In what I would otherwise classify as the best parent-teacher conference ever, I learned that my endearing and precocious daughter was (1) “In fifteen years of teaching, the most stubborn child I’ve ever met,” which did not come as a great shock, and (2) very good at math when she wasn’t being stubborn about it… which was, in fact, a surprise.
She has also been making friends with great gusto. Suddenly, eagerly, she is re-telling my partner and me the stories of recess, and just last week, I witnessed her – my kid who cried on the playground in preschool – giggling and chattering away with kids I’d never met, flying across the blacktop in a gaggle of girls. The more I observed, the more elated I became. She was showing leadership and reciprocity, pride and glee, things most parents by second grade (I think) take for granted. The stubbornness, we needed to address, yes, and we’ve been trying for months, but these new social skills were nothing short of amazing. She told me how she and her friends took turns at recess, shared treats and treasures, and without meaning to really, she shared that alongside deciding who to include, they decided, too, who to exclude. And how. Wait. What?!?
While I stirred the soup and set the table, my daughter sat at the kitchen counter – worksheet in front of her, pencil between her teeth. I asked in what I believe was a neutral tone, “Honey, tell me about school. About math, your new friends, and how you’re making the other children f-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-l.”
Okay, no. That’s not really how it went. It actually went more like this:
Although I was out of the house for the initial revelation, when my partner talked with her at great length, I heard later about their conversation and a great cavernous hole opened underneath my feet.
Then I recalled all the things my daughter’s teacher shared (before mentioning the stubborn bit), like how she’s smart in math, a top reader, funny and well-liked by her peers, how much her teacher loves having her in class, how she (the teacher) took time to coach ALL her students on friendship and social interactions, not just my daughter. I was able to breathe again.
And then *CRASH*.
I decided to write about famous people who were stubborn, or unkind, or both. I drafted twenty-seven blog titles, reread them, deleted them all in a fit of rage and started over.
Was this typical or atypical for seven years old? Was my behavior typical at forty-three?
I tried to talk with the other moms and fumbled, never quite finding the words. What did I want? Their children were peaceful and kind, with “please” and “thank you” firmly in place. Did I want someone to understand, or did I need to be told what to do?
I picked up a few books on bullying, empathy and teaching girls to be kind… and flipping through the pages, I berated myself for seven years of missteps. I put the books down again and turned a searchlight on my daughter.
I also cried, but that was in the car with the radio blaring, so it doesn’t really count.
Were we raising an emotionally healthy young person who needed a slight redirection, or had we been wrongheaded in our approach for some time now?
I began correcting my daughter for each unkind behavior, my lips pressed into a tight thin line. One morning, she held a small pink heart pillow in front of her chest, scowling fiercely, drawing double x’s over it with her fingers while I talked on the phone. I could hardly blame her. She told me later through tears that I never listen. She was kind of right.
I signed her up for a Valentine’s Tea Party with a good friend. I began complimenting her kindest, most respectful behavior – a tactic I left by the wayside in toddlerhood and never expected to resurrect. The tide changed. I softened. She relaxed, and smiled at me again. I dimmed the inner searchlight a little. She complimented friends and acquaintances for their kindness. She said “Please,” “Thank you,” “Hello” and “Goodbye” to adults and kids alike without prompting. Sometimes. She helped me fold laundry, and suggested we wear our matching owl pajamas again – the ones her Mama gave us for Christmas.
Before tucking her into bed, we traded stories. I told her how I chased Mark Stockwell around the playground every day, how his friend gave me his phone number and I can recite that number even now, although I never used it to call him. She remembered chase games, too, and asked if Mark liked me back. I didn’t think so. She asked if that hurt my feelings. I told her, “No, I don’t think he liked any girls at the time,” and she laughed, nodding sagely.
I told her about my first grade teacher with white hair piled high on top of her head. She told me about the giant alphabet letters on her classroom wall in Kindergarten and a box-like craft she loved in art class.
I kissed her forehead and turned off the light. Finally, we were ready for a new day.