In a couple of hours, we’ll be at my son’s school for our very first parent-teacher conference. I haven’t thought much about it. Then again, I haven’t needed to. I’ve had two dreams in the past two days about the conference and all the things that could go wrong during it.
Maybe it’s because my mother rarely availed herself for a parent-teacher conference. In all of my years in school, my mother showed up for a grand total of four P-T conferences, including two in third grade. In fact, accounting for all school events in which my mother attended, she managed to make it to nine of them. If I count my father’s chance meeting with my first grade teacher at a bar that turned into a conversation about my performance in her class — it was apparently a positive conversation — that brings the total to ten. Not much in the thirteen years between September 8 of ’74 (my first day of kindergarten) and August 26 of ’87 (the day I left for college).
Maybe I’m being too hard on my mother. She did work full-time most of that time, and after ’82, there was no chance of her showing up to anything, especially with a toddler, a one-year-old and a sickly baby in the oven. Not to mention my baby brother by the end of my freshman year of high school. Still, it’s interesting. The P-T conference she went to when I was in first grade was about me kicking my teacher because I didn’t get a A on something and because I failed to pin the tail on the donkey during another kid’s birthday party. One of the two P-T conferences she attended when I was a third grader was because my third grade teacher was concerned about my psyche in class (I had a crush on my teacher, but didn’t know how to act around her — the story of much of my life) and because someone with my potential was doing average work in her class. In the nicest way, Mrs. Shannon essentially asked my mother if there was something going on at home that was in my way academically. My mother, of course, said no, which was hardly the truth. She was marrying my eventual idiot stepfather, after all. And I hadn’t seen my father in over a year.
The last P-T conference my mother attended was in ’83, the first month of my freshman year of high school. She went to the first PTA meeting, met with my teachers, and never looked more uncomfortable. My mother hadn’t met any of my Humanities teachers until the end of eighth grade, at the middle school awards ceremony, and even then she only met my science teacher, who absolutely adored me. After this meeting, though, my mother looked as if she’d been a washerwoman in the middle of a Park Avenue cocktail party, and practically said as much. I felt lucky to have seen her at my Humanities awards ceremony at the end of high school.
On the surface, this isn’t a big deal. It’s not unusual to have a parent or parents who, for whatever reason, are disengaged from their kids’ academic journeys. Poverty, domestic violence, alcohol, drugs, criminality and other less mundane things like working one or more jobs or having at least three kids can get in the way of meeting teachers and finding out how your children are doing in school. Even so, taking time out to go to these and to really listen to what the teacher is saying about your kid without looking down on the teacher is a sign of caring and love for your kid. I’m not saying I wasn’t loved at all. Given the record, I’d say that many of my positive feelings about my mother are based on a guess or guesstimate and not a undeniable show of affection or her saying “I love you.” Even with something like a P-T conference, her lack of attendance says more than just her feeling inadequate to the task of meeting with my teachers.
I intend to attend as many of these as I can, even if I can’t stand the sight of one of Noah’s teachers. It gives me a chance to see a side of parenting I’ve never seen before. And it may give Noah some proof that I cared enough about his education to go meet his teachers, even if it only turns out to be a couple of times a year.