The moment I come through the preschool door each week, Raeesha is there. Read to me, she says.
Today we read Rumplestiltskin, a book about a frog and the seasons, a book about occupations, a book about guinea pigs and another about sharks. There is a counting book, too, Elmo Walks the Dog, the Hungry Little Caterpillar and perhaps another I've forgotten. For some of these, another child sits in, but she's there for the duration.
We sit on a small blue padded bench that if it were scaled to adult size would be a love seat. She sits on my lap and turns the pages (the Elmo book has pages within the pages, and she turns them on cue).
I've seen an evaluation form that shows her as developmentally delayed. She's five, perhaps the oldest in the class, and that may be true, but she certainly is interested in the right things.
When we go out to the playground, she is the first to cry, Give me a ride on your shoulders for three minutes, and I do. When she asks for another, I tell her she has to wait her turn, and she does.
She'll take these opportunities sometimes to kiss me. I tell her, We don't kiss in school, and then I remember the first time I got in trouble in school was for kissing a girl when I was five.
I have some friends whose granddaughter is already reading at age five. I wonder if Raeesha would be reading by now if she had the other girl's family and wasn't living in a shelter.
It's not a question that's answerable or a situation that is changeable—at least not in the magic wand sort of way it happens in the children's books.
Instead, we work on counting and pattern recognition, colors, concepts, loving books, asking nicely, waiting our turn. By next fall, Raeesha will be in kindergarten, perhaps with kids who can already read and write.
I hope someone is there to put her first.