Streamlining My Website

Dear Life After Cancer subscribers:

In an effort to simplify my blogging life, I have decided to shut down this site and only post on my main blog,

Please consider subscribing to my main blog where I will continue to write about life after cancer as well as other topics

Thank you!

Pauline Hawkins

Opting Out: Why Ian Will Never Take State Tests

I’m taking a stand this year: My son is not taking the standardized state tests that are being mandated by the government. His school will receive a zero for my opting him out, which will lower his school’s proficiency standings. On one hand, I feel bad that his school is being punished for my decision; his school has wonderful teachers and administrators. But it is not me who is punishing the school: Our government is punishing them. On the other hand, as Ian’s mom, I am ultimately responsible for his education. I believe 100% that this test will do more harm than good to my child.

Let me explain why I am opting Ian out:

#1: Ian does not learn the way other children learn. When he was four years old, we discovered Ian had a cancerous brain tumor. He had it surgically removed, which was followed by radiation and chemotherapy. The treatments were successful, but it came at a price: A void was left where the tumor was, and brain cells were damaged from the treatments. His brain has had to make new neurological connections. I am confident that Ian’s brain will eventually make those connections and learning new things will become easier for him, but it will take time. In the meantime, we have to find innovative ways to help Ian be as successful as possible in school right now, much like other children who are more creative than logical/sequential learners. Even though Ian is functioning well physically, visually, and verbally, the biggest problem is his memory. He struggles with holding onto new information, which is essential when learning to read and learning math facts. I know this about him. His teachers know this about him. If the government wants to know this about him, they could immediately get the information by asking his school; they don’t need to collect data on him in March, just so they can share their evaluation of him in October.

#2: Ian doesn’t need the stress of a high-stakes test that adds nothing to his education. First, this test will be used as an evaluation of his teacher. His teacher has nothing to do with his learning issues. As a matter of fact, she is working hard to make Ian as successful as possible. The thought that his poor performance on this type of test could result in a bad evaluation of his teacher devastates me. I don’t want to do that to her or any other teacher. I know my high-school students are worried about how their performance will affect me. Children don’t need that kind of pressure. Second, Ian doesn’t need the stress of a test that will label him as “partially proficient” or “below proficient.” Ian will deal with enough labels in his lifetime; he doesn’t need some arbitrary label from a test that only measures a small portion of his abilities. These tests don’t measure the things Ian excels at like art, music, spatial reasoning, and verbal communication.

#3: State tests weaken his education. Because of the new importance placed on these state tests, most elementary schools halt normal educational practices, so students can participate in a number of standardized test preparation activities that have nothing to do with real learning–it’s just test-taking strategies. This time could be spent on teaching children to think for themselves instead of how to “perform” properly for the government and the big businesses making these tests. The actual time spent taking the tests does the same thing. If people are wondering why our students are falling behind other countries, they need to look no further than the hours spent every year on preparing and testing our students for these standardized tests.

#4: These tests will measure whether Ian is at the same level as the rest of the students in 3rd grade, which we already know he is not. He is making progress, but Ian is still at least 6 months behind most of his classmates. Testing him at a level we all know he is not at is a waste of time and money. Opting Ian out may not get the time and money back, but it is sending a message to the state that they will continue to waste their time and money on Ian and other students who have parents opting their children out.

#5: Because of the current culture in education, Ian hates school. Outside of school, Ian is a curious boy who loves to learn and teach other people what he has learned. This is why my heart breaks every time Ian says he hates school. How can a boy so full of curiosity hate school? Because to Ian, school is punitive; it is not a place where he gets rewarded for his natural curiosity; it is not a place where he is taught what he is ready to learn when he is ready to learn it. The current culture of school is not meeting his needs. He has to learn what the standards tell him to learn. Teachers are being forced to get students where the state tests say students should be for each grade level by March. What makes matters worse is that with all the budget cuts made at the district and school levels to pay for these state tests, class sizes are getting bigger because there is no money to hire more teachers; therefore, Ian cannot get the individual attention he needs to catch up.

Opting Ian out of these state tests will help Ian become a healthier, more confident student–I am certain of that. If I allowed Ian to follow the same path of so many children before him, children who learned differently but were told they didn’t measure up to the state’s expectations of them, I’m afraid the beautiful light in his eyes will fade until he becomes one of my sad juniors who cannot engage with their education anymore, or one of my repeating seniors who will eventually drop out of school because school did not meet their needs. Ian will not become another dismal statistic–not on my watch.

I know Ian’s story is not unique; there are too many students like him. I see what they become when they get to high school. I don’t want that sad fate for my child or anyone else’s for that matter. I believe 100% that this test does more harm than good for children. I hope more parents take a stand this year and fight against state testing. Let’s send a message to the government that enough is enough.

If anyone is interested in taking a similar stand, here is a link to the United Opt-Out Organization (Link) for additional information on movements around the country.

And from that website, here is a simple letter that I used to opt Ian out of his tests. 2014 Opt out letter

Take a stand

A letter to my son on his ninth birthday

Dear Ian,

Happy birthday my darling boy! Your birth nine years ago brought so much joy to my life. You were an answer to prayer then as you are now.

We’ve been through so much together and have come out stronger and better because of it. You have taught me so much about life and love. I’m grateful beyond measure for every second of your life.

Before you were born, I thought there was going to be a huge difference between raising boys and girls, but the essential things are the same. Just like girls, boys are sweet and kind; they want love and understanding; and they want to know that their mommies love them no matter what.

The biggest difference between boys and girls, however, comes from the expectations society has of boys. You will have so much pressure put on you from outside sources to be their definition of a “real man.” As your mom, I’ve had to figure out what that means, so I can help prepare you for the world outside my protective embrace. I read a few books about raising boys, but most of my research came from the images displayed through the media and observing the boys, teenagers, and men around me.

What I’ve discovered is that our culture will tell you that a “real man” has to be strong no matter what; he has to be ready to fight at a moment’s notice; he has to value street-smarts over book-smarts; he must dominate whenever he can; he must have a lot of women; he must make a lot of money to provide an extravagant lifestyle for his family; and he must sacrifice his family relationships in order to provide that extravagant lifestyle. Add to that the list of don’ts: Don’t be a fool; don’t act like a girl; don’t feel any emotion too strongly; don’t cry…

I know I only have a few years left before you start noticing all of this too. It makes me sad. It seems that men are under pressure to fulfill a role that leads to pain and loneliness. I don’t want that for you. I want you to be a man who is confident to express all of his emotions. I want you to find and pursue your purpose in life, whatever that may be. I want you to be a man who is happy and loves deeply; a man who is kind and respectful to everyone, but not afraid to take a stand against the evils in the world.

With that in mind, my birthday gift to you is that I promise to continue to raise you with these goals in mind.

I promise to help you understand your emotions, so you can feel them all and not let them turn into anger because you don’t know what else to do with them. You can cry when you’re sad, laugh when you’re happy, yell when you’re angry, confront your fears when you’re scared, love completely and unconditionally, and embrace your dreams without fear…so that you can become a confident man who knows what he thinks, feels, and wants in his life, and so you can embrace the beauty all around you.

I promise to teach you the value of money, so you don’t confuse money with happiness. We all need money to survive in this world, but we need love and family more. If you remember that, you will never make bad choices that will threaten your happiness for the sake of money. I will teach you the value of hard work, so you can experience the joy of a job well done, regardless of the money involved.

I promise to teach you what kindness and respect look like, so that you willingly give it to those around you and will accept nothing less from the people in your life. Unfortunately, I know that kindness and respect will only go so far; there will be times when you will need to take a stand for what is right or make the decision to walk away. I promise to teach you the moments worth fighting for.

I promise to help you find courage through the times you are the most scared; to teach you to pick yourself up and brush yourself off, no matter how many times you fall; and to never give up on your dreams no matter what anyone says to you.

Finally, I promise to teach you to have integrity in all situations. The old adage, “a man is only as good as his word” is more true now than ever before: What you say and what you do must always be the same thing. It will be hard to stand by this, especially when most everyone around you won’t abide by this rule, but you can’t live a fulfilled life without integrity. There may be times when you think telling a lie will be easier; but you need to resist that urge, for the hardest truth is always better than the best lie. You may get in trouble, but not as much as you will if you lie about who you are. When you are truthful, no matter what, people will learn to trust your word.

I know those are some pretty big promises, but I will work every day to fulfill them, buddy, because you are worth it.

Happy birthday, my darling boy. And always remember, I love you more.

Close up

My MRI by Ian Hawkins

With a little help from Mom.

I have an MRI today. I’m going to take you through my MRI.

Last night I was upset about getting another MRI. I asked my mom if other kids have to get MRIs all the time like me. She said no. At least I only have to go once a year now, not every day like when I had radiation treatments, or every three months for checkups. I hate going because I can’t eat or drink anything when I wake up in the morning. Then I have to wait a long time after I get to the hospital.

I’m in the waiting room now. I wait for three minutes. Then we go to registration. Then we go back to the radiology area.

BeforeThe nurse asks me a lot of questions and takes my temperature and blood pressure. I brought Peaches and Peanut with me today to keep me company.

The doctor just told me the gas is going to smell like bubblegum. I guess that won’t be too bad. I used to get sick when they used the gas mask, but now I’m ok with it. It’s better than feeling the needle in my arm.

I wonder what I’ll dream about today.

One time, in the doughnut machine room, Mom’s earrings got pulled by the magnet in the machine. I wonder if it will happen again.

We walk to the room and I lie down on the bed that goes through the doughnut hole.

They put a gross, squishy thing on my chest to monitor my heart. I hate that thing.

Mom’s earrings did not get pulled this time. Darn. That’s pretty funny when it happens.

When I start breathing in the gas, I feel like I am floating. I feel myself smiling. And then nothing.

AfterWhen I wake up, my mom and dad aren’t in the room. That upset me. (It upset Mom, too. She got mad at the nurse for not getting her right away, and she told the nurse so.) I start crying because I am sad. I missed my parents, and my hand hurts where the IV is. I hate that thing. I want it out of my hand now, but they can’t take it out until they know I’m ok. I can only take sips of water until I’m sure my stomach is ok.

I didn’t dream this time, at least I don’t remember if I did.

I’m starting to feel better now. I’m hungry and can’t wait to eat.

When the nurse comes with the wheelchair, I feel a little dizzy. Mom has to help me into the chair. Mom grabs a blue throw up bag before we leave the hospital. Good thing because I throw up as soon as I get in the car. I hate throwing up.

I just ate, and I feel better now.

That’s the end of my MRI story.

…the Rest of the Story.

April 30. Another anniversary that we won’t celebrate. Another day filled with painful memories.

Unlike the day we found the tumor (Four Years Ago Today), my memories of this day are clouded–by tears. I remember segments of the day and bits of dialog, but mostly I remember tears: Ian’s tears, my tears, Dave’s tears; Nicole, Carol Linn, and Mom in tears.

We woke up at 5 AM; we had to be at the hospital at 6 AM to get Ian registered and prepped for surgery. Ian couldn’t eat or drink anything after he woke up. It was so hard to deny his requests for water. We tried to keep him distracted with games and stories, but every few minutes he would ask again.

When we finally moved to a semi-private room, it was a little easier to distract Ian with cartoons on the TV in the room. It was here that we first met Jeri Young, the Child-Life Specialist at Memorial. Jeri brought Ian a Chihuahua stuffed animal and joked around with him to take his mind off his hunger and thirst.

The morning moved slowly with little being accomplished; the nurses asked questions; the anesthesiologist asked the same questions. Eventually someone came in to place sticky pads on his head. Then, another nurse gave him medicine to make him drowsy.

It was 8:30 AM and Ian hadn’t had a drink or anything to eat in over twelve hours, except for the liquid medicine that made him goofy. He made us giggle when he exclaimed, “I see five of you, Daddy!” It was a nice distraction. But then I had to try to keep Ian on the bed; he kicked and wriggled around until I let him get down. He nearly cracked his head on a counter as he teetered around the room. I was angry and went to the nurse’s desk to complain and find out how much longer. “Any minute now” was their robotic response.

At 9 AM they finally wheeled Ian to radiology. Dr. Grabb wanted an MRI to have a better idea what to expect in surgery. I was able to ride in the bed with Ian, holding him tight and kissing his little head the whole time.

He cried when they poked his hand to get an IV going. It was worse when I had to let him go. They placed him on the MRI bed; he screamed for me while they started putting the anesthesia in his IV. I put my face close to his and kissed his face; I promised him everything was going to be ok. He continued to scream “No, Mommy! No!” for a few more seconds, and then he was still.  His screaming stopped; only the small movement of his chest reassured me that Ian was breathing. Unrestrained tears flowed down my cheeks; his motionless body displayed all my fears. I kissed his cheek and told him I loved him. Dave did the same. I buried my face in Dave’s chest. I didn’t want to leave Ian in there; he looked so tiny in that big machine.

We didn’t have a choice. The nurse escorted us to the waiting room where Nicole, Carol Linn, and my mom were already waiting.

Dr. Grabb said the procedure would be over by noon. In that three hour timespan, we had a constant stream of visitors. They kept our minds off of what was happening to Ian. But then noon came and went.

At 1:30, Dave asked the information desk if they knew anything. The chart said Ian was still in surgery. I didn’t want to think about what that might mean.

At 1:45, Dr. Grabb finally came out. He squatted next to Dave and me. He told us that Ian was doing well. “But,” he started, “I’m afraid the tests will show it’s malignant.”

“What?” I wasn’t sure what he was saying. That’s not what he said in his office two days ago.

“I’m sorry. The texture, the shape… It was bigger than I thought. That’s why it took longer. I wanted to make sure I got it all. I’m sorry. It doesn’t look benign. It looks cancerous.”

I remember walking quickly towards an exit and screaming once I got outside. “No!” I was pulling my hair. “Why, God? Why?” I sank onto a bench and cried until no more tears would come. I was thankful no one followed me. I wanted to be alone. I couldn’t bear to see the pity in anyone’s eyes. The hope that his tumor would be benign was the only thing that gave me strength the days prior to the surgery. Now, I had to find strength from somewhere else. I needed to pull myself together. I needed to be strong for Ian when he woke up. I wiped away my tears and waited for the nurse to bring us to Ian.

I wasn’t prepared for what Ian looked like after surgery. The left side of his head was swollen and bruised. We could see his head pulsing underneath the stitches. It wasn’t the small incision Dr. Grabb said it would be; it was at least four inches long in a zigzag down the side of his head. I cried.

After Surgery

Ian woke up screaming and crying. I climbed into bed with him to comfort him. He held on to me and wouldn’t let go. The rest of the day repeated that cycle: Ian sleeping with the aid of morphine, followed by Ian waking up screaming. At one point, he tried to ask me a question and he couldn’t think of the words. He was so frustrated he started hitting himself in the head with his splinted hand. He then tried to take his IV out. The nurse had to restrain him and give him some morphine earlier than was scheduled.

It was a long, restless night. I only left his side to stretch or use the bathroom when I was sure he was sound asleep.

Four years ago, we were at the beginning of Ian’s Cancer journey. Even as I write down these memories, I am incredulous at the battle we endured. But endure it, we did. Ian battled a deadly disease and won.

I cry today for the memories of that day; but I also cry for the victory.

Today, Ian is Cancer-free. Ian’s memories of that day four years ago have faded, thankfully.

The rest of the story is still being written. The lessons we’ve learned, the pain we’ve experienced, and the joy we all feel are directly related to this anniversary. Life after cancer is filled with painful memories, but those memories contribute to how we live our lives today: We choose a life filled with love, thankfulness, hope, and joy.

For more go to Our Cancer Journey

Four Years Ago Today…

Ian before surgeryToday is our anniversary. Four years ago our lives changed forever, but there won’t be a celebration today. We won’t have a cake or a special dinner. As a matter of fact, it’s just a normal Sunday for our family. Ian is outside playing. Dave and I are doing laundry. If anyone looked in our window, he or she would not guess that this day marks a momentous occasion. Today we will quietly remember the pain and confusion associated with April 28, 2009 (Our Cancer Journey). It’s as if the days surrounding that day three years ago have been recorded perfectly in my memory.

Five days before, on Thursday April 23, 2009, Dave called me to tell me Ian had the stomach flu. Ian complained of a headache, vomited, and then fell asleep. I had to cancel my afterschool plans, and then I asked one of my students if he could bring Carol Linn to a volleyball game for me, since I couldn’t take Ian out. When I got home, Ian had just woken up from his nap; he was fine. He wanted to eat and play. He said he didn’t have a headache and his stomach felt better. I thought it was weird but was thankful it wasn’t the flu. Over the weekend, Ian said his headache was from when he fell and hit his head.

I was shocked. “When did you hit your head, bud?”


I looked at him suspiciously. Ian was four and “yesterday” could have been four hours ago or four months ago. His understanding of time wasn’t quite developed yet. I asked, “How did you fall?”

“I was sitting on the potty, and I fell off.”

“You fell off the potty? Did you hit your head on the tub?”

“Yes. Right here.” He pointed to the right side of his head. I looked for a bump and found none. I asked Dave if Ian hit his head while they were home without me. Dave said no. The story was curious, but I thought maybe he hit his head on Thursday and that’s why he threw up. I checked his eyes and they were dilating fine. I didn’t think about it again until the following Monday. On April 27, 2009, Dave called me again to say that Ian must be sticking his finger down his throat because it happened again. Ian complained of a headache, vomited, and fell asleep. I told him that was weird. What if he has a serious concussion? We set up an appointment at his doctor’s office to get a second opinion.

It was a busy day so we saw the physician’s assistant (PA) instead of Ian’s regular doctor. She was concerned that Ian might have bleeding in his brain from hitting his head. The PA ordered a CATscan to check for a concussion. Her final words haunt me still: “I don’t think it’s a tumor, but the scan should let us know what’s going on.”

I remember being so upset that Ian fell and hurt his head, without me knowing about it, that I reprimanded myself for being a bad mother. I must have been grading papers when Ian told me about it, so I didn’t really hear what he said. I had to work on being more present and available for my son, I told myself.

Dave and I decided that Dave would take Ian for the scan at 7 AM, and I would go to work and wait for his text.

I remember being lighthearted that Tuesday morning, April 28, 2009 as I gave KC, my office assistant, some work to do, laughing and joking with her over something trivial. Dave sent me a text to tell me they arrived at the radiologist’s office and were going right in for the scan. I said ok and continued to organize things for the day. I heard the beep again a few minutes later. Dave said the results came back already. I asked if they said anything about the scan. I fully believed that we would have to wait a few days before we knew anything. I took my time before I looked at his next text. When I finally did, I fell to my knees. His text said, “It’s a tumor.” Time stopped. I couldn’t process what I was reading. I remember thinking that Dave was playing some kind of cruel joke on me.

I called Dave and screamed, “What?!” with a few expletives. I was ready to tell him that it wasn’t funny…when I heard his voice crack. It was true. It wasn’t a joke. I was crying and screaming, while crumpled on my knees. I felt KC’s hand on my shoulder. I barely got the words out, “My son has a . . . brain tum–” I remember choking on the last word. Dave said they were going home. I told him I’d leave right away as well.

Ian's Tumor 1 Ian's Tumor 2

I somehow walked to the main office. They knew something was wrong; they could see the rubble at my feet and the lingering dust of my crumbling world on my face. I somehow said the strange words, again choking on the word tumor. A hand wrapped around my waist so I wouldn’t fall. I was brought to a chair. Carol Linn was called to the office. People offered to drive us home, but I declined. The two of us drove home shell-shocked.

I hugged my sweet little boy, and he asked why I was crying. I wiped away the tears and told him I was happy to see him. I didn’t see any point in scaring or confusing him. I hugged Dave and then went downstairs to wake up and tell my other daughter Nicole. She acted the same way we all did: shocked, confused, afraid.

A few hours later we brought Ian to the brain surgeon who would remove the tumor. I remember not being able to fill out the new patient form. I couldn’t write the word tumor; Dave finished the form while I played with Ian. I wiped away tears before Ian could see them.

Dr. Grabb seemed confident that it would be no big deal. “Brain tumors in children were a common occurrence; most of them were benign. The waiting is the hard part,” he said. “It seems to take forever for the results to come back from the lab.” He explained the small incision he would make above Ian’s left ear to remove the small egg-shaped tumor from Ian’s brain. The procedure would be two days later and would take about three hours. I hated the thought of Ian being operated on for so long.

We called family and friends. My mom booked a flight immediately. My brothers sent their love and support. The girls and a dear friend of the family, Susan, met us at McDonald’s, Ian’s favorite place to eat lunch. We let him play while we talked and cried about our new lives: Our healthy little boy wasn’t really healthy. Nothing made sense. Why was this happening? We had no answers. We decided to make the next few days happy and fun for Ian. We bought him a few Hot Wheels trick sets. We had a steady stream of visitors coming over with gifts for Ian. It warmed our hearts to see Ian so happy. The only time I left his side was to cry privately for a few minutes; I brushed away the tears and then joined him again.

New Hot Wheels

We planned our next day: picking up my mom at the airport, going to the 3-D version of Monsters vs. Aliens, and then going to Chuck E. Cheeses for dinner. We wanted a fun day for Ian; we had no idea what the rest of his life, for however long that would be, would look like.

That night, three years ago today, I lay in bed thinking of all the wasted opportunities I had with my son. I thought of all the times I was too busy to play with him, the times I was listening but not hearing his sweet voice because I was grading papers or cleaning or cooking . . . I was so ashamed. I prayed for 8 years for God to give me a son, and this was how I treated him. I vowed to be different from that point on. I would honor God’s gift and be the mother I needed to be for Ian.

Today serves as a reminder of how blessed I am to have Ian, of how blessed I am to have my darling son in my life. Today marks the day that changed my life forever. It is an anniversary that can only be celebrated through a renewing of my vow to stay present and available for my son.

Outside the movie theater

How Heroes Are Made

My SpidermanLast night, Ian told me he’s getting picked on by kids at school. Ian told one friend that he’s going to be Spiderman someday, and that friend told other kids. Those kids now pick on him and tell him that he’s not going to be Spiderman. Ian was angry and sad that people didn’t believe him.

My heart sank while I watched my sweet boy cry over his pain. Of course, my first instinct was to swoop in and rescue him, but that’s not what Ian needs. I contemplated telling Ian that the other kids are right: He can’t be Spiderman because Spiderman isn’t real. But that’s not what Ian needs either.

I’m not sure if people will understand why I nurture all of his dreams and goals–even the unbelievable ones. I had no choice four years ago after we found his brain tumor; we didn’t know if he were going to see his 5th birthday or not. I wouldn’t let anyone even speak in our presence of Ian not having a future, let alone tell Ian that he couldn’t do or be anything he wanted to be when he grew up.

I believe with my whole heart that allowing Ian to see whatever future he wanted for himself helped cure him. The rarity and severity of that cancerous tumor could not defeat Ian’s will to live–to see himself fulfill his dreams. He not only saw his 5th birthday, but he celebrated his 8th birthday last month without one recurrence of cancer–a miracle in itself.

Today, Ian is not only cancer-free, but he also has a lot of self-confidence. He has fought and won some difficult battles; of course he feels strong. Sometimes, he has a little more confidence than he should, like when he saw an imaginary target above his head yesterday: He believed he could kick that high, which he did, but he didn’t know what to do with his body once it was horizontally in the air. He ended up falling on his side, bruising every part that hit the ground.

I know this abundance of confidence will continue to cause him pain as his perception and reality collide, but I hope he dusts himself off every time with the same mantra: “I guess I better learn how to fall before I try that again.” Profound: Learning how to fall is a crucial part of reaching for our dreams; otherwise, we’ll give up, thinking only of the pain, rather than working towards the goal.

I know Ian can handle the physical pain; he’s proven that over and over again in his short life thus far. It’s the emotional pain I’m worried about. As confident as he is in his vision for himself, I see it waning as he gets older–as things get harder and as other kids and adults tell him he can’t believe in his dreams.

Children telling him he won’t be Spiderman is just another fall. I needed to teach him how to accept that reality, without giving up on his dreams. I couldn’t plan things out quickly enough, so I just started talking.

“First, don’t get angry, bud. Some kids think it’s funny to watch other people get angry. So if you stop getting angry, they might stop picking on you.”

“Really? That’s not nice.”

“I know, but that’s just how some people are.” Ian closed his eyes and started taking deep breaths and letting them out slowly. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah. I’m just trying to release my anger.”

“That’s good, bud. Always remember to do that as soon as you feel the anger welling up.” Ian opened his eyes and smiled at me. “The other thing you have to know is that people have the right to believe what they want to believe. When they say, ‘You’re not going to be Spiderman!’ Tell them they can believe what they want. The beautiful thing about that is that you have the right to believe what you want to believe, too. You don’t have to say another thing after that.”

“Yeah. I can just say, ‘You believe what you want, and I’ll believe what I want.'”

“That’s right, bud. You can’t change people; don’t try to win an unwinnable argument. The more you fight with them, the more they’ll fight with you.”

I then shared with Ian one of my childhood dreams: “Did you know that when I was little, I wanted to be Barbie when I grew up? I thought she was so pretty, and I didn’t think I was pretty at all. But, guess what? I grew up pretty, and I look nothing like Barbie.”

Ian just looked at me for a bit and made the connection on his own. “I guess there are other ways to be a hero.”

“You’re right. There are lots of ways. Why do you like Spiderman?”

“I like that Spiderman chases and catches bad guys, and that he helps people.”

“That’s right. A hero does good things and doesn’t hurt people, even if those people say mean things to the hero.”

“I guess police officers are like that, but I don’t want to be a police officer.”

“You don’t have to be. There are all kinds of heroes, bud. You know, some people have said I’m a hero because I’m a teacher.”


“Yeah. It’s because I try to help kids be the best they can be. A lot of my students tell me how much they appreciate that.”

“Yeah. A teacher is a hero.”

“And so are doctors and firemen…anyone who wants to help people can be a hero.”

“I never thought about that before.” Ian was quiet for a bit, and then he said, “But, Mom. I’m still going to be Spiderman someday.”

“You know what, buddy, no one knows the future. So how can those kids tell you that you won’t figure out how to be Spiderman someday? That story hasn’t been written yet, so no one can tell you what you will or won’t become.”

“That’s right. No one knows the future. I can figure it out. I know I can.” His confidence returned.

He happily kissed me good night; I helped him brush the pain away. It’s a good thing, too, because even heroes need to learn how to fall.

To help Ian realize his dreams, his sisters and I filmed this short video (1:27) with Ian as Mini Spiderman defeating his arch-enemy Poison Locks 🙂

Special in Every Way

Originally published on December 1, 2012 on Pauline’s main blog.

“I think we need to put Ian in special education.” Ian’s teacher was saying something about the anomalies in his learning abilities, but my breath caught in my throat, and I only pieced together what I heard after “special education.”

Ian’s miracle status now has a black mark on it. He is no longer the boy who defied all odds. My fears over the last few years have been confirmed: Ian has learning disabilities. Continue reading