Taryn Lawson

There is something particularly bone-chilling about the parent-teacher conference. There’s a feeling I get prior to one of these sessions, and it’s somewhat akin to the one that comes over me in advance of a doctor’s appointment.

You have a body, and it seems fine, it feels fine, it looks all right ... but what’s really going on in there, away from your gaze? On the inside? You’re doing your best, sure, but things go awry. I want to know what’s happening, but only because I NEED to know what’s happening. Really, I’d rather not know.

In each case, whatever it is that exists just outside the realm of my perception could possibly be unpleasant, and in each case, I am prodded out of the comfort of blissful ignorance and into an institutionalized setting where I will, under the guidance of a professional, look at the hard facts dead-on, likely under harsh fluorescent lighting.

There is a certain type of cold sweat — one, strangely, confined to my feet — that presents itself in both cases, which is what prompted me to notice the similarities between these two scenarios in the first place.

I still remember the keynote of every parent-teacher conference my own mother attended: “Taryn is a good student, but she won’t shut her trap.” My teachers were a bit more ginger in their delivery of this news, but nonetheless, year after year, the message remained essentially the same.

The conferences didn’t make me nervous back then, because I always knew exactly what was coming, and erroneously believed that good grades had the power to negate a litany of less-than-savory, even disruptive, classroom behaviors.

Ultimately, I transitioned into adulthood without, as evidenced by this column, ever shutting my trap. And therein lies the problem. If I have birthed a compulsive margin-doodler who despises math and won’t shut her trap, I am the absolute last person in the world who is going to be able to fix those things, because I am those things. In that moment, I tend to feel sorry (perhaps needlessly) for all of us: the exasperated teacher, my margin-doodler, and myself, bereft of solutions for “problems” I very much still have — some of which, I’ll admit, I even enjoy from time to time...

But here’s where I have to give a shoutout to some of the teachers over at Defiance Elementary School. Over the past few years, I’ve found myself saying, time and time again, “Wow, I wish my teachers would have done that for me when I was in school.” Last year, a dedicated doodle notebook was introduced, such that the ever-proliferating doodles might be, not eradicated, but confined to the appropriate place and time. This year, her art teacher provided special material to encourage her interest in drawing anime.

Sure, sometimes you have to sit still, shush up, and do your long division. Discipline is valuable and should be practiced; the real world isn’t going to bend and sway with your whims. But I expect that someday, she’ll do something incredible (because I’m her mom, but also, because she’s incredible) and some of the credit will go to these teachers, who happened to notice that her best and most challenging bits are all sort of...tangled up with each other. I suspect that’s not so uncommon.

Anyway, all of this has brought me to one other important conclusion: if I would schedule my annual physical to coincide with the conferences, I’d only have to deal with the sweaty-foot thing once a year...

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