There’s a picture I have as my computer wallpaper, a close-up of Madeline and me looking straight into the camera: I’m smiling the cheesiest teethy grin but Maddie is wide-eyed in suspicion. It was of our carriage ride at Christmas. What you don’t see in the shot is Drew, who was bawling in Gordon’s arms like how Aretha Franklin would bawl if she were a preschool boy. But that’s what Christmas traditions are for — adult merriment at the expense of tired children.
Do you know what other tradition is really more for adult benefit? The parent-teacher conference.
I know what you’re thinking: they have parent-teacher conferences for a three-year-old preschooler? Yes. Yes they do. No, he’s not studying algorithms or Milton or reading ancient Cuniform texts. He’s learning to cut with scissors, which some say is a skill they value at East-Coast schools.
The teacher had filled out a standard form that had items on it like: “These are the colors your child can name (circled): red, blue, green, yellow, purple, orange, brown, black, white,” and we probably spent five minutes discussing the relative normalcy of Drew not being as QUICK to identify black and brown. “Those colors aren’t very FUN,” I offered playfully, trying to keep the mood light. Because if my child wasn’t smart, at least his mother could be fetching.
As I left the house, a vague feeling of dread settled over me. This was like taking oral French exams in college. What if Drew’s teacher had been saving up some really appalling revelation for this conference — his gender confusion or biting or animal sacrifice? But, I reminded myself, all the kids were having parent-teacher conflabs this week. Just standard procedure.
Or was it?
Ms. Dawn is really the loveliest person you’ll ever meet. She reminds me of an English milkmaid with rosy cheeks and blonde hair, the type who could produce a scone instantaneously. She seemed a little nervous but only because I assumed she’s more accustomed to talking to three-year-olds. We discussed his behavior in class (“listens well, works well with others”), his areas of interest (arts and crafts, trucks and puzzles) and his language development (“Speaks clearly, stutters some”). When we got to the potty training line item, I noticed she had circled “N/A.”
“Let’s see,” said Ms. Dawn, “Potty Training. I put N/A because…” she trailed off, collecting her thoughts.
“Because it’s not applicable,” I said bluntly, yet playfully, again trying to win her camaraderie. But then I launched into how I had tried, really I had, to train him last week when we were homebound due to the snow, and how he had squeezed out maybe an entire teaspoon into his little potty, which, of course, proves that he is, in fact, in the very MIDST of potty training even though he technically, isn’t, well, trained. Or even close. But applicable? Oh yea.
“We’ll try to work with him more at school,” she said helpfully. “I think he really is interested in it,” she continued. “I think he is close. Very close.” It was then she informed me he would have to be trained by next fall, just in case I was thinking about keeping him in diapers through elementary school. Ha. Ha.
But then she said, “He really is such a sweet boy. We really enjoy having him in class.” And I could tell she meant it.
Then the weirdest thing happened. I began talking, gushing, about WHAT a fantastic job they were doing and how MUCH Drew loved school and what a JOY it was to see my son thriving in such a nurturing learning environment and some other things about rainbows and sunshine. I meant every word of it, but it felt like someone much more sentimental and emotional had invaded my body and was working the tongue lever. They almost felt like my last words, like I couldn’t get them out fast enough. Strange.
When I snapped out of it I saw she was genuinely pleased, maybe even touched. The connection I was hoping for had been achieved: Two friends, one teacher, one mother, drawn together for the love of a boy. Cue the pink dolphins at sunset.
When I left the classroom I felt like saying, “We really should do this again; you know, talk about how smart and precious my son is.” But I didn’t. I didn’t have to. Best friends can rely on telepathy.
I’m not sure what the ultimate benefit of these conferences is. I didn’t need one to learn that Drew isn’t potty trained. But maybe I needed someone to tell me everything is going to be OK.