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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Education and Experience

As you know, yesterday morning I started my day off with a parent-teacher conference for my daughter.  For context, she will turn 4 in May and is completing her first year in pre-school.

So you would be correct if you are thinking, My, my, this is an important conference, then.  Clearly intense matters will be discussed and this child's future is about to be unfolded.  Harvard or hostess?  PhD or P-Diddy groupie?  Advanced Placement or All-Points Bulletin for wanted fugitive?

I know!  That's exactly how I felt going into those twenty minutes.

Okay, maybe not exactly.  I was as nervous as if the verdict on her academic future was about to be handed down.  Despite my certifiable insanity, I do like to think I maintain some level of perspective.  I know her first year of "formal" education wasn't a make-or-break moment in terms of her scholastic path.  Still, though, I was nervous.  Why in the hell was I so nervous?  I was surrounded by puzzles and nap rugs and crayoned drawings.

As I settled into a chair that rose four inches off the floor and tried to assume a posture that looked comfortable as my chin rested on my knees, I realized that my level of nervousness was familiar.  I'd felt it before.  I'd felt it during big job interviews, when the person under review

That's when it hit me.  I admit that every day, there are moments when a scenario unfolds and inside I cringe, thinking, "the people that can see me now, attempting to mother my daughter through this talking-back/not wanting to share/total meltdown [pick one] are judging me, and I'm doomed to fail in their estimation."  When I drop my daughter off at school every morning, I silently pray that she behaves well, that she doesn't sing inappropriate song lyrics from a song she heard on the radio, that she uses the potty when she needs to.  And, maybe this is selfish, one of the big reasons why I get scared in the first circumstance and born-again-Christian-like in the second is because I don't want anyone to think I'm doing a bad job as a mother or, perhaps worse, that I'm not trying hard to raise a "good" child.

In other words, I haven't yet figured out how to stop myself from feeling that my daughter (and son, for that matter) are the living, breathing embodiments of all my education and experience as a mother.  That they are my walking resume on parenting.  With that as a mind-set, sitting down to a parent-teacher conference boils down to a one-woman referendum on whether or not I should get fired from the job.

I know that this is probably not logical, or healthy.  I have years to learn that, try as I might, my daughter might never develop an affection for a rainbow of vegetables.  No matter how much I try to expose her to, she might never have an interest in art.  Regardless of how often I remind her, she might never learn that her right shoe goes on her right foot.  And the big-girl me knows that's okay.  I'm trying, so is she, and A's for effort do count.

Yesterday, the above paragraph was not even in the vicinity of my consciousness. 

Fortunately, my daughter's teacher is an absolute saint.  I've known this from day one of school, but the conference just gave her another chance to teach me about the patience required to raise a child, the broad definition of "success" when it comes to being a pre-schooler, and the validity of small triumphs.  My daughter is doing and learning what she is supposed to.  She's being a kid.

I left the conference with a typed-up progress report that broke down into nittier-grittier detail some of the things we had discussed.  As I read through the various skills the school evaluates its pre-schoolers on, I realized I had no cause for real concern.  I mean, one of the things my daughter got high marks in was "showing coordination in climbing stairs and walking, seldom bumping into objects or other children."  Teach my kid not to walk like a drunk person?!?  DONE!  I should have this parenting job wrapped up for at least another year.  I'll save the nervousness for when we have to start talking about weightier things, like how my failure to do flash cards with her has resulted in her complete inability to add and her loud-mouthy insistence that she doesn't have to learn it because she knows where the calculator is on mami's iPhone.

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