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Pour Some Sugar On Me

Parent teacher conferences at Olivia’s and Hailey’s preschool were a couple weeks ago. Kim and I met after work at the school a few minutes beforehand. Sort of a ritual being that the girls have attended the same early childhood education center since birth. While waiting for Roz, Olivia’s teacher, we bought a book for each of the girl’s classrooms’ from the well conceived, ‘if you don’t buy something we’ll make you feel guilty’ Scholastics book fair, adjacent to the meeting rooms. At the sales desk there was a coffee mug full of Hershey kisses, I grabbed a few. Our meeting started off with the normal pleasantries, I handed Roz a kiss and she gave Kim and me a two page document, Olivia’s official report card. No grades, just developmental comments. Kim noticed right away the age was incorrect. The top sheet read ‘four years old’ and she was quick to bring that to Roz’s attention.

“She only three?” Roz is somewhat intimidating, tall, thick, heavy voice, strong character, African American and by sworn word of mouth, the best our preschool has to offer. That is the main reason we requested Olivia be moved into her class at the beginning of the school year. Kim’s status as a co-chair on the parent association is probably what assured Olivia’s placement. “Well she in the wrong class. What she doing in my class? I cain believe she in my class. You sure she not four?”

“Yes ma’am, three years this past August.” Shrinking to table-level, understanding why the children in her class are so obedient and cooperative.

The first subject on Olivia’s report was social skills. “She don’t initiate play with the other students and she don’t speak-up during circle time.” Kim and I are silent. “During free play she always doin somethin off on her own.” The comments Roz were making seemed out of character for Olivia. I wanted to speak-up ‘are you sure this is the same Olivia we are talking about here?’ Speechless, I recoiled and started to feel nervous. Future teenaged Olivia images played in my mind; she’s dressed in ragged black clothing, victorian powder white completion, grunge-punk hair dyed black, facial piercings and a twisted look of angst on her face. “Well, she and Sophie started playing together recently.” Sophie? Not once has Olivia even mentioned her. Sophie is a little Israeli girl who doesn’t speak much. So I imagine future Olivia with future Sophie both gothed-out silently hanging around in the dark corners unnoticed and unwanted.

“What about Joshua?” Kim inquires. Joshua is Olivia’s ‘boyfriend’ who has a picture of him and Olivia posted to the wall by his bed. I found this photo at Joshua’s house during a Halloween party. Joshua and Olivia have been in the same rooms’ at daycare since they were infants. “And what about Anya?” Kim questioned. Anya is an adorable quiet Russian girl who like Joshua has been with Olivia since infancy.

We got an explanation from Roz that Olivia and Anya have drifted and their interests are no longer the same. Hmm, sounds a lot like all the friends I once had. Strange because every night at dinner we ask who she played with that day at school and her response is almost always Anya. As for Joshua, according to Roz, he still gallivants around Olivia. The future is set, a bleak lugubrious trio of Olivia, Sophie and Joshua.

The next item on the report was cognitive skills. “She only hear what she wants to hear and she only completes one task at a time, she cain do more than one request, I always remind her to do things.” This is true, she does get distracted easily. Yet at home she can usually perform multi-step directions, for instance; flush the toilet, wash your hands and turn out the lights or brush your teeth, wash your face, when you’re finished find a pair of socks, put them on and get your shoes on. But those are repetitive every day occurrences and she is starting to do those things without directive. I was starting to feel a bit paternal and wanted to defend Olivia, proclaim that she can follow multiple step requests. But I wasn’t going to debate the recorded empirical evidence right there in front of me to a twenty year veteran.

Next category on the progress report was motor skills, “She can hold her own. She does good in gym and good in the pool.” Well I hope so, with the extra swim lessons and dance/tap/gymnastic lessons she attends weekly. “Her fine motor skills are good too. She can use scissors and loves arts and crafts.” Yes. I have rubbed off on her. One of her favorite activities is painting and she is highly perceptive of color and juxtaposition. Finally I was starting to feel some kind of reward for all my parental efforts. Ok, so maybe Olivia’s future will be stylishly artistic as opposed to antisocial.

The last analysis was special interests; written down were remarks like creative play, cooking and nature. We briefly talked about each of those and Roz wrapped up by adding. “You need to get Olivia here a little bit earlier so she don’t miss out on circle time.”

Assuming she made that request because circle time is an opportunity for Olivia to be more assertive in a social setting, I agreed, “Yes ma’am, I’ll do my best.” Kim started to make excuses for me, stating that she leaves for work early and began to run down the list of morning routines that must be dealt with. I gave her an under the table leg squeeze and a little thank you for sticking up for me smile assuring her I was fine with Roz’s suggestion.

Roz held back the candy coating. It was a mixed emotional report, we have never had to endure criticism and blunt honesty about Olivia and actually it was about time. No wonder Roz is a good educator, handling the children is the easy part. I’m guessing the parents who are unwilling to absorb and digest objective criticisms may be more difficult to placate than their children.

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Hailey’s teacher Jeannine was sick the day of the conferences, so we had to reschedule for the following week. Instead of meeting at the main building on the campus, it took place in a small break-room at the infant/toddler facility. I came straight from work and snuck in, avoiding Hailey, so she wouldn’t think it was time for pick-up. It was a close call because her class, ‘the green room’ had just come into the multi-purpose area where she stalks the entryway for mommy or daddy. Kim was a few minutes behind me, and Hailey saw her enter the building. Needless to say, Hailey ended up joining us for our meeting with Jeannine.

I really don’t even remember the exact details of Jeannine’s discussion. I was busy with Hailey. She was playing with the coffee maker, the audio visual cart, the styrofoam cups, the coffee filters, the mini fridge, a cup full of pens, pads of paper, the post-its, climbing on the chairs, the table and playing with the blinds. We had a Mexican standoff with the office telephone. Jeannine politely asked Hailey not to play with the phone. Hailey stood defiantly, the handset clutched at her waist, her trigger finger tapping the receiver, her eyebrows furrowed from the setting sun shining through the window. Her eyes darted from me to Kim back to Jeannine, a glint of sunlight reflected in her pupil. She was looking for action. “Sweetie, if you can’t follow the rules then you will have to go back to the multi-purpose room and wait for mommy and daddy to finish.” Standing-up with ‘I mean business posture’ I made my move. She exploded, dropping to the ground in a flailing fit of anger and rage shrieking unendingly.

After a good ten minutes of wailing and the associate program director of the school coming in to ‘check on things’ we eventually diverted her with a pen and paper that she could doodle on while we hastily finished the powwow.  Jeannine only had positive things written down on the report. A leader, friendly, parallel plays well, compassionate, smart, imaginative, curios, coordinated and agile. How ludicrous, yes Hailey has great attributes, yes she is all those things, but were you not just here sitting though that half-hour of mayhem? Does she not get put in time-out at least once a day? How many incident reports has she been sent home with? We stopped counting them. Where’s the honesty? We live with Hailey; she is ‘spirited’ to say the least. Born with colic, (she had colic in utero is what I tell people) high maintenance since six months, her last teacher described her as a pistol, (I refuted, “No, she is the bullet,”) she is a wonderful challenge and a blessing but could you please spare the heavy sugar coating. Hopelessly optimistic, we like Jeannine. I would love to omnisciently follow Olivia and Hailey around at preschool, instead of relying on their teacher’s communiqués. I could watch what they do without Kim and me. How they overcome challenges. How they interact with the teachers and children. How much of what I have taught them do they apply? Do they really nap? Do they scream for ice when they fall? Is there anyone who comforts them when they are upset or sad? I know it is futile to think about these things, one day, I will have to let go.

Originally posted on BabyCenter.com 11/17/06

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