I’d been anticipating parent teacher conferences since the beginning of the year, but somehow I got it wrong straight from the beginning. On Tuesday, a letter came home in the folder, letting us know that we could schedule a conference for Thursday. There were two time slots, 1-3 and 4-6, or something like that. I figured, pick up is 2:30, so let’s have the conference at 2:30. I can come in, pick up C from school, and then have the conference. It didn’t occur to me that a) C probably shouldn’t be at the conference, or that b) there would be an early dismissal to facilitate the whole school having conferences.
I was nervous as I headed for the meeting. I remembered Dave’s mom telling me that the thing she hated most about parent teacher conferences was that she would have to sit in the little chair, and it made her feel small. I thought about my mom, who cautions me not to be oppositional in the face of authority just for the sake of being oppositional. I thought of my husband, and how if he were heading into the conference he would be oppositional, he would be defensive, and try to protect our kid from criticism, which is what his parents had done for him (unless it was their own critique, in which case “Katy, bar the door!” as his grand pop would say.)
Checking my watch, I was running late. Great way to begin like a decade and a half of parent teacher conferences, I thought. I decided not to be oppositional. I decided to remember that C’s teacher and I are collaborators on C’s education, and on helping him to grow up into a good person. She is with him for 20 hours a week. She knows a side of him that I don’t. She sees him with his peers, and without the benefit of mom’s persistent compassion. She sees his skills in relationship to her decade or so of experience with kids and skills, and watches him play without the pressure of trying to make dinner or vacuum or schedule rehearsals at the same time.
When I arrived at the classroom, only about a minute late, I saw that my fears about the little chair were unfounded. Mrs. P had set up proper chairs by the side of her desk, and we would be able to talk to each other face to face. This was to be very civilized, not the stuff my fears were made of. The previous parent had brought her some coffee, which as a concept had never occurred to me, but I pushed my feelings of deficiency aside and sat down.
The thing is, my kid is great. I know my kid is great. I’m crazy about him, I think he’s smart, and funny, and capable. He’s imaginative, and easy to get along with. He’s patient, not prone to temper tantrums, and a joy to be around. He’s capable of being reasoned with, which is a skill many grown-ups lack. But I’d decided not to be oppositional, or defensive. I was more nervous than I was for my own grad school interview.
I heard some great things from Mrs. P, and some things to work on. It was nice to hear that my kid is pretty much the same kid whether I’m around or not. He makes his teachers laugh. He demands their attention. They know that he’s smart. They like him, even though he’s a challenge. She says he’s thinks things through, that he’s very articulate, and says what’s on his mind. “In 20 years,” she said, “I’m gonna say That was my student.”
Bu he gets in trouble alot, less lately, but still, pretty frequently. Recently, when he got in trouble, he told his teacher not to “freak out.” And apparently this was as hysterical as it sounds, and she and her assistant had to work real hard not to bust out laughing.
“He is a ball of energy,” she said.
“So he’s crazy?” I asked.
She looked at me somewhat sternly, “I don’t like to use that word,” she said. She knows that words are serious business.
“You mean other kids aren’t like that?” I asked.
“No” she said, “I’m afraid he’s gonna hurt himself.”
Fact of the matter is, he does sometimes. He’ll flail around when he doesn’t want to brush his teeth, and I’ll have to grab him quick so that he’ll narrowly miss smashing his head on the sink. He’ll wiggle on his chair at supper and fall right off of it. He’ll stand at the top of the stairs and throw himself off, fully expecting that I’ll catch him, even if my back is turned. (I do catch him, contorting my body into weird shapes and gripping the railing tight so we both stay upright, but it is a tad ridiculous.) (An fb friend recently said being a mom has turned her into a ninja, and I totally agree.)
I’m confident that all these things will come in time, and he’ll be able to harness that energy and focus it like a laser beam, when he wants to. That’s what I learned eventually. It was hard, it took aeons, but it is doable.
I asked how he was with the other kids, if they were playing well together. I’ve seen him with other kids at the playground, and he’s always ready to share his toys. He walks up to kids and asks if they want to play, then holds out his toys to share. I was looking for a slam dunk, I figured he’d be the same at school as he is with his other friends.
“He always wants what the other kids have,” Mrs. P said, “even if I can give him a duplicate.”
We talked some more, and finished up the conference. I like Mrs. P, and I think C is learning well. He tells me stories about his day, and really likes his teachers. He comes home with neat art projects, and songs, and every day he can count a little bit higher- like today he counted all the way to eleventy-seven. But it was the “wanting what other kids have” thing that really stuck with me.
My mom likes to tell an anecdote from over the summer. She and C and I were visiting my aunt’s amazing craft shop (Heron Gallery, Kent, CT, if you’re in the hood), and mom let him pick out a toy. He picked out two: a vintage inspired toy car, reminiscent of the old toy workshops, and one that was a motorcycle. He said “I want both.” I told him he could only have one, and he started to cry. I took him aside, and we sat down outside for a minute. I repeated that he could only have one, and he repeated his wish for both. I said “I know it really hurts to want them both, but you have to choose. It will be hard, but you can do it.” He understood. He pulled it together. He picked the car, and still plays with it. My mom likes this story because she feels that it was a compassionate approach to the problem of wanting.
I know alot about wanting. We all do. There are so many really, amazing things to want in the world. Places we want to go, experiences we want to have, clothes we want to wear, toys, handbags, new boots, houses, boats, new cars, tattoos, thinner thighs, bigger tits, whiter teeth, straighter hair, better vision, big things, little things, fast things, things other people have. Wanting is a pretty incurable thing. No matter how much meditation, or medication, or yoga, or things we get, we want more, or something else, or something less, or something more perfect, more efficient, more useful, better designed. I find myself wanting things all the time. Today I wanted to buy grander Christmas gifts for my family. Yesterday I wanted more storage in my apartment. I want some off-white paint, and a day to paint the living room off-white. C wanted some other kid’s train at school. And when he didn’t get it, he freaked out.
It hurts to want things, but it doesn’t have to be overpowering. It doesn’t have to be a big deal to want things, and it doesn’t have to be a big deal to not get them, either. “There are phases to life,” I will tell him, “wants shift. That which you want today may not be what you want tomorrow. You won’t betray yourself if you decide to abandon some goals in favor of others. It’s worthwhile to re-evaluate. The hurt of not getting things that you want doesn’t have to define you.” If he asks what does define a person, I will say “it’s the love you have, and the love you share. That’s all we’ve got for real. Everything else is basically imaginary.”