I know that I am that parent. It was always inevitable, and although I make lots of noises about trying to not be that parent, in the end I just buy Eamon’s teachers superfluous Valentine’s Day presents to make up for my crazy.
Exhibit A is the email that I sent to Eamon’s teacher recently. I debated whether I should send the email for a long time. I finally decided that as an advocate for my child, I had a duty to send such as email because quite frankly we had a problem: Eamon keeps maturing and growing up.
I partially blame the school and their insistence on the children becoming independent in both action and thought. So they had a right to know that I have this horrible, dreadful suspicion that they might want to promote my child to the next class.
This means that he would leave the warm safety of the Toddler Class and jump head first into the controlled chaos of the Children’s House, where he would be expected to (1) Learn Things and (2) Self Monitor and (3) Not Run Around Roaring at Everyone Like He’s a Giant T-Rex.
And as his mother, the person who probably knows him better than anyone, I know that he’s more than ready for the first thing: he can count and has great number sense and can sort of add and subtract with manipulatives; he’s fascinated by the words in the books that we read and has known all his letters and their sounds for about twenty years now.
And he’s getting better with the self-monitoring. Sometimes he even tells me he’s sorry before he does something: “Sorry I threw that, mommy. It was a bad choice.” I then point out that he didn’t throw anything, and he cocks his head as if I am a person of small intelligence. “No mommy,” he says slowly, “because it was a bad choice.” But sometimes he announces that he’s throwing something as he throws it, and then shrugs and says, “Oh, that was an accident. I didn’t do it on purpose,” and then he picks it up and heaves it across the room again.
But the Not Running Around Roaring at Everyone Like He’s a Giant T-Rex? No, that is still very much a priority for him.
At his school, though, they keep pointing things out to me: “He’s doing so well with the toilet-training!” “He does great taking off his shoes and putting on his school slippers, all by himself!” “He’s so good about working with all the little kids!” “He can do almost everything in the classroom for himself!” (A prerequisite for teaching toddlers is that you must speak in exclamation points.)
And I just raise a suspicious eyebrow.
I’m not trying to hold my child back…not really. It’s just that over the last three years, I’ve learned a couple of things: (1) I have this tendency to push myself and everyone around me almost to (and occasionally past) our breaking points; and (2) Eamon DOES NOT do well with being pushed.
Illustrative point: swim class. He had been taking swim lessons since he was 7 months old, so he understood blowing bubbles and kicking and reach and pull arms. He outgrew the baby classes, so they promoted him. And they kept promoting him. And I beamed with pride.
Then they promoted him to group classes, where he goes in the water by himself without a parent, and everything fell apart. He had to sit too long while the instructor worked with other kids. He didn’t understand how to blow bubbles while kicking while reaching and pulling. He didn’t understand the complicated questions the instructor was asking. She was frustrated. He was frustrated. I sat on the side a nervous wreck, unsure when to intervene with my misbehaving child and when my presence was just making it worse.
But three months later, we signed him up for the class again, and he did brilliantly. He understood about sitting still and waiting his turn. He understood about keeping his hands to himself. He realized that he could blow bubbles while kicking while reaching and pulling. He knew the answers to all the complicated questions. His new instructor breaks into a huge grin whenever she sees him and he loves her, too. I watch and clap quietly on the sidelines, beaming with pride.
I am the kind of person who is bored unless things are just a little too difficult. I am only comfortable when I am slightly outside my comfort zone. And I absurdly assumed for years that everyone else was like this, too, even though it is obvious that my husband and his offspring are completely the opposite. And they are both very bright, so it has nothing to do with intelligence…just how we all respond differently to pressure.
Therefore, when Eamon’s teachers talk about promoting him to the next class, I panic. I’ve tried to push him and reaped the consequences, so now I’m probably TOO cautious. I’ve burned my child before.
All this is what led me to write a long and rambling email to Eamon’s teacher in which I argued all the reasons why we should definitely promote him and all the reasons why we definitely should not, because I don’t want him to be bored and I don’t want him to be frustrated, and then lamely conclude that I wasn’t going to push either way and it was all her decision.
I can imagine her rolling her eyes while reading it, because that’s what I would have done when I was teaching.
But that was before I became a parent and realized: it’s hard. You want nothing but the best for your child but sometimes there’s no way to know if something is a good idea until you try it and it works wonderfully (potty-training) or you try it and emotionally scar your child for awhile (swim lessons).
His teacher responded to my email, and not by calling CPS because Eamon’s mother had clearly gone insane, which I thought was generous of her. She just kindly said we'll talk about it in two weeks when we have parent-teacher conferences.
And in the meantime, I need to say: I’m sorry to all those parents of students I taught. I’m sorry if I ever rolled my eyes when you emailed me ten times in one day, or if I was condescending when I assured you that it was just a phase, or if I ever just got annoyed when the “quick conference” you requested rolled into its second hour.
If I could go back in time, I’d give each of you a giant hug and say, “You’re doing great. I know you love your child so much that sometimes you physically ache because your paltry human form can barely fit all the hopes and fears and worries and dreams you have for this tiny person who means more to you than anyone or anything. But you are here and you care. And that’s why it’s all going to be okay.”