We’re all smiling, but we’re bracing for each other.
Every year our school has a “back-to-school” night. The parents of my students, most of them moms, drop in for a short amount of time. I scurry through a PowerPoint, make a couple of jokes about using an old textbook, and take routine, innocuous questions at the end of my speech. Then I shake a lot of hands as they all leave, knowing our next encounters could range from the joyous to the depths of frustration.
As they leave, I can’t help but feel there is more I want to say to them – more that would make the unpleasant conversations have a happier ending, more that would secure a tighter circle of trust, more that would show I’m a degreed professional who only wants the best for their children.
It would go something like this:
To the mom whose child feels that they are not enough – I see you.
You sigh deeply to yourself when you see her dark circles and jittery hand tremors. She’s in student council, and theatre, and dance, and Beta Club, and manages the Volleyball team. She works hard for those As – so hard that red ink makes her wince. You’re writing everything I’m saying down with great ferocity because she wants to get a head-start tonight. I will lift her up when she falls short of a goal. I will speak softly to her when she is overwhelmed. I see her, and I see you.
To the mom whose child who is always in the office – I see you.
Your face is bracing for a joke about discipline. You will put on a front of defensiveness, but inside you’re ready to concede to another year of frustration and dead ends. After so many mistakes, your child is saddled with a label. And the label becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy he can’t shake. I will not judge him. I will start everyday fresh with him. I see him, and I see you.
To the mom who lives for her children but works for them to live – I see you.
You’re in wash-worn scrubs. You’re letting your toes bend on the bare floor to escape the heels. You’re scrambling through your purse to find the buzzing phone. You’re not going to volunteer much because it’s busy season at the office. You’ll be late in the carpool line because you had to pick up an extra shift. When your child doesn’t have what they need from you, I’ll be patient. When they’re one of the only kids with no one in the audience, I’ll give them an extra pat on the back. I see them, and I see you.
To the mom whose child struggles – I see you.
The wall is solid, and he hits it at full speed. Your eyes are dark from the long nights at the kitchen table, trying not to lose your patience. There’s a helplessness in your eyes as you scan the assessment breakdown on my PowerPoint. I will try to find something that smashes the wall for him. I will pull him aside for words of encouragement. I will push him to try again. I see him, and I see you.
To the mom whose child can’t find their niche – I see you.
She’s her own unique person, and that’s what you love about her. But she has trouble finding friends who have the same interests. You’re desperately panning the room for a familiar face from that one-time sleep over. You’d love to make sure she won’t be sitting at lunch all by herself, pretending to be busy finishing homework to mask the fact she doesn’t have anyone to talk to. I’ll sit her next to the kind kids. I’ll figure out what she’s interested in so I can talk with her before class. I’ll try to make introductions to other kids who like what she does too. I see her, and I see you.
To the person who is not mom but has to step into the job – I see you.
This isn’t what you had planned, but it doesn’t matter. Parenting is hard enough, and your face is threadbare from spreading yourself so thin. In the moment – be it curfew fights, technology battles, prom purchases, broken heart tears — you might not be the person that she wants, but you are exactly the person she needs. I see her, and I see you too. Everything I said above is true for you whether you be dad, grandfather, grandmother, aunt, friend, or guardian.
I could go on. The bottom line is this – I entered this profession to teach; I stay in this profession to make a difference, but I can’t do it alone. Let me be your ally. In the same vein, as much as I desperately want to tell my parents I am with them, I also make a plea as an imperfect, stressed out, sometimes zany, unusually cheery, messy, emotional, degreed professional, mommy, wife, and nerd. I see you and your child; please see me too.