in the distance, but for once he didn’t hear his mother’s dreaded words, “Come finish your homework.” From this high haven, he contemplated June, July and August and made a mental list of summer goals.
When the tree bark began to poke uncomfortably into his back and sweat droplets trickled down his face, he regrettably retreated into the air conditioned kitchen for water and found his mother preparing dinner.
“What’s up?” His mother measured a cup of rice, then poured it into a waiting pan.
Max hopped onto a bar stool and rested his chin on grubby hands. “I’ve been setting some summer goals.”
“Really?” She eyed him suspiciously.
“Yep. Wanna hear them?”
“Sure.” She handed Max a handful of silverware. “Set the table while you talk.”
Max slid off the stool and circled the table as he set the forks and knives in place. “First, I want to swim at the pool every, single day. No exceptions. Well, except if there’s lightening. Secondly, I want to dig a very deep hole.” Before she could object, he added, “but I’m going to dig it in the woods behind the garage.”
Max was about to share his next goal, which involved not wearing socks, when the phone rang.
“Why don’t you write down your goals?” Max’s mother said, then turned to answer the phone.
At her words, Max felt like he did when Ryan Matson kicked him in the stomach during a game of Four Square. How could she ask him to write something? Summer meant he didn’t have to write or read AT ALL. Period. Max finished setting the table, then slouched into a chair and pouted while he waited for his mother to finish her phone conversation.
When she finally disconnected, she turned and stared at Max for a moment. Her expression caused Max’s tummy to hurt again. She sat down next to him. “I have an idea for a summer goal.”
Max doubted he’d like her suggestion.
“I think we should work on reading.”
Max was embarrassed when his eyes instantly filled with tears and his lip began to quiver, but his mother’s betrayal stung. His poor reading skills made him the laughingstock of his class. For three months he was free from the torture, yet she wanted to steal his temporary reprieve.
She placed a hand on his shoulder. “That was Dr. Bergman on the phone.” Max listened, but he refused to lift his eyes from his dirty feet. Dr. Bergman had given Max extensive reading evaluations the week before. “He said you have dyslexia.”
Unfamiliar with the word, fear grasped Max’s heart.
“Dyslexia means your brain scrambles the letters you see, making it difficult for you to read. He works with kids like you and helps their brains learn to see the letters correctly.”
Max slowly processed his mother’s words. “What do you mean? I can’t read because I have a disease?”
“It’s not because I’m stupid?” Max felt an unfamiliar stir of hope.
“Actually, he said you were very intelligent.”
Max couldn’t disguise the relief and pride he felt. “How long will it take?”
“How long will what take?
“How long will it take to reprogram my brain?”
Max’s mom smiled. “If you work hard, you could learn to read before summer ends. We’ll work with Dr. Bergman for two hours a week and then do 20 minutes of exercises at home each day.”
Max looked deliberately into his mother’s eyes. “I can handle that. I’ll add ‘learn to read’ to my summer goals list.”
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