KITCHEN SINK DRAMA
The last parent teacher meeting. We’ve had 14 years of these discussions about the erstwhile Small Girl, later Teenager, during which, I reckon, we’ve met anything up to 60 teachers. I say ‘we’, but obviously, where these meeting are concerned, I have done most of the heavy lifting. The only primary school PT meeting that The Husband attended was in the year in which – as the children and I insisted – he fancied the teacher. Halfway through that encounter, for sheer devilment, I started talking in Irish, purely to make The English Husband think that I was telling the teacher that he fancied her. That is how seriously we came to take our eldest’s parent teacher meetings.
And now we are at the last one – both of us, because secondary school meetings (essentially speed dating but without the tantalising prospect of sex at the end) are a two-person job and one of the few occasions in which mass bullying of men is acceptable (‘Don’t speak to anyone! Just queue up! Alright, you can take CSPE!’ etc). Our task would be a little easier if The Teenager had given us a list of her teachers to match the piece of paper that every other parent is clutching, but when I’d asked for it, she’d looked at me as if this was the first she’d ever heard of school, let alone parent teacher meetings. Luckily, we know the drill.
And because we know the drill, part of me feels like starting each conversation by shouting, ‘I don’t care!’, pushing the teachers’ pages of notes onto the floor, and running away. There was a time, back in primary school, when I made bets with The Husband as to which euphemisms the teachers would use to describe our disorganised, distracted daughter. ‘For the birds’ was a popular one; ‘away with the fairies’ was a favourite. Then there were the less imaginative ‘day dreamer’ and ‘not entirely with us’ style remarks. They all added up to paint a picture of a child not entirely living in the real world between the hours of nine and four. But since we spent the rest of the time not entirely with her, we already knew that. She was never disruptive, never rude, never lazy. When she finished primary school
It’s one of the few occasions where mass bullying of men is acceptable (Just queue up! Alright, you can take CSPE now!)
she received a special prize for having never missed a single day in eight years. That is our girl: in body at least, she will always show up.
I had wondered if I would hear one last euphemism; if one more teacher would rummage through their diplomatic dictionary. But since transition year, we have heard very little in the school to suggest other-worldliness. I know I won’t get it from her music teacher, with whom I start proceedings and from whom our talented young musician always gets a rave review. But remarkably, the thumbs ups continue. On the third meeting, I begin to suspect an administrative error. ‘This is a young woman going places,’ says the Irish teacher, and like a surgeon in danger of amputating the wrong limb, I stop her to confirm that we are definitely talking about the same girl. But we are. ‘Attentive’ and ‘engaged’ come into that meeting as well – by its conclusion, I suddenly want to turn, face the room and roar at all the other teachers to bring it on. In my head, I am already giving my attentive, engaged daughter fifty euros. Feck it, a hundred.
Of course, what I really should have done at that point was go home.
It unravels slowly enough: we start with poor time-keeping and lack of focus and pretty soon we’re back with a general deficit of concentration. There is mention of her presenting work upside down. Then finally, we come to the very last one. ‘A bit harum scarum,’ ventures the educator, after some general remarks, and then looks askance when I start to laugh, properly laugh. I tell her about the primary years and the euphemisms, and suitably emboldened, she tells me that just the other day, at the end of a class assignment in which every other student had written two and a half pages, our exhibit had managed a half a paragraph. What was the problem the teacher had asked, to be told by our apologetic 17 year old: ‘I did start out concentrating, but then I began day- dreaming. That’s just what I do.’ It has been ever thus. And seven months before the most important exam of her life, quite honestly, we wouldn’t have her any other way.