I mentioned yesterday that my son had given us two day’s notice about the clothes he needed for his Mother’s Day concert, and it seemed to strike a chord. I only have one son, so I can’t say whether this sort of thing is universal, but judging from some of the comments I got, I suspect it might be.
I also suspect that I might be harbouring the world champion. Here’s how the conversation goes when I pick up my daughter;
Me: “How are you?”
Me: “What did you get up to today?”
D: “I went to play in the sandpit with Katie because she was my friend today but Nolwazi said that we couldn’t use her spade so we weren’t friends with her and Ogama bumped his head on the swing and had to go to the office to get an ice-lolly. And theeen….
D: “…. my teacher said that we must bring some things for the theme table so that our class can win the prize of the year and I ate all of my sandwiches and drank all of my juice so teacher said I could take the dishes back to the kitchen so I got a sausage. And theeen….
And so on. And the boy?
Me “How are you?”
Me: “What did you get up to today?”
We have had this same conversation since his first day at school. With no variations. This can have some rather surprising outcomes. A couple of years ago, his teacher greeted me with a warm smile as I dropped him off one morning. “We were all so proud of your son yesterday! He was such a little star.” I smiled back, apparently a little too hesitantly, because she added “At the concert?”
It turns out that the previous day, my son had been loaded into the school bus and driven to the school around the block for a dress rehearsal of his upcoming concert. He had been dressed up as the scarecrow from “The Wizard of Oz”, in full makeup. He had walked out on stage in front of several hundred older children he had never met before, where he had received a standing ovation for his solo. Which seems like rather a lot to cover with the word “Nothing.”
Parenting is an arms race. Slowly but surely, we have worked out how to piece together what is going on in his life. An offhand comment here, a slipped detail there, and we could just about keep up. There was balance.
And then, a few weeks ago, I upset that balance. I got into the car and said casually “So why were you in so much trouble today?” I have no idea why I said it. I was just fishing. And I caught a big one;
He looked at me with wide-eyed shock. “I thought we were just playing. Yukuzi was chasing us and throwing his shoes at us, but he doesn’t speak English so I thought it was a game. The grade three teachers said they were very disappointed, and sent us to see Mrs Goodchild, who gave us a demerit for bullying. How did you know?” I scowled and shook my head.
Which was very hard to do. Because I had pulled ahead in the arms race. I was winning. Ha! I still have absolutely no idea what the little bugger actually did. I have no doubt he meant no harm, and if it had been bad, the school would have called. But he thought I knew. That I had some source of inside info. And that was enough.
I should know better. No one wins an arms race. Things just escalate. The boy slipped into a thoughtful silence. Life went on as normal. And then, last Wednesday, he unveiled his new weapon. Misinformation. He needed, he said, something from the house that was “older than twenty”. He had to show it to the class. And give a one minute speech about it. On Friday.
We leapt into action. We chose a silver antique. We printed out silver hallmarks and stuck them up on display boards. We filled his head with stories of pirates and conquistadors. And we sent him off on Friday, bright eyed and ready to take on the world.
Fifteen minutes later, we got a call from the school. Where, they wanted to know, was our son’s permission slip for the school day-trip to the bird park? I give up.