“His progress report is on the kitchen counter if you want to look at it,” my wife reminded me as she headed upstairs to get ready for bed the other night. She’d just had our first parent/teacher phone conference and assessment review from my 4 ½ – year-old’s preschool teacher. My wife had already told me that things seemed fine and that his review was positive, so I wasn’t overly concerned.
I picked up the paper and started scanning through the surprisingly long three pages of categories and checkboxes designed to measure and evaluate a four-year-old. Nearly all of them had a check next to “S” for Satisfactory – kind to others, receptively identifies colors, knows words to short songs or rhymes, knows parts of the body, shows awareness of rules – dozens of them, marked in the affirmative. A few jumped out as things that I didn’t even know what they meant – Understands seriation – what is that? Sounds like something with steak knives but I’m assuming that can’t be right – cooking class doesn’t start for him until the spring.
My eyes naturally moved to the boxes that had a check mark in the “N” column for “Needs Improvement.” A couple didn’t surprise me – Participates in musical activities, Meets unfamiliar adults comfortably, Buttons, zips, snaps independently. Josh can be a mule sometimes (I believe curmudgeon is the word I used with Mommy to describe him last night) if he doesn’t want to do something, but he usually will come around fairly quickly if you make him laugh or spin him around your head in the air a few times. (Don’t you think we’d all forget our foul moods if we could just be picked up and spun around in the air occasionally?) Similarly, speaking to grownups that he doesn’t know is often an issue – not really shyness per se, but again, mostly stubbornness. (It’s getting him to shut up later that I’m more concerned with!) And we’re definitely still working on buttoning and snapping, but I usually have trouble with his zippers so I can’t really fault him with that.
I continued reading, feeling pretty good about things until I reach the bottom of the page under the section called Gross Motor Skills. “Needs Improvement – Hopping & Skipping.” What? Now my son may not be ready to set any records for preschool athleticism, but he knows how to hop and skip. Apparently, according to the next line, he is great at Galloping as well as Jumping, but he can’t hop and skip. How can that be? I’ve seen him hop and skip. He can lightsaber battle, why is that not on the list? Karate kicking, peddling a bike – neither of them made the cut. Isn’t hopping and skipping really just a combination of galloping and jumping? I think it’s the child equivalent of walking and chewing gum at the same time or rubbing my head and my belly. I don’t recall that question being on my latest annual review at work, but maybe I should suggest it. I know we didn’t hit our quarterly sales goal, but have you seen my juggling?
So apparently I now need to spend some time working with the boy on hopping and skipping. I’m thinking that the two of us can go out on the sidewalk in front of our house and practice. Back and forth, hopping and skipping. Or maybe in the parking lot at the preschool when we’re arriving in the morning. Actually I swear that I’ve seen him hopping over the puddles there – I should videotape that and bring it along for a re-review. Do they have those? Can I throw my red challenge flag and send it up to the booth?
While I jest, it is certainly an interesting process to have your young one head into the cattle shoot for a life-long process of watching, prodding and critique by outsiders. Up until this point, with a few exceptions from well-meaning parents, friends and nosy ladies in the checkout line, he’s mostly operated under our discretion. As our kids head out to school and into the real world, it starts to dawn on us as parents that our influence and ability to shape and control their lives has begun to slip from our grasp, even if just a little bit. It starts to matter what others think about our kid, even if we disagree, and we’re pressured to start molding them to fit the norms.
Most of which is probably natural and good – they need to be prepared to live as a functioning member of society – but there’s a part of me that isn’t ready. I am still the decider. I still know what’s best for my son. Part of being a good dad or parent is sifting through what we’re told about our kid from the outside, tempering that with our own evaluation, values and goals, and sending them back out the door. Hopefully, we’ll help them be better developed and equipped for most of what comes at them along the way. But ultimately, we can only do so much, and it will be up to them to have the understanding for when to hop, skip, gallop or simply ignore.