Having kissed Ben and Milo on the lips often enough (it's bedtime, they insist, and I can't refuse) over the last ten days, I knew that chances were good I was going to end up with their viral ick sooner or later. That time arrived sometime yesterday and has developed into a nice sore throat, foggy head, and general feeling of malaise. It's not the kind of thing that drives you to the doctor, or even sends you to bed for more than an afternoon nap. It's just enough to have you sucking on throat lozenges and being, admittedly, a wee bit whiney.
When I was a kid, my Dad would catch this sort of cold once or twice a winter (we lived mostly in Washington DC and Boston, MA during my childhood) and when he did he would climb into his pjs, wrap his robe around himself, wrap a towel around his throat, and tuck the ends into the top of his robe like a giant, choking ascot. I used to get strep throat all the freaking time, and at least once I tried the towel thing. What the heck? How did he breathe with that thing wrapped around his neck? I didn't understand it at all.
But now--now I am a Mom and I understand. This kind of cold--it's enough to miss a day of work (because you're too tired and too fuzzy-headed to cope with undergraduates when you feel like this) but in truth, you can get dressed. If you have to, you can even manage a conversation. If the phone rings, you *can* still answer it--that sort of thing.
But the robe and pjs and towel--they said to all interested parties (and especially to your kids and spouse) "I'm out today." Today, if you're old enough, I'd like you to get your own sandwich. Today, if you can manage it, I'd like you to read quietly in the room with me--play "lava island" upstairs, please. Today I have the remote. (We only get two channels in this house, but we have LOTS of movies.) Today any child old enough to have phone manners and write a legible note should maybe answer the phone if it rings.
I was mulling over this on the way home when I worried (as I do, about everything) that I hadn't seemed enthusiastic enough about Max's behavior and education during the Parent-Teacher Conference with which I started the day. I wondered if I should have made more of a point of letting them know that I'm sick and not to take it too personally if I seemed a little glassy-eyed. And I flashed back to my father and his towel. I thought, "You know, if I'd been Arthur Dent I could have put the towel around my throat and not have had to explain a thing." (Which displays both my age and geekiness. If you don't know who Arthur Dent is or why he had a towel, we didn't sit anywhere near each other in the cafeteria at school.)
So yes, today was the final P/T conference of the year. If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you'll know I suffer from a bad case of Post-Traumatic Parent-Teacher Conference Disorder. They were soooo bad for Max's kindergarden and first-grade years, so consistently, that I hate them now with a purple passion. Having been in the teacher's chair though, I never skip them. And I don't send Chris instead, because I consider it one of those situations where A Good Mom puts on her big girl panties and goes and listens. And offers suggestions and insight where needed. No self-respecting former home-schooling mom would skip the parent/teacher conference. Please.
I now have three boys in two different schools, and Ben and Milo's school HAS parent/teacher conferences (which I think is overkill for preschool, but they held it--so I went) and that has been helpful to my continuing to try to believe that I might someday go to a parent/teacher conference in which the teacher had only nice things to say about my oldest. They have to reach to find things to "work on" with the twinks--when they say, "Well, we'd like to see some improvement with scissors," they don't mean the twins are stabbing their neighbors--they mean they're still a little iffy on cutting on the line. Let me be clear, Max has never done a MEAN thing in school (He once nearly took his best-friend's eye out with an arrow, but it wasn't intentional. Not that that would have been any consolation.) but he couldn't get a teacher with classroom management skills to save his life and since he didn't have much in the way of impulse control, he spent a lot of time talking when he wasn't supposed to talk and getting out of his seat when he was supposed to be in it. That pretty much sums of the nature of his misbehavior. It's just that his ability to talk when he wasn't supposed to and wander from his seat when he wasn't supposed to was sooo pervasive, he could make a first-year teacher crazy and a crazy-teacher cry.
I wasn't expecting to find ourselves back in the same position when he returned to school last spring. I knew that three years of homeschooling had resulted in some small amount of self-control and that academically, he'd be in a position to experience success. He had a teacher last spring with enough years of experience to help him be successful. But still, he was a handful, and the reviews at the parent-teacher conference were mixed. Yes, he was good in this regard, BUT he still had quite a bit to work on.
This fall it was pretty much the same, BUT we were back to a first-year teacher with no classroom management skills (unless they were previously in the military, NO first-year teacher has enough classroom management skills their first year, no matter how brilliant, talented, or committed). Then, mid-year, there was a change in Max's classroom. There are two teachers in every classroom at this charter school to bring every class to a 1:10 adult:child ratio. There is a lead teacher and an assistant. In Max's classroom the assistant left and a new assistant took her place. The new assistant is a former high-school biology teacher. She had expectations about what reasonable classroom behavior looked like and by golly, she was going to get it. To make a long winter/early spring short, she did. It was a rough transition for Max, but Chris and I stood by him AND by her and the result is that Max is finally feeling successful and empowered. When he tries to do what she wants him to do--he can do it. And he is rewarded with more peer respect and the respect of his teacher.
And so I went to the parent/teacher conference this morning, trying to keep my expectations low, and instead I heard for 45 minutes a long litany . . . of good news. How well he's doing in each content area. How far he's come with his behavior. How sweet he is. How funny he is. How passionate he is about his ideas, and the world, and learning. All the reasons I desperately miss homeschooling him were finally there on the table--visible to some OTHER adult's eyes. I ALMOST cried because, you know, I'm sick and that can make you cry easily (and because I am Alaska, and I cry easily when I'm well). But I didn't. Honestly, I think between surprise/shock that we were FINALLY having THAT parent-teacher conference--The Good One--and my sore throat/cold, I did less talking and more listening than I am normally capable of. (And no jokes about this one, Dr. J. O-Bear is going to find a way to put you through the ringer on this one, too. I was THERE for your elementary career.)
I'm so proud of him. He's never struggled particularly hard with academics, but he struggled to understand the rules and appropriate social behaviors of school. He has worked hard this winter/early spring and he's getting it.
Raising kids is hard. You think "Dear God, is he EVER going to (sleep through the night, dress himself, use the toilet, put on his seat belt without being reminded, practice piano without being asked, get through a whole day of school without being asked to be quiet)?" And then they DO and just like the first time they sleep through the night you RUN to them (or, if they're in the bed with you, wake with a gasp, grab them and give a little shake to be sure they're breathing)--the first time they do whatever it is that you have long waited for--at first you don't believe it. And then you do. And then . . . if you're me, you feel gratitude and pride and relief and a little bit of "I knew it. I knew he could do it all along." And you go and you find him and no matter his age, you pull him close and give him a big hug and tell him you're proud of him.
And then you go look for a towel.