Happy Cheetah Reading

The Shame of the Cockroach

A cockroach flew onto the back of my neck last night.

I had gone outside briefly, and felt motion on the back of my neck, right as I stepped inside.

I wanted the bug to be a firefly. It’s the season of fireflies, and to have one spontaneously land on me seemed almost like it would be a blessing.

But instead, my fingers found a cockroach, which scuttled down my fingers, fell to the floor, and scrambled under our shoe rack.

This has been a season of cockroaches. We have lived in Virginia for just under ten years now, and until this year, I have seen a very occasional cockroach. Less than one per year.

But for whatever reason — the wet fall, the very early spring, the one cockroach last year happened to be a fertile female who laid eggs throughout my house — I have seen a cockroach every day for the last few weeks.

Unlike the sparkling joy of a firefly, a cockroach is a symbol of nastiness. Of unclean kitchens and impoverished homes.

When I moved to Virginia, I had never seen a cockroach in any home I’d lived in, and was horrified the first time I saw one. If I had a cockroach, it meant I was dirty and disgusting.

Then one day we were getting a feed delivery. The delivery man and I were unloading the bags, and we glanced down on the driveway and noticed a cockroach.

I gasped and said, “Oh, I’m so sorry!”

I remember such a sense of shame for my farm’s state of uncleanness.

And the delivery man, without missing a beat, said, “My mama always said that a cockroach was just another kind of bug.”

Then he kept on unloading.

With that simple sentence he managed to reframe my perception of cockroaches themselves. I had been telling myself that having these bugs made me unclean, filthy, disgusting.

But the truth is: sometimes flies come into our house. Sometimes ants make their way into my kitchen. I find occasional spider webs inside the top of the boys’ wardrobe.

None of these make me feel unworthy as a parent or home caretaker.

But the cockroaches — they, too, enter my house through cracks (or, now, an unsuspecting neck). Yet I had let them proclaim my lack of worth.

But what if, instead of telling myself I was disgusting because these bugs were around, I remembered that they were just another kind of bug?

What a relief! What a way to be freed from shame!

When I think about our reading journey, I feel, sometimes, that I need a similar reminder of reality.

As parents, we all face challenges. How to keep our children safe when they’re little. How to guide them well as they grow older. All the while dealing with the daily health difficulties, the educational setbacks, the emotional highs and lows, and the trials and triumphs of the community around us.

This is the reality of being parents. We deal with things.

But there is something about having a child who struggles to read that feels more shameful, more frustrating, more all-encompassing, more desperate, more embarrassing. It’s more like a cockroach in the house than an ant.

But, really, the struggle with learning to read is just another problem to solve.

It shouldn’t be a source of shame. It has nothing to do with intelligence (in fact, the ability to read has no correlation with IQ).

I know how easily, though, it can become a source of shame. Negative self talk. Teasing from other children who don’t face this particular challenge. Frustrated spouses and family members, wondering how long it will take to catch up to grade level.

But learning to read is just another challenge.

And with the Happy Cheetah Reading System moving towards solving this problem becomes much easier.

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