The hallway outside my oldest daughter’s first grade classroom is wallpapered with the children’s colorful work. I am waiting with other parents for our “parent teacher conference,” our ten minutes to learn how our child is adjusting. This year, I know so much less of what she does at school. I am giddy from the excitement of speaking for the first time with her teachers, and from being out on a weeknight.
I search for my daughter’s recent writing project among the many—stories about vacations and meals and cars and pets, all accompanied with drawings. My daughter has written about a trip to grandma and poppy’s house.
Her story is about, Cleo, the pet bird. How he scared her with his loud squawking, and she cried because of it. “Stop crying!” mommy said.
“Oh, that’s not good!” I laugh to the other parents.
And there is an illustration of mommy underneath the words: “Stop crying!”
That’s really not good, I think, growing slightly uneasy as I realize she may actually tell people how much I yell. The parents and I joke about the crazy things that kids say. I suddenly have a steel ball in my stomach.
The teachers run late. I look among the hallway projects, their staples coming loose from parents’ pulling in order to read what our six and seven year olds are thinking.
Every year, twice a year, I hear how lovely my daughter is to have in class. She’s kind and smart. I love talking about her with her teachers. I am sure I will be calling my husband at work to tell him about the glowing report I received.
I am called to the room. One teacher asks quietly, “So who is Mollly?”
“What?” I asked. He spoke in a tiny whisper.
I learn that my daughter doesn’t speak in class. Not a word to the teachers. Barely a word at all. She asks other students to help her when she needs something. She never addresses the two teachers in the room, and she doesn’t respond when called upon.
“We want to hear her voice,” I am told, and: “We think she’s scared of making mistakes…that we’ll yell at her.”
I can’t believe what I’m hearing. A fear I had not vocalized outside of a therapist’s office—that my reactive anger at home will hurt my kids—is sitting in front of me. And I don’t have time to digest this.
“And of course we wouldn’t!” her teacher continues.
Immediately, I blame myself. I expect too much at home, and put pressure on her to not make mistakes. And I scream often over the mistakes—the messes that aren’t picked up when I ask, the spilled water on the table, all the little things that fill our days.
I remember being afraid to speak in class. And terrified of my answer not being the right one. I still get flush and my heart pounds when I have to speak to groups. And my husband is hardly better.
She inherited our shyness. How much of her silence in the classroom is her genetic bounty? How much is from “Stop crying”?
Molly has never said she doesn’t want to go to school in the morning—something I did regularly as a kid. She loves school. Each year, she starts out quiet. After a few weeks, she is more comfortable participating. I am baffled that she hasn’t warmed up to her teachers by November.
“I’m a perfectionist,” I admit. I want to say. I think of her story and drawing in the hallway. “And she’s really loud at home!” I added. Because she is really loud at home.
Her teachers look surprised when I share that she’s very vocal and active at home. Do they believe me? Are they also blaming me? Or are they just tired and want to get home?
My guilt is that of a mom who is trying. With three little kids at home, there is a lot of yelling. I put unreasonable demands on them at times—to behave better, clean up sooner, keep their voices down. I scream when they take too long getting ready and I am forced to repeat myself. I scream when I feel I’ve lost control over them, or the situation. To them, it must seem to come from nowhere. For me, it is a constant struggle to keep everyone on track and not sound like a dictator and sometimes worse. Evolving into a more patient mother is a slowly traveled road. Progress, as much as we’d like to simplify it, is more than just a decision.
My children may not see the progress yet, however—only the problem.
In the morning, before school, I tell Molly her teachers think she’s wonderful, but they want to hear her ideas. They want to hear her voice.
Little girls must learn to speak up and speak out for themselves. I thought I was teaching my two girls, and my boy, that. “You have to ask for what you need.”
“Ok mommy. I get scared to talk.”
“I really want you to raise your hand and participate in class. It doesn’t matter if you make a mistake. No one cares about that.”
“Ok. What does ‘participate’ mean?”
A couple of weeks later I observe her classroom, all of us parents scrunched into tiny chairs or standing against the wall honing in our child. Watching for clues to who he or she is and is becoming.
And Molly raises her hand. Once. And she answers when she’s called on. And she moves with the class during their dancing exercise. Her answer was wrong, and later she tells me she did a “jump” the opposite way during their dance. I assure her it is fine.
The relief loosens my breathing. I report the good news to her father. Perhaps I was wrong or exaggerating, or maybe I am letting myself off the hook—but I am impressed with Molly’s progress, which like my own, is in small increments. She is learning to speak her voice. And I am listening.
This post appeared originally on WhatToExpect.com titled “My Daughter’s Teacher Gave Me Bad News and I Blamed Myself.”