Nervous Energy

It didn’t last long.

R and I were sitting in Z’s parent teacher conference a week or so after I’d returned from my Academic Games tournament with Z’s second grade teacher.   I had only met her one other time, at Z’s fall teacher conference.  I felt woefully out of touch with the school and what was going on there; I couldn’t volunteer in the classroom because I had my own teaching  job.   I never attended PTO meetings because I was always correcting papers at night or just too tired to worry about it.  I was the quintessential working mother who only showed up when she had to.

Still, I made sure that Z’s backpack was emptied every night.  There wasn’t much in the way of homework in second grade, but on the off chance something came home, I made sure it got done.   It looked from the papers coming home like Z wasn’t really having much trouble academically, and so I never thought to worry about what was going on at school for him.  He had friends in the neighborhood, he’d had a friend or two over for sleepovers, things seemed to be fine.

“Do you think Zach has been tense at all at home?”  the teacher asked us.

I was stunned.  I expected the same speech I gave to the parents of my “good” students:  nothing to worry about, everything’s great, wish I had ten more just like him.  “I haven’t really seen that at home,” I answered slowly.  “What exactly do you mean by tense?”

“Well,” the teacher responded, “he seems very distracted lately.  Fidgety.  Lots of nervous energy.  You haven’t noticed?”

Z was always fidgety, so much so that it had stopped registering on my radar.  It never seemed to interfere with anything that a leg was always moving, a foot tapping or hands wringing.   “I know that he has some nervous energy but I don’t think it’s increased at all lately…what do you think, R?”

R had been silent during the conference, this first one in his new role as stepparent.  He’d never come to Z’s conferences before.  “I don’t think I’ve noticed an uptick.”

“You know when I really noticed it?  Last week when you were out of town,” the teacher looked at me.  “He seemed so much more fidgety and distracted.  I finally gave him a rubber band ball to keep his hands busy so he wasn’t making noises and distracting the other students.”

My heart jumped in my throat.  I’d worried about R and Z while I’d been away with my students.  R had never had full responsibility for Z before; he’d always shared it with my sister.  I had worried about the constant litany of quarrels:  Z using too much ketchup, Z sitting on his feet at the dinner table, Z putting his feet on the back of the driver’s seat in the car; R was definitely more strict about things that I’d never really worried about behavior wise before.  “Well I am sure that part of that was him reacting to me not being around for a few days,” I responded quietly.  “I mean, that’s just natural.”

The teacher nodded.   “Well, I’d keep an eye on him and see if any other warning flags appear.  I would hate to see his strong academic work start to suffer because he’s nervous or upset about the changes to his environment.”

I supposed it was bad enough to question all of the time the choices you made when your child was concerned.  But to hear all of those insecurities voiced from someone you hardly knew?    I could feel my cheeks burning bright red with embarrassment.

“Thanks for the feedback.  We’ll definitely be keeping a watchful eye out.”

Maybe things were easier back in the days when the biggest worry was why my child wouldn’t sleep more than two hours at a stretch.

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