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2015-08-14

First Parent-Teacher Conference, Sixth Birthday Surprise School Visit

I know, right? Talk about traumatic. It was a earlier in the year, but I never blogged about it, and I'm going to tie it in to a birthday story.



Green Lake Elementary is Lucy's first school, and this was our first parent-teacher conference. Lucy's teacher is Steve. He's an older guy, silly, but stern. We love him as a teacher, he did a great job throughout the year.

It was clear as we walked into the classroom that night, the large space empty save us three, that Steve had done his research, and had been thinking about how to approach us, because the first words out of his mouth were, "Glenn. Megan. How are you?"

When we sat down and began talking about Lucy, it became clear that Steve was puzzled by her behavior, but that he also cares about her very much. He told us that she's shy in a very extreme manner. For example, she would be so scared to speak up that, when asked a question while in the group on the sitting rug, she wouldn't answer, but instead would say "Hm," and sort of look around, and act like she was trying to think of the answer. A few times no sound came out of her. A few times she said, "I don't know." Steve also told us that Lucy would absolutely do what all the other kids were doing, and avoided making waves.

Some of this came as a surprise to me. I was glad to get Steve's insight, but I started to think it could be my fault. It all seemed like general shyness from her, combined with having a hard time acclimating—nothing startling there. What did set off alarm bells was the level of shyness. 'Did I damage her by keeping her home with me and her sister, without much socialization outside of park trips?' I wondered.

In those first few months, she would cry if even slightly provoked with emotion. In the morning before she got on the bus, if I tried to hug her, she would cry. And at the end of the school day, when getting dropped off from the bus, she would be close to tears sometimes. When I asked her what was wrong, she would break out as she told me how the bus driver yelled at the other kids to sit down and behave. Just being in the presence of someone yelling was enough to bring her right to the edge of tears.

I told all this to Steve during the conference. It was news to him, but not surprising. He shook his head, looking down at the table and then up at me as he said, "She's just so fragile."

This is why I like Steve Hansen. He gets her. He gets that she's a conundrum, and that she has depth, and he really tried to reach those depths.

By the time of the conference, Lucy had almost altogether stopped crying before school, or when getting off the bus. This was progress that was notable, and encouraging.

We also went over some projects she'd made in school. Then we looked at her progress with academics—pretty normal.

Steve told us about some of the more silly things he does to try to get Lucy to open up. He had this game where he'd look around and say, "Where's Lucy?" She would smile or laugh and say, "I'm right here!" It helped her loosen up, he told us, and he made a point to do it almost every day.

Overall, Lucy showed a lot of improvement, and we all took in the idea that it was a huge adjustment for her, going into kindergarten with no experience being outside the home and away from mom and dad with any regularity beforehand.

After that, Megan and I walked home with a lot to think about, and besides all the shyness and introversion, we were totally beaming with pride for our little girl. She had come so far.

It felt so adult-like. It may have been the most adult-like I had ever felt in my life.

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Fast-forward a few months to Lucy's sixth birthday, March 11. Beatrix and I paid her a visit at school! It was fun, until the end. Both kids were crying. It was a visit that gave me even more insight into the minds of my daughters.

The day before that, when Beatrix watched her big sister get on the bus, she said to me, frowning, "I wish I could go to school."

So, the next day, I took her to school, to see what it was all about. Dual bonus—surprise visit for Lucy on her birthday, yay!

But it was difficult for Lucy, although fun for most of the time. She had this daddy-don't-leave-me feeling. When Bibi and I arrived, Lucy wasn't in the classroom. It was library time. So one of the awesome teachers escorted Bibi and I there, and I saw a bunch of kids standing in line, waiting to show Steve their books for his checkout-approval.

I looked around, and saw no Lucy. I asked a couple of kids if they knew where she was, because most of the kids were staring at me at this point, this big tall long-haired guy with a three-year-old—so engaging wasn't hard. It's funny, with kids, there are no walls, only interest. They pointed me to a back corner of the room, behind some shelves. I had to walk around a shelf to see her. She was hiding out, reading. It was a pretty ingenious hiding spot. I could imagine myself doing the same thing, and enjoying it.

She was wearing her birthday crown, a big yellow paper affair complete with glitter and her name. Earlier in the day, the kids all sang their class's special birthday song to her, and gave her the crown. She really seemed to like it, because she wore it all day, right up till the end of the day when I came to pick her up, and for several days afterward at home.

She smiled really big when she saw Bibi and I walking up. She looked relieved, and surprised. To have us there with her was probably so comforting that she realized how she had been feeling up to that point. I think school really stressed her out, and the pressure on her was immense and foreign. Crushing, even. Not as a fault of the school, but of her personality, and her mind, a combination of her mother and I. Heavy.

I remember when I was in kindergarten. Everything was crazy, but I remember having a good time, a really growth-intense time, and having some really intense realizations, like that I didn't need my mom for every single thing. It was the first pangs of independence. Soon after I learned how to ride my bike. I felt like a big kid, exploring Onekema, MI. We only lived in that house on the lake for one year, but it was a beautiful year.

As an introverted kid, however, with my dad's sense of lone exploration and communion with the earth, I sometimes had a difficult time making friends. Not that it's a fault of my dad's. He did was he needed to do for himself, and it also aligned with what the family needed. So he's cool. And I hope Lucy can say that about me when she's my age. At least, and I hope, this blog is still around for her to peruse. It'll give her some serious insight into her old man, and I think that for the most part, I just worry about her a lot, but that, like me, she's just fine. She most likely has more good memories than she's let on or has been able to explain.

School here at Green Lake Elementary is vastly different than the experience I had in my tiny town, so it's already been different for Lucy in that respect. As far as her personality goes, it's going to be not even half the same experience I had, because not only is half of her DNA her mother's, she's also a girl. She'll develop faster, and I believe make better decisions than I did. Boys are kind of little shits, you know?

Back to the birthday visit. I noticed something that hadn't occurred to me before, and it hit me when I was sitting next to her, in the library, as lots of other kids had congregated towards us. One little girl in particular was reading a book to Bibi and kind of taking her under her wing, which was cool. That way I only had to worry about Lucy. Bibi loved it, I think.

So there were a bunch of other kids around for me to compare Lucy to—can you see where my mistake is going to be made here? What I noticed is that when she spoke, she sounded babyish, like a toddler—not like these other kids, who so obviously had preschool, or daycare, or at least more talkative parents than Lucy's introverted, writer-musician-artist-longhair dad. She used a few phrases that didn't make sense, like, "That was in a couple days." I can't remember what else she said like that, but it doesn't matter, because my mistake was in feeling like she was behind the other kids. Because she knew full well what was going on, and what she had to do, but she just didn't have the experience yet to know how to perform like everyone else.

I felt like I had failed her, not giving her enough time away from me, to socialize with other kids. But daycare is more expensive than we could afford, and the closest family we had lived an hour and a half's drive away. And I had learned to compartmentalize those feelings by then, so it was only a small nagging guilt. I never had daycare outside the home either, or preschool.

In addition to that, her frailty was laid bare. I couldn't tell if she was laying it on thick, or if she was really sad. Almost immediately after I sat down next to her, she asked me if I was going to stay until the end of the school day, and I said, still in a good mood, "No, I'll probably leave and then come back to pick you up."

Her face started to get sad. The tears almost came. Just me mentioning that I wouldn't be there for the rest of her day, that I would leave her there without me again, made her incredibly sad.

I sat there with her, and the other kids started to compete for my attention. Lucy started to calm down, seeing me talk to her classmates and interact with them in ways she was unable to fully grasp but was envious of, and everything fine, but tense. Then it was time for lunch.

Steve asked me if I was going to stay for lunch, I said, "Sure, why not." He responded affirmatively, and lead the kids down the long hall, back to the classroom on the other side of the school. From there, they put their books in their desks and went to the adjacent lunchroom.

Lucy was getting a hot lunch, and the majority of the other kids had packed lunches, and sat together on two big tables. Bibi and I sat with them, thinking that Lucy would come over and sit by us.

But she stayed over at the nut-free table with a few other kids—one who shared the bus stop with us a few days per week, another was a girl who fell absolutely head over heels in love with Lucy, and a couple other pretty cool chicks and one nice boy. So Bibi and I just kind of sat with the big group of kids, waiting for Lucy to come over. I didn't realize how much of a loner she was, but I shouldn't have been surprised.

Bibi and I went over and sat with them after a few minutes, after we just sat there and took it all in, and I got over my disappointment that Lucy wasn't trying to be like, the head of the class. I realized that was wrong. I was like, 'Look at yourself, dude. Look at you. Who are you? Who is she? What did you expect?'

Bibi was a social butterfly, making the other kids laugh by squishing my cheeks together and making my lips go in funny directions. She'll have an easier time, I think. One more year home with dad, while Lucy's in 1st grade.

After lunch, out on the playground, things did not end well. Bibi pushed Lucy off a small wall for some reason, as Bibi tends to lash out like that sometimes, as younger siblings tend to do, and kids in general. Lucy would have been just fine, if I didn't instinctively put out an arm to catch her. All I did was push her back after she landed on her feet, which made her hit her head on the wall she was pushed from.

Tears. From her, from Bibi. The whole time. At this point I was not happy. I had to tell Bibi not to push people, I had to try to console Lucy, and everyone around was looking at us. It sucked. Lucy could not calm down. The waters broke. She could maybe tell I was leaving, and couldn't turn it off.

Then the teachers called the kids over to get in line. I said goodbye, gave her a hug, and Bibi and I walked out to the car while Lucy went the other way, still in tears.

End of story.

Full disclosure, this blog post was a draft I'd had saved for almost a year now, which I've just edited today, August 14, 2015.

We're having a great day. I woke up to a comment on a blog post I'd made years ago about a guy who picked on me in elementary and junior high school, where I said a bunch of stuff that was just painful to read. I put his full name in it too. The guy threatened me with a defamation lawsuit today as a comment on that post, so instead of fighting any of it, I just deleted the whole thing. Goodbye all of it.

Then I proceeded to play with my kids, watching "Rex the Runt" and using PhotoBooth to take cool pics and videos of us playing around. Then I was thinking, 'I should really make a new blog post.' I looked to see if I'd had any drafts, and this kindergarten dual-story was there, staring at me. So I finished it up today. This is my third time hacking away at it, and I finally feel that it's ready.

The reason I never published it until now was that my tone was all wrong. It was angry, almost accusatory toward my daughter. It wasn't fair, and I knew it. Reading it did not make me comfortable, so I knew I had to give myself time to make it right. But here we are, about to see Ghost in a record store this Tuesday, about to fly to MI for the first time in five years, and Lucy has gotten thru kindergarten like a champion. Had a graduation ceremony at Green Lake with a pot luck and everything.

I want to close with something special. Just a few minutes ago, Lucy was going into the bathroom to brush her teeth so she could get some TV time, and I said, "Lucy, I'm writing a blog post about that time on your birthday that Bibi and I visited you, for your sixth birthday. Do you remember that?"

"Oh! Yeah," she said, seemingly happy to recall the experience.

I said something like, "Was that day hard for you? I remember you were crying that day. Were you scared?"

"Oh. I wasn't scared, I was just sad that you were leaving," she said, quickly followed by, "But not very much."

"Ah," I said. I really wanted to keep her talking, to get her take on this story I was just finishing up.

"I didn't want to cry," she said. She raised her face to the ceiling, eyes closed, put her fingers on her eyes to mimic possibly wiping away tears, and maybe a bit of frustration with herself or the situation or me or something, as she said, "I tried to calm myself."

I was feeling my own tears well up when she stepped away towards the bathroom and said, "Okay, can I go brush my teeth now and get TV time?"

Another trait of mine—walking away too quickly, when there's more conversation to be had.