Mothering Bean: Part Eternal


Right now, this beautiful child is sitting next to me, watching Bill Nye, while we wait for his home-study instructor so we can begin the journey to finish 5th grade from the safety and security of our home. Home-schooling has never been something I felt called to; it’s only something we’re embarking on because we’ve come to the end of our rope with a mismatched and poorly suited 5th grade year. There truly was no other option.

I’m pro-level with Special Ed;  I’ve done M.Ed level work, and I’ve got my own kid in-house.  I’ve been doing IEPs for nine years, and we’ve had predominantly stellar experiences. Bean has had wonderful teachers, tremendous therapists, deeply committed members of his team, over two states, and five schools. In the three years we’ve been in the DC area, he’s changed schools three times because of re-districting. I have moved once. He’s the worst possible child for that to have happened to, but I was powerless to stop district gerrymandering. He’s also gone from having the very best academic and social year of his life- a year where he excelled at every subject, made friends, loved his teachers and his school, and where his IEP team praised him for making such great leaps and being such a wonderful kid. In one year, he went from that, to our deciding, after 8 months of almost daily calls from the school, to pull him and spend the rest of the time before 6th grade rebuilding the damage done to him by his current school.

He’s still the same happy, quirky kid here at home. But I now have a concrete example of an educational team where an IEP can be followed to the letter, but where there can be zero investment in the child. I knew, the day I first walked into his classroom, that it wasn’t going to work. His assigned teacher may be a wonderful teacher for other kids, but for this particular child, she was wrong. I regret tremendously not asking to have him switched right then. I talked myself out of it. It was a mistake.

I try and teach my children responsibility and I don’t automatically assume my child is without fault. I wait, I weight things out. I talk to my kids, and to their teachers. The importance of the individual teacher cannot be overstated. Many kids can navigate many teachers, and there won’t be blips. Some kids do phenomenally with some teachers, and then some kids are catastrophically failed by some teachers. This was one of those times. At every chance, Bean was read and interpreted as a problem. When someone sees you as a problem, you start to believe you are a problem.

When you child comes home from school almost every day and cries, something is wrong. When on Sunday evenings, he realizes school is the next morning, and he bursts into tears yet again, something is wrong. When the teacher, who is armed with an IEP an inch thick and a full-time aid in the classroom, calls me 4-7 times a week, something is wrong. Last week, she called me three times in one day. Something is very wrong.

I am also a fervent defender of my kids, and when I walk into the district offices and ask for a meeting, it’s because I’ve been up all night reading the legal briefs and the actual legislation for IDEA (Individuals with Disability Education Act). I will be able to cite case law, and point out where federal (not state, not local, not school district… Federal) law has been violated, and I will ask if we should be recording this meeting.

Basically, don’t mess with me.

So when I walk into the district offices and ask for a meeting with the head of Special Education Services, I get one. And while I’m really glad that my reputation allows me to get that meeting, and my phone calls afterwards are taken, I am really *really* angry that a school district has to be coerced into following law they should be following for every. single. child. What about the mother who doesn’t speak English well, but whose child qualifies for services he’s not getting? What about the single mom working two jobs who simply cannot take off for yet another meeting? (Jon has used almost a week of his vacation because of IEP’s this year.) What about the mother who lacks the education to walk in armed with legal citations and the ability to advocate? The gulf between the privileged and the disadvantaged widens, and I am furious on their behalf. It’s really not enough that I, in a position of very real privilege, can advocate for my child. It should not be this hard.

FAPE (Free Access to Public Education) is something to which every single child in America is entitled. It’s not only for the kids in good neighborhoods, or whose mothers know how to work the system. It’s not only for the parents who can take time off to attend another meeting because the school is failing to meet the standards set out in an IEP. Every child. Every time. Every school.

So last week, after a phone meeting with the head of Special Ed for the school district, we made the very hard decision to throw in the towel and homeschool Bean for the rest of the year. He will still receive instructional support from the district. A (new) teacher will come to our home for 420 minutes a week. He will still receive all his special ed services, including therapy and counseling, here at our home. He will still receive music instruction, and be able to attend activities with his classmates, but he will not ever enter that classroom again.

If any of you are pro-level home-schoolers, I’d love and welcome some suggestions and feedback. As far as I’ve gotten is asking him to write me a list of five things he really wants to learn about. He wants to know how birds build their nests, how centrifugal force works on wheels, how light bulbs work, why humans taste things as good or bad, how clocks work.

And it’s straight-up privilege that I can do this to make sure he gets what he needs. It should never come to this.

Get on the Horse, Slay the Dragon


This crew decided that the last girl had to finally learn to ride a bike. Her grandma got her one last year for her birthday, but there really aren’t enough swears to tell you how badly that experiment went. It was so bad, she gave her bike to Bean and let him paint it teal green, while she swore she would get a “large tricycle” like her great-grandma, which I made the mistake of telling her existed.

We tried. We tried everything possible. We took turns. When I was exhausted and frustrated, Jon took over. Then when he was pulling his hair out and she was crying in the middle of the street, Jeffrey and Bean took over. Kelsey gave her pep talks, we spend time on the grass, with training wheels, with no pedals, with no pedals with training wheels. We went to the church parking lot, we went down hills, we went up hills, we tried dirt, sand, sidewalks, and the lawn. Nada.

So for a year, we gave up.

As spring sprung, Jon looked at me and said. “This is it.” He rummaged through the girls’ closet and came up with Kelsey’s roller-blading elbow and kneepads, and told Abby to meet him out front. The other kids gathered on the porch, in eager anticipation of the show sure to follow. Previously, Abby had stood in the street wailing. She had thrown herself to the ground. She had used all her significant powers of arguing to convince us that she simply was not made to ride a bicycle, and we should just give up. The problem was, she was believing her own PR. The other kids would take off on their bikes, and she would sit on the porch, chin on hands, staring morosely down the street.

It was time. This was the rock meeting the mountain.


We explained to her that this was it. We knew she could ride her bike, and we had to show her that she could. We were no longer taking no for an answer. She was going to get on her bike, and that was all there was to it. It was not a discussion, it was not an argument. No, we weren’t going to listen to all the reasons she couldn’t do it again. No. Get on the bike.

The first day, we spent the entire evening just getting on the bike in the front yard.

On day two, we drove to the track. The older kids swarmed the neighborhood and met us at the track, while Jon and I wheeled Abby and her bike to the nice, smooth, even, level oval. She hadn’t stopped arguing yet.


I’m not a push-it type mom. I seldom “make” my kids do things. I encourage. I make room for them. I let them express themselves. I don’t micromanage. But this time I had the very strong impression there was conquering that desperately needed to happen. She had let this build up so long she honestly believed she could not do this thing. But we knew she could. We could see her balancing before she would literally fling herself to the ground in our yard, wailing “See!” It was almost comical. She was self-sabotaging, and we would hide our muffled laughs in the crooks of our arms as she dramatically tried to illustrate how incompetent she was.

Time to slay some dragons.

At the track, we set her bike up, strapped on her pads, and told her to get on. She told us no. She couldn’t do it and she wouldn’t. For the first time in my parenting life, I stopped being persuasive. I stopped listening. I bent down, told her to get on the bike.

I can’t.

Get on the bike.

I can’t.

Get on the bike now.

I can’t. (wailing)

Get on the bike. (dispassionately)


Get on the bike. (quietly)

I can’t. I won’t!

We’re not leaving here until you get on that bike and ride it. It can take all day. It can take tomorrow. It doesn’t matter. We’re not leaving. You can do this, and we know it, and you need to know it.

And on and on and on it went. And then it went on some more.

We simply were not moving. We didn’t negotiate, we didn’t budge. She tried everything. The other kids rode round and round the track, shouting encouragement, cheering her on, while she stood there.

She finally got on the bike, and literally within moments, she was riding alone.

It took a year of back and forth, and about 60 seconds of actual riding. She had this little demon who had told her she couldn’t do something, and we had to excise that idea from her. We couldn’t give it an inch. I had tried “nice” for a year. It finally took us building a wall and saying “This far, and no further.”

Which, of course, isn’t really about learning to ride a bike at all. Since that day, we haven’t been able to keep her off her bike. She comes home from school and wants to go for a ride. She wants to ride all weekend. She goes out with siblings, and she goes out by herself. She rides up hills and down hills and over bumps and off-road. She is suddenly fearless. I see the resolve in her eyes- she needed to win that battle, and she won by losing the battle with us.

My finest mothering moment? No way to tell. I know how it looks, but I honestly believe this was what this child needed in this moment. Parenting is hard. We’ll know if I was right nor wrong when she someday writes her book if there is a chapter titled “The Childhood Trauma: Why My Parents Suck” Until then…

Slingshot Around the Sun

Abby turned nine. Nine times round the sun, nine years in the world and in our lives.


This is my child who leaves me wondering if I’m cut out to be her mother. This is the child who brings me to tears and who’s light is at once both beams of intensity and as diffuse and gentle as rays of sun through spring blossoms. This child knows who she is, and carries herself with a noticeable dignity beyond her years. It’s perplexing, and charming, and frustrating, and baffling and enchanting to be her mother. This is the child I worry most about failing.

Are these things normal for mothers and daughters? I know my own relationship with my mother is far, far more fraught than her relationship with my brothers. I know my mom didn’t innately understand me- she tried, but I was probably as perplexing to her as Abigail sometimes is to me. I remember her sometimes looking at me with a strange mix of amusement, bafflement and frustration- and I catch myself sometimes doing the same thing. It’s jarring, feeling inhabited by memory- only in this case, it’s a posture, a shine in the eye, the set of a brow. I understand my mother a little better because of my daughter. Maybe I can catch a little reflection off that understanding and help illuminate the way forward.


For her birthday, she wanted a geologic birthday cake with the layers of the soil visible, and ribs for dinner. She wanted her ears pierced, and she wanted rock mining tools. Mission accomplished, on all fronts.

Kelsey and I took her out in the morning to get her ears pierced, and we spent the rest of the day riding bikes, smoking ribs, and having a mercifully lazy afternoon. After dinner, when the bones were cleared away, the cake was demolished, and the presents were torn open, the rest of us gathered to watch a movie. But where was Abby?

Wandering into the dining room, I found her:


Using her new jewelers loupe, her new geology field notebook, and a pick, she was quietly chipping off tiny slivers of amethyst to examine and write field notes. She had her rock-collection bags out, and was carefully labeling and dating her samples. I sat with her a bit, watching her concentrate. I marvel at her focus, at her consistent joy in the natural world. It’s innate, she was born this way, I have felt so strongly that my job is to give her what she needs, then get out of her way. This is who she is. I gently rub her back and wander back into the family room.

A few minutes later, she shoves aside the sliding door, and purposely heads outside into the dark. It’s pouring rain, and she’s holding her pickax and her brother’s Doctor Horrible goggles. She doesn’t even glance at the movie. Jon and I look at each other, smile and shrug.

Soon, we hear a rhythmic, ringing-bright sound from the front of the house. She is on the front walkway, with a large piece of rock she found in the backyard. She looks up at me, standing in the pouring rain, her face radiant in the porch light, hood up, hair soaked, goggles on her face, a smile to light up the night. “Mom! I thought this was granite, but I think it might be potassium feldspar!!” And she goes back to pounding the rock, trying to chip off a piece she can examine.

I sat on the steps just inside the front door, gazing out onto the illuminated darkness. I don’t think I have ever seen her so saturated in happiness, so utterly in her element and overflowing with joy. She wasn’t even marginally aware of the darkness, or the rain, or her siblings inside giggling at potty jokes in Antarctica.

More than ever, I am sure that my job is to get her what she needs, and to get out of her way. This is how to best love her. Just look at that face…