Those of you with teenagers will be familiar with the frequency of one-word answers to complex questions. When you dare ask, “How was school today?” the answer is typically a monosyllabic, “Good.”
If you ask a follow-up question seeking more information such as, “What did you do today at school?” you’ll likely hear: “Work” or (the best one) “Nuthin.”
Georgia is no different from any other teenager in her uncanny expertise dispensing one-word answers in any situation — and “Good” is her go-to answer for any question along the lines of: “So, how was X?”
Taken together with her legacy of being, let’s just say a poor historian, we realize that we truly have no idea how she spends her days. If you ask what she had for lunch, she’ll answer with whatever food comes into her head — just to get the questioning over with. Her day are a mystery to us. We load her onto an overwarm bus with two other kids and unload her 8 hours later: somewhat less clean, often disheveled, missing scarves and with things undone but barely a hint of what causes the chaos. This may be the case for many teenagers, but we have one advantage those parents don’t: The Communication Book
If you are a parent who knows what a Communication Book is, you’re probably chuckling to yourself. You know that the Communication Book can serve a number of functions. It is simultaneously an encyclopedia of your child, a tattle-tale, a nagging reminder of what you’ve forgotten to do, a mystery, a secret weapon and maybe a brief glimpse into the world of your child. The world of your child in this whole other life she has where you are not.
Ever since Georgia entered the public school system her teachers have used a Communication Book. It’s a communication device between the teacher and the parent. with the teacher reporting on the child’s day and the parent commenting or sending information back to the teacher for the day ahead.
The hilarious thing about the Communication Book is that the quality of the information is highly variable.We’ve had teachers who write tiny diatribes each day, and some that merely circle the pre-printed ‘Good Day’ and write nothing more. In the case of less communicative teachers, it only becomes worrisome when they circle the pre-printed ‘Bad Day’ no further information.
This year Georgia has a great teacher who writes informative, encouraging and positive notes each day, signed ‘Dave.’ He follows up on the things I write back, and it really is ‘communication.’ This hasn’t always been the case in other classrooms so I do appreciate the amount of work it is for under-resourced teachers to engage with kids all day, and then write about it. Because it’s all text-based communication, it lacks the same kind of tone that you would have if you were face-to-face with the teacher every day. The worst and the best observations are written with the same style and typically followed by an exclamation mark (and a smiley face), no matter how good or bad they are.
I love Dave’s notes. Chris and I laughed over the first few notes of the year as Dave was getting to know Georgia. “My, my, Georgia is a social girl!” and “We didn’t get much work done this afternoon as Georgia was being quite social!” and “Georgia is such a social girl – we like it! She seems to know everyone!” Oh, we know, Dave! Our highly distractible and very socially-directed child would much rather wander the halls of her new high school greeting everyone by name and flashing a toothy smile at them than do work. So we answered back with an equally diplomatic, “Feel free to set some limits on that, Dave!” Add smiley.
Georgia’s Communication Book has provided other funny moments. Often notes from teachers refer to achievements, or might simply tell us what the class did that day. And sometimes they’ll tell us what Georgia was like: “Georgia seems tired today.” Other times it is a clear tattletale device. Less-than-ideal behaviour is stated simply without any context or judgment, but almost always with an emoticon — which makes for a funny read.
“Georgia was spitting on the subway”
“Georgia was swearing at recess today: She said shit, penis and one Portuguese swear word.”
“Georgia finds it funny to pretend to spit”
“Some spitting today”
“No more swearing but Georgia is imitating others!”
“Georgia finds it funny to say swear words and imitate others.”
There are also the ‘Instructions-for-Parents’ one usually finds in the book, typically read around 9:00 p.m. before entering panic mode:
“Please draw a picture of a person with major body parts for Georgia tomorrow. Thanks!”
[Google the difference between ‘major’ and ‘minor’ body parts, draw ten stick people, give up]
“Thanks for the brownies tomorrow for the party!”
[Thanks for the 24-hour Metro around the corner! :)]
“Georgia has to wear black pants and a light green t-shirt for the concert tomorrow”.
[Everyone’s drawers are full of light green t-shirts, so no problem, sure.]
And the best one:
“PD day tomorrow!”
Finally, there are the lovely surprises you occasionally get — the messages that make it all worthwhile:
“Georgia ran a race in the track meet. She got a medal.”
“Georgia has great rhythm. She did so well in dance class today!”
“Georgia loves music. She chose Bob Marley to play for the class in ‘choice’ time today!”
“Here is Georgia’s ribbon from the swim meet. She had a great time!”
“Georgia had such a great afternoon. The other girls did her hair!”
“Georgia had fun at the dance. She danced with many of the boys.”
“Georgia really helped out. She made spaghetti for lunch.”
These kinds of messages are the ones where we realize this kid really is a bit of a wonderful mystery.
She ran in a track meet? The kid who wouldn’t walk? She cooked spaghetti? She got her hair ‘done’ and danced with MANY of the boys? Who is this kid? (and what do you mean by MANY boys?!)
What other talents does she have up her sleeve that she’s exploring, out there in the world? It occurs to me that, miraculously, she leaves the house every day and goes off into the city as her own little person, with her unique flaws, strengths, habits and a true existence quite separate from me. And to some degree, obscured from my view.
She can decide what she likes and doesn’t like, make choices and move through the world on various outings. And making purposeful progress in her own growing-up that I hear about second-hand.
On one hand, I’m sorry to miss seeing her running the races or swimming for ribbons. I would love to be a fly on the wall while she makes spaghetti or dances with MANY boys.
On the other hand, I find the fact that she has an independent existence appealing. It pleases me immensely that she moves through the world in this way, as it was never a given that she would. The mystery that is Georgia-becoming-Georgia is wonderful just to hear about.
So, Dave: please keep me posted.