Doing time in tiny chairs

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Few things strike greater fear in the parental heart than these: parent-teacher conferences.
Highly educated adults, captains of industry, even veterans of foreign wars can be reduced to puddles of insecurity at the very prospect of conferring with their child’s teacher.
Theoretically, a parent-teacher conference is a pleasant experience designed to foster communication between parent and teacher for the betterment of the child’s educational experience.
Realistically, this is your cross to bear as an involved parent – deep commitment to the education of your offspring.
You are compelled by some primal urge to trudge off to do your requisite time in a tiny, little chair. There, you will perch, knees up around your ears, as people who have more experience with children than you will have in 10 lifetimes – thank heavens – will tell you all about a child who bears no resemblance to the one you left at home.
Strangers. Myself, I have come to enjoy teacher conferences as a nice, little chance to catch up with the children I’ve yet to meet but have been told for three-years-running are, in fact, mine.
There is the consummate perfectionist who cannot rest until his desk has been put in perfect order. I simply MUST introduce him someday to the charming boy who lives at my house, nearly lost in the chaos and clutter of a bedroom stuffed to the gills with clothing and cast-off toys.
I will thrill to the tales of the magnanimous, generous soul who caters to the emotional needs of her classmates with the finesse of a pint-sized therapist. This will bear no relation, however, to the child I live with – the one who will aim a fist for her brother’s eye for so much as looking cross-eyed at one of her Beanie Babies. This, I’m told, is our family’s answer to Mother Teresa.
Ghosts. Worse than realizing you are raising complete strangers is coming face to face with another child you know all too well – your own youthful self and the demons of insecurity that come flapping back to haunt you.
Parents, hearing a litany of praise on their child’s exemplary grades and ability to follow directions precisely and to the letter, will lean forward from that little chair and ask eagerly, intently, “But, does he have FRIENDS?” proving without a doubt that a wallflower, once planted, remains forever in bloom.
Meanwhile, the parents of the child relayed as charming, witty and all-around fun will wonder if this is the euphemism for “class clown” or, more ominously, the first idle steps toward “future inmate.”
Doubt. As parents, we are surely too close for comfort to the conference topic at hand. We who share the nature and nurture of our offspring are prone not only to bask in the satisfaction of their successes, but also to writhe uncomfortably when their missteps make us doubt ourselves.
At conference time, we will squeeze into desks – rife with memories of our own school days – and, seeing them through fresh educational eyes, we’ll learn all about the young humans we have loosed upon the world.
We can only hope that somewhere between our fear of raising sinners and our dream of raising saints, we work together to uncover the one, true self each child can be. And that’ll give ’em something to talk about.
(Kymberly Foster Seabolt enjoys her time on the tiny chairs. She welcomes comments c/o kfs@epohi.com; P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460; http://userweb.epohi.com/~kseabolt.)

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Warm, witty and just a wee bit warped, Kymberly Foster Seabolt is a native of Kent, Ohio, who survived childhood exposure to disco and grew up to marry and move to the country. Her column weaves her special brand of humor with poignant, entertaining, and honest portrayals of parenting, marriage, and real life. She currently lives in northeastern Ohio with her husband, two children, two dogs, two cats, and numerous dust bunnies who wish to remain nameless.

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