‘Your knickers are on back to front,’ I said to the Small Girl who had made a valiant attempt to start putting on her school uniform while I was in the shower.
‘How can you tell which way they go?’ She asked in earnest puzzlement.
I laid her diminutive undergarments on the bed and explained that they were bigger at the back to accommodate her, albeit tiny, posterior.
‘Aha,’ she said, understanding dawning, and then I saw the telltale pinch between her eyes as the busy cogs of her brain turned.
‘You know how your bum is really big, Mum?’ Completely serious, not even a hint that she might be only joking. If only.
‘Yeeeees?’ There was hardly any point in denying the generous proportions of my rear end, at least relative to her own. I could only hope that she wasn’t going to ask me any awkward questions.
‘Did you ever, like, break your knickers?’
I hope you will understand if I decline to record my answer here for posterity. My aim in telling you this anecdote is to demonstrate that my girl is still small, in stature and attitude. She is innocent and honest and open in the way we all must have been once upon a time in that far away land of childhood.
I attended a meeting at her school last night. It was a short lecture promoting awareness of mental health issues. As it so happened, the meeting took place in Small Girl’s classroom and I couldn’t help scanning the walls for evidence of my own child’s brilliance. I noticed, with some bemusement, a huge poster with a massive smiley face emoji and an equally large frowning face. A small photo of each child was tacked on to the smiley face while the frowning face was devoid of company. I took this, perhaps influenced by theme of the evening’s meeting, to be some sort of mental health promoting device whereby the children were asked about their moods and, thankfully, identified themselves as happy. How sweet, I thought, how wonderfully progressive.
When I got home, Small Girl was in bed but still awake so I snuggled in beside her for a cuddle. I told her that I saw her name on the list of star writers and she wiggled with pride. I told her that I noticed she was listed as this week’s milk monitor and that it was her turn at the sand table. I told her that I saw her photo on the smiley face and said I was glad she felt happy.
‘Oh no,’ she scoffed at my ignorance,’it doesn’t mean that I am happy; it means that Teacher is happy.’
I was genuinely taken aback and even more so when my child explained to me that Teacher moves their photos to the frowning face, she called it the sad face, when they are naughty, thus indicating her dissatisfaction with their behaviour.
‘Was your photo ever on the sad face?’ I had to ask, didn’t I? I thought I had to ask.
My Small Girl turned around, put her face to the wall and refused, despite my heartbroken entreaties, to utter another word.
As I left the room I heard her sob so I went back and lay beside her until she fell asleep. I couldn’t imagine what she could possibly have done to be so upset, ashamed even.
I enquired of Teacher, a friendly and pleasant young woman, what had happened. The answer? She didn’t have a clue. She assured me that my child is well behaved and attentive and that she might only have been moved to the sad face for a short time for ‘not trying her hardest’ although even at that she couldn’t recall an incident. I tried, without questioning her methodology, to explain that my child was incredibly upset. She tried, without acknowledging the upset, to defend her methodology.
I didn’t really feel I had achieved anything. This isn’t my first time around this particular block. I’ve come to believe that the entire school system is designed to ‘break them in’, like ponies, to prepare them for the treadmill of life, as if there were no alternative. Put your nose to the grindstone at age five, is the ethos, and keep it there. It’s all designed to make children fit into a pattern, laid down decades, if not centuries, ago. I don’t have an alternative and I don’t blame the teachers, they just train the children in exactly the way they were trained to do. They must, in fact, if their charges are not to be labelled as failures. It is all a bit depressing though.
I got in the car and assured my daughter that her teacher thinks the world of her.
‘We learned a new sound today,’ she told me, ‘it’s OO. Sometimes it sounds like UH, like in book, but we have to think of words where it sounds like OO in MOO. We have to bring things in for the sounds table next week.’
‘Well,’ I said,’you can’t bring in the LOO because Dad would be very upset.’ She laughed.
‘And Teacher said at the start of the year that you should avoid bringing in FOOD for the sounds table so that’s out of the question.’ I glanced in the rear view mirror and saw the expectant smirk on her face. She’s very good at rhyming games.
‘MUM!’ She exclaimed in mock horror. ‘You can’t be thinking what I think you are thinking!’
‘Oh yes I am.’ I raised my eyebrows towards her delighted face in the mirror and we simultaneously yelled:
I’ll raise a rebel yet.