Of War Hawks & Love Doves

Oh, the things you learn about your children at parent-teacher conferences…

When my daughter first started preschool, I would actually get butterflies in my stomach as I walked into the school to discuss her progress with the teacher. My hands would shake. My voice would quiver… Of course, she was THREE. What on EARTH would I have to be nervous about?? For crying out loud, she was going to a Montessori school, with a mission dedicated to nurturing the whole child. What did I think I’d hear?? “Oh, yeah, Jill… Sorry, but there’s just no way your daughter will be getting into early-admission at MIT next year. Maybe when she’s five?”

It took a couple of years of incredibly pleasant meetings with her teacher, Jan (she had the same teacher throughout her four Primary years – ages 3 through Kindergarten), before I realized that parent-teacher conferences were ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC. It was the only time I ever heard what Paisley was actually doing in school; indeed, I distinctly remember being shocked at how quickly (within two weeks of starting school) my usually loquacious child learned to bluntly respond, “Nothing” to my queries of “What did you do today at school, pumpkin?” Any information I did manage to coax from her usually involved what she ate for her snack (turns out she’d happily eat broccoli at school, but never at home – what gives??).

Now in 3rd grade, and in the Elementary classroom (1st-5th grades), my 9yo daughter’s reticence to share the details of her schoolwork continues to this day. My 5yo son, in his Kindergarten year in the same Primary classroom Paisley was in, and still with our beloved Teacher Jan, is willing to share just a few more details about his day than his big sister, but prefers to tell me about the intricate spy and superhero games he and his buddies play at the park during recess. So I was looking forward to yesterday’s parent-teacher conferences; I couldn’t wait to hear all about the work my kids are doing, the lessons they’ve had and most enjoy, and what milestones I should be looking for as we near the end of the school year…

You spotted that “was looking forward to” reference, I see.

Okay, to be fair, both teachers reported that my kids are doing great. They’re exactly where they’re supposed to be… No, what caught my attention yesterday was nothing that really caught the teachers’ attentions, the behaviors being so normal, everyday, and pervasive that they were hardly more than off-hand comments…

Paisley’s conference was first, and my eyes grew very wide as Sonya, her teacher, hauled out a massive pile of work for me to peruse and take home (and eventually store? where would I find the space??). As Sonya expressed joy in my daughter’s abilities to always find such diverse and interesting topics to write about (pastas of the world, fungi, suckermouth catfish), like the next report on owls that she would be writing with another classmate, she off-handedly let slip, “They work really well together. Paisley says that’s because she has a crush on [Name withheld to protect the innocent], and that [Name withheld to protect the innocent] has a crush on her, too.” SAY WHAT? A CRUSH?? Where did she even learn the word??* As Sonya continued (somehow missing my white-knuckled grip on the desk between us) to explain that Paisley was becoming so adept at writing reports that she’ll next be receiving lessons on how to create topic sentences and how to summarize her arguments (as compared to just listing out facts about appearance, habitat, and life-cycles), I was distracted by the coos of the class bird and couldn’t help but wonder: what was I going to do about my little LOVE DOVE??

Paisley at the Park

Paisley, my little Love Dove.

Still trying to settle the tic in my eye, I headed downstairs to Liam’s conference. Turns out, my son is just as engaged in writing reports as my daughter, covering topics as diverse as great white sharks, skinks, cobras and ninjas. As I flipped through the pile of 13 reports that my son had written and illustrated (this is in addition to the 26 (!!) reports he’d brought home about a month ago) – apparently he and his friends dedicate their entire afternoons, nearly every single day, to writing reports and then drawing pictures at the top of the lined paper they use – Jan off-handedly noted, “Yeah, I think I’ll have to put out the paper that doesn’t have the drawing space, since I can’t convince the boys to do pictures of the report’s topic; they just can’t stop drawing pictures of guns.” GUNS ?? And then I finally noticed that the report I was reading about hawks was indeed illustrated with astronauts (??) in jet packs (??) SHOOTING at birds. At least the one bird looks rather sad to be shot at… Though I’m not sure this was intentional. And every single other report was the same thing: dashed lines representing bullets shooting every single stick figure that could fit on the page. The tic in my eye worsened… I confess, I’m personally not okay with my son being a WAR HAWK.

Liam's Report

Liam's "War Hawk" report (translation): "Hawk. It is a bird. It has talons. It lives in rainforests." Please note the flying bullets...

You see, I don’t even let my children have water guns; I’m just not so okay with them “practicing” shooting each other. Of course, this doesn’t keep them from making guns out of any object they come across (my mother almost blew a blood vessel in her brain trying to hold back her guffaws when one day she witnessed, as a passenger in my car, my then 4yo daughter shooting at me – “Choo! Choo! Choo! – from the back seat with a BANANA); and though I truly don’t care what other families do (I grew up in Montana, I took gun safety, I understand that some folks have no issues with giving their kids toy guns – that’s all cool), I’m just personally not comfortable with guns. Even toy guns. Or drawings of guns killing stick figures. But easy fix: at the dinner table I repeated to Liam all the wonderful things Jan had said about him and his work, and explained that we both agreed that report illustrations should no longer include guns. Me: “Hawks don’t have guns. Sharks don’t have guns.” Him: “But ninjas have weapons!” Me: “Not guns.” Him: “Ooo-kay.” Really? That was easy…

But how to handle Paisley’s “crush”? Just as our family has a rule about no guns, our family has a rule that there will be no dating until the age of 16 (age 18, if I had my way)! So, still at the dinner table, I crossed my fingers and hoped I could repeat the success I’d just had with Liam: I repeated to Paisley all the wonderful things Sonya had said about her and her work, and explained… explained… explained… nothing. Because that’s when I realized that there was nothing to explain. She’s NINE. I don’t even think she knows what a “crush” is – she just knows that it means she thinks that person is really great. And [Name withheld to protect the innocent] IS great. So are ALL the kids, boys and girls, and sometimes more than one at a time, that she has plotted to  marry ever since she first heard the word; this is how she lets people know that they’re her BEST FRIEND: she doesn’t yet know how else to express that she wants these wonderful people to stay in her life FOREVER. And that’s pretty great.

So though I’m sure this is not the last time I’ll hear something about my children that causes my eye to twitch (guns?! a crush?!), I think I will continue to look forward to parent-teacher conferences, and learning all about the crazy things my kids do and say when they’re not at home with me.

And though I’m sure I’ll someday (sooner than I wish, probably) have to remind my little War Hawk to stop with the guns and bullets, and I’m sure I’ll someday (sooner than I wish, probably) have to remind my little Love Dove that there are other words she can use to express her admiration for others, I hope I never have to remind them to keep spreading their wings… and flying high.


* Wherein I blame books: On the Dangers of Raising a Child Who Reads.