DIARIO DI MAMMA
I had one of the most surreal experiences of my life yesterday. I attended my very first Back to School Night as the mom of my nearly 4-year-old son, who is in pre-school. Of course, I still can’t believe I’m a mom, let alone to an almost 4-year-old who goes to a school that hosts a Back to School Night. But that wasn’t even what made the night bizarre. My son is going to school in the same district I attended. In fact, my immigrant father graduated high school here, too, and so did probably at least 100 of my cousins. And I am pretty sure I’m not even exaggerating that data point.
It’s been almost 20 years since my high school graduation, but the place is the same. There’s still no air conditioning (although that should change by next year, amen), at least one poster denouncing the use of drugs and/or forest fires, and those fluorescent light fixtures in the cafegymatorium. Although I attended a different elementary school in the district, I had seen the gym, main lobby, office, and some of the classrooms here, too, as I was growing up. After all, 2 of my aunts, my paternal grandparents, and a cousin had homes in this part of town. Now that my grandparents are gone, other cousins of mine have moved into their house.
I’m probably the only person in the world who had relatives arguing about where I should park my car at drop-off and pick-up. They all wanted me to choose their driveway. When my cousin was announced the winner because of the vicinity of her home to my son’s classroom, there was visible sadness on the faces of the others. Seriously. Some of them are still trying to convince me to change my mind. Seriously. And the winner woos us with sparkling conversation as we hop in or out of the car and the delivery of bushels of goodies from the garden as we pass by. Yes, the last basket of pears we received barely fit in the car, and I own a mini-van. I could have literally fed an Army. God bless my family!
Anyway, as I sat in the cafegymatorium, I did notice one change. Fellow alumni were the ones hosting me. Two of my former classmates held positions of authority, and the president of the P.T.A. was also a graduate of the high school. Life had come full circle. That might be why I wasn’t fully prepared to write – “in a million words or less” – about all the things I want my son’s teacher to know when she asked me to do so in the parent survey she handed out.
I wrote a few sentences, the first things that came to mind. But, really, there’s so much to write. A million words, in fact, might not be enough, especially for a child like mine, who until recently, wasn’t saying any words himself. Indeed, that’s what brought us to school in the first place. Here’s how I was re-writing the note in my sleep:
Every day I give you a gift, the chance to spend a few hours with my happy, fun-loving, curious, affectionate, and adorable child. Those three hours are precious ones that I’ve given up with him in the hopes that he will learn to love learning and find his voice. I want him to like books and ask questions and feel invigorated by studying. I want him to play and make friends and discover the depths he can travel with only his imagination. This is among the stuff that keeps me up at night. It’s that important. A positive experience at school now will set him up well for a lifetime of learning, and a negative one could destroy this dream I have for him to remain inquisitive and motivated.
Of course, I also want him to talk. When other children were starting to call their parents mamma and papa, my son was so confused by our two languages and traveling back and forth between Italy and the United States that he called us all Zio, which means uncle in Italian. My husband, my parents, his cousins, our friends, aunts, uncles, and I were Zio. He was otherwise completely silent, except for occasional non-sensical babbling.
While we had gone to private speech therapy for a year before we came to you and during that time he did begin to call me mom and my husband papa’, he has made far more progress in the five weeks of school he finished at the end of the last academic year than he ever did before. He now makes complete sentences sometimes and calls us all by our correct names. And the tantrums that once happened every day for hours at a time as a result of us not understanding him are rare and shorter nowadays.
I cry tears of joy nearly daily whenever I hear him having a conversation with his little cousins or saying, “I love you,” to me or even demanding a chocolate chip cookie. For a while, it seemed like he’d never speak, so we don’t take a single word for granted around here. To think my own hometown’s public school system was the answer to our prayers makes me feel good in a way that I can’t even put into words. So, I just want to thank you and the system’s speech therapist, and the aides and even the other kids for giving my son words. Keep up the good work. Please, oh please, keep up the good work.
You’re not in this alone. I realize I can’t expect you to do all the work here. I need to reinforce what you’re teaching – lessons in academics and behavior – at home. I need to know how to speak to him, so I draw out more words and make him understand what’s going on around him. Tell me what to do. Don’t be afraid to give me advice or even constructive criticism. I’m not going to bite you or sue you or get in your face. I’m going to thank you for any help you give me. Ultimately, at least I hope, we both want to get the best out of my kid.
That’s why I want you to realize he’s fragile and still so little (even if he’s on pace to be taller than I am in about a year and already weighs as much as this skinnymalink kid did in fifth grade). But that doesn’t mean I want you to indulge him. I realize he’s a boy and might take play fighting too far. And he can be sensitive and might lash out at another child, who is as precious to his or her parents as mine is to me. Feel free to punish him, reprimand him, put him in time out, and let me know about it. More than anything else, I want my son to be a kind person, who cares about the people around him. I want him to help others and be generous with his time and affection. I want you to help my husband and me raise him to be good. Good, in fact, is good enough for me.
My son’s mom
Di Meglio uses the written word to help families create memories and stick together. You can follow her on Facebook at Francesca’s Newlyweds Nest and on Twitter @ItalianMamma10.