The Easy Child

I am beginning to think about college applications, and trying to inspire my oldest, a junior in high school, to think about “what he wants to do in life”. He, of course, knows exactly what he wants to do…sit around and play his guitar… and can’t understand why I persist in asking silly questions.

Anyway, I was thinking about past school applications, and wondered if they still use “THE FORM”? When my three children went to day care, and later to kindergarten, there was a specific questionaire that parents were required to complete.

The drill went like this. You and the child reported for pre-kindergarten testing. Another adult came in and took the child away. Said child looked pleased as punch with the prospect of being “on his own”, and receiving the undivided attention of a strange adult. You you sat and wondered what in the world he was doing, and saying, and whether the innocent adult would survive the encounter. And then you were told to fill out a number of forms.

Most were straightforward. “THE FORM” also began innocently. It asked for parents addresses, the child’s birth weight and height, current weight and height and what age he or she first walked and talked. Then came “the question”.

“How do you discipline the child?”

I always thought that was a rather personal question.

With my first child, I was determined to be the perfect mother. I had quit work to care for this baby, and that was the only thing I was going to do. Housework and cooking were trivial. I spent my time reading books on child rearing, and tried desperately to follow every one all of the rules. So for the first child, I had the answers to this question, sort of.

1. “I talk to him” (for hours, earnestly) 2. “I yell a lot” (I was into honesty) 3. “I try time-outs” (The dreaded “You are sentenced to five minutes on the couch!) 4. “As a last resort, I whack him” .

My second child was truly a challenge. She came out of the womb alert, cooing and wanting to nurse. She spent her first few months ceaselessly watching her older brother, and walked at nine months. My oldest would always try to give a thought-out accurate answer to any question, and you could see the wheels in his head slowly churning. You never saw the wheels in my daughters head turn, and her answers were always focused two steps ahead, on the consequences her answer might create for her. While my oldest’s concentration was never broken by a simple “No”, my daughter understood that word quite quickly. She just acted before I had the chance to say it.

I don’t remember much about my third child’s early years. I think I put him in a backpack when he was born, and took him out about three years later. I don’t think I ever nursed him for more than five minutes at a time, and this only happened when I had five minutes. He was either a gentleman, or resigned to his fate, because he never objected.

But, back to the form. The question that followed “How do you discipline the child?” was “Does it work?”

This threw me for a loop each time. I would sit there and think.

Does it? Suppose I did nothing? Would there be any difference? They never do seem to pay any attention. But they are good kids. Should I rethink all this? Do I need to do all this yelling? Time would pass, and I would ponder the question, and it would occur to me that I had more of the form to fill out.

By the time my third child entered kindergarten, I had filled out this form about six times. This time when “the question” came up, I couldn’t remember.

He’s the baby, I thought. I don’t discipline the baby. I just protect him from the other two. I don’t think he ever does anything bad. Maybe I just don’t remember. I don’t think about discipline, I just do it. Does it work? How can I possibly answer that question? It must, he’s a good boy. The other thing about “the form” is that it provides you with approximately one-eighth of an inch in which to answer. So I sat there, trying to figure out how to put the real truth of the matter into that very small space.

“He is an easy child” I wrote.

After you finish the form, you are required to sit down for with the kindergarten principle. I had done this, with this same principle, for all three of my children. This time, she read though the form, nodding, and frowning, occasionally asking questions and making small notes. When she came to “the question”, she looked up at me, and looked back at the form, and looked back at me. Then she smiled.

“You deserve an easy child” she said.

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