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Second Parent-Teacher Conference (1st Grade, Lucy)

So Megan and I had our second parent-teacher conference ever. This time, it was 1st grade—Lucy, Ms. Merlin, Megan, and I. Beatrix played on the toy rug. Picture a half-circle table, very rounded, Ms. Merlin sitting on the inside, and Lucy between Megan and I, directly across from Ms. Merlin.

The format of this thing was a surprise to us, as it mostly consisted of Ms. Merlin talking directly to Lucy. Megan and I weren’t addressed much at all. Not that I have anything against it, even looking back—Ms. Merlin’s message was one of support and understanding, as well as some genuine affection for Lucy—but it was a surprise.

You think conference, and you think, parents and teachers talking behind the kid’s back, right? I jest, but isn’t that usually what happens, more or less?

The worst part of the whole thing was Lucy starting to cry near the beginning-middle of it, let’s say right into the second 1/3rd of the, let’s say interview. Lol. Anyway, Ms. Merlin is a lady who nearly as tall as I, has a very clear voice, and, not to say she’s loud, but she talks louder than Megan or I, or in other words, what Lucy was raised around. And Lucy, she’s always been super nervous in school. It’s still not easy for her. I don’t know if Ms. Merlin knows that Lucy didn’t have any long-term daycare or babysitting, that she was just home with me for five years, and then hauled off to school.

I mean, does it matter at this point whether she knows? It hasn’t come up yet. And I’m not sure it’s as much of a primary source of Lucy’s general skittishness, her fear of things, as I have been thinking. It’s good for kids to be afraid of stuff, right? In the wild, that fear keeps you out of, and hidden from, trouble—great tactics for kids, not having brains mature enough to grasp adult matters, or bodies big or coordinated enough to defend themselves. Those kids survived. Here we are today. Those kids still survive, but—like my Lucy—they have trouble dealing with people.

I always had trouble dealing with people as a kid too, but I had a real awakening in my, well every decade since then. Lucy’s brain is going to mature far beyond this, and very soon. They always tell me, “Don’t blink,” and now I sort of see what they’re talking about. The days fly by when school’s in session. For example: where did last Thanksgiving just go? It just blew right by. The leftovers are almost gone.

So back to the conference. I hypothesize that Lucy’s tears didn’t have as much to do with what Ms. Merlin said, as with her tone and demeanor. It’s just different than mom and I. Ms. Merlin is an upright lady, she’s clear, and she’s used to dealing with kids, who—classically—have a hard time paying attention. So this teacher’s personality has been hard-crafted, and I’ve got a lot of respect for her.

And after Ms. Merlin had her say about stuff, it became more of an open dialogue. Lucy’s been having a hard time turning in her homework every day. I think it’s a combination of two things, namely,
1. Not caring / not understanding yet that that’s important to do and a great skill to learn that gives lifelong etc.
2. Being really nervous at school, which prevents her from addressing classmates or teachers, or anyone except us at home, with confidence, and it hinders her from asking for help.

She’s a timid sheep at school, and I saw this when I dropped her off yesterday, the Monday after Thanksgiving break, a swimming day. She dressed in her bathing suit under her clothes and I got her a towel and undies and sox. Beatrix came with, and afterwards we donated a bunch of stuff to Value Village, and I got some Christmas presents for a few people.

Aaaanyway we all waited in line at the classroom’s edge for Teach to show up, because the students have to shake her hand and say good morning before entering the classroom. Very civil, and I like it. So, it appeared Lucy still didn’t know where to turn in her homework, something we had even talked about during the conference. She’s got a few types of things to turn in daily, like a reading log, journal, and her math handouts. She hadn’t been doing it, as we’ve been seeing her folder piling up with ungraded homework, and—unbeknownst to me before yesterday—she’s still not doing it.

She almost dropped a bunch of papers all over the floor, opening her folder. I caught them at the last second. I think it embarrassed her. I said, “Whoa, you almost dropped a bunch of papers all over the floor.” ‘OBVIOUSLY. DAD. Shit, do you have to do this to me? Here, of all places? Why?’ I assume Lucy thought, through her silence.

She wouldn’t have even bothered checking her folder if I didn’t say something to her about it. That very morning, before school, after a rare bit of pre-school-tv-time and breakfast, I talked to her about turning in her reading log, the mystery reading log belonging to another kid, and her journal. But after she got her coat off at school, and as all the other kids were lining up with their reading logs and journals in hand, some with blue papers that I was suddenly becoming concerned about, Lucy just stood there next to me. I waited a bit before asking her if she had some stuff to turn in. Then, the almost-spillage.

Okay, Ms. Merlin then showed up, maybe right on time, maybe a minute or two late, I don’t know. Everybody else was there, including some classroom aids. The kids shake her hand, she comments on haircuts, cool new shirts, and all the kids just kind of stare up at her, dumbfounded. Some actually respond, like some of the girls. No boys really, that I saw, except for one to say, “It’s my brother’s old shirt,” or something. Clearly this introduction business is new to all of these tykes.

Lucy timidly gets in line after most of the kids do their thing, and shakes Ms. Merlin’s hand. Instead of talking, Lucy gives a closed-mouth, slightly smiling, full-head-and-neck nod, as if to say, ‘Yes, Ms. Merlin, I acknowledge you and your good morning.’ It was civil, in a just-Lucy way. She’s unique, that one, for sure. I remember doing that as a kid, so I can brush it off. Ms. Merlin thought the nod was funny, and did a slight impression of her, and we both had a good laugh about it, because we recognize that out of Lucy—that acknowledgement she delivers silently.

Then Ms. Merlin and I get to talking, and it lasts probably two minutes total. We don’t see each other often, but I think she likes that I’m a metal dad who cares, and I enjoy her frankness, I think it’s refreshing. But she told me that, before Thanksgiving break, she had asked Lucy how she thought the conference went, and Lucy responded to her with a pouty face and a thumbs down. That was what Ms. Merlin did anyway, and that’s the vision in my mind right now, and it’s pretty funny. But she also expressed remorse at this, and I didn’t want to say, “Well, you were too intense,” because that’s what came to my mind, but sounded wrong, or just not fully right, so I just kind of uselessly went, “[air suck-in thing I tend to do], well… Jeez. Really? Oh, man,” and frowned in concern. I’m always so concerned, you know.

I didn’t say it because she isn’t necessarily intense, it’s just that, compared to Megan and I, she is. And that’s not saying much about her, it’s saying more about Megan and I—we’re pretty quiet people. We like to get loud and rowdy, but only sometimes, and our kids always tell us to be quiet and cut it out, which is also funny, and also really valuable to have around. For the most part we’re pretty quiet people. It used to get loud when I had band practices downstairs, and the kids would hang out directly overhead in the living room, but we rent a jam space now.

And I’ve also been noticing something—boys are louder than girls. Am I generally right on that one? Anyway.

So before Ms. Merlin and I get too far into our discussion, I see Lucy quietly walk up, and I’m talking silently, and put her green reading log paper on a pile of white papers on a desk, and I knew that wasn’t right, homework’s supposed to go in a cabinet on the other side of the room. She was just, apparently, hoping Ms. Merlin would turn around, see it, and put it in the right place. You know, maybe she even thought she was being considerate in a way. But it was still sneaky. I saw it, and I don’t think Lu even looked up at me, she just turned around and walked away.

Little sneaker. Ninja, I’m telling you. She likes to explore houses, too. Just like her old man. I have dreams of exploring complex houses. Gma’s house in Michigan was Lucy's first to explore, and recently she got to explore a neighbor’s during a big neighborhood party there, hi Sara and Andrew, if you’re reading this, the party was so cool! Do it again!

Ryu Hayabusa-level of sneakiness, I’m telling you! But maybe not. Ms. Merlin does tell the kids to not talk to her if she's speaking to an adult.

So I said to Ms. Merlin, “I just saw Lucy sneak up and put that paper there, is that where that goes?”

“No, it isn’t,” Ms. Merlin said to me, smiling, and raising her eyebrows in teacher-like amusement.

So that’s all of the story I wanted to tell today. There was the pre-Thanksgiving parent-teacher conference, then there was yesterday as I drove her to school, something I rarely do. Lucy's doing great, all things considered. Smart as a whip. What we need to work on is her confidence, and that's a much harder thing to teach. I wish she could skip all those lessons I had to learn and go right to being an open, friendly person who friends can talk to. But I think of myself, and I was so guarded, and it turned into me being a dick and kind of coming across as mean and not caring. Really I wanted to be everyone's friend, and I didn't understand why I wasn't, and I never put it together that it's the impression and image I was putting across that was negging people out! I like to think I'm the same bitter metal guy, just with great social skills, and empathy—a direct contrast to the usual metal guy.

Before we leave the school, I always make sure to say hi to Steve and KC, the father-daughter, kindergarten-wrangling duo who are also so great for the kids. We did yesterday. They keep the rowdy classroom in order, and they do it respectfully, and even with—a dash of fun! Plus I like to let Beatrix see the classroom and get used to what happens there, what it looks and feels like. It’ll be her second home next year. Same teachers as Lucy, and I can’t wait. I have a feeling it’ll be hard at first, but with Lucy on the bus with her to guide her, and with both of them almost one year older than they are today, and given Beatrix’s pension for being more social than Lucy (we’ll see how it all plays out, no self-promises, every person’s a snowflake, I’m here for her whatever happens), it’s going to be fine.

Phew. It’s all going to be fine!