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Kindergarten Conferences

by Laura W. Haywood


Until he was eleven years old, my son was raised primarily by my mother, who lived with us. But that didn't mean I had no influence on him. I did. And I'm not sure it was a good thing.

I think about his four-year-old kindergarten year. He was in a small private school and his teacher was straight out of college and full of child-development theories. She was deeply concerned, for example, that Johnny had poor small-motor skills. She called me in for a conference.

Hearing "small-motor skills," I immediately thought of motorcycles as compared to cars, but it turned out she wasn't worried about his potential with a Harley. She said he didn't work well with his hands. I was astonished. Even at four, he could take a handful of teeny-tiny Lego pieces and produce a fort or a car, something I still can't do. But his printing was a disaster, she said. I was concerned about her diagnosis until I mentioned it in a letter to one of my college English teachers, a woman of great intelligence. She wrote back, "Hummph. I'm 82 and I never had any small-motor skills. It never hurt me." I suddenly knew what she meant her handwriting was terrible and so was mine. Johnny had obviously inherited my poor penmanship.

The second kindergarten incident had little to do with my influence, but clearly upset his teacher. Told to draw a self portrait, Johnny had produced a picture of a boy with two heads. I tried to calm down his teacher with a reference to two heads being better than one, but she was having none of it, so I promised to try to get to the bottom of it.

That night, I asked Johnny why he'd drawn himself with two heads. "Oh," he said with the logic of a child, "I didn't like the way the first one came out, so I tried a second time."

The next episode centered on the family curse. I don't mean we were cursed; I mean the way we cursed others. It started with my father, and I have no idea if he originated it or was quoting something. But when he was pretending to be angry at someone, he would say, "May all your children be acrobats." I have no idea why acrobatic children are a curse, but it amused me and, on occasion, I used it. One day in school, Johnny got very angry at a classmate and burst out with the curse. "He says such funny things," his teacher told me at our next conference.

Then there was the matter of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic." I was a great fan of Allen Sherman and often sang his parodies in the car. My favorite was the "Ballad of Harry Lewis." Set to the tune of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," it was about Harry Lewis who worked for Irving Roth in the fabric industry and included an immortal pun found in the second verse. Apparently I sang it too often, because when his teacher decided to teach the four-year-olds the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," Johnny informed her she had the wrong words and regaled the class with the entire Allen Sherman's version.

The climax came, however, when the teacher decided to take the class on a tour of Jacksonville University, where I was director of public relations. I made arrangements to conduct the tour myself and, at the appointed hour, we set off. It was (and is) a pretty campus, and all went well until we got to the building where the pottery students worked. For reasons that have never been clear to me, Johnny was terrified of the potters' wheels. I quietly took him outside and waited for the others to finish looking around the room. When they came out, his teacher took me aside and asked why I'd taken Johnny outside. I explained that he'd been frightened of the potters' wheels.

"Oh," she said, "you must make him face his fears."

I guess I'd had one too many of her theories, because I blurted out, "Now, listen, honey. I'm 40 years old and I have plenty of fears I haven't faced. He can wait till he's six to get over being afraid of potters' wheels. As a matter of fact, he can go through his entire life without confronting potters' wheels."

Come to think of it, he has.


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