During parents’ orientation at my daughter’s cooperative preschool, we received a handful of paperwork. Among the papers filled with co-oping guidelines, permission forms and a kindergarten readiness list, was a one-sided questionnaire from the teacher. It listed questions like what nickname my daughter had and what phone number I wanted her to learn this year. Her teacher told us that we could take it home and return it on the first day of school. One parent glanced at it and exclaimed it took her 30 minutes to complete her older son’s questionnaire, so she would definitely be taking this one home for her daughter. I remember thinking that had to be an exaggeration! At the end of the meeting, I tucked the questionnaire back in the small stack of papers and shoved them in my bag.
A few days later, on the evening before my daughter’s first day of Pre-K, I grabbed the papers off my kitchen counter and sat at the table to review them. When I got to the questionnaire, I smiled recalling the one mother in class who said it had taken her a long time to fill it out.
I breezed through the top section almost mechanically. Nickname, birthday, phone number. Then there were 3 larger sections for answering the next questions.
What goals do you have for your child during this school year?
It sounded so formal, so serious for Pre-K. I thought a second and jotted down the first thing I thought of. To encourage a love of learning. After I wrote it, I thought another second. Yes, I want my daughter to have positive feelings towards learning as we spend a large chunk of our youth in a learning environment. But I also wanted her to feel comfortable making new friends on her own and thrive in a social setting. So I jotted that down as well. Then more thinking. Is this question more about the skills I wanted her to focus on, like writing her name and mastering numbers? Ok, stop over thinking, Mom. I moved on to the next question.
What is the most important thing I should know about your child?
I stared at this question and the empty lines that filled up the space after it. How do I answer this question. How do I tell someone who doesn’t know my child, what the most important thing is to know? How can I possibly pick just one thing? How do I do that when I feel like EVERYTHING about her is important to know? Like how she stutters her words when she’s too excited and can’t get the words out fast enough. Or how the words “I’m ok” means the complete opposite. Or how she believes everything can be fixed with a pirouette, pixie dust and a song. I stared at the empty lines longer. I had so many thoughts yet my pen felt frozen. I finally responded with something I can’t even recall at the moment. Which is ironic when you take into account the question was about importance. And even more ironic considering the amount of time that I milled over my response.
What are your child’s biggest fears?
Oh man, this questionnaire was killing me! I wrote down the first things that came to my head. Bugs and tall slides. After I wrote it, I knew it wasn’t 100% true. I knew that the two things she fears the most is that Mommy is going to leave (unfortunate result of hearing about a divorced friend who’s wife left him and their child) and saying something wrong (her notion that everything has to be perfect). But was that not what the teacher was asking? Again it’s Pre-K. How deep are we going here? I decided to share the latter of her two fears just in case this was something she could help nip in the bud.
I put the pen down and glanced at the clock. 30 minutes had gone by.
I had scoffed at this time frame when it was discussed during the orientation. I never thought in a million years I would have taken that long to fill out a simple form. But its true, everything changes when you become a parent. Nothing is ever simple again. Nothing is ever done without emotion, without sentiment. Everything seems to be a reminder that your baby is growing up. That time can not stand still. Even this questionnaire. It served as a reminder that beginning now, my baby girl would be away from me almost everyday. Someone else needs to know what’s important about her and what she’s scared of. Someone else would find out all her little quirks and the wonderful ideas that fill her head. Someone else besides me. It was almost as if I was sharing a secret that only I had known for so long with the world. Yes, my daughter is very social and has been to various classes and camps away from me. But this felt different. It felt more official that her world, which was always “Mommy and Me” and a few elite others, was growing. And while it’s a wonderful thing that her world is expanding, I can’t help but be saddened that my space and time in it was shrinking. It’s very bittersweet.
On the first day of school, after my girl was settled with some friends at the play dough table, I went up to the mom who had spoken up at the parents’ meeting and let her know how long it took me to fill out the form.
A smile broke out across her face. She nodded and then said, “Just wait until next year.” Then I caught the hint of sadness in her eyes and felt like I was looking in the mirror.