What seems like a simple request – sum up my child in 50 words or less on a 5×7 index card is proving to be not so simple.
The beginning of this school year has been crazy around here. It’s taken a minute to get used to the daily bus schedule for my kindergartener and driving time for my preschooler. I do my best the night before to pack lunches, lay out clothes for the morning, and just do as much as possible before the morning rush. Sure, I’m rarely showered, fed, or remembering to grab my coffee on the way out the door in the morning, but that’s not the point.
There’s also keeping up with the plethora of information coming home from the schools. The preschool paperwork I’m accustomed with since it’s our third year there, but the kindergarten, that’s a different story. It’s been exciting! I geek out over every little worksheet he brings home. I immediately open any email from his teacher, waiting to get a tiny glimpse into the long 6 hours that my son is away at school. I love all the papers; the PTA fliers, reminders about Back-to-School Night, Parent Volunteer sign-ups, it’s all awesome to me because it’s new! Like a freshman in college at Homecoming weekend, I sign-up for everything and anything. I’m a big sucker walking around that elementary school with probably an invisible sign on my back that says “New Parent! Pick me for everything!”
But one particular piece of paperwork caught me off guard. It was a small, maybe 5 X 7, yellow information card. The front of it was straight forward, a place to write down your child’s basic information like emergency contacts, family info, all of that. But when I flipped it over I sat staring at a few questions: “What is Your Child’s Strengths?”, “What is Your Child’s Weaknesses?”, and “What is One Goal You Have For Your Child This Year?”
Next to each question were only about two or three spaces to fill in your answers. I just sat there. My child’s strengths, in only like 10 words?! How on earth was I going to tell this teacher, this woman who would be spending more time with my child during the day than I would be, what makes my kid so amazing? I’ve known him for almost six years and there was just no way I could fit on two lines what strengths my son has. How do I tell her that he is smarter than any kid I know? (Sorry, no offense to all my Mom friends). How do I tell her that he follows rules so incredibly well that he isn’t satisfied until it’s done exactly right? That his thoughts are so far beyond his age that sometimes his comments leave me speechless. That he has overcome his own struggles with anger, frustration, and sadness better than I have. That he’s loyal and dedicated to the point of stubbornness, a strength that could get him so far in life. How do I tell her all that, in two lines?
What about his weaknesses? How do I explain, on those few lines, that most of his weaknesses are also his strengths? As I tried to write them down I started questioning whether they were really weaknesses on his part, or areas that I have fallen short in coming alongside him? So the weakness is really mine! Can you imagine a teacher reading that; “My Child’s Weaknesses: He doesn’t have any. Everything is my fault.”
And lastly, the goal for my child this year. Oh how I just stared at that question. This teacher has no idea how I’ve worried, agonized over how my kid would do in school. How I’d lay in bed awake, wondering. How when he was three-years-old we went to counseling to work on his anger and I kept thinking, “How on earth is he going to make it in school with these anger outbursts?” Or how he’d freeze up when going into a new place with new people, instantly glaring at everyone and becoming a little troll hiding behind me until we finally left or found someone he knew. He certainly couldn’t do that at kindergarten! Or how he’s such an obsessive perfectionist that if he’s not amazing at something, he doesn’t want to do it, he gives up. How do I explain, in two lines, that one goal for my son’s first year of kindergarten encompasses all of that? Or how actually, he’s already met my goal by being brave enough to just walk through those doors on his own and spend a whole day away from me, with strangers, doing something new and scary for him.
Sorry Teacher, but I think I’m going to need a bigger piece of paper!
Mandy Watts is a stay-at-home mom who lives in Crownsville with her husband, Justin, who runs their family business, and their two sons, 5-year-old James and 3-year-old Luke.