It was a routine conference; the teacher is meeting with all parents to update them on how their child is adjusting behaviorally and where they currently score on their core learning assessment. Overall, it was a very positive meeting. It seems her teacher finds our child “cute,” “adorable,” “smart,” and having “a very good foundation” for her learning. She told us we had clearly done “a lot of work” getting her ready. We were, as you might imagine, elated as parents to hear such wonderful things.
As we have watched our child grow, we have noticed all the ways that she resembles and mimics each of us. I understand how parents say to each other – indeed, I have said this to my spouse – “Your child.” You know, “Your child dumped the flowerpots out,” or “Your child is in time out again.” It’s not always a negative reference, I guess, although when one’s child does something positive, we want to claim credit for it: “My child cleaned the dishes,” or “My child is very polite.”
Sometimes, you just see the unique ways your child is like you or their other parent. She will pick up our mannerisms, our turns of speech, our habits and patterns. So it is a fascinating experience to have another person – say, her teacher – report back to you stories of her experiences of our child that seem to be reflections of each of us. Her teacher doesn’t know either of us, so she has no way of knowing she is telling us ways our child is just like us.
I’m pleased to say that when my child gets into trouble, it is because she is her mother’s child. Apparently her usual need for correction revolves around a single problem: she can’t keep her hands to herself. “It’s because she’s too friendly,” the teacher explained. “She’s so happy to see all her new friends!” She can’t seem to help herself, grabbing them or tapping them or hugging them. This is, without question, something she gets from her mother and not from me. (If you know me at all, you are knowingly laughing right now.) One day, after being corrected, she told her teacher, “But it’s so hard!” “It’s not hard,” her teacher said, “all you have to do is just keep your hands to yourself and not touch anyone else.” My child just sighed and repeated, “But that’s so hard.” I tend to identify with her teacher: this is not hard to do at all. However, having lived with my child’s mother for fourteen years, I also sympathize with my child. Being enthusiastic and excited about spending time with other people you enjoy, patting their backs, putting your arms around them, wanting their attention and engagement: these are all things her mother does. And if this is how she’s going to be getting into trouble, well, I’ll gladly take it.
However, she’s not always a raging friendly extrovert. When she gets focused on her task at hand, she turns into a studiously standoffish introvert who also, it seems, has an intuitive recognition of the behavioral dynamics of her peers. The boy who sits next to her – we’ll call him Tim – is an outgoing, curious, and talkative kid who engages the world by asking questions. The kid on the other side of him is an easygoing, cooperative girl – we’ll call her Suzanne. When they are assigned to work on their worksheets, my child will focus in. Tim, however, turns to my child and asks her questions. “Do you have a dog?” he’ll ask. Or, “Do you like Ninja Turtles?” My child, refusing to be deterred, but deftly deflecting without being rude, will answer, “Ask Suzanne.” Which he’ll then do, and then Suzanne will answer, and my child is free to work. Every question Tim asks my daughter, she will answer with, “Ask Suzanne.” Why not tell him to ask one of the other kids at the table? Maybe it’s because she knows Suzanne will answer. I was tickled by this story because it sounds completely like something I would do.
There were stories that both of us could happily claim. She likes to help other people clean up their messes, including even picking up trash in the bathroom. Although I wouldn’t say either of us like cleaning up messes, we have worked to instill in her the value of keeping things clean. She loves to read and shows enthusiasm about books, another trait that both her parents (and grandparents) have instilled in her. She even recognized several “sight words,” which put her ahead of the majority of her class (thank you Grammy, retired schoolteacher!). And she carries a bit of a perfectionist streak, which I regret to say both of her parents suffer with. When doing her number test, she got all of them, except for 5. She refused to draw a 5. She said every time she draws a 5, it always looks too much like an S. So she didn’t even draw one. I hate that we’ve given her a propensity towards perfectionism, particularly if it manifests in refusing to even try. But hey, we’re all flawed humans.
Both of us did pretty well in school, so it was wonderful to come out of that conference seeing the ways our child is like both of us. And somewhere along the way, she will no doubt defy our legacies and do something completely unique. When education is done right, new and wonderful things emerge. I’m just excited to continue nurturing my child’s curiosity as the gift of her self continues to unfold.