A parent gets lesson in naughty

Posted Sept. 21, 2008, at 9:37 p.m.

After the first few days in a new classroom, especially if it is in a new school in a new state, your child is likely to come home and claim he doesn’t know the names of any other students.

“You can’t remember even one friend’s name,” you’ll say, desperate for all the details. But your child’s lips are sealed. Only after your relentless prodding will your child finally confess: “Well, there is this one kid …”

That “one kid,” the only student whose name your son or daughter knows, is guaranteed to be the naughty kid.

Every class has a naughty kid (remember that; it’s important later). Other children quickly learn the naughty kid’s name because they hear it called aloud by the teacher — with various undertones of anger and frustration — over and over again. Beware any child whose name is the first one that your son or daughter learns, especially if your child says this person is his new best friend.

But what if your child is the naughty kid? How will you know? Your first clue might be if your son or daughter says there isn’t a naughty student in the class. (Remember, there is always a naughty kid.)

ME (speaking to my 5-year-old son, who just started kindergarten): “Owen, did you learn any friends’ names today?”

OWEN: “No, Mom.”

ME: “Not even the naughty kid’s name? Your older brother always learned the naughty kid’s name on the first day.”

OWEN: “We don’t have a naughty kid in our class.”

ME: “No naughty kid? That’s impossible. Every class has a naughty kid.”

OWEN: “Not my class.”

ME: “Well that’s good. But you don’t know anyone’s name? You didn’t hear the teacher saying someone’s name over and over again?”

OWEN: “Nope.”

The second clue that your child is the naughty one in his class: Other parents know your child’s name.

ME (speaking to the mother of someone in Owen’s class): “I’m sorry, what is your daughter’s name? I’m still trying to match parents to children.”

ANOTHER PARENT: “You’re Owen’s mom, right?”

ME: “Yes.”

ANOTHER PARENT: “We hear a lot about Owen.”

The third and final clue that your child is the naughty one in class: They seem to always have a new seat.

ME: “Owen, what was your favorite part of the week?”

OWEN: “That I’m sitting at my friend’s table again.”

ME: “You’ve switched tables already? It’s only the second week of school.”

OWEN: “I switch tables every day, Mom. Each time I get in trouble, the teacher finds me a new seat.”

I was shocked when I finally put it all together. I didn’t want my child — my Owen — to be “that kid.” I didn’t want him to be the naughty one. When I talked to my husband, Dustin, about it, he chuckled and said, “Owen has come a long way. Do you remember when he wouldn’t talk at all? Do you remember how you worried that he would always be shy?”

Dustin is right. Just two years ago, our Owen, who has always been in the third percentile for weight, was a scrawny 4-year-old boy who couldn’t keep even size-2T pants on his hips. He seldom talked, and he cried every time I left him at preschool. He had trouble making friends.

Now our pint-size little boy — the one we used to call “Tiny Tim” — has blossomed into someone who apparently can’t stop making friends. Even during circle time and rest time. And while it’s nice to see him growing, that doesn’t mean he can misbehave.

“I guess I need to call Owen’s teacher and arrange a meeting,” I said aloud to myself that night, and my oldest son, Ford, overheard.

“I bet the teacher will answer and say, ‘Well, hello there, you naughty parent,’” Ford said, bringing a whole new element into my dilemma. If every class has a naughty child, I guess it makes sense that there is a “naughty parent” as well.

Owen came into the room and heard us talking. “Oh, come on now, stop,” he said. “Let’s not go calling my teacher or anything. I’ve got it all under control.”

Which, of course, is Clue No. 1 that you need a parent-teacher conference pronto.

Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. Sarah Smiley’s new book “I’m Just Saying …” is available wherever books are sold. Contact Smiley at sarah@sarahsmiley.com.

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