Some things I sort of know, but don’t completely know. I sort of know why I confuse H.G. Wells and Orson Welles, but I have no idea why I confuse H.G. Wells, Orson Welles and Merlin Olsen. Other things I can’t explain at all, like how as a thirteen year old abroad I was expected to know what a bidet was, or what the consequences of being wrong might be. But some things I know as plainly as the nose on my face. Parent-teacher conferences — I’m out.
Let’s be clear. It’s not because I want to stay home and watch Mulder and Scully as the new X-Files kicks off. My kids’ education is much more important than that. Plus the premiere isn’t until Sunday. Nor am I making this stand to be passive-aggressive. That would be stupid. Not yelling I hate The Avett Brothers in produce at a Brooklyn Whole Foods stupid, but stupid. Nobody wins when I attend. Not the teacher, not my kid, and certainly not me. I turned out okay even though my old man never attended a parent-teacher conference. Attend a conference? Smart money says he hadn’t the faintest idea where my school was.
The first problem with these meetings is I cannot sit still in them. This one’s not entirely on me – that chair you’ve laid out surely bears some responsibility. Whom were you expecting to show up, Bilbo Baggins? My back porch needs a little more structural support than that. I could be halfway to my car before realizing that tiny chair is still stuck to me. So get some adult-bottomed chairs in there already. Don’t make me use my outside voice.
Second, discipline. You’re in charge, I get it, and what’s more, I respect it. But here’s the thing. I already served my time in school. If you throw a saddle on me, well sister, this bronco’s gonna buck. I survived adolescence by using my wits and always keeping my head on a swivel. The safe play therefore is still to treat middle school as a pants-or-be-pantsed environment. Put me back in that setting and there’s no telling what might happen. Will I fall into old habits, such as sunburn slappers, wet willies, purple nurples, monkey bumps, Rear Admirals or Plácido Domingos? I didn’t survive metal shop by being a shrinking violet.
But far and away the biggest problem is concentration. My mind races the entire conference, and this is dangerous. For I’m fiendishly good at pretending I’ve been listening — the thoughtful nod here, the well-timed yes, yes or that’s so [kid’s name here] there. Trust me, like a desert rainstorm, it’s all rushing past without sinking in. It’s a strange phenomenon, this classroom-induced mental vacation. It should not be confused with what happens to my brain in craft stores, on which subject I’ve written extensively in publications such as Say It With Scrapbooks (“How Can A Store This Big Have Literally Nothing Interesting In It?”) and Candle-Whimsy (“Hundreds of Choices And Not One Bacon-Scented — Really?”)
You won’t recall the conference last fall, for as I said I am deviously good at feigning interest. But here is what you said against what I was thinking: Your son is doing a fantastic job in math, but he needs to show his work … One song on a desert island, Shambala or Drift Away? Oh wait, Drift Away would be cruel on a desert island … He always contributes to discussions and has a vivid imagination … Who invented wild rice, and why? Sure, we eat it, but has anyone ever finished a meal and thought “thank goodness for the boys in R&D at Uncle Ben’s?” … He interacts well with others … You know what I’d like to play right now? Gnip Gnop. The real thing, not the boys school version. Note to self: that’s a perfect nickname for Brooks, what with his weird gait.
His vocabulary grows by the day … Meretricious, stevedore, defenestrate – where were you on my SAT, boys? No-shows in the verbal section, that’s where. And we haven’t covered it yet in class, but he understands foreshadowing. We spent too much time on foreshadowing and not enough on irony. Is that ironic? How about Achilles tearing his Achilles tendon, or Tommy John getting Tommy John surgery? He never forgets anything he’s read … Here are three things you can forget literally the minute you leave school: your locker combination, onomatopoeia and the schwa. Schwa, what a great nickname for Jason, who lurks silently.
Look, I have been wrong before. Love the One You’re With by Stephen Stills would have been a terrible wedding song. I can see that now. But this isn’t one of those times. No more conferences. Let this stallion ride.