I’m sitting crammed in one of those little kids chairs and my hands are sweaty. It smells like crayons, stinky boy feet and someone’s leftover lasagna. Mentally I calm my body and try to remember negotiation tactics or hostage tips from movies I’ve seen, I’ve got nothing. So, I sit and try not to fill in the quiet with senseless babble which is what I do when I’m nervous. Here I am, a grown woman in my business slacks and shirt, and I am reduced to a 7 year old girl in pigtails who just got caught tasting the white paste (it’s minty, by the way). It’s the moment I have both anticipated and dreaded, Parent Teacher Conferences!
There is a weird song and dance to Parent Teacher Conferences. I have been on both sides of the desk and it is a well orchestrated symphony of observation, interrogation tactics and body language. Both sides are measuring up the other, and having attended many conferences over the years, I can say that the first one of the year is super stressful. As the teacher, I realized that many behaviors or quirks that could not be explained about my students, were explainable after meeting their parents. As the parent I am gauging my children’s future academic success and hoping the teacher isn’t having an aha moment about me. These conferences are supercharged with expectations and emotions for parents. I am looking each teacher in the eye and several thoughts might flash across my mind; has my 8 year old daughter told the teacher she is a “real Indian” that was adopted and this means she can walk barefoot over sharp rocks, have I unpacked my 10 year old’s backpack in the last 3 months, and does the teacher know that my Kindergartner used the glue stick for chap-stick the first week of school (those don’t taste minty).
As I sit in my junior high son’s classroom, I am bombarded by junior high mom concerns. I’m looking at his teacher and these are my thoughts: Are you thinking about his book report choice? I told him to bring in To Kill a Mockingbird, but he snuck the 1001 Smelly Fart Jokes into his backpack while I wasn’t looking. I’m not even sure you can do a book report on that, but he can talk at length and depth about bodily functions. Is that sweaty feet smell from him? When’s the last time I made him shower? I notice his desk is at the back of the room, is this good or bad? Either he listens so well, he doesn’t need to sit right under your tutelage, or he’s such a distraction he needs to be as far from you as possible. I give really good Christmas gifts, can I slip that in somehow without it looking like bribery?
What is probably going through the teacher’s mind: I didn’t eat lunch today. I still have 5 more conferences, and a stack of papers to grade. Should I tell this mom that her son orchestrated a lunch competition of armpit farting?
The initial song and dance is underway and my 12 year old son’s teacher is talking about the different assessments and their various scores. At this point, my cell phone is lighting up. I try to ignore it, but it keeps beeping and vibrating at me in an SOS fashion. I finally glance down at the screen and see the following text messages from my 15 year old daughter who is watching her siblings. Here is what it says:
HELP! COME HOME!
I NEED YOU!!!!
THERE IS BLOOD EVERYWHERE!
Now a less seasoned mother would have snatched her keys and ran for the door while simultaneously dialing 9-1-1. I, however know my angelic offspring and without skipping a beat shoot off a text message to my daughter that says “Who?” all while asking the junior high language arts teacher about my child’s word choice and voice in his writing assignments. Immediately I have 4 return text messages:
THERE’S BLOOD ALL OVER THE PLACE
WHEN ARE YOU COMING HOME?
At this point, I realize that I must stop the well organized teacher/parent dance, and I speed dial home. As a parent of 6 kids, I know exactly what is going on from just those 4 texts. My 10 year old gets bloody noses and they aren’t just drips, they are hemorrhages. When my daughter answers, I rattle off the instructions, “Give your brother a large bath towel for the blood, put him out on the porch until it stops bleeding. Do not let him in the door, lock it if you have to.” In my mind, I know that the nose bleed will stop within the next 5 minutes, however if my son is in the house he will pace the floors and it will look like a crime scene by the time I get home. Problem solved, disaster averted, I hang up and turn with a smile to the teacher who is now looking at me horrified. I grimly realize that the parent/teacher conference is now over and there it flashes across her face, “aha”. The dance has lost its rhythm and the record is now scratched. Luckily I have 5 other children’s conferences to attend, perhaps I can salvage one of them.