At the dentist’s office recently I overheard two moms discussing their frustration with the children’s homework. They talked about how they have to nag and cajole their first grade girls every night to complete even simple tasks.

“I just wish I knew how to get her to enjoy reading,” Mom #1 said.

I did what I always do—I went into stealth mode. I tried my best NOT to look like a teacher. I grabbed the magazine from the table nearby and tried to keep a low profile. I played with my phone, so I could avoid contact. I was doing everything I could to stay out the conversation. No luck. I might have had a better chance if I weren’t sitting 10 minutes away from my school.

Mom #2 looked my way and said, “What do you think, Mrs. Hiltz?”

Usually I’m quite free with my opinion, but I’m always very cautious when another parent approaches me for advice on how to help their child succeed. The reason?  I don’t know.

Well, that’s not exactly true. I know the questions to ask to begin to diagnose the problem. I have ideas based on research and experience and can go through a laundry list of programs or incentives. I can even give someone the right questions to ask their child’s teacher to begin a dialogue. But every child and situation is different. I have no magic solution to give, and I always feel like I leave the other person disappointed.

My track record with my own child has produced mixed results. An avid math and science student, he fought against learning how to read. No, sir. Not interested. And writing? I hung my head every year as I told his teachers to bribe him with candy so he would complete the mandatory writing assessments. As a teacher, this was embarrassing. As a parent with a hope that he’d share my interest and passion for learning, I was heartbroken.

I quickly debated whether I should answer as a practitioner or a mom. Not sure that either approach would be satisfying, I went with the truth.

“I wish I knew the answer to that question. My own son hated reading until this year- and I’m the school librarian!”

As the three of us had a good laugh, I could see the worry lines fall off their faces. It was as if my admission had made their situation OK, like I had given them permission to not know the right answer. I suppose in a way I had. Maybe, I was not meant to be so anonymous after all.

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