The (Lack of) Love Language

The longest relationship in my life is now fraught with complications. Ease has been replaced by frustration; intuition bound by rules and social mores.

Like Louis C.K. says, “It’s the kids that do you in.” I wouldn’t say that having children ruined our relationship, but I’d be very comfortable saying that children have strained the enjoyment right out of the practice of everyday living.

I am, of course, talking about teaching Maggie to read, and not my marriage.

English and learning to read, in case you weren’t aware, has to be one of the biggest pains in the ass to teach. Much is made of the Finnish educational model, and rightly so. It seems that children are allowed to be flexible and free, and formal reading isn’t pushed until age seven. Thing is, their alphabet is totally phonetic and shorter than ours. If I understand correctly, that means no tricks, no weirdness, nothing to trip kids up.

Like Scout Finch, I have no conscious memory of learning to read. I have no memory of the time when letters took on meaning and became decipherable as words, sentences, paragraphs, and structures. My parents tell me it happened so early for me that I couldn’t possibly remember, a condition I’ve stumbled across in my education research called “hyperlexia.” Decoding words was as natural to me as breathing, and I had nothing but disdain for readers sharing classroom space with me who stumbled over what I perceived to be simplicity itself.

I am officially going on the record: I am SO sorry, elementary school classmates. English is a total fucking pain and I was a smug jerk.

Maggie’s reading is coming along reasonably well, I think. I have nothing else to compare it to, and nobody posts darling little Facebook pictures of their child’s lack of reading progress. Precocity carries the day on social media, so I try not to play the comparison game. Most of her letters usually face the right way, and she can read a few simple primers without a lot of help. By God, that’s good enough for me.

But oh, holy Christ on a cracker, did it take FOREVER to come even that far. Homonyms are horrible. Sight words are so confusing, and so many fall under the pronunciation guide of “It’s just that way, sweetie. Sorry. That’s why we learn them by sight and not by sounding.” Two seconds later: “Oh, you can sound that one out.” Maggie looks at me like she wants to say “You have got to be kidding me.” I don’t blame her.

WHAT? English, you twit. We had it so good, you and I. I love you; I love working with you and partnering with you to create works that please me (if no one else). But you are a jerk to my kid and I don’t want her to hate you, so I’ve had to tear down our whole relationship and rebuild it to make it palatable to her. The very last thing I want is for her to find reading a chore.


For the sake of the children, we will tough this out. I will mask my contempt at the ridiculous rules you impose and grit my teeth and make this as enjoyable as I can. We will go slowly.

Even so, I can’t help but think we are forever changed. The kids have done us in.

Go Round and Round

I owe Maggie (if not the rest of you) a birthday letter. She’s six! Six years old! One-third of the way to legal adulthood, I tell you what. We followed the algorithmic instructions in the decree from the Lego Marketing Gods for her birthday present:

Six year old girl plus year 2015 plus interest in Legos = LEGO FROZEN CASTLE!

Maggie had other ideas.

Years ago, we bought her a balance bike. The idea was that she’d learn to balance so well that she’d just take off on two wheels when the time came. We had really no idea at the time that the process of using a bicycle would require gross motor planning skills that we’d need to call in specialists to work on. Wheeled toys fell by the wayside. The balance bike has been used sporadically, but as all items in a multi-child home Maggie didn’t really take a huge interest in it (or in our 3-wheeled scooter that I grabbed at the local charity shop figuring “Why not?”) until Moira decided she wanted to use it.

Then it was ON.

I brought them out front to the sidewalk, gave them perimeter boundaries, and set up a chair. Using the handlebars to turn…eh. Not so much. But she does have the basic idea of sitting on a bicycle and lifting her feet, and what happens if you wobble when you should wibble. (You fall, or ride into a tree. Good life lessons for the kindergarten set.)

As it happened, my niece’s third birthday was two weeks after Maggie’s sixth. As dictated by other marketing algorithms of the day, she got a Frozen-themed big girl bike with a purple basket. I showed it to Maggie and hinted that perhaps, with the birthday money she received from generous grandparents, she might like a big-girl bike of her own.

And wouldn’t you know it? She was game. “Yes! I would like one, with stabilizers.” (The UK term for training wheels.) Next we had to find one on Amazon that would ship to APO, and we found ‘er. She’s a beaut.


Yep. Flowers, purple tires, a basket AND doll seat attachment, AND streamers?! Boss.

It hasn’t arrived yet, but she’s been telling everyone how excited she is. “I’m going to practice my skills! I have balancing skills.”

Indeed you do, sweet pea. You’re a big kid now, for sure.

Better Ask A Breeder: Stomach Virus Edition

Time to revive my “Better Ask A Breeder” feature, as I realized that stomach viruses cannot be weathered alone. You want, nay, NEED the wisdom of those who have come before to see you through the storm. My first bit of advice relates to hair. Moira has a lot of hair. Thick, wavy, red-gold hair streaked through with platinum white and dark auburn. It is as glorious as a fall sunset, and trying to get any substance out of it is like trying to give Satan himself a pompadour. At the first indication that your long-haired darling spawn may be under the weather, soak his or her head and work the hair in two snug French braids. Get that hair out of the little spewer’s face ASAP. This may save you much heartache later.

Next up: towels. So I had Moira at home, and they recommended having loads of towels on hand. More than whatever you’re thinking. No, MORE than THAT. You will use them to make up your child’s bed, cover the couch, cover the carpet *surrounding* the bed and the couch…you just want them.

If you like making chicken stock, use a few 8oz containers to freeze some. Then you have single-serving rehydrating sick food. I like to cook rice in mine and give them the starchy broth (a little at a time in a medicine dropper, if you have to).

Why yes, Tom IS gone this week. He’s in Spain with a friend. Now, I can’t drink at the moment, but I can and did tell him to spend a little bit more per bottle at duty-free on the way home than he might have normally, because I sure as hell can stockpile for next winter.

Wish us luck.

I Feel Pretty

Winter is a difficult time for so many. The dark mornings, the darker afternoons, the English drizzle all seem to be actively plotting against us. For me, there are compounding factors in my lethargy. There is absolutely nothing that drains my creative energy, that so efficiently saps my sense of humor and spirit, than the first trimester of pregnancy. And like clockwork, now that I am approaching fourteen weeks I feel that I can string a few words together to make a coherent sentence!

Yeah, I kind of buried the lede there. We are preparing to launch number three, our third and final I REALLY MEAN IT, GUYS baby, in late August. Between the mental drain of winter, the demands of homeschooling Maggie, and keeping an eye (and occasionally a loving thumb) on dear Moira, I have had nothing to give creatively. It’s a problem for me, because when I don’t write I have terrible nagging dreams about wasted potential. Apparently it’s enough to know that I occasionally make my mom laugh and that sometimes I make people think when I write here.

That said, I don’t have enough stamina for any hot, emotionally laden topics. My torpor has not lifted enough to court controversy or stimulate flowing tear ducts. No, right now I’m pretty much just looking at makeup, and considering the varied ways I could paint my face.

The last time I bothered to buy anything for my face was in 2011, when I was pregnant with Moira. One senses a theme: in order to keep strangers from rubbing my belly like a good-luck troll (why? why do people do that?!), I try to get people to look elsewhere. Sadly, between the insomnia and familial tendencies toward sensitive, rashy red skin, eye baggage, and errant hairs, some maintenance needs to be done. Chinny is easy–one pluck and that little hair is gone. Chinny is probably my longest-lasting relationship, and I have no doubt we will grow old together as one.

Anyway, I walked into L’Occitane and said “I’m seven months pregnant and I have a toddler and I look it. HALP.” She fixed me right up with some overpriced placebo that made me feel better but had no discernible effect, and then I bought some lipliner and pronounced myself Peachy The Overly-Big-Eyed Clown.

Right now, I’ve got Sephora open in another window and I’m trying to figure out the wild world of contouring. Like most other complicated vanity-painting, I’m pretty sure we can thank a Kardashian for this, and also pretty sure that if I tried to contour my face I would look like a molting pigeon. That doesn’t mean I won’t try, and then we can have Peachy The Clown Part Deux: The Peachening.

In the meantime, I have a nice smattering of broken blood vessels and rashy bumps on my face. This could either be the onset of rosacea (bane of the Swedish side of the family) or a combination of hormones and breaking blood vessels as the result of forceful vomiting. (Future mothers-to-be: you can’t say you weren’t warned.) I’ve been branching out into the new world of redness-reducing primer, coating myself in what looks like green swamp slime and which turns into a “universal color” (uh. I guess? If you’re white? not so “universal,” there, L’Oreal) as it sets.

At a playdate, a concerned friend said “You look like you’re feeling better! Your color is back!” So, I guess turning me from looking ultra-pale/polka dotted red into a neutral universal bland is the same as returning color, and the same as faked health. In reality it was one of the worst days of my first trimester, but darned if I didn’t have even pores.

So that’s what’s going on here. Gestating and face-painting. When I update again in two months I’ll let you know which face-moltening contour equipment I went with.

Daybook: December 7

(I loved the Daybook format from Kara’s Simple Kids Monday entries, so I thought I’d borrow it with due credit. It’s fun! Try it yourself!)

Outside my window: last night’s rain held off for a startlingly crisp, clear afternoon. Around 2:30 we realized we only had another hour of daylight so we took a long stroll through the neighborhood. The rain is crashing down again, and taking with it the rest of the autumn’s leaves. Winter’s not *quite* here, but since last year it never snowed at all I wonder if this raw rainfall is all we’ll get.


I am thinking: I wish I had a camera handy to record Maggie’s improvisation of a birthday/Christmas serenade to my mom, because it was awesome. “It’s your…Christmas birthday…and I love you…” It’s cool that her speech is such that she *can* sing improvised lyrics (though the actual cadence bore a strong resemblance to Buddy the Elf’s holidaygram).

I am thankful: for turning 31 surrounded by my nearest and dearest, and for celebrating a lovely 8th anniversary with Tom.


(photo by Mary Kate McKenna Photography)

I am wearing: wool socks (mandatory November-March) and was wearing my Girl Guides leader shirt earlier. Maggie’s had a successful first term as a Rainbow, and we did a Sunday parade service at church today. Maggie’s not quite ready for the sounds of church, but wants to try next time. Here’s hoping! This is my second time trying an Anglican service and while I have no interest in returning to formal worship right now, I can see us making room in our lives for something later on. Perhaps a feel-good progressive Unitarian Universalist church where we can still be grumpy heathen doubters/deists. Also, Tom got me this amazing shirt for my birthday that I cannot take off.


I am creating: room on my camera to record Moira’s first Nativity performance tomorrow at her nursery school. She claims she’s going to be Mary but I think she’s self-appointed the role and the school might have other ideas.

I am wondering: how our family portrait sitting came out. I’ll find out tomorrow!

I am learning: what went right and what went wrong during our first term of homeschooling, which concludes in two weeks. I have big thoughts and plans for next term, which need to be tempered with a bit of realism.


Around the house: this is our first year with two trees. We have a real tree in our living room and a small tabletop tree in the girls’ room. The idea that they could have one of their very own might just be the highlight of the holiday season for them, and I’m so glad we had enough ornaments to make it really festive.


One of my favorite things: is the way the mantle came out this year. There’s a mix of handicrafts from multiple loved ones, treasures from our travels, scented wreaths and nature crafts from our town, and it’s so sweet and happy.


A few plans for the week:

     The Christmas pantomime show at the local theater!

     Moira’s Nativity and Maggie’s last Rainbows meeting for the term

     Sorting our toys for donation

I am feeling: incredibly grateful for what has so far been one of our easier, more low-key Christmases in years. The profound positive effect of simplicity on Maggie and Moira can’t be denied. And that’s good, because big stuff will start coming down the pipe in the next 18 months (planning our next move! grandparent visits! Moira starting full days next September! probably other stuff too!). I’m thankful for, however long it lasts, this tiny window of peace.


Happy Holidays!!

Where You Lead

Dear Moira,


I have a note-taking app on my phone that has a specific file just for you: “Moira’s Quotes.” The other day I got to add this gem:

“Do you know where you were born?”
“Um, England.”
“Do you know where in England you were born?”
“In Harrogate.”
“Do you know where in Harrogate?”
“Um. In a car. And it chased me. And I went over the rocks. It was busy work.”

One of the things I love most about you is that you have an answer for anything and everything. It may not be right–it may not bear even the remotest resemblance to reality, like the time you said Batman was going to buy you a villa in Tuscany–but you’re going to commit to the answer. You blink a little and I can see you thinking “Is that right? Did I do that right? Um…that’s probably not right. But I’m going ahead anyway.”


You make us laugh so hard. You’re just so cheeky, and you love to be loved on–wrestled with, snuggled, kissed, poked and prodded. It’s impossible to stay mad at you. Even your hair is cheeky. It’s sassy and orange and thick, with cheerful blonde streaks in the front. It’s lightened and I don’t know if we can truly call you a redhead anymore, but as befits a strawberry blonde you are as full of sunny cheer as a strawberry. It doesn’t seem possible that you only have twenty teeth; every pearly-white bit gleams when you smile from ear to ear. It’s so winningly bright and confident, so self-assured, that we throw up our hands, half-exasperated and half-besotted, and try to redirect you…with varying success.


“I hurt my human!” – You called your body your “human” for a while

Your love feels like you’re rushing into a rugby scrum, and we sometimes have to remind you that “Not everyone thinks crashy-bangy is fun, honey. You have to play in a way that’s comfortable for everyone.” When you DO find a playmate who shares your love of romping and stomping, oh girl, it is ON. You are the Queen of All Wild Things, and you will eat them up. You find friends everywhere you go, no matter the age or the situation. The first day of your new gymnastics class–not a parent-child class, so the first class where you were flying solo–you latched on to a little girl named Charlotte. “Tarloht” finds you equally wondrous, so you spend the entire class giggling hand-in-hand. You move socially with such ease.


Your particular brand of extroversion is so fascinating to me. You’re the outlier in a family of introverts, and already you have forged paths for us. In Italy, you introduced yourself to a little girl who had a doll you admired. We got to talking to her mother and discovered she was American, her husband was Italian, and they owned a villa outside town. They knew all the great spots and when the evening festivals were taking place, and we met up twice during our trip for play dates and for an evening of noodles, wine, desserts, and great memories. We could never have done that on our own; making the introduction wouldn’t have happened. We need you, little one. Oh, how we need you and how we appreciate the role you were born to take in our family. You open doors for us.

“Hey! It’s my friends!” – everywhere, all the time, to people you’ve met and to people you’ve never met

Like any toddler, you’re stubborn. Unique to you is the courage of your convictions. You’ll stand up before anyone and anything if you believe you’re right, and you won’t back down. On our last family trip, an overeager tourist put her arm around Maggie to get a photo of her and the little blonde girl eating ice cream. Maggie quietly panicked and Daddy and I blinked, frozen, but not you. You got right up in her face: “HEY! Don’t you touch my sister. Sister DOESN’T LIKE IT.” Older, bigger, outnumbering you, it doesn’t matter. You square your shoulders, and you step up.

“Dragon! Go away! Someone bring me my pink sword! I’ll cut it into slices!” – talking in your almost-awake sleep one morning


On the same trip, you saw two little boys harassing a peacock. The boys were much older. They were easily twice your size. You didn’t care. You ran up to them and said “HEY! Stop it. You be nice to that bird. IT NEEDS SOME SPACE.” The anguish on your face when we tried to explain that they didn’t speak English and didn’t understand–or didn’t want to understand–everyone’s admonitions to be nice was real–a truly adult emotion. Your heart was bursting for those poor birds, and the injustice was enraging you.

Of course, you’re a normal toddler and there are times when you want what you want and you’re going to stomp on people to get it, their feelings be damned. Woe betide those who step between you and the last yogurt. But there are also times like with the peacocks or with your sister when you step up and step in when you see something wrong, and one of my favorite things about you is that you aren’t easily discouraged from your path. Failure doesn’t seem to bother you much. You grit your teeth and try to get it done anyway, and only when you’ve exhausted all possibilities for doing it yourself do you ask me to step in. In the greater scheme of things, I can think of no better assurance of your success: you aren’t afraid to fall down and get up again.


Once in a while, though, you slow down. Usually it’s to watch TV with me, and since I’ve had about as much Diego as I can take, but less than your inexhaustible heart demands, I let you watch Gilmore Girls with me. And there I had it: your song. Your song for the year simply had to be Carole King’s lovely “Where You Lead.” Specifically, taken out of its initial romantic context as the Gilmore Girls theme song, in its form as an ode to mothers and daughters who are behind each other 100%.

Moira, even though it feels like I’m constantly redirecting you, in your face, begging you to stop or slow down, I also need you to know that I was yours from the get-go. I’m in. I’ll follow you anywhere. You’re bright, and pretty, and those are nice things, but you have the three biggest ingredients to thriving in this world already mixed into your fiery orange head:

You have a voice guided by a good heart, you’re not afraid to use it, and you don’t quit.

You have power. You’re capable. You, with your great heart and great determination, will do great things. I’m not always sure how to parent around your personality, or how to raise you to channel your vibrance for the greater good. Even if we don’t understand each other, and even if I step on your toes by accident, know this:


I love you. I believe. And where you lead, I will follow. Happy birthday, little three-year-old.

Love, Mama

Mrs. Hooter’s Homeschool

Halfway through our fourth week of homeschooling, I must admit something to you all: I am not Maggie’s primary teacher. I know. It’s like you can’t trust anything you read on the internet. But it’s the truth. Maggie’s instruction comes from the redoubtable yet lovable Mrs. Hooter.

Mrs. Hooter is a good listener. She hugs when frustrated tears come to light; she changes things up. Maggie can talk to her openly and honestly, and Mrs. Hooter will change course. Mrs. Hooter takes no nonsense, either. She sees through stalling tactics and takes Maggie over the jumps with firm kindness. She is everything you would imagine a teacher could be, if she had the time to devote all her energy into one student and sounded more like Mrs. Doubtfire with a head cold.

This is that worthy lady:

Photo on 2014-09-16 at 21.35

No, I haven’t been eating glue. That is Mrs. Hooter, hand puppet and educator.

A few months ago, Maggie started asking me to participate in scripts (a form of echolalia that relaxes and soothes her mind). The more I said in character, the more she enjoyed it. She responded to characters (particularly my Stitch to her Lilo; I’m really good at Stitch) making requests. It added an element of fun, and an element of safety as well.

When you’re little, and especially when you’re little and Autistic, grown-ups are inherently unsafe. They say odd things, unpredictable things. They laugh at jokes you don’t have a hope of understanding, even if you didn’t mean to be funny. Maybe especially if you didn’t mean to be funny.

Adults are so cruel to kids, without ever noticing or seeing–or intending to be. Clementine from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind said it best, and seeing that movie in 2004 laid the bedrock for the parent I would become ten years later: “Sometimes I think people don’t understand how lonely it is to be a kid, like you don’t matter.” Even with the best intentions, I make mistakes like that. Sometimes I laugh when the girls are deadly serious, without realizing until a second too late how serious they are. I say the wrong thing without realizing how wrong I was. It hurts. I have to regain ground and become safe again.

Enter Mrs. Hooter.

Mrs. Hooter follows scripts. Mrs. Hooter’s eyes are just right for gazing into, without that panicky overstimulation of an emoting face staring back at you. Mrs. Hooter is quiet and thoughtful, and just the right texture for a warm hug. Mrs. Hooter is safe, and it is of paramount importance to us that Maggie feel safe everywhere, but especially in her classroom. We need her confidence high to clear the hurdle of perfectionism/low frustration threshold. Mrs. Hooter’s rumbly voice (brought to you by throat lozenges) and gentle nature becomes a confidante as well as a mentor.

Today, believe it or not, I didn’t remember Mrs. Hooter. Maggie got so frustrated with me that she excused herself, found Mrs. Hooter, and had a conversation with her: “I just make mistakes and get scared and angry of them and need to cry. Then I’m okay and I’ll try again.”

Do you get what kind of a breakthrough speech that is for her? If you don’t, let me fill you in: THAT IS A HUGE F’ING DEAL. HUGE. Self-advocacy! Identifying emotions! Isolating cause and treatment of a meltdown ON HER OWN. That is gigantic.

So we’ll press on, Mrs. Hooter and I. One day Maggie may outgrow Mrs. Hooter the way she outgrew needing pencils that were as big around as a small branch, the way she outgrew needing chubby-handled forks, and outgrew needing jackets that button instead of zip. Moira may grow into her, liking (perhaps needing) the element of silly but reassuring safety that Mrs. Hooter provides.

But when I look back on our first year of homeschooling, it won’t be at her forming letters or her delicate but increasingly firm grasp on the number line. It will be on Mrs. Hooter’s throaty rumble, and the joy and security–and love–she brought to Maggie in her time in the classroom.

A Month of Lasts

This month has marked a watershed of life changes. I think I’ve been handling it admirably.

Hah, I’m kidding. I just like looking at Robert Downey, Jr. But there’s been a lot of reflection: my babies…really aren’t. Aside from half a Rubbermaid tub of keepsakes, all the baby clothes are gone. All the cloth diapers (aside from prefolds that I use for cleaning) have been sold or given away. The co-sleeper is gone. Moira does not enjoy the Ergo anymore. Maggie is full-on five now, and Moira is a huge-for-her-age two-year-old with confidence and personality even bigger than her size.

But that’s how it’s supposed to go; progress is progress, can’t stop time, so on, blah blah, where’s Robert Downey, Jr again?


Anyway. I’m loving this stage. Moira still has that toddler lisp, which makes asking for Hello Kitty special underpants–a treat to her–a true delight: “I need my Hello Titty special teats!” (No one ever said I was mature.) It’s just dozens and dozens of tiny pink underpants in the laundry now–nary a cloth diaper to be seen.

This month Moira finished up her toddler group, where I’ve taken her on Tuesdays for the last year and done a sensory table (cloud dough, water beads, rainbow rice, painting bags, slime, scented play dough) monthly. It was the kind of loud, raucous group Maggie wouldn’t have liked, so when Maggie started 3x/week full days I started taking Moira. Moira walked in, threw up her hands like “MY PEOPLE!” and I didn’t see her for the next two hours.


Her other last was Little Gym toddler class. Little Gym’s parent/child classes run up to age 36 months. Because Maggie will be home in the fall and Moira is…well, see below:


Her size and confidence (and mid-November birthday) allowed her to jump up to the age 3-5 combined class with Maggie starting in September. That gives me until April to have an hour-long class hanging out by myself before Maggie moves up to the next age level, . But gone are the days of parent-child clapping and facilitating; Moira’s on her own (albeit with sister) now.

This was also her last term as an non-enrolled student. This September Moira starts at the same preschool Maggie’s attended for the last three years. And speaking of lasts, that’s the biggest: Maggie graduated from that lovely little school, the little school that was so helpful and instrumental in getting us a diagnosis and the teachers who were so supportive while we tried to find our way. Maggie was at home there, but she agreed that she’s ready to go. I mean, look at this face. This is not a preschooler’s face anymore.


It was time to move on, and now it’s Moira’s turn. She had her first two trial sessions and did beautifully. We got the same report for Moira we’ve been getting from her Little Gym instructors and others who encounter her: “She moves so confidently!” Quite. See above.


So there we are. The beauty of time, marching on, and growth and progress. It’s a gorgeous, bittersweet, sad and thrilling and happy time for my girls. With all these lasts, it only means a new series of fascinating firsts lie ahead for them. Keeping that in mind, I’ll find a way through…

…With a little RDJ to assist.

The Road Back Home

At the beginning of June, we assured Margaret we’d know where she was going to school in September by the time we had to turn another calendar page. About a week before our deadline, we notified the local county that we were withdrawing Margaret’s application and making our plans to homeschool official.

We had always wanted to try homeschooling. The world’s our oyster, we’re young, the kids are young, we have steady income, why not? Why not just be flexible and live how we want to live? Why be beholden to a school schedule? Then Margaret got her autism diagnosis and the plans came crashing down. Did we have what it takes to homeschool a child with her particular set of needs and accommodations? More to the point, did I have what it took? Tom works full time keeping us afloat, and aside from history (which I made clear is and always will be entirely his domain) I’d be doing all the teaching. Could I? Am I good enough? For a long time the answer was no.

Then we started an occupational therapy routine. We socialized. We did more at home. Quality time is Maggie’s currency and we used it to find joyous, playful ways of integrating therapy tasks that were fun for her. While I was worried about her learning to use a pencil and write her letters, she began to do it anyway. Ditto numbers and phonics.

If there’s only one takeaway, it is this: while you worry and wait and fuss, things will happen anyway.

There was a lot of bureaucratic hoopla (North Yorkshire’s) and yelling (mine) trying to secure a Year One (that’s the equivalent of kindergarten to you Yanks) spot for Maggie, but it’s not important now. What IS important is that she loved her little Montessori school. She absolutely adored it. She liked the games, the puzzles, the play, the independent focus. Maggie was happy there.


When it came to more academic pursuits, she bristled. Finally, after years of attendance, she was able to tell me that trying to learn to read and do math with so many classroom distractions made her feel “funny in my belly and wrong in my head.” It was just a few short weeks before the end of her last term so I didn’t bother passing that information on. It was enough to know she was loved, socializing, and enjoying the outdoors with her friends. Sums and phonics could wait.

Ultimately, it came down to this: we want to be together. We want to do this. There are a hundred other small factors contributing to the decision to keep her home, but knowing I can give her that one-on-one time to mature (we’ve got loads going on socially, don’t you worry) and ease into academics in a low-stress environment gives us all great peace. Maggie is annoyed that she isn’t going to a particular district school, but it happens to be a school that told me early on that they were completely full. I can tell her without a hint of dishonesty that she was never ever going to go there anyway. I sensed she’s disappointed, but when pressed she said “I want to stay home with you and you can be my class teacher and the house will be my class palace. Please? I’ll be a good learner.”

That was the end of the line. We notified the district two days later.

We have a classroom palace in our attic. Maggie helped me choose the decor and set it up. It’s full of games, bright markers, a giant map of America, an iPad, and her Lego collection for when she’s done. It’s become the nexus of the house; the girls love spending time up there and the four of us can often be found cramming in under the eaves, opening the skylights, and enjoying our little “classroom palace.”

Really, it was all over when Maggie named our home and our homeschool room.

I don’t know what I can give her. Time will tell if I’m good enough for this job. But in the end, she gets to have her start in a self-named palace of learning. And she’ll have love.

And, I hope, nothing wrong in her head.