His Mother's Son

When I was three years old I refused to say I was sorry. I refused at four, five, and even six, my reasoning being, "Why should I say I'm sorry if I'm not sorry? I didn't do anything wrong." My mom fought me on this issue for years, until eventually I succumbed. Because whether I meant it or not was beside the point. People say they're sorry even when they're not. Because it's the right thing to do. Because it's kind.

I played the piano by ear for many years. But it was Bach, not Bech, so I quit. Because I couldn't read music as well as I could play by ear. Because I wanted to arrange everything myself. And I refused to practice any other way.

My way or the highway.

A pain in the ass? Maybe, but that was a risk I was willing to take. Because I knew what I wanted and I couldn't do something I didn't love. I didn't hesitate. I acted on impulse and always from a place of personal truth.

I disagreed with an assignment in school? I refused to do it, backing up my reasons with five pages essays, even if the assignment was to write a paragraph. Write a paragraph about what the truth means. I earned zeros on multiple occasions for some of my best work. I made up for low scores with extra credit to maintain my A average and keep my AP courses. Whatever it took. Compromise. Breaking rules to prove a point was always more important to me than following rules and having no point at all. What's the point... If there's no point?

Several years ago I was arrested for kidnapping a friend on his birthday. Some idiot drove by and saw us carrying our friend into our car with a sweatshirt over his face and the SWAT team showed up minutes later. Gun to my head, I managed to say two things to the officers who had cuffed me and flattened me against the asphalt in my party dress "fuck you."

I didn't even know I said it. It slipped out. I realize now this was very stupid of me and blame myself for having to endure 15 minutes with my face in the concrete. I like to think I learned a valuable lesson from the experience. "Shut the fuck up when an officer pulls his weapon."

I am horribly stubborn, have been since birth apparently. I am always right and always have been. This is my worst quality, I realize, but also my biggest asset. Because I can stand strong on my own. Because I am not a sheep. Because I stand by my ideas and my emotions and my people. I am a loyal friend and parent, daughter and sister.

Today was Archer's final evaluation with the developmental specialist, who explained to us that Archer had a severe case of "my-way-or-the-highway syndrome." In other words, he's a giant pain in the ass like me.

"He doesn't want to do what he is told. He's rebelling. Already."

Meanwhile, Archer placed the blue circle on the black square and the red triangle on the green rectangle and laughed uncontrollably at the specialist who said, "no, Archer. You have to do it THIS way."

But Archer said no. He didn't want to. He wasn't sorry. Or afraid. Or eager to impress. He had his own ideas. He wanted to write his own paper. He was telling her nicely to "fuck off."

At first I thought, "Come on, Archer. Just put the green triangle on the green triangle.... for Mommy. Please?"

But then she said something that changed my mind:

"Archer. I know you don't want to but you're going to have to learn how to conform if you want to get anywhere in this world, bud..."

Errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrt. Oh, no you didn't.

She turned to me. "He's going to eventually learn to do as he is told. I mean, that's the world we live in, unfortunately. That's the only way to succeed."

And then I got angry. Because she was wrong. And because that is what everyone is made to think. To get in line, to take a number, to do what you are told, even if and when you disagree. No. That is not the world we live in. That is how we are TOLD we must live in order to get by. That is why "the world we live in" is so fucked up. No one wants to speak up anymore. Conform! Conform! Conform!

"Actually, no. That is not the ONLY way to succeed."

Because "getting by" is not what life's about. Aspiring for mediocrity and doing what we are told is not what one should learn how to do. Conforming is not the answer to Archer's developmental "differences." Or anyone's for that matter. If our kids are the future for God's sake let's teach them well and LET THEM LEAD the way. Because following the leader has never been a way to make any positive change. So what the fuck is going on then? Why has everyone tricked themselves into thinking so? How can a woman say "the only way to get by is to conform" and BELIEVE it? That is NOT what we should be teaching our children. And you can be damned sure that is not what ANYONE will teach mine.

I know Archer is special. He beats to the rhythm of his own drum. He has an instinctual independence that has enabled him to create his own language, regardless of the fact no one can understand him. He knows what he wants. He does his own thing.

I understand. I can relate. And although my stubbornness has made me a giant pain on the ass on many occasions it has also done a tremendous amount of good. My parents were damn good at being parents. They enabled me to be me, and taught me how to compromise but never to conform.

I would have rebelled against them if they had. I would have run away. Just like I know Archer will do if I or anyone else tries to put him in a box.

After These Three Ists of Orient, I have agreed to put Archer in speech therapy because, he should probably know some English if he plans on doing anything extraordinary for America (or any English-speaking countries) and honestly, I have no idea what the Ists will come back at us with, recommendations for "green on green class" or whatever they offer these days to teach toddlers how to sit quietly with different color piles of shapes.

And if my kids should grow up pains in the asses like me? Let them. Let them believe in themselves instead of apologizing for all the things they aren't sorry for.

I am relieved to hear that Archer's only difference is that "he wants to be different" even though I knew it all along. I am grateful to the Ists and their tests and helping show me what advice I should take and what advice I should ignore. After all, parenting is about learning to compromise, something I wrestle with daily as I'm sure all parents do. Something Archer will wrestle with, too.

You have to know the rules before you break them and all of that, and Archer will certainly know rules. But he will also make his own. And I will stand by to make sure he knows that although conformity is a way to get by in this world, it has never been a way to excel. Ever.

And I won't be sorry for saying so.


(Cross-posted at Straight From the Bottle.)


Anonymous | 10:39 PM

fucking a right.
get that kid a music or animal -ist, for the love, if you must -ist at all.

conform, my ass.

and we say sorry when we are sorry. and according to amy, this is america. you apologize. it's expected. but i'm sitting in your camp smoking the peace pipe. pass it over. no sense in being sorry for what you believe in.

Amy | 11:19 PM

So glad to hear his diagnosis is just plain stubbornness. Our 7-year-old was very non-conformist in his early years, but has changed so much in the last last year or two...maybe the result of school. I'm not sure.

Conformity sucks, but I'm also a big believer in the saying: "You can do more damage from the inside."

Archer is a lucky guy.

foodiemama | 11:26 PM

omg..that lady can suck it. god, that is what i worry about coming at my little man when he is in school...archer kicks ass doing his own thing...as tiresome as my lil dude can be i am thankful he's ALWAYS got his own f-u agenda, hehe.

Anonymous | 11:51 PM

One of my favorite teachers in high school told a bunch of us point blank, "School isn't really here to educate you, it's to teach you to conform." His subtext was always, "And now that you're aware of it, what are you going to do about it?"

There are certain personalities who succeed best by not conforming. Go Archer!

(I'm also laughing because I was flunking my AP classes but acing all the tests. I just saw no reason to do homework to "prove" to someone else how smart I was. I already knew I was smart! Pshaw!)

Unknown | 5:05 AM

i'll be printing this post (if you don't mind), and keeping it safe for four years. it will be easier to hand this to family when we tell them our son isn't going to school. squeezing him into someone else's idea of right just doesn't cut it.

Fairly Odd Mother | 6:15 AM

God, I hear you on this. I flunked art and computer in high school b/c I hated the rules that these teachers made. I pulled my daughter out of a preschool when I heard a teacher tell a classmate exactly 'how to color', and when other parents told me how great this preschool was b/c it "prepared the children for kindergarten" (i.e., taught them to follow the rules, stand in line quietly, not to question anything).

I'm going the DIY route in schooling my kids, b/c I know that the school rules would drive me insane and I know I'd never tell my kids "how to color".

Here's to Archer doing things his way! But, I do hope he never has to lie with his face in concrete, unless he chooses to do so.

Sarahviz | 6:19 AM

Beautiful post. You're an awesome role model for your son. Rock on.

k.thedoula | 6:35 AM

My eldest was labelled as ADHD first... then that was discovered to be "laughable" by two doctors.
The only reason we went along with an "evaluation" was that teachers aren't supposed to be able to label kids! And Nursery/Kindergarten teachers aren't trained to! grumble, mumble, it's over, get over it mom to monsters...

He has Oppositional Defiant Disorder.... ummm disorder? huh?
Yeah, could have told them that from the depths of the PPD after he was born... what kid turns from head down to breech during labour? All 7lbs 8oz's of him?
A defiant one, that is who!
Hate the school system, but would never survive homeschooling either... guess we will have to work out comprimise.

Anonymous | 6:46 AM

My 2.5 yo is recent speech therapy grad. (A little tongue in cheeck but we're glad we did it). I don't know if he got "caught up" faster or not because of the year of therapy, but I know he had a great time 45 minutes a week. That was one expensive party! Fortunately the entire state contributed via taxpayer dollars. How nice of them!

Anonymous | 7:05 AM

Right on, girl. And go Archer, a little revolutionary in the making. Now there's no doubt whatsoever that he was born to the right family, to the right Mama.

This post hit me on so many levels, as a parent, as a person, as a wannabe writer who conformed into an accountant to "get by" (and is miserable doing so). I think I'm going to print this one out and save it on my desktop to reread whenever I start to get lost in the sea of writhing bodies and forget my dreams. Or forget to help my child(ren) follow dreams of their own.

Kellyology | 7:17 AM

It's great that you had supportive parents concerning your stubbornness.

I had parents that said, "How many times are you going to run your head into that brick wall before you realize it's brick?"

"Until the wall comes down!" I now reply.

Great post. Glad you're teaching him the rules so that he can break them...if he wants to.

My name is Kate B. | 7:20 AM

I cannot believe that an Ist would tell you that Archer needs to conform in order to make it in the world. I would've let that Ist have it! What a terrible message to be spreading to parents and children. If you want to make your own success, then you have to stay a step away from the herds.

In classic GGC form, this was an engaging and thoughtful post.

Anonymous | 7:23 AM

Rock on... and please please please investigate Montessori education. It's the only set of ideals that's been turned into a "system" that honors a child's innate curiosity and independence. Starts before age 3, but that's where it becomes fantastic.


Oppositional Defiant Disorder? That makes me laugh... I wouldn't be surprised if there is a creative team coming up with 10 "disorders" a second so everyone can be diagnosed for their differences or differences in opinion.

Brave New World in the form of "diagnosis"... It's just a matter of time before they give us a blue pill and a pink pill, pat us on the head and send us on our way.

Gina | 7:57 AM

Ditto what kate b. says. You are such a compelling writer. You truly are a leader and a teacher. I am sending this post to my friend who has a son in middle school who thinks it pointless to do homework just to prove how smart he is. He is certainly a non-conformist.

It's amazing how lucky Archer is to be sent to you. You are the right mother for him. Some kids aren't as lucky... or just have parents that weren't ready for the unique and wonderful child(ren) they have. I applaud your wisdom and perspective.

Anonymous | 8:10 AM

Wow... I needed to read that for so many reasons.

Thank you!

Karen Bodkin | 8:31 AM

This is exactly what I meant when I told you that you are the perfect Mama for Archer. You recognize.

Jessica | 11:02 AM
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous | 11:04 AM

After reading this post I have to come out of Lurkdom. Here is a video, "Animal School," (3 minutes) that I think corresponds to the feelings you, and other mothers, are feeling when their child(ren) are not cookie cutter. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.



Emery Jo | 11:18 AM

this is the most freeing thing I think I've ever read.


Jessica... Thank you so much for sharing that video. It was wonderful. I'm going to pass it on. xoxo

Julie Marsh | 5:14 PM

I agree that learning the language would probably be helpful, but all the conformity crap? Is crap.

You may have been a stubborn rebel (and I probably shouldn't use the past tense, right?), but you took responsibility for your choices. Frankly, I think that's a much better lesson for children to learn than "go along to get along".

Bobita | 7:44 PM

I know I'm going to sound like a kiss-ass, but I don't care...my love of you just grew to epic proportions, it broke the sound barrier. What a beautiful, necessary, powerful post.

Anonymous | 9:14 PM

Beautiful post. He will def grow up to be STRONG as he has such a strong role model in you. - Missy

Shawn | 9:35 AM

OMG, I was totally going to reference the video Animal School also ... some of us are just meant to take the Long Way Around. Some days I'm fine with it; other days not so much. I suspect that any non-conformist probably feels the same way. Though, I must say, the hardest part is the loneliness, for me. It's great Archer has such a cool Mama.

Heather | 11:03 AM

Rebecca, I love you! This is such an awesome post and has said what i couldn't get into words on how I feel about my son.

I saw the animal school video quite a while back...it's one of my favs to go back to when I'm feeling down about the differentness.

I wish I had more words to convey how your post has made me feel...validated, sane, on the right track. Thank you so so very much.

Crunchy Carpets | 1:55 PM

Hell yeah...
We have the philosophy that you don't teach to conform..you help your kids learn how to play the system.

If they are different great...and Adam is on his world!...but we will teach him about playing the game AND feeling good about who HE is and screw everything else...

Play the game..but stay true.

bella | 6:57 AM

New toy your blog and I LOVE this post. My own three and a half year old recently started preschool and I've struggled with my desire for him to be authentic to his own voice and to get along and "play nice". Your words were a liberation.

Anonymous | 10:15 AM

I love you! :) When my brother was in kindergarten he insisted on wearing his fireman's hat to school every day. The teacher called a conference with my parents and the principal to discuss it. So my mom bought us all fire hats (including me- I was 3 years old) and we all went to the conference bedecked in fire hats. :)

I love parents that support their kids uniqueness.

Summer | 12:27 PM

Rock on Archer! Conform my ass. My kids aren't here to conform, they're here to be themselves. Thats one reason I'm so glad not to send them to school, I don't them to fall in with the masses and forget who they are.

Anonymous | 4:36 PM

i want more stories about how you were arrested. please!

Anonymous | 7:27 PM

So Archer has been officially diagnosed as Bad to the Bone,huh? LOVE IT! BBBBB-BAD, BBBBB-BAD....~JJLIBRA

mo-wo | 10:40 PM

Take as you need of the systems. Gawd, I wish that woman could read this post.

Anonymous | 9:01 AM

It's very unusual for a two-year-old to refuse to speak out of stubborness. That type of oppositional behavior usually begins at a later age. At two, they're all about getting what they want and pleasing mommy. Maybe when he moves out of parallel play to interacting with other kids he'll begin to use words.

Gidge Uriza | 3:58 PM

Well said.

Quite, even.

Meemo | 1:05 AM

Such a great post. You're writing always touches me in a way that other bloogers can't. Perhaps it's because Archer reminds me of my son.

My boys have done so well with Montesorri schools. They started at 2 in pre-school and they're now in 4th and 6th grade. I just love their philosophy and teaching style. They get to work at their own pace, doing their own thing as opposed to having to wait for the whole class. Talk about independence. They get their chart in the morning which tells them what they need to do and it's up to them to get it all done and they usually get to choose the order in which they do it. Maria Montessori really knew her stuff and I'll bet she would never have told a kid to conform.

PunditMom | 12:35 PM

Good news and excellent post. When PunditGirl was tested before kindergarten, she wouldn't "cooperate" in exactly the right way and the tester found it amusing, in her condescending way, that she tried to work around and outside of the test itself.

I thought, "That's my girl!"

Kara | 12:02 PM

I had considered writing this anonymously because it will anger some of you, but here goes...

I love that you embrace your child for who he is. I love that you are fiercely loving and protective of him.

As an educator, however, I do worry one day that you will be disappointed at the way this little rebel is regarded by the teacher who is charged with educating, loving, nurturing,and inspiring both him and the 20 other like-minded free spirits in the class who are raised on a steady diet of YOU are perfect, the WORLD has a problem and they can just f-off.

You CAN rock the boat without making everybody fall out of it. There's a vast chasm between blind conformity and gracious rebellion.

Choose grace.

the mad momma | 11:56 PM

i could swear i left two comments but i dont see them.. never mind - here i go again.. .i love that you support your child.. what are parents for if not to support? but perhaps, just perhaps, its a little too early to be a rebel without a cause?! :) its nice to know the rules before you break them...

Candace April | 7:19 PM

WONDERFUL POST! Good for him and good for YOU, MAMA!

I love the fierce love that oozes and explodes from each of your posts about your kiddo.

Anonymous | 11:20 PM

I just found your blog so maybe I am missing something - why would they even be testing your son at such a young age!?!?!? Huh?

His behavior seems quite normal to me... and many boys don't speak until they are three or older. Who are these people? I say tell 'em to get lost!

You are a good momma.

Momma to a 2.5 y/o kick-ass brilliant little boy who just started to articulate with words...