Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Suburbs are Coming...

....Oh no - wait a minute - they're here.

I had my monthly meeting with Julia’s IEP team last week. (An IEP is an Individual Education Plan for children with disabilities). In case you aren’t aware, Julia has a medical condition called hydrocephalus often commonly known as “water on the brain.” She functions quite normally but has many learning complications that our public school system is trying to help her with. Everyone is very happy with how she is progressing, most of all her Mom and Dad.


But last week, her team suggested that Julia’s wardrobe were more like the rest of the kids...... That she wears jeans instead of the comfy, warm knit pants that she likes and can easily get up and down independently in the bathroom...... That she wears cotton sweatshirts instead of the handknit and wool sweaters she wears for warmth and because she likes them...... That she have her hair in pigtails instead of down straight. I’m still trying to digest all of this advice. I know that the teachers only want her to fit in – to be just like everyone else.

Frankly, I am quite astounded that they find Julia’s clothes to be a problem. She's ten for goodness sake. She is in fourth grade - she's not in middle school. For me, this was a sad statement about how “same same” America seems to be – even here in the supposed countryside where you would think people would be more willing to accept different kinds of people. I went to school for textiles and clothing and took several classes about the psychological and social implications of what one wears. I've heard it all and I guess I'm just not willing to cave in to what most people think you be doing. When Julia is ready to want to try to fit in, she'll figure it out for herself.

Julia is a quirky little, fun kid. Yes, she's a bit odd and maybe her disability sets her apart. But as Mum (my mom) says, Julia would be odd and quirky even if she didn't have hydrocephalus. She just is. And then there's her mom (that would be me writing this) and dad (The Farmer) -- they aren't exactly "fit into the mold" types either - never have been, never will be. We're odd too. And we found each other and we like our quirky ways. We're not a family like everyone else - nor do we want to be. Every family has their kinks and quirks - some just a little different than others. That's what makes life interesting - differences.

I’m finding that the longer I live here in what most people consider the country, the more it is the same as everywhere else in America. We are one of a handful of families in town who raise livestock. There is one surviving dairy farm and our sheep farm that are what I consider real livestock operations (both The Farmer and I do other things to make money besides our farm).
There is a handful of old-time farmers still going strong - practicing the old country ways - but many of them have gotten rid of their livestock. The other people who live here all commute to other towns to work. Most of them have all moved here from somewhere else and have brought their American suburban expectations with them.

I find this frightening. I was at the school the other day and another mother asked me if our sheep had ever been attacked by a coyote. She didn’t think it was possible.
I just looked at her in disbelief that anyone could be so ignorant. Was she living in the same town as me? How could anyone live in the middle of woods and farmland not know about the all the stuff that happens within the natural ecosystem? How could she not know that those howling animals out there in her backyard need to eat? What do these people think they eat? Canned dog food. Oh my goodness. I left shaking my head in disbelief.....

There’s a national magazine called Real Simple. It is full of pretty pictures – just the pictures that I should like - me being the visual person I am. I subscribed to it the first year it came out. I found it the silliest, most irrelevant publication for my life. Honestly – a whole article devoted to keychains and which is the best one to buy. Tell me, how is that simple? What’s the matter with a free key ring.


Our life here is not simple. Everything is complicated. Walking out the door going to the car, it’s a challenge to get there without being spattered with mud. Just the daily chores and expense of the farm animals is enough to make my head spin. But we choose to live this way. I cook from scratch, mostly. I haven’t made a cake mix since I was a kid. I have never bought a pre-cut butternut squash or cabbage in my life. And thank goodness, I found a magazine I really had no need for, given my magazine fetish.


I like my life this way. Don’t ask me to change. Don’t ask me to put my kids hair in pigtails. Don’t ask me to move the pile of mulch because you don’t like where it got dumped. Honestly, just leave us alone to do our own thing. That’s why we live here, practicing our country ways, whether they like it or not.

86 comments:

Tana said...

That's ridiculous that the teachers actually wanted Julia to dress more like the other kids. I thought that's what we all fought against in school? They have rules about not having clothes with tags on them (designer brands) so those who can't afford the expensive brands aren't shunned. If it was bothering Julia and she wanted to dress differently, that would be one thing. But she should be able to dress however she wants as long as it meets the school dress code. Gracious!

Martha said...

Oh, Kristin. That is just awful! Stand your ground. No one knows your daughter better than you, and she is beautiful just the way she is. Her teachers should be encouraging her to be more independent, not more conformist. I believe this is an example of subtle prejudice, and I encourage you to smile politely and ignore every word of it. (P.S. Great sweater Julia's wearing!) Your family has made courageous choices; the school system should be ashamed.

Ewe-niss said...

Well said.

The photo of Julia is just adorable! To be that happy and snuggling a kitty... I wish I could remember that feeling all of the time.

Wardrobe like the rest of the kids???? What she isn't showing her belly button? Or maybe she really needs pre-ripped jeans... My children have all been quirky. Wardrobe usually isn't what the other kids are wearing. My youngest LOVES her hand knits and wears them all the time. She especially loves that I knitted them for her. It makes her feel loved. My nieces have asked me when I will start knitting them sweaters. They constantly wear hats and mittens that I made them.

Trying to visually make a child fit in is silly. She is unique - let her be herself. We are such an image conscious society - bah! It is character and inner beauty that counts. ... and I know that you know that. :-)

duraknit said...

Kristin, I admire your restraint! Most likely you were just rendered speechless. This seems very, very wrong to me. And FYI, down here in suburban PA--an old one, just outside the city, but a suburb nonetheless--we still see a variety of hairstyles -- one ponytail, two pigtails, long and free, short with bangs. . . wow, that's getting really, really specific! And "everybody" wears sweatpants to school down here at least half the time. . . Sheesh! (My kid is 6th grade, by the way, so I'm close to the same page.) I think you need to go back to talk to them when you've cooled off. Of course you'd let her dress differently if that was her choice and her "farmgirl" style was causing her distress. . .

--Elizabeth D

Rane said...

I have a brother with Down S.
I can tell you that they will
more than likely get more
cooporation from her if she
is in her own element... and
comfortable. Is she in public
school, regular classes?
I am sorry but what my mother
told the school is that no
matter what her son would not
fit in and that she has come
to turms with it, and that
he was happier comfortable.
I would ask her what she wants.
She counts doesnt she?
I would tell you what too,
those other kids parents did not
take hours to make their kids
lovely goods! Don't worry about
it! I bet that those teachers
dress their kids in cookie
cutter walmart clothing. I
think that the schools encourage
too much worry about things that
matter, right?
Rane and baby
~~~~~~~~~~*~~~~~~~~~~

Sarah said...

Hold strong! Julia's teachers sound like they want everybody in the school to dress the same - ridiculous! If she's happy wearing what she does, then they should let it go.

I also totally agree with you about Real Simple - I think it's written for people who have trouble making any kind of decision for themselves, probably because they've been conditioned by people like Julia's teachers to believe that there is always someone who knows better than you.

Patricia said...

Did you explain that the sweaters were warmer for her and that you a designer in the fashion industry knit them? If Julia had input into the sweater colors and designs express that to the teacher. Tell them she is learning color coordination and yes her choices may seem different but artist around the world see thing and do things differently. Have them take a tour of a local arts college, Julia is tame.

Also tell them that you are using natural fibers that are grown here in the country (if they are) and you are supporting local farmers by doing this. Explain that we are inter-related and that while she may in the future dress like everyone else, she may not and you don't necessarily care. The fact that she progressed so far with love, great sweaters is a testament to the love you and hubby provide.

As far as the suburban thing. I was brought up and have always lived in the city. I am out in the country now. I am in fact learning about coyotes, foxes, why I can't have chickens and more. The nature shows don't explain what is going on, and there is a lack of information about living in the country. It is very different. These people don't have farms, probably large houses, and barely know where their food comes from. It is the nature of education and the dumbing down of our country. This economy and the dire straits that we are about to go through will in some part be the slam against the head that the American consumer/person needs. We will hopefully become more aware of the realities of other peoples lives as well as our own.

Patty

Anonymous said...

The IEP experience is not something I ever want to experience again. My son was born in 1979. He was born with Spina Bifida and hydrocephalus. I guess the IEP plan is a "good" thing but no matter how you cut it -- it is hard for the parent no matter what the team says or how they say it.
Charlotte in Missouri

Diane said...

Whew!~ I have a first-grade Julia who doesn't care what other kids wear. My standards for letting her out of the house: clean and seasonally appropriate (no bare legs in the winter). Beyond that, she picks out some wild print mixes and shocking color combos. I think kids should be comfortable and be able to engage in a little self-expression in clothes--it's one of the few things they can control a bit. And as mom, you know your daughter the best. And by the way, when did knit pants and sweaters be seen as weird?

Pigtails don't fit under hats very well. Just sayin'.

Re: Real Simple. Simple solutions usually don't involve buying one more thing. That was also my problem with it.

Amy S. said...

What I find shocking is the idea that the people who are supposed to be concentrating on her individualized education are instead hung up on externalities like clothes. Rather than argue the rights and wrongs of Julia's personal style, I would think you should try to keep them focused on the question, What does this have to do with her education? Unless her clothing is affecting her education in some way (like if the other kids are teasing her about it and she minds), then I would just keep reminding them that the school is supposed to be working on her education, not her fashion sense. "Socialization" is one of those weasel words that can mean everything or nothing, or, more likely, whatever the lazy evaluator feels like criticizing.

Anonymous said...

Your IEP entry is just heart breaking. Parents have so much to deal with just to get from one day to the next in the best way they can without being told that they are not dressing their child appropriately. Julia sounds happy, friendly and well adjusted so to what end should her clothing and hair style be changed? It would make more sense to concentrate on her educational plan. I admire the quirky child (and her parents) who wears what makes sense to her!

Thank you for keeping this journal. I'm glad that there are at least a few people who manage to live an inspirational life.

Kate G. said...

Well-intentioned advice sometimes feels like a slap to the head, doesn't it? It strikes me that Julia is her own savvy stylist and a happy kid to boot. Having heard her radio clip I know she can speak her mind, too. She'll ask for a new hairstyle if she wants one.

Sometimes I worry that we've forgotten the simple fact that "to have a mind of one's own" is the most important goal of education.

Keep your chin up and your head high, Kirstin.

Bonnie said...

Amen. I agree with you completely.

Julia--and everyone--should wear what makes them happy. Hair in particular is such a personal thing.

Why are they focusing on such shallow things? It's mind-boggling.

Michele said...

Kristin, please know that you are an inspiration for so many of us who admire the way you choose to live. When I grow up (I'm only 47 now) I want to be Kristin Nicholas. I learned to knit because I wanted to wear a Kristin Nicholas sweater from Classic Elite. I continue to knit because I want to wear a Kristin Nicholas sweater.

Whenever I read your tales of family life, I wish only that I had raised my children in a similar manner. Julia experiences all the joys and sorrows of life on your wonderful farm. Snuggling a kitten, yes, but losing Cora too. I think that, in many ways, Julia has lived more than my children who are now entering their twenties.

If your post weren't so upsetting to me, I would be truly smiling to imagine a meeting wherein someone tells Kristin Nicholas not to dress her beautiful daughter in so many hand knit sweaters. I'm smiling now! It's like telling the dentist not to have his child brush his teeth so much or telling the.....well, I'll be thinking of examples all day!

Thank you for being such an inspiration to us all in so many ways!

Julia said...

I can sympathize. We were often asked if we are becoming Amish because we choose to make our own food rather than run down to the local mart to get everything. We've moved to a smaller town and luckily, we appear to be more the "norm" here. Keep the faith!

As for Julia's providers, as an SLP turned SAHM, I'm shocked at what some therapists try to push thru. Just help the child- however that may be- don't insult or try to change the family. That's not the school's place. Good luck to you.

Cheap Like Me said...

Ugh, what a symptom of our society. My daughter loves the comfy pants too. This morning I saw from the corner of my eye that she put on stylish jeans ... then took them off and changed into her comfy pants after all. I was pressured to fit in as a kid, so I bite my tongue and let my daughter be her.

My daughter goes to a private school for gifted kids. I heard that one of the after-school teachers told a friend that she loves to teach our kids because "they are pretty much all really dorky ... but they are so happy being their own dorky selves." Here's to letting 'em ALL be themselves, dorky or quirky or weird or whatever. Amen.

CrazyAnn said...

Mainstream her education-maybe....Mainstream her personality-NEVER. My 2 grandaughters have always dressed to suit themselves and for 1 of them, comfort has always been the rule. One pre-school year she wore PJ's for several straight weeks. The other is a bit more fashion conscious but still refuses to wear anything that attracts too much attention, such as bare midriffs, ect. Making Julia dress in a way that is unfamiliar and uncomfortable will just set her back, both socially and educationally.

Lora said...

I have to say that I am appalled for you. I would think the teachers would be happy to have a child that "goes her own way" when it comes to how she dresses. She dresses appropriately for her age and likes what she wears...I don't see the problem. And I agree with you on Real Simple. I used to subscribe to it as well and had to stop when it became too much. It continually astounds me the number of articles in magazines telling us how to do things that should just be "common sense". My mother and I just laugh at all these poor people who don't know how to pick a key chain. Oh, to have such troubles in my life!

Dibosai said...

That's just ridiculous. I have a son with Autism and how he dresses is the last thing on the educational team's mind. There are more important things to worry about than these kids clothes and hair. Stand firm and let her dress the way she likes!

Julie said...

What a great post...so well-said! Thanks to you and the Farmer and Julia for being models of inspiration and for helping to preserve the beautiful western Mass. countryside!

Diane said...

AMEN!
Diane at Peaceful Acres

Gwen said...

In the cities, coyotes eat cats and small dogs instead of sheep. And then there are the neighborhood feral cats - just yesterday I found evidence of a pigeon meal. But I suppose a whole lot of people don't want to pay attention.

Clothes! I'm impressed she dresses so much as herself. We could most of us do better with that.

Leslie said...

OH-MY-GOSH! I was shocked when I read your post. If there's one thing I hate, it's when people say "stuff" about my kids. You should be very glad that everyone who responded here was not in the room with you. Imagine the fight!

OK, so maybe I'm a little protective of you because your life is what I truly wish MY life were. I grew up in a small RI town with a farmer for a grandfather and it was so awesome! We played in the vegetable crates and made our own fun, unlike the kids of today that have to be constantly entertained. Growing up, my three daughters had every single color hair under the sun and even shaved their heads when they wanted. They are now all confident young women in their 20's and I'm proud that they can be themselves.

Some day, I hope to retire on my small but easily manageable farm property back in my hometown with a few chickens, some alpacas for fiber and a nice big garden. Until then, I live vicariously through you.

And Julia ROCKS!!!! Tell her I said so.

Leslie said...

I was a "charter subscriber" to "Real Simple" - for one whole year. Waste of money, waste of paper,waste of time.

Frankly, I would write the Director of Special Needs Education for whatever school district Julia is in and let them know how totally inappropriate those "suggestions" are. Unless Julia's being ostracized for her style the comments were unprofessional; since they didn't say she is being singled out for this what was the basis for their suggestion? I think some intervention from someone higher up the food chain is in order.

I could go on a whole diatribe about the beneficial aspects of being unlike everybody else. Instead I'll just remember Emily Dickinson's poem that ends "How dreary to be someone/ How public, like a frog/ To tell one's name the live-long day/ To an admiring bog"

Deborah Robson said...

Kristin, I have to comment. I usually just read.

When my daughter was 10, we had one of those conferences. It wasn't an official IEP yet; those came later. But it had the same feeling: father, stepmother, mother, the three grade-level teachers, all meeting in December to discuss what to do about this kid, my kid. She was given the option of being present, and chose to do so--the only non-adult in the room.

As we began to explore what the problem(s) might be, her classroom teacher, sitting in a chair right next to her, said. "She is a social zero."

Well, at that moment, I made up my mind that I was going to find another school for her, because this was only the cap on the experiences she'd been having, and yes, I was speechless, but the meeting continued with, "Well, what might change that?"

And the teacher suggested that she should call up her classmates in the evening and see what they were planning to wear to school the next day, and then make an effort to match whatever it was.

Give Julia a hug. Tell her she is, and looks, fantastic.

My daughter is now 27. She survived, in spite of the public school system. Although there were some dicey years, and that was one of them.

She still dresses the way she wants to, and that's a very, very good thing.

anniejs said...

I'm not surprised by the wardrobe portion of the IEP. My sister had a similar conversation at her son's (my beloved only nephew) at at IEP two years ago. He has Aspberger's and a seizures. I understand where they are coming from but if one of the goals of the IEP is that he can dress himself, then let him wear the clothes that allow him to achieve that. For goodness sake, there are adults that wear elastic waist pants and velcro shoes. Grrrrrrr....

And I live in Oklahoma--I grew up here, moved away and came back. Imagine the questions I got from the East Coast friends when I told them I was moving back. They think I live in an enormous, vast, desolate wasteland.

kicki said...

...and in our local waldorf school, kids should be dressed in naturally dyed, nature fibre clothes, should only play with uncoloured wooden blocks, and the teachers give "advice" on families' food habits if they think the kids eat too much "junk"...i.e. generally, to not fit in with the rest of London middle class society :)

Let's face it, a lot of people (and especially teachers :) just like to tell other people how to live their lives.

Jez said...

I would like to give you a high five! Be true to yourself and don't allow them to indoctrinate your daughter!

::high five::

Sharon in VT said...

I find the schools' suggestion quite upsetting and good for you for sticking to your guns. Life here in northern VT is still the way you describe, so take heart! I imagine some of the kids in Julia's school wish they had someone in their lives who would take the time to knit them a sweater. I've knit hats for my boys, and they wear them proudly to school, although they did balk at my suggestion to make some as gifts for their class exchange. Stand your ground and don't give in to the silly pressure to have your daughter conform to the ideas of what others think would help her 'fit in' better.

Turtle said...

thats a great pic of julia! being a former teacher i am shocked that they actually said this to you.If Julia does not feel she has any issue over her wardrobe (or with other kids) ...well then. that answers that doesn't it. Just plain silly.

Beth said...

Sad, sad, sad that our culture is becoming so innocuous, bland, ugly, and monotonous - like the endless suburbs. Your country life, your beautiful knitting, your love for your family and land and work are an inspiration to many, including this reluctant suburban dweller whose heart is elsewhere. We could all just become Real Simple/Walmart/Target/Home Depot/Starbucks folks but I hope we don't. I hope people like you hold out and keep reminding us of the wonder and complications of real life that is not quite so simple. I reckon those IEP teachers meant well, but you'd think they'd be a little more...hmmmm...aware that people are different and that's a good thing.

Diane H K in Greenfield said...

*Stunned*

Unless Julia is being seriously ostracized for her choice in clothing and hairstyle, this is a NON-issue.

Julia is amazing. I'm so lucky to have met her in person. She's a lot stronger than people realize, and she is making her own statements about her independence and personality in her own way. Most kids don't do that with their clothing, so I give her extra cool points for being herself.

There are parents in this country that would give their eyeteeth to have a handknit Kristin Nicholas original to put on their kids...

Anonymous said...

I re-read my earlier comment -- sounded like I agreed with the IEP -- to the contrary. I HATE the whole IEP process. . .Charlotte in Missouri

Megs said...

Wow. You guys are having a rough fall. I am so sorry. I know you need to maintain a good relationship with her team but I think you should be honest with them about how outrageous their suggestions are. She is adorable and her clothes are beautiful. Besides, if she is having a problem "fitting in" clothes and a new hairstyle aren't going to help. We've all been there and we all know that. The message they are sending ( that there is something wrong with the way she is/dresses/wears her hair) is really scary and offensive.
Good Luck.

Andi said...

Pigtails? Seriously? Pigtails? If she is happy dressing the way she dresses, and if it helps her be more comfortable in the school setting and is not disruptive to the other children (she is not wearing blinking rudolph shirts from walmart for instance) why should it matter? And pigtails!??? So sorry you're having to deal with this.

patryce said...

let her dress the way she wants to. maybe ask her if she'd like some jeans or a sweatshirt the next time you go shopping. if not, don't worry about it. if she does, buy her one of each and let her mix them in when she wants to. once you have done this, you will have a proper and logical response the next time the suggestion is brought up.

Sogalitno said...

at the risk of repeating what everyone else is saying - how appalling!

if J is not being ostracized - its really NONE OF THEIR BUSINESS. and if she is and they are not telling you but making this suggestion - that is poor communication anyway.

i can't imagine there are lots of public school choices - but have you considered alternatives - my sister has her son at the Rudolf Steiner school in Egremont - i don't know it it's too far but they are fabulous... and J would fit right in!

From what you reveal in your blog its obvious that you are raising J to be an independent bright person and anyone standing in that way should not be tolerated.

as others have said - i live vicariously thru your blog - only able to dream of the life you are living... know that many of us send you lots of love and good karma.

Asaikyume said...

That's crazy! What kind of shallow people are those teachers?! She's a beautiful, lovely girl dressing in a way that makes her happy. The other kids should learn from her---and you know, I bet there are some who do. I **loved** seeing different clothes in school. I was depressed when everyone dressed the same.

Crazy, just crazy.

And I agree with you about Real Simple. Silly!

melissaknits said...

I am stunned. And not a small bit angry on Julia's behalf. This speaks directly to my decision to home school my kids. Conformity is the bane of my existence. It's not just about living 'country'. It's about living free and being who we were meant to be. The child should not have to suffer or alter who she is because her peers and their adults choose to conform to some irrelevant standard of dress and appearance.

And anyone who lives around here and hasn't heard that coyotes take livestock is living under some seriously big kind of rock.

Heather L. said...

I'm sorry about the dress thing. How can Julia give up those beautiful, hand-knit sweaters!!!! If it isn't bothering Julia, then I don't know why she has to change.

Aldona said...

Bravo, Kristin, for being outraged. Your daughter is clearly happy. The time may come someday that *she* wants to look like everybody else (a sad day) but until then, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

We're in the country, too, (no livestock yet) and I found Real Simple to be completely irrelevent. It looks like a giant catalogue.

I've been reading for more than a year now--I especially love your colors!

Anonymous said...

Kristin, I am sooo sorry to hear that your daughter's school had the nerve to think that it was their business to tell you OR Julia how she should dress!! I am a counselor in a public elementary school and I continue to be amazed myself at how teachers and/or administrators think it is their business to tell folks how to raise their children...that somehow their opinions are more important than the parents' beliefs and values. It absolutely sickens me. The only reason I stay in public education is to be the voice for the child. And I don't think Julia is any more quirky than any other kid. She is just Julia. If we let every kid be who he or she wants to be, the whole school would be full of so called "quirky kids". I talk to kids all the time who wish their parents would let them make decisions for themselves about clothing and after-school activities. I'm also disappointed to think that someone would find a sweatshirt more appealing than the beautiful, amazing, handcrafted sweaters that Julia is so lucky to wear. Yay you for ignoring their foolishness!!!! Oh, and I completely agree with you about that magazine. Seriously?! I think it should be titled "Real Simple: The magazine for Folks Who Can't Think for Themselves." Keep being the wonderful mom and inspiring artist that you are. The world needs more folks like you, the Farmer and Julia!!

Jocelyn said...

All I can say is "yikes." As the parent of a petite middle-schooler, I can tell you that every child has clothing issues, but they are usually self-imposed (or parent-imposed). My daughter is dying to be like the other kids and go to trendy stores, but those clothes are just not designed for someone who is small for her age. She'd look ridiculous. I'm working hard to make her happy with clothes that fit her (and her style). The thought that Julia's school would tell her what she should be wearing is amazing. How is it possible that they don't have bigger things to worry about?

Anonymous said...

Kristin,

Ack -- this is just insane. It's more like because Julia is creative and thinks out of the school box that they want her to mainstream her fashion? Crazy.

Sure it's hard to be the arty kid, not to mention the arty kid with a little attitude and a few developmental issues -- but cloning her into regular kids clothing is not going to change her look on life or what she enjoys.

How many kids think about writing plays and making up stories, etc.? She gets this all from you and The Farmer -- and is living a renaissance life in a Gen X or Y (whatever) world.

You and the Farmer are doing an amazing job making her a free-thinking creative soul that knows how to get her homework done. She is someone who knows enough to care about the fact that Eloise had to relocate when the Plaza was being refurbished.

She'll wear jeans when she decides they are for her. Same on her hair and all the other stuff. You'll have enough problems when she decides she wants to look like the girls in High School Musical in a few years.

Your mother, one of the wisest women I know, is right. And you know who would also have said no way to considering this, too.

This is definitely a glass of wine night. First Cora, now this.

Not to mention I have to cancel the Real Simple subscription I ordered for you.


Linda

marit said...

I've said it before: Julia is a very lucky child to have you and the Farmer as her parents!!! I wish every parent out there would think and act like you do, and I hope that I am that kind of mother to my children.
Tell Julia she is a very special girl, and tell her I'm really sorry for Cora. We raise sheep ourselves, and I hate it when I find lambs that the fox or raven has taken, so I know exactly how she feels about it.

Francie said...

something that hasn't been mentioned is the independence julia has from wearing knit pants. wearing jeans might mean who knows how many steps backwards if she can't get to the bathroom on time, has to have someone help her with the fasteners, kids noticing that and saying something, etc.

also sweaters knit and designed by her mom from yarn that's named after her? what a warm sense of love she must feel every time she gets dressed. i certainly don't get that from my commercially made clothing.

and my daughter would have had a fit if i tried to make her wear pigtails. she has always worn her hair straight.

letting her dress her own way IS giving her the independence that she may not have in other areas.

knitting bean said...

If I hadn't broken my 'lurking' silence yesterday for your contest, I sure as heck would have broken it today! How dare the 'system' dictate how that adorable child should dress! I have two children - Rebecca is almost 21 and sort of a bohemian and Luke is 18 and a self proclaimed geek. Luke is still homeschooled and Rebecca graduated a couple of years ago. They just didn't fit into the 'system'. I spent my entire school life trying to fit in and they spent their entire public school lives trying to be themselves in a flood of conformists. They are definitiely individuals. Their individuality is charming - if I do say so myself! - and commented on frequently. Rebecca is a knitter who knows no bounds and would like to start her own design business. Luke would like to be an artist and creative writer. I hope they will both succeed. Nobody around here is going to be a rocket surgeon (that's what we call it - one more non conformist thing we do!) but if they are happy and do their jobs well, I can't ask for more! Luke looked at your daughter's picture after I read your blog to them. He said, "There's nothing wrong with the way that kid looks!" Here's a little side note - when Rebecca was invited to demonstrate spinning at the local elementary school's Olde Tyme Day, they asked her to wear pioneer garb. No way was she going to do what they asked! She wore her tie-dye t-shirt, jeans and her Elizabeth Zimmerman socks she had knit herself! That's my girl! Stick with Julia - she'll be fine. Or she could be like my six year old niece who asked for a midriff top and mini skirt because she wanted to look like a 'ho'. Gives you shivers, doesn't it????

Bonnie M. said...

Bless you and Julia, your family and your wonderful,unique life. You all inspire me.

Jennifer and Steve said...

AMEN, AMEN, AMEN!

Anonymous said...

Everybody else said it...let Julia decide for herself. She can wear what she wants, when she wants to. If the other kids tease or whatever, and it bothers her, I'm sure she would say something to you. I always let my daughter choose what to wear...now she laughs and asks me "how could you let me out of the house like that?". My response is always, you were clean and covered, my two rules...the rest was up to you! Never forget that you know Julia best...no matter what the teachers think. :) Stick to your guns Kristin!

Susan

Penny said...

Oh Kristen, I'm so sorry that this has now leaked into elementary school... If Julia is happy with what she is wearing and the kids aren't picking on her good. If the kids *are* picking on her, then the school (imho) needs to address **THAT** not trying to have a bunch of cookie cutter gap-modeling blond hair blue eye.. er.. sorry 'bout that. {{hugs}}

Pungo River Days said...

I hope you print all these wonderful comments on your blog and take it to school with you. Someone at school doesn't know what they are talking about. Consider all of these comments as hugs and please sleep well. The whole world has not turned upside down. Just a portion of it. C.

Kathie said...

I think you know your daughter better than anyone. Let her wear what she wants to wear. You are right to be your own self and to let your daughter be her own self. I was voted most non-conforming in my high school class. It's an honor I cherish today.

Carolyn said...

I"m so, so sorry that your local school teachers are trying to mold cookie cutter children. Julia's lucky to have quirky parents who can encourage her to be her own truest self. If she's not aware of it now, I imagine that she will be most grateful to you down the road a bit when she's celebrating her own quirky nature. I love hearing about your country ways so I'm glad you're not about to give them up. And, I can't wait to see what you did with the sock yarn. Carolyn

ellen said...

I have written three letters and destroyed them all. I will have to think about how I want to address my anger for a family who lives a good and wonderful life, for a woman who creates such beauty and exquisiteness in her paintings, knit designs and her life, for a child who lives life to the fullest, for a family who embraces life and all of the good and sad parts that come with a life.
I have a VERY difficult time with the pretty people who move to the country, hold their noses because they can smell an animal....I need to stop before I go over the edge.
Please know that there are people out here who support and do understand what you are about..oh, my..best to you.

Laritza said...

Wordless! I can't believe they would say that! Stick to your ways. Julia will have memories and live a life that no one else will. She is and will be a better person just because of that. Pigtails! yuck!

Knitlee said...

I find it outrageous that these comments were made to you. Wouldn't it be a nicer world if perhaps people were encouraged to be their true self. Wouldn't it be even that much better if we all learned to accept the differences in children as well as adults. I wonder what it would be like to live in a time when instead of teachers talking to you about making changes to have Julia fit in, teachers were encouraging children to embrace what makes them unique. My heart is sad after reading this post. I sometimes wish the world was a bit more gentle. Here's to hand knit sweaters that make you feel warm, inside and out. (Maybe those teachers never had anyone hand knit one for them)

Rebecca said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Suzanne said...

To say that I'm appalled is an understatement. Julia is beautiful just the way God made her!!!! God gave her her personality, who are they to change it to fit into some mold created by man!! Can we say "Stepford!!" I don't have a special needs child, but I have had issues through the years with the school system. Much with the same flavor as yours. I choose to homeschool two of my children for different periods of time. They are back in the public school, but are the stronger and are thriving. You tell them that when they start dressing like Julia, then maybe you'll listen! :)
Suzanne

bensedin art said...

Kristin, you are very brave and strong woman!

Mama Urchin said...

My daughter dresses in handmade too and likes looking different. I bet Julia does too. I do understand the perspective though that with her disability it makes her even more different. The only thing is I don't really see a problem with that. Have you asked Julia if she likes her clothes? Maybe make sure she has a pair of jeans in her drawer and see if she ever picks them. The thing that bothers me the most is that if she were a boy they probably wouldn't have said anything about her wardrobe.

thecrazysheeplady said...

Here's the thing, looking back at any of our childhoods, even the trendiest, most popular kids look at old school pictures of themselves and say "I can't believe I wore that or looked like that or check out my hair! (groan)".

PG said...

Can you hear that? It is the sound of me simultaneously banging my head on the table in despair and cheering your courageous attitude.

KPiep said...

Gracious. I would like to say taht I'm surprised - but I'm not terribly.

I will say that we noticed our oldest started to feel a bit of pressure to fit in last year - at 5 - in her preschool class. We allowed her to cut her hair like all of the other girls, and then started to do whatever we could to encourage her to be herself.

Now she wears whatever creative combo she wants to school, and I never say a word. I know a lot of other moms who would never let their child out of the house in some of the outfits we've seen...but as far as I'm concerned she's gorgeous just as she wants to be.

Meg McElwee said...

Being a Montessori teacher, and having taken "Special Education" classes for my Master's degree, I can tell you that the IEP can be pretty shady. Well intentioned, perhaps, but not necessarily well conceived of or implemented in individual cases.

Of course, being a radical educator, I'm not too fond of traditional education in the first place and the homogenization of personality, behavior, and "knowledge" that it actively seeks to create. I wonder if there is Montessori, Waldorf, or other alternative schooling in your area where Julia's wonderful differences would be honored and embraced? I was lucky enough to teach in a Montessori school in rural Mexico where we had impoverished indigenous children, children with cancer, children from broken homes, and children from more wealthy families all together, learning to respect and honor each other's difficulties and strengths. No one had an IEP, because in our view, education should always be individualized and respectful of the person. :)

Again, this could just be an isolated case of kooky IEP team. In which case, I think you should let them hear your logic! Only Julia's family and Julia know what's best for Julia!

Know that there are many, many people out there (myself included) who applaud individuality. You aren't alone!

Hilary said...

I can only echo everyone else to say you are an awesome mother and Julia is an awesome child just the way she is. My mothering mantra is to let the child lead the way she wants to go, and guide her along/protect her as she explores life. I have two young daughters and I pray they retain their individuality no matter what peer pressure comes their way. I know I did, and I am so glad my mother let me be quirky and homespun and myself. I am wiser and stronger because of it.

Hilary

Bridget said...

One of the things I love about the blogosphere is connecting with others who think like you. I'm not the only one that likes handmade and chooses to opt out of the frenetic consumerism and purposely chooses a more simple life that doesn't require both parents to work 80 hour weeks and never see our kids! Quirky and unique and not afraid of a little mud and guts has a proud American tradition!

Elizabeth said...

The IEP process can be utterly baffling--and you wonder sometimes if they are even talking about your child. If Julia is comfortable in the clothes she wears--then that is all that matters. I think it speaks more of her teacher than the possibility that Julia doesn't "fit in." As for those people who don't get the natural world, I was raised on a farm and my husband is straight out of the city. He thought lettuce grew underground. I just wonder at the disconnect this causes, and the problems that come of being a society so distant from the source of our sustenance. And I don't mean Safeway.

josyknits said...

Sing it, Sister!

The other commenters have said it, you've said it, I agree with it. I understand the IEP's motive, wanting her to fit in, but do we want a generation of little Stepford Children? Individuality is to be celebrated.

And Farming. I SO appreciate your chronicle of farming life. We have many of the same issues. There was recently a survey of our township and one of the questions dealt with whether or not property owners should be allowed to farm. My husband, bless him, answered yes with the note, "Do you want to eat?"

Keep plugging away and know that there are many of us farmers out there. Working second jobs to support our habit, dealing with ignorant neighbors, trying to live our very satisfying lives.

And it's nice to know I'm not the only one who doesn't think Real Simple is real. Or simple.

Deborah said...

Julia is blessed to have parents that love her and provide such a wonderful environment for her to grow, and you are blessed with a delightful girl.
When our son was six, we lived in a lovely planned community. I won't go into detail, but I KNOW how you feel! When our son entered fourth grade, we relocated to another part of the country and I was quite relieved. We have some good memories and friends from our time in (?), but I know we made a good decision to move. Our little guy is now 18 and in college. We couldn't be prouder! Everything we experience in life--good or bad--makes us who we are. No regrets...
PS I like free keychains, too!

ColorJoy LynnH said...

Wow. I am speechless.

I remember in my suburban high school (mid-70's), people around me would make fun of those kids who KNEW WHO THEY WERE and thus wore things and acted in ways that the crowd didn't. I'm still ashamed that I went along with those discussions (I'm glad I can say I did not start the topic, at least).

And now as an adult, I wish I could re-connect with those kids I once did not defend. They were the real leaders, they plowed ahead and ignored the style of the masses.

What to say to "helpers" who want you to change the appearance of the kid who is inside the clothes they don't like? I thought it was the child they were concerned with? Not fashion? That's where speechless comes in.

I hang out with preteen girls. I tell them that other kids make fun because they are insecure, and want everyone to match so that they can feel acceptable.

So we have talks about figuring out what you personally like and don't like, and then sticking to your guns, being your own true self. And it helps these girls.

Julia doesn't need help figuring out who she is. I am at a loss about what one could say to an ADULT who is doing the conformity thing, "on behalf of" a child who is happily different.

Ugh. At least you realize it's nonsense.

Beth said...

I have 5 very wonderful quirky children. They are as follows: a hardcore backpacking, blue grass loving nurse; a business studying, techno geek; a just graduated music/sociology major who doesn't like to conform to the norm; a food sustainably studying baker who thinks the more out of the norm the better; and a science & math geek who thinks being a geek is a wonderful thing. Celebrate your family's unique differences.
We grow most of out produce, cook & bake from scratch and enjoy being who we are. That is the most precious gift that you can give your daughter.

p.s. I have been reading your newsletter for months now and never commented to a post, but this one made me sad and angry that someone was trying to force you to make your daughter into someone she isn't.

turtlewoman said...

I'm a 4th grade teacher. I cannot imagine suggesting to my parents to change their childrens' wardrobes so the children will fit in "better". Unfortunately I don't have to make such a suggestion even if I wanted to (which I never would). The school, with parents approval, voted to go with uniforms. Now all the kids look alike whether they want to or not and most of them hate the uniforms.

I also cannot imagine asking the mother who just happens to be one of the world's most famous designers/knitters to send her child to school in sweatshirts instead of the lovely homemade knit sweaters she already wears.

I agree completely - we have become a world of homogenized people. I call us the "Stepford People" because so many of us act like robots and do whatever everybody else does.

Coyotes: we live in the rural SW Sonoran Desert. I love to hear the sound of the coyotes howling at night - talking to each other. Sometimes they come right up to the fenced in area we use to keep our 2 dogs home and safe. The coyotes howl and the dogs howl back. Quite a chorus at 3:00 a.m. :-D I would be most distraught if a coyote ate one of my sheep (if I had any sheep) but -like you said - coyotes need to eat too and they do not discern between sheep owned by people or jack rabbits. They just go after what they can get.

Good luck with your coyotes and with those teachers (just ignore the teacher:).

Lindy in AZ

Mrs. Staggs said...

I love reading about your life and especially about Miss Julia who is charming and makes me smile with her sense of humor and outgoing ways. It makes me sad that anyone would try to change her in a way that might make her feel that anything at all is "wrong" about her. I think she's perfectly, Julia.

I also would like to add to the appreciation that has been expressed for your wonderful blog, Kristen. I appreciate your lovely writing, your art, and photography. Most of all, I appreciate the authenticity I feel here.

Anonymous said...

Late to the party here, but I sit in IEPs all week as part of an inclusion model school. I was a bit surprised by their advice, because we usually have to go in the opposite direction - wear clothes that can get dirty! wear shoes and bottoms that are easy on easy off! Please send in warm clothes because WE GO OUTSIDE! Leave those designer duds at home!

At first I was saddened by your experience, but then I thought about how much we care about our kids and their families, and I don't think we are unique in that respect. I am sure they were trying to do their best by your daughter. You have to take what is useful and discard the rest. As long as she is doing well and you feel that she is cherished, than chalk this "advice" up to a diversity in child rearing...

Anonymous said...

Wow, I'm amazed. Given everything Julia's been through, I can't believe her clothing is even a topic. They should spend a day at the Floating and they might be ashamed at what they choose to focus on.

-- Grace in MA

Kar said...

Kristin stand your ground and let Julia wear what she wants. It's not like she is dressing like an adult. That and many other reasons is what made my husband and I take our kids out of public school and keep them home to home school. Julia is a beautiful little girl and she should be able to wear all of the beautiful, wonderful things that you make her. I will bet you anything that some of the other kids are jealous and they feel bad that they don't have the awesome clothes Julia has. I make a lot of my girls sweaters, hats, mittens, etc. and I do remember having the kids in their classes come up to me (while volunteering at school) and ask if I could make them some nice things or show their moms how to. I even had one of the moms tell me one day that I was a show off and I was making the rest of them look bad. I don't care. My children are more important to me than hanging out at the local coffee shop gossiping and mean towards others.

I can tell you that just by looking at all the wonderful pictures of Julia that she is one happy little girl who loves what her ingenious, talented Mom makes her. If she didn't like it, she wouldn't wear it. Just take what that IEP team said go in one ear and out the other. What they don't understand is the whole problem with kids is they are all trying to be like some one else and they need to be their own person. As long as you don't have 6 year olds dressing like 30 year olds (which too many in public schools do) they are dressed appropriately and they are happy and comfortable, leave them alone. It is coments such as what you were told that starts children feeling bad about themselves when they should not.

I'll stop. But stand your ground Kristin! If you were to ever had conformed to the normal, none of us would have the absolute pleasure of experiencing your awesome, wonderful, beautiful creations. Keep up the fabulous work!

Your big fan!
Kar

Alice ~ Folk Art Primitives said...

Oh, Kristin ~ my biggest fear ever since I was a kid (and I'm far past that) is that I would be like everybody else!! If you've got a happy kid ~ be so grateful!! I'm sure the teachers meant well ~ but being an individual is such a gift!! I have a Downs Syndrome son so I know what living with disabilities is all about and he is very much an individual!! Through the years, people have tried to tell my what is best for him ~ not many but some ~ and my thought is when they've walked our walk, then tell me ~ until then, we'll continue to do the best we can. And by the way, I would love to have a wardrobe of beautiful hand knit sweaters ~ and I bet those teachers would, too! Hang in there, Mother ~
Alice

debolsillo said...

Dear Kristin we live so far away, but I want tell you that "want that everyone is =" isn't an "american thing". Humankind is like this, but the people that is different is the people who brings light and fun to the rest. When I was 15yo we count in a class on 22 people 17 with dressed the same: jeans and a blue sweater (brioche stitch commmercial, brand "privata" or immitations of it).
Julia's clothes are beautiful, I always think that her sweaters are gorgeous, and if she like it I think that you are doing it well.
*hugs*

bwilliams said...

As an educator who works daily to fulfill the IEP requirements of students in my Visual Arts classes, I can say firsthand that IEP's are a vital part of a Special Needs students education process. Also, having set in on many,many IEP conferences, both with my severely visually handicapped son and with my students, I will also say that the conference is designed to allow student, parent, and school to get on the same page regarding the students learning, developmental, and social needs. As for the dress issue, maybe you should conference again with the team and ask them to explain themselves. Come right out and tell them that you have a problem with their comments and ask them why they made them. It could be that some of the other children make rude remarks, I hope not, but children (unfortunately like their parents) learn to be very judgemental about people who are different than themselves. I have a problem with the idea of teachers trying to fit everyone into a mold that fits society's idea of normal. If everyone looked thought acted alike what a dull world we would live in. Thank God for people who don't fit in like Einstein, da Vinci, van Gogh, Galileo.... and thank God for parents who allow their children some creative freedom, who don't force them to be little miniature versions of Mommy and Daddy. I guess I have always been considered a little odd by my peers, but I have never lacked for friendly companionship and I am one of the few people I know (excepting my daughter) who is truly comfortable in my own skin. As I write this, I am sitting at my classroom computer on a school day (planning period) in jeans, cowboy boots, a handknit sweater and scarf, pearl earrings and my hair in PIGTAILS. Do I look like a cookie cutter teacher? NO. Do I care? NO. Does my principal care? Not really, I do my job well...the kids learn that creativity is a part of every facet of our life. I am very happily married to the same guy for 34 years, don't watch TV, knit, spin, paint, draw...I am very differet from most people they know and from my life they also learn that we do not have to fit in to feel good about who we are. These are the things you and you husband are teaching your daughter as well. They are some of the most important lessons she will ever learn. Most of the important things in life are learned at home anyway, not at school. The problem is too many parents are not teaching those things, but that's another soapbox.

Connie said...

You tell 'em! I'm with you on leaving Julia to stay Julia quirky and all. Like you said when she's ready to look like everyone else she will, and who knows she just may never want to! I wanted to let you know the Cora story brought me to tears, right at work! But you're right she'll have her memories of the dear ewe and a new one will be there for her to love soon enough.
Also, hang in there, you're chosen lifestyle is a tough one, I give you a lot of credit.

peace

Kieren said...

Amen to you!
I bought Real Simple mag once, and thought it was ridiculous, too.
...I live in a big city, teach art to 5th-8th grade kids (they all make it through one way or another, and find friends who share their interests) and have raised my 2 quirky kids to march to their own tune. They do, and are both happy, well-adjusted and interesting people.Both met their best friends in 1st grade, and are still good friends today with those same kids (now 14 and 17 yrs old).IF it is important to JULIA to fit in, then you will help her do it, but if she is happy as she is, then leave well enough alone. She sounds just fine to me.At my school, some kids try to fit in, and are usually not happy. Once they start being true to themselves, they do just fine.There is a place in the world for everyone!

Dolly said...

As a retired educator, I believe that when a child like Julia comes into the world an opportunity to realize true human nature presents itself. It comes in what we learn from the child and how we treat the child.
Society should be judged by how we treat the young, the aged, and those with special needs.
Children learn to be loving, respectful, and creative by being treated with unconditional love, respect, and by being allowed to the creative in what they make and wear.
Unfortunately some who work with our children have yet to learn what's really important. Julia is lucky to have you as her mother. Your influence will overshadow outside negative ones.

Renna said...

I'm not sure if I've ever visited your blog or not, but I somehow landed here tonight. I'm sitting here shaking my head, completely appalled at your daughter's team of educators who want to mold her into being just like everyone else. I homeschooled my daughter. I realize that is not an option, or preference, for everyone, but I love that it allowed my daughter to walk to the beat of her own drum. Whether a child has special needs or not, to want to squish a child into a cookie cutter mold of every other child is just wrong!

PS-Oh, and I do like your blog! :-)

Rachel said...

I've come across your blog tonight, after having heard your interview on craftsanity.

I really support you in raising your daughter to be a free-living individual...in her mama's handknits, no less! (maybe they're just jealous...if you knit one for everyone in the class...).

But really, I recently moved from northern California to southern Minnesota and find my values challenged on a daily basis. How much more important it is to stick with our values when we aren't in homogenous company. How much more valuable this spark of love, and light, and handcraft is. People think I'm crazy to shop at the farmer's market and local co-op because the prices are so much better at the whatever food outlet down the road, but these same people have no problem going to walmart and buying stuff noone needs anyway.

Best of luck on your journey...though I don't even think you need it.

Anonymous said...

I am going to be the exception here but I feel that I must post this because of what I experienced and witnessed as a child. Perhaps it was not their intent to "mold" Julia to be just like the others but to instead help her fit in better. For instance, I often wonder why the parents of children with downs syndrome cut their children's hair straight across their forehead or even worse, crooked. Children have to face so much ridicule just through common peer pressure, never mind if they are faced with a disability on top of it. It is nice that as an adult you feel fine carving your own niche and being different... but perhaps a bit of "normalcy" will help Julia get through the day without being picked on. Children have enough to worry about without the fear of going to school and getting picked on for a bad haircut or different clothes.

Maybe that is what those educators were trying to tell you? She is getting picked on? I don't think a sweatshirt is caving... it's helping her get through childhood emotionally in tact... or at least as much as anyone can hope to be.