I can’t live at The Heatley Cliff all the time. At the Heatley Cliff, Sher and I are spoiled with a super hot staff, a super fast metabolism and all the leisure time we want. In real life, we have jobs and kids and the grocery store.
I think the thing that amazes me most about real life is that, well, it’s so darn real. There are no take backs or do overs. When I imagined what my life as an adult would be like when I was a child, there are so many things that I got wrong. Some grown up things are far more amazing than I thought they would be – like having my very own Christmas tree to decorate in my very own living room. Some things have not lived up to my childhood expectations, like the fact that I was never invited to witch school and I will never be able to use real magic.
How could I have known what anything was really going to be like? That’s both the best and worst part about childhood, isn’t it? There are certain things, however, that there was just absolutely no way I could have even been aware of until I got much older, or in some cases, had children of my own. So I’m starting a little sub series here at The Heatley Cliff on this very notion. Ignorance was bliss way back then. Now, it’s just kind of funny and charming and wonderful that I had no idea what was really going on. Spoiler alert: being a grown up is not always fun. I thought being grounded sucked. But you know what sucks even more? Having to spend an entire weekend with a grounded teenager.
As the title suggests, the idea that parents are just as anxious about the parent teacher conference as their kids are was a revelation to me. Okay, so here’s me waiting outside the door of my elementary school as a child while my mom sits in the classroom with my teacher. My foot is tapping. I am biting my lip. I am thinking back to all the times when I made some decisions that some teachers might have misinterpreted – the times when I passed notes or didn’t play with someone or didn’t do my homework or spoke without raising my hand first or didn’t follow instructions, little things that I felt totally justified in doing in the moment but what might look, to others, to grown ups, as me being an assh**e.
I was an average student. I didn’t have the math skills to back up my frequent big mouth. By high school, I was so over it. I think my mom actually stopped going to the conferences, period, which was only fair, because I did a lot of skipping myself (if you know what I’m saying). I never, not once, thought about how my mom might be feeling. Why would I? I was 10. I’m not sure that I was aware my mom even had feelings that weren’t related directly to me. I just hoped that I wouldn’t get in trouble. Even in a good year, when my grades were okay and I had a teacher I really liked and who I was sure really liked me, I was always afraid that what they were really talking about in that room beyond the closed door was how bad I was. But mostly, I was afraid I was going to get into trouble. My report card! I dreaded my report card. No piece of paper could give an accurate reflection of how great and smart I was.
Cut to many years in the future and I am now walking into my own child’s parent/teacher conference. I have the same feeling of dread. Of course, part of this anxiety is Pavlovian. It is not uncommon for adults to feel uncomfortable in a school, especially when they know they are about to have a private one on one with a teacher. When a teacher requests that a student meet them privately after class, it’s rarely a good thing. Generally, adults in positions of authority don’t usually take their own personal time to tell you how great they think you are or how much they appreciate you as a person. We learn this lesson early, in school. Okay, so that was one of the reasons I was feeling nervous at my daughter’s conference. Trained response.
The second reason and far harder to articulate was that I knew my kid wasn’t perfect, but I don’t know how prepared I was for this other person, this relative stranger, to tell me that my child wasn’t perfect. I feel like I am as objective as it’s possible to be when it comes to my kid’s negative traits. I don’t ever want to be that annoying mom who lives in a dream world and thinks their child can do no wrong. Those kids always end up stealing cars or in rehab. I know my child’s shortcomings, but I don’t want to dissect them. I will feel the natural need to defend my daughter because that’s what moms do. How do I do that and not come across as the delusions, in denial mom?
In fact, I realize when I am sitting in my daughter’s first conference, what I really want the teacher to say is that my daughter is the best student she’s ever had. I want her to say that they aren’t supposed to have favorites, but my child is secretly their favorite. And also, my child is a genius. That is what I want. That is not what I am going to get and knowing that makes me annoyed and anxious. I am also fairly sure that I am being judged by this stranger. I feel like she is talking about my kid but using secret code words that imply that I am not doing such a hot s**t job as a parent. I feel like she thinks I am maybe not a good mom. Projection much?
Finally, the third butt-clenching aspect of the parent teacher conference that I could not have known about as a child is that as a parent, I really don’t care about the report card. I mean, I don’t want my kid to be flunking out, and high school is a whole different beast, but elementary school? Am I really supposed to care that my kid gets an M or an NI (or whatever letter they give that isn’t the standard ABCD so as not to give a 7-year-old a complex) in math? I still can’t do fractions and I turned out okay. The one thing that I did know as a child is that no piece of paper would ever be able to reflect who I was as a person. I just didn’t think my parents knew that, too. I understand why they made me think that. It’s the same reason I make my own children think that. I want to reward good work and let them know there are consequences to goofing off and not listening. But really, it doesn’t matter in 4th grade. Like, let me know if my kid can’t do the work, otherwise, just get on with it. Report cards for young children are so judge-y.
Knowing I was writing this, I asked my mom about her own experiences at the parent/teacher conferences. First of all, she couldn’t even remember my elementary school conferences. Thanks, but I’m not that old. Secondly, she told me that after I went to my “hoity toity private school”, she dreaded the school conferences with a neurotic intensity. She said that she got sweaty armpits and almost never spoke a word (which, if you knew my mom, is pretty amazing in and of itself) because she quit school in the 8th grade and was sure they all knew and thought she was an idiot. I never had any idea that it was so difficult and embarrassing for her. I don’t think I would have been able to grasp that concept as a kid myself. There are just some things that you can’t really figure out until your childhood is behind you. Thank God.
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