Back when we were the parents of only our two daughters, parent teacher conferences barely registered a blip on our parental radar. They were completely predictable. In fact, from preschool through 12th grade for both girls, I wasn't once surprised by what I was told. I knew I would be told one daughter was much too quiet and could stand to participate more in class discussions and the other was not quiet enough and could stand to focus her chatter and energy on class discussions. I knew where they were strong academically and where there was room for improvement. It was so routine, it was almost boring.
This week was parent teacher conferences for the boys. Not so boring anymore. I never know what I will hear. I get a little anxious as I drive to the school but I try to think of it as an adventure. I see if I can predict what the craziest thing I will told will be. I have yet to guess correctly. The boys are both English language learners and still learning 'American' social skills. I don't compare them to their sisters or their peers, it is truly apples and oranges. Yet, I am their mother and like mothers the world over, I want only to hear teachers gush about how smart, polite and kind my children are.
When Mikias was in kindergarten, his lovely teacher said a bunch of positive things about my son then gave me her list of 'things we are working on'. Mikias's affinity for making sound effects throughout the day was near the top of her list. I did get her to admit that he did have a real talent for it. I once even started to pull over when he was doing his 'siren' sound. She laughed but then her face became serious, I knew she was about to tell me something she was uncomfortable with and was trying to find a way to phrase it. She said, "Mikias....has been....putting himself into other children's personal spaces....in an affectionate way." My mouth got dry as I tried to comprehend what she was saying. Then I understood. "He has been hugging his friends?" She nodded and said, "and kissing them too."
Phew...was that it? I explained to her, "He's Ethiopian!" Realizing that wasn't enough, I told her how affectionate the Ethiopian culture is. Men often hold hands or walk arm in arm with their male friends. People are hugged and kissed all the time! I told her that when Mikias returned to the orphanage, after spending the week at the hotel with us, every child there kissed and hugged him in greeting both to say hello and again to say goodbye. When he came home to us, we did nothing to let him know it was any different here. We are a physically affectionate family, we hug, kiss and play with each others hair. When we watch a movie, we are tangled together. She seemed to appreciate the explanation. She also seemed to appreciate Mikias for who he was and where he came from.
She also told me that we need to work on "high fives" instead of hugs and kisses.