It hardly seems appropriate to say Happy New Year, but here it is, 2014. Thinking retroactively, here’s what was on my winter to-do list:

• Finish edits on a cookbook
• Take a time-out
• Gather every preschool germ Graham brings home and filter it through my system
• Pitch stories to magazines I’ve never worked with before (some Not! About! Food!)
• Do my taxes
• Finish details of our basement remodel
• Take a writing class
• See a kid through two surgeries
• Apply to private and public kindergartens for said kid

In my mind, two months in, the last thing is the only thing that really happened.

“It’s not the school that’s bad,” soothed my husband one wintry morning. “It’s the system that’s bad.” I sniffed over the phone, and tried to compose myself on the damp bench outside my gym, where an impromptu conversation with the principal of our local elementary school had reduced me to tears and snot and hiccups. My purse sagged open into the dirt of a giant potted plant. But Jim was right. The principal had never met Graham. And he hadn’t, as I’d insinuated, actually told me that my son didn’t belong in his halls. He’d just said he wasn’t sure, and refused to speak with me further, because I hadn’t followed the (totally top secret) prescribed order of operations.

In Seattle, where public schools are arguably better than those in many spots across the country, the process of enrolling a child with special needs in a typical kindergarten classroom requires patience, time, and emotional stamina. In the past week, I have been told to enroll, not to enroll, to fill out the special education form, not to fill out the special education form, that the special education form doesn’t exist, to fill out the school choice form, not to fill out the school choice form, that I need to appear in person to enroll because of the choice form, that I shouldn’t have appeared in person to enroll, that my special ed form will be shredded, that I’m already enrolled, and that RIGHT NOW I’ll be enrolled anyway even though I shouldn’t be standing where I’m standing and don’t need to enroll.

Now, Graham is officially enrolled in our local public elementary school. Will we end up there? Time will tell. At least we have a back up plan. Does that mean the system beat me? Or did I beat the system? This parenting thing is not for the weak.

Out of the blue this morning, when I was getting whiny over all this school nonsense, Graham decided to take the stairs to into his current classroom for the first time. A friend put him up to it and offered to take his walker to the top, and he just agreed. Like it was the most normal thing in the world. Like in his little way, he was saying Mom, I got this thing beat. See?

(Thanks, kid. You sure do.)

Graham on the steps

Grilled Beets with Herbs and Preserved Lemon (PDF)
In my house, beets make excellent decorations, but they’re rarely the main event—mostly because I tend to chop them up and shove them into salads more quickly than they can stand up for themselves. Here, they shine between layers of crème fraîche and fresh herbs, punched up a bit with preserved lemon.

If I haven’t made my own, I buy preserved lemons at Picnic in Seattle, because the owners, Jenny and Anson Klock, do a consistently excellent job. To use them here, cut them into quarters. Push the lemon’s meat out of the fruit and discard it, then use a small knife to trim the thin white layer of pith away from the peel. Once you have just the yellow peel, it’s ready to chop and use.

Serves 4

3 fist-sized red beets, roasted, peeled, and cut into 3/4-inch rounds
2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons crème fraîche
1/4 cup lightly packed fresh herbs (leaves only)
Peel of 1/4 preserved lemon, pith trimmed, very thinly sliced
Chunky sea salt, for serving

In a large bowl, mix the beet slices together with the olive oil and salt until well blended.

Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. (You can use a regular heavy-duty pan instead, if you prefer.) When hot, add the beets, and cook, undisturbed, until well marked on both sides, 6 to 8 minutes total, turning the beets once during cooking.

Meanwhile, smear the crème fraîche onto a serving plate. Pile the beets on top, then scatter the herbs and preserved lemon on top. Drizzle the beets with additional olive oil, sprinkle with chunky sea salt, and serve.


Filed under commentary, egg-free, farmer's market, garden, gluten-free, Lunch, recipe, salad, Seattle

7 responses to “Beat.

  1. This is wonderful reminder that spring is around the corner and that Graham isn’t bothered by stuff that seems so frustrating to us! Love it Jess.

  2. Parenting takes nerves of steel, but navigating Seattle Public Schools takes the patience of Job. Hang in there. And, nice beet recipe! I’ve never tried cooking them like this – I’ll give it a try. A quicker alternative than roasting. Thanks for sharing the recipe and the picture of your boy taking those stairs.

  3. You’ve written a beautiful entry, with a lovely mix of flavors.

  4. Jess, while this sounds like an absolutely exasperating experience, you’ve told it so well, and you and Graham really are troopers.

  5. Pingback: Actu blog : Battre.

  6. This looks awesome. I’ll have to try it for my next recipe!

  7. khm

    My kids are in and out of college, so while a lot of my memories may be fuzzy, this one I’m clear about. My younger son was one of those kids who got tested up the wazoo, somewhere on the non-verbal learning disorder autism spectrum etc etc etc. By about fourth grade I was doing backflips to get him into the best private school in town, and miracle of miracles, he got in (honestly, I think the art teacher must have had some pull, because on the school visits, that was the only place he joined in willingly, and she was looking forward to having him around.) So, we go back for the last “welcome to your new school” event, and off he goes, and I’m all happy, and when I come to pick up–well, there he was: one small boy, one big black cloud over his head. Honestly, I never did get a read on what happened, but something turned him, and he dug his heels in, but good. No Way he’d be going to that school. So on he went, to the public school that made me a little nervous about how he would fare when middle school came around, me more than a little heartbroken about that art teacher not getting him in her class. Guess what: It all worked out. And I suspect that in large part it worked because my son had classmates who got him, liked him, appreciated his drawings and understood his jokes. That bit was huge. He knew it, and I wasn’t even factoring that piece in.

    That’s the thing they don’t tell you. The best school in the land could have a cohort in your kid’s classroom that is wonderful or awful or meh. That your son is in a place where he’s challenged and encouraged and has friends who make him feel normal, that’s the best of all. Worth all the money you’re saving on private school tuition, and then some.

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