Margaret writes of “The Performance”, also known as the parent-teacher conference.
The room is purple. We sit on purple chairs with our knees near our chins and I have to remind myself that I sought this world out and that I didn’t just wake up here. I gaze at a cubbyhole covered in crumpled brown construction paper – “a cave for bats”, my daughter has explained.
The purple shag carpet in the bat a cave seems incongruous, but ahhh! The whimsy of childhood!
Our daughter, sweet and plump, fits perfectly on another purple chair between me and my husband, Michael, as we wait for the first grade parent-teacher conference to start.
The teacher sits across from us in a purple, velvet chair shaped like a high-heeled shoe. She has a baby-doll voice, but the steely demeanor of the former ballerina she is.
I imagine a scorpion tail wagging over her head suddenly. What’s my problem? I love Ginger! My husband is gregarious in a crumpled jacket he threw on with jeans. He’s wearing his Buddy Holly frames and his hair is poufy, like baked bread in a cartoon. Every word he speaks produces a charming dimple in his right cheek.
I find this annoying on this day because I feel uncharacteristically mute. Is my base blended?
We begin thumbing through materials: drawing…mathematics. The teacher and my daughter go through the work together in what seems like slow motion. At this pace I could get the giggles. My daughter loves her teacher, but is tentative about her own work and seems nervous. The air in the room feels fragile.
I worry that the teacher will think I’m a sub-par parent because of my sloppy make-up and this agitates me. I’m afraid she might beam her powerful gaze into my chaotic soul and that I’ll cry.
At some point we move from journal writing and numbers to the “social-emotional” component of the “work” and I feel more certain that my make-up looks disturbing. Ginger asks my daughter who her friends are, which catches me off guard. My girl falters but keeps her eyes on her teacher to receive a clue to the answer.
My husband is looking down on our daughter like a Springer Spaniel, waiting for her to throw the tennis ball and I feel heat spread through my chest. My daughter mumbles a few random names – kids we know, but don’t see much out of school.
I watch her eyes drop to the floor and it’s like she knows she’s fudged the answer. There is a pause. We recover and then tell her how proud we are of her! All adults are smiling when she leaves for the grown-up portion of the now stupid conference. I watch her go and am terrified by her slightly slumped shoulders.
Ginger slowly squeaks out the portrait of a little girl having difficulty connecting with other kids. Observations are compassionately shared; she opts to play alone during recess. She won’t ask for help with a problem. When asked, we confess to few play-dates or party invitations, although as I speak, I feel like I don’t know whom we’re talking about. The teacher’s stubborn, evenhandedness starts to bug me. We don’t judge here. It’s only a question of maturity. She seems anxious. Do we have any idea why she might feel pressure to… perform?
The slap in the face! What word could be more hostile? I furrow my brow a touch but internally I lurch – this is about my husband being an actor. Daddy on T.V.! People and kids at school have noticed. I’m never comfortable with my response to it all.
I try not to appear too pleased about anything because I’m Anglican, but am also terrified at seeming bitter, especially to children…
I’ve tried to hide my own disappointment as an actress like it was chronic halitosis – a hand across the mouth, a slight dip of the chin. My successful husband is talking and as I pretend to agree, I despise every member of his family – all that bloviating, Irish, horseshit! I indulge the lie that it’s been so much easier for him, while sneering at my self-pity.
My daughter’s teacher and we promise to develop scaffolding for her social development and the conference ends with my feigning gratitude. Truth be told, my husband and I are both full of shit – even if he’s the only one still getting paid to be.
Outside the classroom we pass the next couple going in. We’ve had them over for a BBQ or two. They are interesting, gentle people who smile at us as we pass and I think smug fucks.
I’m sure they complain about birthday parties consuming their weekends. I feel the full bitterness of my school-aged years. My personality mugs me as we travel the hall with its low ceilings and I conjure my primary school drama teacher, that Judas. Not one measly part in the high school plays. Thank God she’s finally dead.
The three of us sit together on a small lawn in front of the school after the conference and it’s a relief to be outside on this gorgeous May Day. Our little girl sits between us, relaxed, herself, as I choose to see her, and I chirp we should grab some waffles.
Michael is staring into the grass and seems not to hear me. I settle in for a moment, to grant him space. What isn’t sad about a child’s loneliness? I remember the new denim covered notebook and a pencil holder of my childhood – its thick rubber and delightfully slow-moving red zipper. The thrill of the new school year. New shoes in the closet. These images slip into steamy, murky June of that same youth, the denim notebook now doodled on and disorganized, the D+ in math again, scuffed shoes, defeat.
My mind escapes and rises into the air and smiles down on us now, surrounded by beautiful green grass. The parsed size of the lawn suggests a diorama and suddenly we are inside of it, little plastic dolls. I feel my spirit there, under the warm sun, kneeling before the altar of my toxic imagination.