“And now I’m going to show you where I have music!”
Emma ran off ahead of us down the sidewalk corridor that joins the classrooms at her Florida elementary. Jared and I are still in awe of the strip mall design of their school, but at that moment I was most amazed at her long legs and how confidently they carried her down the path ahead of me.
She knew where she was going.
It’s a strange thing the first time you realize that your child knows places and routines and rules and whole entire worlds that you did not teach them. It’s stranger still how much more capable they seem to be outside of their own home. She can remember exactly how to get to the outdoor PE area and where to stand when she gets there, but she cannot possibly be expected to remember to slide her dresser drawer shut after she’s retrieved a new pair of socks. And yet there she is, socks on her feet and shoes on her socks, bounding down the sidewalk during her first kindergarten open house to show me where she takes music class.
Devin, of course, is annoyed. She’s going too fast and should wait for the rest of us to keep up. He responds with a heavy sigh when I insist that his sister is fine and remind him that tonight is about her and tomorrow will be about him.
“She’s excited,” I tell him.
He turns his head so that I don’t see him roll his eyes.
“Here it is!” Emma waves her arms at an orange double door with a large black music note painted across the seam.
Jared and I exchange smiles. ”OK, OK,” we nod and smile some more as she heaves open the large metal door.
“Well hello, Devin!” A woman with short light hair and wire rimmed glasses greets us – or rather, Devin. I remember that we’ve been in this room each of the previous two years during open houses, but I can’t for the life of me recall her name.
“We’re here for my sister,” Devin says, a definite hint of my parents are oppressing me in his tone.
She turns her attention down to Emma. ”Do you want to show your parents where you sit?” Still beaming, Emma nods and points to the miniature chair closest to the door. She puts her hands behind her back then, and it’s clear that her grand tour of music class is over.
“I can’t join recorder club,” Devin says to the teacher, and I get the strange sense that they are picking up in the middle of an ongoing conversation.
“Ah,” she looks at me. I frown and lower my gaze, sufficiently chastised for being a poor chauffeur and inadequate mother. ”Can’t get a ride?” I keep my eyes lowered in response.
Devin starts to take up the argument we had at home about recorder club and I remind him that the conversation has been had and any further discussion will take place at home. I make a mental note to strangle him when we’re out of here.
And then.. I don’t know why she said it. Perhaps it was because she’s clairvoyant and heard my inner memo, or maybe she could just sense that my son and I were not as in tune as she thought we should be.
“Do you know he comes in here to help me every Wednesday morning?”
“I, uh, I… no. No, I didn’t know that,” I said.
“Yes, last year he came in almost every single day before school.”
I turned to Devin, “what do you do in here?”
“Oh, you know,” she started – although it was obvious that I did not know, “he does his recorder testing, helps other kids, does stuff for me.”
“Really? Hmm. That’s so… interesting!” My voice was high and pleasant, but my heart was twisted.
We finished up in the music room a few minutes later and completed our open house tour. The kids and I climbed back into my car and headed home, and I was haunted by a comment I’d left on Alice Bradley’s blog just a few days earlier.
She had written about the passing of an old mentor of hers, a music teacher, actually. She wrote, too, about the times when we are disconnected from our children and other adults seem to be even more connected. She was selfless enough to hope that her own son crossed paths with a mentor the way she had.
Just days before this open house and encounter with the music teacher, I had said
“I want so very much to be my kids’ Lois, and it breaks my heart to know that I might not be.
There have been times when we were struggling as a family and I would talk to Devin’s teacher and she would rave about his wonderful behavior and personality, and I would feel horrible that this other woman appreciated my kid more than I did.”
Not only am I not my son’s Lois – I didn’t even know he had a Lois.
How could I not know this? I turned the question over and over in my head as we drove home.
I ask him every single night how his day was. I ask him pointed questions to try to encourage conversation. What was the best thing that happened to you today? What was your least favorite part of the day? What new thing did you learn today? What do you want to tell me about your day?
Shrug. Fine. OK. Math. I have to run the mile tomorrow. Yeah, my homework is done. Another shrug.
Not once did he mention a woman he went to visit every morning or a classroom where he seemed to feel extraordinarily at ease.
I remembered, suddenly, all of the comfortable places that I never shared with my own parents. I remembered the chorus room where I spent the occasional study hall and the teacher I visited over the summers. I remembered the way my mom’s face stiffened when I mentioned her name and the one time she’d invoked those visits during an argument. I remembered all of the times my mom asked how my day was and all of the insignificant details I’d kept to myself.
Except those details aren’t insignificant anymore. Those details are the day to day nuances of my son’s life and they are shaping who he is and who he will be. They are the memories he’ll have when he thinks back to this school that is designed like a strip mall, and they are tucked safely away from me in his head.
As I pulled into the driveway, I realized that my child knows places and routines and rules and whole entire worlds that I did not teach him, and it is a very strange thing, indeed.