Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Good "School" Friend

Last week we had parent/teacher conferences for The Boy and The Girl. We’re lucky enough that parent/teacher conferences pretty much consist of hearing how wonderful our kids are, how well they’re doing, and how much their peers like them. It’s not stressful.

That happened again, and it never gets old. TB and TG are doing great, and we’re thrilled.

That said, though, I heard a couple of things that gave me pause.

TG’s teacher said approvingly “I can see that you read to her.” Well, yes, but it’s a little unnerving that that’s worthy of note. Would you say “I can see that you feed her”? Shouldn’t that be a baseline expectation?

The more disturbing one, though, was a comment about one of the girls in TG’s class. We asked who TG plays with the most, and whether we should be concerned about any of them. Her teacher replied that one girl -- I’ll call her Jennifer, which is not her name -- is “a good school friend.” Apparently Jennifer has a rough home life, and the teacher was trying to warn us away from letting TG go to Jennifer’s house for fear of what she would be exposed to there.

(Apparently, “Jennifer” was specific to Generation X. Growing up, all of my classes had at least two Jennifers in it, and often more. Now I don’t think there’s a single Jennifer in the entire school. “Madison” is the new Jennifer.)

I don’t know the specifics the teacher had in mind. We didn’t press, and got the impression that we would have been overstepping our bounds if we had. And I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge some gratitude in keeping TG away from what could be a bad situation. The teacher isn’t generally alarmist, so I assume there’s some reason for what she said. Since TG is only in first grade, there are limits to what I expect her to be able to handle. There’s enough darkness in the world, so there’s no need to rush to it.

But I couldn’t shake the sense that by spreading the word, the teacher was consigning poor Jennifer to even more isolation. Assuming some truth to what she said, the poor kid has a rough time already, but manages to rise above it at school; appending an asterisk to her efforts puts a sort of ceiling on them. If her home life is rocky, then limiting her exposure to other visions of home life seems like it wouldn’t help.

TG likes Jennifer, and so do we. We had her over once, prior to the conference, and she played well with TG and another friend who was also here. TG has asked to have her over again, and we’ll do that.

I don’t know the best way to handle this. At some level, I feel like the teacher did Jennifer a disservice, but as TG’s Dad, I’m glad to keep TG out of harm’s way. I don’t want Jennifer isolated, but I don’t want TG in a bad situation, either.

One of the hardest parts of parenthood is seeing some of the ways other adults treat children. Some children aren’t read to, or fed breakfast, or allowed to feel safe at home. It’s one thing to know that in the abstract, but something else to see it in your kid’s class. I’m just not ready for TG to know that yet. She’s six, and her world is still safe and secure. I’d like her to have that a little while longer. The bad stuff will still be there when she’s older. It can wait.