Sitting in their tranquil cream kitchen, the picture window and deck behind them, mother and daughter spoke calmly about "the incident."
"It was March 11, 2002," the mother started, her hands folded on the glass-and-iron table. "She came back with a bad report card."
"I had one D," said her 15-year-old daughter, wearing jeans and a pink shirt with glitter writing.
"No, two Ds and one C," the mother responded softly.
Just more than a year ago, the 39-year-old sat at this same table, in this same pretty, 2,430- square-foot home tucked near Patapsco Valley State Park, and started telling the same story.
But that time, her audience was a Baltimore County police detective, and her words would be used to charge her with child abuse.
The Sun is not identifying the mother or her daughter, who agreed to tell their story if their identities were kept secret.
"I put on this wonderful face at school" with teachers and classmates, the daughter said. "Nobody would ever guess what happened."
Since the arrest, the mother has struggled with heartache, court appearances and custody battles, all stemming from that night when, screaming, she took the belt to her daughter's backside.
But since then she also has found hope, in a Baltimore County program that "treats" parents convicted of physically abusing their children.
The Physical Abuse Offenders Group is renowned among the county's prosecutors and social workers, not only because it attacks one of the area's most persistent forms of violence, but because of its success.
While there are scores of batterers groups and counseling programs across the country, prosecutors say the Baltimore County group, which the Department of Social Services started in 1995, is unique in its intense curriculum and low recidivism rate.
Although a handful of people have dropped out of the 16-week program and returned to court, nobody who has completed the program has fallen back into the criminal justice system, said Jane Gehring, the department's group treatment coordinator.
"This is a program that's not going on anywhere else," she said. "This is completely innovative and unique in this state, and maybe across the country."
Unlike many batterers groups, the county program counsels only parents convicted of criminal abuse and ordered to attend. It screens out parents with substance abuse problems and those suffering from mental illness.
That means only a small percentage of the 1,600 physical abuse investigations by the county Department of Social Services ends up with parents in the program. But that percentage includes abusers who are white and black, male and female, wealthy and financially struggling and, quite often, in denial.
When they first gather in the department's small, windowless room, the parents - most of whom feel they were arrested unfairly - are angry, Gehring said.
"There's a lot of hate in that room," said Sue Hazlett, a prosecutor in the Baltimore County state's attorney's child abuse and sex crime division.
The mother from western Baltimore County was no exception. She had always thought of herself as a good parent, maybe even an excellent one. She stressed education, sent her daughter to Africa, paid for tennis lessons.
When she showed up at the first meeting in a suit, straight from her job at a federal agency, she felt more than out of place.
"I classified myself as different," she said. "I thought, `Oh, this is so overboard.'"
That attitude is far from unique, Gehring said.
In the first meetings, she said, the 12 parents sit slumped in their seats, glaring around the room. But the coordinators force communication, telling them to explain to the others why they are there.
"It's a very powerful medium," Hazlett said. "To be confronted by a social worker is one thing. Being confronted by a group of your peers is something else."
When it was her turn, the western Baltimore County woman told her story - a tale repeated in court papers and interviews.
When her daughter misbehaved, she said, she would sometimes make her wear a "uniform" to school - a pair of plain pants and shirt intended to remind the teen that she was there to learn. That was going to be the punishment for the bad interim report card.
But later that night, when she went upstairs to see if her daughter had found the outfit, the girl looked at her and said, in the voice only young teen-agers can perfect, "I threw it out."
"She triggered my anger points," the mother said recently.
The next day, the school nurse asked the teen how she had gotten the bruises on her arm. When the teen explained, the nurse called the police.
A few days later, the mother sat at her glass table and explained to an officer what had happened. She also told about earlier punishments, where she had made her daughter stand, her arms outstretched, holding books on her palms.
One time, the mother acknowledged, she had videotaped her daughter in that position. She had needed to do housework, and wanted to make sure her daughter stayed put.