I had Barak's first parent-teacher conference this week. Last week, when I was in New York, my friend Naomi tried to warn me. "Every time I walk in there, the teacher sits there and tells me about a kid I've never met or heard of."
Apparently Barak's morohs are not so pleased with him. There are two. One was only moderately negative. The other one told me, "He doesn't finish his projects," in the same doom-laden tone of voice in which she told me he was hitting the other children and they were afraid of him.
First off, this is Barak. It's really, really hard for me to picture that. But I know that some kids are polar opposites behavior-wise at home and at school, so it's always possible. But... what? If he's been hitting kids, why has no one called me over the last three months?
The meeting was strange. It was supposed to be ten minutes, which is not enough to begin with, and I got less because the people who came before me were late and ran over but the people after me walked right in at their scheduled time. It was also strange because I had the vague impression that they weren't sure who Barak was--an impression strengthened when one of the teachers, when I asked a specific question, turned to the other, saying, "I don't know him that well." Um... hello, you should.
It wasn't malicious, she said, or at least she didn't think it was malicious. He's very deep, she said, and very bright and creative, and he likes pirates, and he's been pretending to be a pirate, and some of the other children have been scared. And one of them said that he hit her.
At the end of the meeting, I managed to overcome my shock and paralysis enough to ask some rational questions, among them, "How serious of an issue is this? I am not getting a clear picture of how concerned I need to be and what I should be doing. "
The response: "Well, we're observing him. "
Which means... what, exactly?
I walked out of the classroom and directly into the office of the early childhood director, where I said, nicely, that this would not do: either there was a real problem, in which case telling me about it for the first time three months into the year in a 10-minute meeting with no warning was inadequate, or the problem was not that big of a deal, in which case that was not a meeting well handled. She was more reassuring, saying that it was only November, they did not expect or want perfection from small children, and that if I felt there was not enough communication I could call any time.
It's hard to know what to do with all of this. His actual progress report did not look that devastating; it was more their tone of voice, facial expressions, body language etc. I know that Barak is a little bit funky and a little bit different. I know that he has a vocabulary that is not normal for his age (his teachers both agreed that he was very bright...) and interests that are probably a little unusual in your typical chareidi school. (Gilbert & Sullivan, chaveiros?) But to me he seems like your normal four-year-old kid who likes trucks, Lego, cookies and Sesame Street. He is downright solicitous of Avtalyon, and plays nicely with Iyyar about 85% of the time. The problems that I see at home--his tendency to scream when frustrated, his constant need for attention--were not even whispered of. And in the end, he loves school, he says that he has lots of friends, and he loves his teachers. When I see him play with other kids, he seems to do just fine.
Like I said. Hard to know. MHH called the early childhood director yesterday and left a message saying he wanted to go over Barak's progress with her; he's going to ask the specific questions that I was too shocked to ask, as in, "Has he been seen hitting anyone, or was it reported by other kids?" and "How are his interactions with the other kids generally--does he have friends?"and "Where do we go from here?" One of my concerns especially is that I have heard stories about all kinds of things getting sprung on parents in nursery--from the kid who got kicked out for hitting (whose mother knew nothing about any problem until, you guessed it, parent-teacher conferences) to the kid who was kept back a year for not knowing aleph-beis, whose mother had no idea there was an issue until March. Communication: not their strong suit.
If I'd had a happy experience in school, maybe I could handle this in stride and see it as normal behavior for a 4-yo boy. But I didn't. I got eaten alive, socially and emotionally, and my dread of seeing that happen to Barak is, well, intense. And up until now all I saw was a happy well-adjusted kid, the same happy well-adjusted kid who was reported to me all last year. So maybe... maybe what? Maybe he's changed? Maybe the environment has changed? Or maybe his teachers are just a little bit freaked out by scary scary pirates?