The following is a true account. I have permission from my daughter to post it. It's actually one of her favorites. I pulled it from the archives (a red binder I keep past essays in)and thought I'd post it for anyone who has a daughter starting sixth grade this year. And if that's you, good luck!
It’s the first day of sixth grade, a very important year for social development. My daughter brings home one of those getting-to-know-you questionnaires that a lot of teachers hand out at the beginning of a school year. You know, a page of questions about where you were born, whether or not you have pets, what’s your favorite this or that? She sits right down, fills it out, and leaves it lying on the kitchen table amongst a pile of back-to-school junk (backpack, sweatshirt, pencil box, and that perennial pink emergency form we fill out at the beginning of every school year and then fail to return to the school until we’ve been sufficiently harassed). Then she heads to the fridge for a snack.
Partly out of curiosity and also because I’m in the habit of checking over my children’s school work, I pick up the questionnaire and begin to read through it.
The first few questions are pretty simple. I read aloud, “What name do you prefer to be called?” I jokingly call to her, “Why didn’t you put down Sneaker?” (a pet name her father has had for her since babyhood)
“Oh yeah, right, Mom,” she says as she spreads refried beans on a flour tortilla.
I skip over a few questions such as When is your birthday? and How many brothers and sisters do you have?
“What’s your favorite t.v. show?” I read. I see that she has filled in the name of a popular sitcom.
“You’ve never seen that!” I exclaim. “Besides, you know you’re only allowed to watch PBS.”
“I saw it over at Brittany’s once. Anyway, what am I supposed to put? Barney?” She rolls her eyes as she grates some cheese onto the beans.
“No,” I advise her. “You should write ‘I really don’t watch very much t.v.’”
“Mom, that would be so dumb.”
“What do you like to do in your free time?” I read. “Watch t.v.!” What do you mean, watch t.v.? We hardly ever have the t.v. on!”
“I know, Mom, but if I could, that’s what I’d want to do. Besides, that’s what all my friends do.”
“You know,” I tell her, “this is not a test with right or wrong answers. The teacher wants to find out about you. Why don’t you put down what you really like to do in your spare time? You know how you play house with the boys and you guys pretend to be orphans?” (I can’t imagine why they pretend to be orphans…)
“MOM! No Way!” I am not putting that!” She is now dumping half a jar of salsa onto her burrito.
“What’s your favorite snack?” I read aloud. She has written Cheetos. I look up from the paper and stare at her. She smiles at me as she rolls up the tortilla and takes a big bite.
“Mom,” she says with her mouth full, “people might think a burrito is weird.”
It’s my turn to sigh, and then I resume.
“What’s your favorite thing to have for dinner?” Naturally she has written pizza. I look up at her.
“Mom, it’s my survey. There are no right or wrong answers, remember?”
“Honey, lots of people have heard of Fettucine Alfredo.” This is what she has recently chosen to have for her birthday dinner. I skip down to the last question. What are some of your talents and hobbies? She’s left this one blank.
“How about your talents and hobbies?” I ask.
“I couldn’t think of any.”
“Come on! You have tons of talents! There’s the piano. You can’t deny that. And lots of kids play an instrument.”
“Okay,” she concedes, “I’ll put piano, but nothing else. You want me to put all this nerdy stuff so people will think I’m weird.” She’s getting a little heated now.
“I don’t want people to think you’re weird. I just want you to put down the truth. I want the teacher to find out what a wonderful girl you are. And you’re really so creative,” I tell her. “Remember when you made the boys complete outfits out of plastic grocery bags? With those cute little aluminum foil shoes? You could put ‘My hobbies include fashioning articles of clothing out of common household items.’”
She’s really mad by this time. She screams that shrill sixth-grade girl scream, slams the rest of her burrito down, storms over to me, snatches the questionnaire out of my hand, and runs upstairs, crying. She’s actually crying.
“I was just kidding!” I holler after her, trying not to laugh. I can’t help it. I think it’s funny.
Well, she doesn’t end up changing her answers to suit me. And knowing how important it is to fit in in sixth grade, I lay off. I’m sure the teacher will receive twenty or so nearly identical papers. I think she should give them all an F.
Carolyn is twenty-three now and very comfortable in her own skin! She survived adolescence beautifully. She was a lot of fun then, and is still more fun and more creative than anyone I know. I am proud of the wonderful young woman she has become.