I have two boys, one in second grade and the youngest started kindergarten this year. When my oldest son started school, I was in Afghanistan, so I don’t know if he caused his kindergarten teacher as much grief as his little brother certainly does for poor Mrs. Vogel and her assistant, Ms. Harper. Within the first two weeks of school, I received at least three phone calls about my kindergartner and his propensity to chew on his shirt sleeves and paper towels. Apparently, he would gather clumps of cloth from his sleeve, put them in his mouth, and suck, saturating his shirts up to the elbow. I guess I should have asked more questions when he came home in a too large “Drug Free” t-shirt with “Property of DV Elementary” written on the back. I think the ladies could handle the shirt sleeves (even though they thought it strange), but it was too much for them to ignore when the kid had brown wads of soggy paper stuffed in his cheeks. So, my baby was tagged for “monitoring.” It was nothing official; his name wasn’t written on some secret list of wack-a-doo kindergartners. But, when it came time for the parent/teacher conferences, it became abundantly clear that my boy was on the elementary school equivalent to the “no fly list.” He was a marked man.
As a rule, I hate parent/teacher conferences. For me, it’s equivalent to being on trial for my poor mothering skills. “So, Ms Clemens, J. is doing great in reading, but he doesn’t seem to be grasping the math concepts we worked on last week. Did you work with him for the suggested 20 minutes a night on fractions?” No. No, I didn’t. After working all day, teaching other people’s “babies” English, then picking the boys up from after-school care at 5 p.m., I spent what felt like 15 minutes loading them in the car, another 15 minutes getting them out of the car and into the house, 10 minutes telling them “that is not where your shoes/backpack/jacket/underwear belong,” and 10 more minutes scolding the oldest for “forgetting” his math homework at school. Finally, I threw a pizza in the oven, and tried to resist the urge to run, screaming from my house while bouncing back and forth between kindergarten homework (WTH?!?!) at the kitchen table and making my second grader read for 20 minutes, post a response on his classroom blog, and practice his spelling words. After serving the once-frozen-now-so-hot-it-melts-the roof-of-your-mouth-pizza, I tossed the boys in the tub, force-fed them into their pajamas (Can I sleep naked? No!), read them their nightly bedtime story about Spiderman and Dr Octopus, and crawled upstairs to sit on my couch. If I’m lucky, I watched the end of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. So, no. We didn’t get to work on the fractions as much as I would have liked. In short, I do not enjoy parent/teacher conferences.
Unfortunately, my sons attend a school that schedules conferences every other week. Or at least it seems that way. As I arrived outside my kindergartner’s classroom, I poked my head in to find Mrs. Vogel still in conference with the lucky victim before me. I noted the parent was not biting her nails, sweating through her shirt, or crying shamefully into her hands. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad for me. Turns out, betting on a “maybe” isn’t a great way to prepare for a parent/teacher conference. I was so very wrong. While waiting for the other mom’s conference to end, I found a seat in the hallway in one of those too tiny chairs that makes me feel like a tottering hippo wearing a tutu. The experience only got worse from that point. While trying to make only half of my posterior comfortable, I saw the mom saying her goodbyes to Mrs. Vogel, still tear-free. And as I prepared to take my turn, I was unexpectedly joined by the school counselor and PE teacher. Three against one. My inner child wanted to shout, “NO FAIR!” We situated ourselves around a crescent shaped table, and I had to get reacquainted with another too small/hippo chair, while Mrs. Vogel sat beside me with a baggy full of, what I could only guess was, a rat’s chew toys. The first order of business: we had to discuss my kid’s chewing habit. He chewed everything: crayons, erasers, the metal that cradled the eraser, the pencil itself, and rock salt from the sidewalk. I had seen that one for myself. I tried to tell him it was poison, but he said the blue was “pretty,” and he wanted to taste it. How could I argue with that reasoning? While Mrs. Vogel was gravely concerned with my kid’s penchant for eating things, I tried to put her mind at ease by reassuring her that my boy knew if something was food and if it wasn’t. If he was chewing his pencils and choked on an eraser, than it was God’s way of telling me that he was probably not going to make it in the wild. She didn’t find me funny. Bad mother. Bad, bad mother. When the PE teacher took her turn telling me that my son was a little cheater during gym games by taking three beanbags instead of one during a relay race, I tried to make a joke about him trying to economize his energy. She didn’t find me funny either. By the time the school counselor slid the pamphlet for a behavioral therapist across the moon-shaped table to me, my right butt cheek was asleep from the too tiny chair, and I was sweating through my ABUs. I would have agreed to anything. And I did agree to have him observed by a professional for all his “wicked ways” in the gym, in the classroom, in the hallways, in whatever situation my little thug found himself in during his busy school day.
I dutifully contacted the behavioral therapist, and she observed my little guy over a couple of weeks. When my cell phone rang one evening, and she wanted to give me her professional opinion about my kindergartner, I took a deep, unsteady breath and said, “Okay. Lay it on me, doc.” Turns out, my kid did have a problem. He’s six. He’s a perfectly normal, six year old boy. And there ain’t no pamphlet for that.