As a former teacher, I am wise to the behavioral euphemisms used in parent-teacher conferences. It’s a little like real estate lingo:
cozy = shoebox
as is= tear down
easy access to everything = backs up to expressway
Except instead of houses, you are talking about children:
natural leader = bossy
social = chatterbox
independent =goes to use the bathroom and never returns
I am also privy to the structural arc of the conference. The teacher starts out with all the positive points about your child. She does this in order to soften the blow when she lowers the boom at the end. You know, the part that starts with: “What we would like to see (your child’s name) work on is….”
The “room for improvement” part is inevitable. The question is: How disturbing is the bottom line?
In Emma’s conference last week, the teacher ended with: “We would like her to not worry so much about messy eraser marks.”
Initially this made me feel relieved, like: “Oh wow, that’s it?” But then later, driving home, I think, “Wow that’s actually really disturbing.” Then I flashback to 2nd grade, when Mrs. Amhryn made us alphabetize 50+ words beginning with “p-r-e.” Neatly. Kind of a paralyzing exercise for a kid already afraid to make mistakes (me). My cousin Beth, on the other hand, would just erase and erase and erase so aggressively until…..Riiiiiiiiiiip. Game over.
Phoebe falls into the Reckless Eraser category. Leave the kid alone for five minutes and she strips herself naked, turns on the Aerosmith Pandora station, and covers her body with Christmas postage stamps. While I was not exactly sure what Da Two Sooze would share about my 2nd born, I guessed that mind numbing perfectionism wasn’t going to be a big topic of conversation.
As expected, things started off really well. Da Two Sooze filled me in on all the good stuff: Phoebe is fun, easy-going, popular, and a natural leader (aka. bossy). We laughed about her newly acquired Boston accent. (“Don’t run wit da scissahs because dey very shaahp.”) I felt warm and fuzzy inside as they shared stories of her potty triumph and puzzle mastery.
“The thing we would like to see Phoebe work on…..”
Oh no. Here it comes. Duck!
“is her kindness and patience with others.”
Yikes! That’s bad.
I needed details: “Can you tell me more about that – when you see this issue occurring?”
Sue #1 smiled: “Don’t be overly concerned. We see it when Phoebe isn’t getting her alone time. She expends a lot of energy being involved in the group activities, and during free play she likes to be alone to recharge her batteries.”
Sue #2 added: “But of course the other children don’t understand that, and when you infringe on her space, she
threatens to rip the eyebrows off your face…..loses her patience.”
For the record, I love Da Two Sooze. I appreciate their honesty and attentiveness. But all I could think about was the Don’t Do Drugs commercial from the 80’s: “I learned it from watching you, all right!? I learned it from watching YOU!”I started to get a little sweaty under the lights of the interrogation room: “You know, I can what may be happening. We have been through a big transition…we are living in close quarters….maybe we really haven’t been modeling patient behavior. Emma is short-tempered with Phoebe….because I am probably short-tempered with Emma…”
Sue #1, seeing that my 15 minute slot was up, gently guided me back from my shame spiral confessional. “It’s all developmentally appropriate. Really, she is such a fun kid and is doing great overall.”
I retrieved Phoebe from the playground and buckled her in. “Hey Ma! Whatdyaa do wit Da Two Sooze? You do some fingah paints?”
“No we just hung out and chatted. Hey Phoebe?”
“Yes, my wittle Mommy, ole buddy ole pal?” (Awww, really? Maybe Da Sooze were overreacting.)
“At school, when you need some time alone, but a friend wants to play with you, what do you say to that friend?”
“GET AWAY FROM ME, YOU DOO-DOO HEAD!”
“Ok….well…you know Pheebs that could hurt someone’s feelings. Is there a nicer way you could ask for your alone time?”
She looked thoughtful, wrapping a blond ringlet around her finger as she gazed out the window. Suddenly, her face brightened as she said in a high, sing-songy voice: “PWEEEEZE GET AWAY FROM ME, YOU DOO-DOO HEAD!”
“Ok…..that SOUNDED nicer, but your words are still not very kind. How about starting with “I” instead of “You?” Like, ‘I would like….’”
“I…..WANT YOU…..TO GET AWAY…..FROM ME! DOO-DOO HEAD!”
It was a start.
Since the conference, we have been working as a family on being more patient and giving each other space. Have we seen a huge change in Phoebe’s behavior? Well…..
Let’s say it’s a work in progress.
But I have to admit, when it comes to my kids, I am still more freaked out by a Bottom Line of “frozen in the face of failure” than “
garbage mouth” ”tough cookie.”
Probably because I am still trying to overcome the former and cultivate the latter…in myself. By age 5 or 6, I had somehow came to the conclusion that girls should embody the Three Ps: Pretty, Polite, and Perfect. And when you over-emphasize the Three Ps, bad things happen. Like, ABC Afterschool Special kind of things.Does Phoebe need to speak her needs calmly and treat others with respect? Of course. Do we need to model this at home? Absolutely. I just need to figure out how to put out the inflammatory talk without extinguishing the spunk.
That’s what I need to work on.
That’s MY Bottom Line.