All of us have things that we could have pursued in life, but haven’t – those roads not taken. Yesterday I was reminded of one of mine…
Quite unexpectedly, I ran into the mother of one of my former students yesterday, and our conversation made my week (perhaps even month). I recognized her immediately – especially since I had the advantage of context, as she was working the job where I met her – but it took her a few seconds to realize who I was. Her face literally lit up as she figured out that it was me, and she said, “Abby!!!!!!” with a huge smile. And then she started talking about how key I was to her son’s success in life, and that they frequently think of me and are thankful for what I did for him, for, as she put it, I started the ball rolling for her son’s education.
I tutored her son when he was in kindergarten and first grade, and he was the most dyslexic student I ever worked with. Very sweet, and very, very smart, but very dyslexic, and his school system was not providing anything close to what he needed. I suspect that that school system had never had a child quite like him, and simply didn’t know how to help him. My role in working with this student was primarily to get his confidence back, help him with sound recognition, and, when his mother asked me in desperation if her son should attend a school that specializes in dyslexia, to give his parents the name and number of an advocate. That advocate managed to get this boy into the Landmark School, with the town paying the bill, and the difference in the boy was almost immediate. He had reached the point where school was unbearable for him, but after he started at Landmark I remember his mother telling me that suddenly he was the first one in the family to wake up in the morning, and that he would get dressed and ready for school and wait impatiently for his family to drive him there.
And I found out yesterday that now he is finishing his junior year in highschool; he owns and operates his own landscaping business; he can read fluently; he plans on attending a two year college; and that he wants to have a career as a tugboat captain. He is thriving, and his mother very kindly gave me a lot of credit for his success, since I was the first one to recognize the extent of his needs and I helped her find the experts to get him where he needed to be.
This isn’t the first time a parent (or child) has credited me with such grand things, and yesterday I once again worried whether I made the right decision seven or so years ago when I decided to lose my $100 deposit at Simmons and not enroll as a student in the two degree programs in which I had been accepted: to get my master’s in special education and my education specialist degree in language and literacy. Everything had been signed and sealed for me to get those degrees and then pursue a career as a reading specialist, but each morning as I got ready for work I’d cry my eyes out and say to myself, “But I want to be a children’s librarian!!!” And so that’s what I did – I went with the career path that felt right to me.
But was it the right path? Do I as a children’s librarian have as much potential to positively and profoundly affect kids’ lives as I would as a reading specialist? I’m not sure. In going down the path that I knew would make me happy, did I lessen the positive impact that I could make on the world? Or, as I’ve often told myself, would the fact that being a reading specialist wouldn’t make me happy mean that I ultimately wouldn’t be as good at that job and thus not as effective? I’ll never definitively know the answers to those questions. But I do know that it was lovely to see that mother yesterday and to hear how well her almost-grown son is doing, all these years after I knew him.