She was visibly uncomfortable with the squirming toddler on her lap. She proffered snacks, and a pencil and paper to the little guy while attempting to slide him, ever so gently to the side. Then she apologized.
Over and over and over again.
Each time, I said, “It’s fine.”
Each and every time I meant it.
It was parent-teacher conference day and we were face to face across the conference table in cavernous gymnasium.
Our school (which I love) holds conferences cattle-call style at tables scattered randomly around the gymnasium (which I love not so much).
I was there to check in and touch base with the teachers who have devoted their careers to molding my children into productive human beings. Day in and day out for the space of an academic year, these people will give their time and talent to my kids. I feel the least I can do is show up on conference day and give them a few minutes of my time.
So we faced each other, this lovely young (so young, when did they get so YOUNG?) teacher and I. My daughter adores this teacher and I can see why. This woman clearly loves teaching and brims with the kind of enthusiasm for her job that can’t be taught or bought.
Yet, each time she attempted to explain to me some facet of 7th grade learning, her toddler would fidget, ever-so-slightly (barely perceptible to the naked eye, really) and she would apologize yet again. I was assured that her baby sitter was on her way.
She seemed to concerned that I would be upset by a young child’s presence and the entire thing became an endless loop of her “I’m sorry” and my “It’s fine.”
The funny thing? I scarcely noticed the squirming toddler, it was her constant apologizing that threw me.
I smiled and said “it’s fine” (and meant it) each and every time she felt terrible about her squirming toddler.
Clearly, like all young women balancing career and family, she was concerned that her child’s presence in this academic setting might be a blemish on her otherwise impeccable professional demeanor.
I wanted to reach across, pat her hand, and say “Honey I’m HERE because I had a toddler once, too.”
The truth is that after raising two children through toddlerhood myself, I scarcely notice the normal fidget of an otherwise well-behaved child. Unless that baby was talking far too loudly on a cell phone, of course. I’ll take 10 screaming toddlers over one loud-talker on a cell phone. At least with the toddler there is some HOPE they’ll grow out of it.
I wanted to tell her how I typed one-handed with a baby on my lap. How on more than one occasion I shut myself in our bathroom to return business calls while my children played outside the door.
I could have confessed that I kept a box of crayons at my office for YEARS in case I ended up there with my kids. I should have admitted that I once officiated a public meeting with my preschooler seated in the audience. I have bought silence with snacks and cooperation with crayons.
I have been there and done that. I do not judge.
But mostly I wanted to tell her to enjoy it. To laugh at the crayon marks and the cracker crumbs.
One day I was the harried young mother attempting to “hush” my squirming toddler while I made an important call. In a blink I was seated across from a beautiful young teacher who was telling me all about how that same toddler, inexplicably 12 years old now, was doing in school.
I have no doubt that, God willing, in a few short years I’ll blink again and wonder where that 12-year-old went. I wanted to tell her that it was OK to stop apologizing for being a parent.
It happens while you are passing out crackers and crayons — they pass you up and grow. I don’t carry snacks and small toys in my purse anymore. My kids don’t need to go to meetings because they are old enough to stay home alone.
The truth is that most of us have the rest of our lives to work on “employee of the month.” Being a young child’s whole entire world is but a momentary perk of the job.