Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Home Visit

This morning, we had our “home visit” with my son’s new nursery school teacher, a 40 minute long "get to know you" session in which she appraises us and we do the same in return. This is basically a chance for teachers to see the animal that is a child in their natural habitat and set the child (and the parent) at ease about the coming transition.

First, the teacher was late (I’ll call her Morah for simplicity’s sake). No problem, but I actually have to go to work and can’t just hang out forever…although believe me, I wished I could. When she came, she was very sweet (and very young) and we had a nice time. But I felt as though I was on guard at every moment.

First, we sat at the dining room table. My son was enjoying a small cup of juice--yes, he does have an occasional treat of juice! Imagine what kind of parent she though I was! He saw that we were talking, and assuming we weren’t paying attention, actively demonstrated his incredible bubble-blowing prowess for his new teacher. No! No! Lucky for us, she laughed.

Morah showed my son how to use an Elmers’ Glue bottle to drop glue on shapes and glue them on a sheet of paper, which was fun to watch, except for when the glue got all over the dining room table (she admitted she should have asked first). He had no clue what to do, and didn't get the suggestion that he "press" the gluey shapes down. Apparently we don't do enough art together.

But then my son decided to use the shapes to play-act, like the characters in Leo Lionni’s Little Blue, Little Yellow, and Morah couldn’t figure out what he was doing. So I told her. With very little humility. Because it seemed like it was quite a smart thing he was doing, and being his mother, I think he is a genius. Of course, I should demonstrate some humility, no? But Morah didn’t understand, so playing the role of Translator Ima, I tried to explain. And while I was talking, he got one of the sticky, glue-y shapes stuck to his hand, and tried to eat it off. Luckily, Elmers’ is non-toxic, but it isn’t exactly a nutritious snack.

He then wanted to go play in his kitchen, and laid out a lovely pretend picnic (already demonstrating hachnasat orchim) for us. But when he was distributing silverware, he laid the pieces in Morah’s lap, and it looked like he was stabbing her with it. No harm done, but it was pretty funny. He then offered a bowl of pretend strawberries and a dinosaur book, two tasty treats, in his friendliest 2.9 year old manner.

I wonder, what kind of parent did I look like? Was my home clean enough? Were the toys educational enough? Was he verbal enough, polite enough, etc.? Did we all wear the right outfits? I could not help but feel judged by the entire (short) experience. Most of all, I wonder if my son’s experience will be somehow colored by the impressions his teachers have of his parents, and if we will do right by him by following all of the directions and protocols that the school has issued. I don’t want to wreck it for my son by forgetting to follow directions!

The anxiety that comes hand in hand with parenthood isn’t just about how your child grows up, or about their personal safety, etc. It can also be about our own performance as parents on the very visible public stage we inhabit by simply living in the world. I know I need to turn it down a notch, but I always feel vaguely judged by other adults, parents and educators included, about how I have chosen to raise my child. Will they catch me allowing him to stay up till 10pm or to dump sand on his head or eat a meal consisting entirely of bread and butter? Will they judge me? Of course they will. But the only way I can cope is by ignoring it.

In this season of introspection and cheshbon hanefesh, I invite us all to put our judgments as parents on the table, examine them closely, and then scoop them up and get rid of them for good. We likely all agree that tshuvah is crucial, that we can improve ourselves and be the best we can be. But harsh self-criticism is not required, especially in huge doses. We judge ourselves enough about silly things, and I dare say sometimes not enough about the things that really matter. Let us push ourselves to improve and change where we can, and forget what everyone else is thinking of us.

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