Earning Your Stripes

I remember the day I found out she was not sitting on The Story Mat.

Inhaling deeply and channeling patience, concentrating on not pounding the floor as I marched to confront an inflexible kindergarten teacher.

The “classroom rule” stated that you could only sit on The Story Mat “if you were able to put on and remove your shoes independently.” Having completed kindergarten myself at one point, I recognized the clever attempt at teaching independence, how to tie and untie, or how to just give up and wear velcro.

I did not, however, recognize the lack of understanding towards my daughter, who would never make it to The Story Mat under these pretenses.

I tried to help this teacher understand that not every child will fit into the neat little box she had created for her kindergarteners.

And I’m not sure I did it.

Because sometimes you can’t change people and their thoughts on what must be earned.

A Bachelor’s or a Master’s or a Ph.D may not come with the understanding that we could spend hours a day putting on and taking off shoes and the skill would not be acquired that year and maybe not the next or the year after that either.

Degree or not, someone who does not see the whole picture may think I am looking for special treatment or to bend the rules.

And maybe I am.

Because she deserves it.

She deserves to be treated with fairness and respect.

And if that fairness and respect involves accepting differences and changing rules then I am all for it.

Because what it took for you to learn to tie your shoes is what it took for her to learn to hold a spoon.

The effort you put into running a mile is the effort she puts into walking down a crowded high school highway.

The years of practice and games you sweat through equals the determination it takes for her to advocate for herself, remember her gym shoes each day and look at you when you are speaking.

So she has earned her stripes, her circle on the mat, her spot in a team photo and her place in the world…

a place where she continues to grow to be the most kind, accepting and forgiving person many of us could ever hope to be.

A place where she would give up every last stripe, just to be included.


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  1. AizzaMarie says

    Hi Jessica…I was reading the post you have and it makes me really emotional…Anyway, your daughter really deserves a respect…
    AizzaMarie recently posted..Tomira Dating Site

  2. says

    You are so dead on with this. Every teacher should read it. I remember in Kindergarten, when Olivia was still a runner/wanderer, we said it might be helpful if she had a box to stand in so she knew to stay…she thought we meant an actual box…not one drawn on the floor…and I remember thinking, oh boy! She said at the end of the year (which was her last year of teaching after 35 years) that she had learned so much from Olivia. I hope that continues to be true!
    Tiffany recently posted..Gabe’s 10th Birthday

  3. says

    Our current culture is one of parents hiring tutors and private coaches so that their kids can be THE BEST at everything: batting coaches, agility training, SAT prep tutors, etc.

    I hear some of them complaining that the trend of giving participation trophies and achievement certificates to every child weakens the thread of competition – sets kids up for unrealistic expectations.

    I wish they could all read this post and realize that being FIRST or BEST or SUPEREXCELLENT isn’t everyone’s goal; some beautiful souls just want to be included…to simply “be a part” of something…ask for nothing more than a chance to try.

    If Ashlyn had to give away all her stripes to belong, I’d hand her mine. In a heartbeat.
    julie gardner recently posted..Today call me challenged

  4. says

    Up to this point I’ve had truly wonderful educators for both of my boys. The IEP has been adhered to wonderfully by Anthony’s kindergarten teacher. I dread the day that I come across inflexibility.

    Your daughter has indeed earned every stripe. And on top of that her out of the box rationale is exactly what this world needs more of.
    alita recently posted..Celebrating the colors of spring {green}

  5. says

    I just love this. We have to go to bat for our kids, especially when they can’t do it for themselves. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that the other adults in our children’s lives accept that not all kids learn the same way, or have the same emotional reactions, or come from the same frame of reference.

    Sure, I get that we need some standards and guidelines, particularly in large group settings (like school or organized sports), but common sense should prevail now and then, too.
    Missy @ Wonder, Friend recently posted..Six

  6. says

    It makes me so crazy that educators can respect the differences in learners. Of all people really.

    As a trainer of early childhood educators my motto for them is always “fair does not mean equal”. Just because you allow one child to sit on the mat without being to tie their shoes does not mean you are being unfair. You are just meeting needs. The sad thing is children understand this and accept this at an early age. As adults we start to put limitations and constraints and treat people as groups not as individuals and that is how our children pick it up!


    I could go on.

    You daughter is lovely and compassion and kindness are two characteristics that are not valued enough.

  7. says

    that makes me so sad that this teacher is so inflexible with her thinking and understanding. you said it – your daughter has earned her spot on that rug. I wish everyone could read this, bc the “spot on the rug” is a metaphor for so much more…
    Alicia D recently posted..tHERsDay

  8. says

    You and your daughter are such an inspiration. I know this post was difficult for you to write, but I’m so glad you did. Every parent, every teacher, every person should read this.
    Kimberly recently posted..Looking Up

  9. says

    Your constant advocacy for your children, for the rights of other children, and for awareness make me so happy! Thank you for speaking up! It’s people like you who make changes happen!!

  10. says

    After reading so many of your posts I simply can’t imagine you not being the most incredibly supportive, loving, and all around awesome mom. Seriously… I don’t think that there isn’t anything that you wouldn’t do to help your kids succeed in every way possible. As moms, we should all take a lesson from you.
    Jackie recently posted..Monday Menu ~ The Cake Fail

  11. MommaKiss says

    This may sound trite, and I don’t mean it to. But I love you – today for writing these words – but always for being YOU.
    That is all.
    MommaKiss recently posted..BracketOlogy

  12. says

    Stuff like this worries my so much. My son is 3 and he’s always been a little bit behind and I worry about situations like this. It’s really not asking the teacher much at ALL to make an exception for your daughter. I don’t even think it can be considered “special treatment” to give her respect and fairness. That’s just something she should be entitled to, as should all of the students in her class. This is a great post.
    Danielle recently posted..Opinions 2.1

  13. says

    I think you are correct that some people will not get the differences nor the similarities among all the kids in the classroom. It’s a shame when educators can’t see the human soul beyond the rules and expectations. I read a little bit on twitter of the team photo story–still not sure of the whole thing so don’t want to presume but it sounds like a true heartbreak. I suppose the cliches about becoming stronger from experiences may apply but those lessons are awful. It seems that your daughter could have been lifted up in this instance, and not knocked down by her peers.
    This is a great post about the necessary pains of parenting.
    wendy recently posted..Bizarre Parenting Moments: The Old Lady and the Elevator

  14. says

    You wrote about a painful situation beautifully. It pains me to know there are teachers like that out there (and other people, too). Rules should be guidelines, not set absolutely in stone, especially in a classroom where there are so many students who learn in different ways. It should be a microchasm of life, and kids need to learn to be respectful of the differences that will surround them in the “real” world. When teachers say “we are inclusive and embrace diversity” but only do it on specific terms, what does that teach our children? :(

    What makes my heart happy about this is that you have been and will continue to be a strong advocate for her, in such a way that she now advocates for herself.
    angela recently posted..Remembering His Flag

  15. Krista says

    You fight for your daughter with a tenacity many mothers only have to imagine. She’s a brave strong girl and I think she gets it from you. It’s such a shame that you even have to have those conversations with people, especially people who are IN education. Hugs for you both!
    Krista recently posted..if you believe it

  16. says

    Excellent post! I had to write up one of my former doctoral students when she entered a home and proclaimed “you are still feeding your child a bottle?!?! He’s 2!” She missed the fact that the child’s motor skills were so behind that he couldn’t even hold up his head, let alone his own bottle.

    Professionals will continue to learn from the parents who know their children the best!
    M recently posted..Research on Grade Retention

  17. Marianne says

    What a beautifully written article. Ashlyn is such an amazing person and it is mostly due to her amazing mother teaching her how special she is and what joy she brings to those around her. Ashlyn continues to surprise me with how strong she is in sticking up for herself and making sure she is included the way she deserves to be. She is a wonderful young lady.

  18. says

    I am so sorry that people can be so unkind. As someone else said, fair doesn’t mean equal and you would think at least adults would get this. I saw your struggle on Twitter and I am so glad that the other girls stepped up. It gives me more faith that there are decent kids put there and not just bullies.
    Denise recently posted..SOC: Maybe They Are Listening

  19. Nancy M. Campbell says

    As a former teacher, it astounds me when adults still seem “fair” as “inflexibly the same.”

    Fair is what a specific person needs, and your daughter needs and has earned her recognition.

    I am so frustrated for you, and her. And that picture….that says so much about the love in your home.
    Nancy M. Campbell recently posted..RemembeRED: Prayer for a Son

    • says

      Couldn’t agree more and the sad part it, you can’t change the people who don’t get it. I’ve tried for years but some people just don’t see it the way we do and they won’t unless it happens in their own home.
      Jessica recently posted..Earning Your Stripes

  20. says

    I absolutely love the way you look at things and your approach to life. This post is beautiful. Also, wanted to let you know that I added you to my blogroll. Hope that’s okay:) I’m just learning my way around the blogosphere and don’t really know all the rules.
    The Mommy Psychologist recently posted..PMS Turns Mommy Into a Monster

  21. Kate @ Kate As Of Late says

    I have been a silent follower for a long time, and especially appreciate your pieces on your oldest. My nephew is 7 and has Aspbergers, and I love to see things from your perspective. I forward most of your entries about Autism to her, and I can’t wait to show her this one. I am so glad that your daughter has you to stand up for her, that is what is important, her knowing she has you behind her 10000%!
    Kate @ Kate As Of Late recently posted..The joys of living downtown

    • says

      So glad you commented Kate. My daughter has learned up to stand up for herself too, which I love to see. She knows a lot about her autism and hates to be left out. Sometimes she starts advocating for herself before I even get a chance too :). Thanks for sharing my post with your family, I hope they are finding lots of support and acceptance.
      Jessica recently posted..Earning Your Stripes

  22. Sharon {Grumpy, Sleepy, and Bashful} says

    Wow. Just, wow.

    So many parents must feel similarly, but you poured out your emotions, your views, and your daughter’s needs in such a beautiful, meaningful way that most others wouldn’t be able to (myself included!).

    Wonderful post!
    Sharon {Grumpy, Sleepy, and Bashful} recently posted..Saturday Means Soccer

  23. says


    I’m feeling so much right now, I’m not sure I can put them into words. Just that EVERY parent, EVERY teacher, EVERY person in administration in education/ advocacy needs to read this.

    Your daughter absolutely deserves the respect, love and understanding she deserves. I’m so glad she has you advocating for her.

    So brave of you to write this, I know it must have been difficult.
    Alison@Mama Wants This recently posted..Self-Sabotage

    • says

      Thank you Alison, it was hard to write, there were things I wanted to say, actually yell, that I didn’t because I knew it wouldn’t help anyone but me. I’m glad I waited on this for a few days and wrote it this way. I hope people do learn something from it because I know it is hard to understand unless someone is in our shoes. Maybe I will start an anonymous, angry ranting blog another day :).
      Jessica recently posted..Earning Your Stripes