Maybe it was the uncomfortable feeling of taking her five children down to the library and not being able to understand what was in the books. Or the frustration of wanting to help her youngest daughter with her homework, but having to pass that task to an older child.
In May of last year, Margaret Brown decided that, at the age of 35, it was time her life changed.
"I could read, but couldn't understand and spell so many words," says Ms. Brown, who lives in East Baltimore. "I had dropped out of school in the 10th grade and had been out of school for 20 years. My daughters even had to read my mail for me."
So she enrolled in the Literacy Resource Center -- a state program for those wishing to improve their reading skills -- at the Broadway Branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library. And she signed up with the Pratt's tutorial service, which matches students with volunteer tutors.
Every day, Margaret Brown went to the center for classes from 9 a.m. to noon. Two evenings a week, for two hours at a time, she was tutored by Andrew Lundberg, a computer programmer who had just moved to town from St. Louis. Slowly, often painfully, her reading improved.
At first, she says, "I was scared. I wouldn't participate because I couldn't. I couldn't understand what I was reading. But it finally started coming along."
Today, her pride is apparent as she describes the turnaround in her life. "Before, I was reading at a 3.2 [third grade, second month] level," Ms. Brown says. "Now I'm at a 5.6 level, and I'm shooting to get my GED [General Equivalency Diploma]."
Mr. Lundberg and the library made the difference, she said. "He knew I could do it. He really worked with me. It was the best thing that happened to me. If it weren't for the library, I don't know what I would have done."
"Margaret didn't learn a lot of things in high school, but she's more mature now and wants to learn," says Mr. Lundberg, 44. "And she's more capable of learning now than she was before.
Now, with every book she finishes, Margaret Brown and her children mark off another advance that for so long seemed so unlikely.
"My children are really proud of me," she says. "They bake a cake for me or give me flowers when I do something. They're holding me up real well."