Proof of life (at school)

Some kids step off the bus or get into the car at pickup and immediately spill every detail from their day in an interminable flood, a breathless narrative. Others drop nuggets about their time at school hither and thither throughout the afternoon and evening. And there are some kids who pack the pithy matter of their hours away from home in a vault, slip the key in a pocket of their mind, and proffer not a word about anything specific that transpired between the morning “goodbye” and postprandial “hello.” Parents of these kids try all sorts of angles to find ways to scrape up information; they know “How was your day?” isn’t going to get them anywhere, so they try inventive lines of questioning such as, “Who was at your lunch table?” and “Was everyone kind to you today?” and “Did Hannah pretend to be a dog at recess again?” Or there’s the “try to shock a memory out of them” method, something like, “Have you noticed any snow leopards on the playground? Or three-toed sloths? No?”

My youngest is that first kind of kid: nonstop sharing, a constant outpouring so effusive it’s hard to stem the flow long enough to offer a response. My older two are more prone toward that second kind, the one who lets comments fall like breadcrumbs in the woods, giving me glimpses and leading me along to some idea of what life is like for them when I’m not around. But when they were younger, I had a hard time prying so much as a single vignette from them most days. When they were in preschool, I think the momentousness of their time in that building just somehow couldn’t fully transfer over the threshold between the special space they inhabited there and the remainder of their day. Their little minds and modes of verbal expression hadn’t found a synchronicity of pathways to meet in the form of language just yet, so I supplemented what little I could wrest from them about their days with what could be detected in other ways.

It was the archaeology of parenting, and I took every opportunity to capitalize on it. Black-stained uniform pants knees told me that he’d been practicing fake falling on the turf field. Sand in her shoes sang a sandbox song. Messy hair hinted at the swingset. Dirt in lunchboxes spoke of meals al fresco and dried glue on the backs of hands said they’d done something crafty. I’d scan for signs, Sherlock-style, looking in my rearview mirror for paint on faces, and would get a little excited to see raspberry-colored dribbles down the front of a white shirt because then I could ask, “Did they give you smoothies for snack?” and be almost guaranteed an affirmative response.

Hands down my favorite example of unearthing this kind of buried treasure actually occurred twice: once with Liam in preschool and again with Summerly, also in preschool, a couple of years later. Both of these instances took place during the third week of March, which is a season of many things for little kids, including the kind of cold that lasts a month, or seems to. The first time it happened, with Liam, here’s how it went: during dinner, I noticed he couldn’t chew with his mouth closed because he couldn’t breathe through his stuffy nose. “Ok, time to blow,” I said, and held a tissue at the ready. After the deed was done and I glanced in the tissue (you know we all do it…I mean we’ve got to check for signs of infection, right?!), there it was: green glitter. Right there in the tissue. Never was a mother more pleased to see green glitter blown out of her preschooler’s nose than I in that moment! All of a sudden, I knew what he’d done in school that morning! “Liam!” I said, “Did you guys make leprechaun traps today?”

Like many people, my husband has a phobia when it comes to glitter. He just can’t stand the stuff. As for me, I’ve always liked glitter, but now I appreciate it even a little bit more. Just think: one minute I had no clue how my child had spent his morning, and then, voilà! Green glitter in a tissue tells me all I need to know! Now that’s a kind of magic.

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