Questionnaire

Henry’s new teachers (he’s got two this year) mailed us a questionnaire. We received it in June, so naturally we filed it away until last night, hours before his first day of second grade.


This has been an extraordinarily challenging couple of weeks, parenting-wise. Camp was over, school had not yet begun. It was hot and humid, as it generally is this time of year. Most of Henry’s friends were out of town. Henry was bored. We were out of things to do. And we fought. All three of us, in different permutations. Eight-year-oldness, at least around here, has been a preview of adolescence and all its sulky, dramatic horrors. I didn’t like it. Scott didn’t like it. We were exhausted. At the end of the day we’d put Henry to bed and watch Lost on Netflix. We started at Season 1 a couple of months ago and we’re already nearing the end. We’d watch episode after episode until we were falling asleep. Somehow it was comforting to watch. Our kid was being difficult. We were undoubtedly being difficult right back. But at least we weren’t trapped on an island, fighting for our very lives!


So last night we filled out the questionnaire. How would you describe your child? What does your child most enjoy? What are your child’s greatest challenges? I struggled to answer it. Could I even accurately describe my own child? Could I get past my own anger and frustration and hopes and projections and see him for who he is? Damned if I know. Sometimes I can see us hurtling toward some future where we don’t understand each other, not even a little bit. I hope that's not true, of course, but it's not as outside the realm of possibilities as I once thought it was.


I found out last week that someone very dear to me died. She died last year, and I had no idea. She was 85, so it’s not like it was unexpected, but it hit me hard.


Lois Hunt was my voice teacher. I was pretty serious about singing, when I was in high school, and then I found Lois. I went to her a couple of times a week. And Lois, well, she took me seriously. Is there anything you want more, when you're a kid? She had a talent I suspect few adults really share: to consider a teenager like I was--a goofy, depressed, anxious, semi-formed being--a peer worthy of attention.


Lois didn’t mess around. She had little patience for my antics, and she gently dismissed my frequent attempts to deflect her attention. And believe me, I tried. I thought if anyone really got a look at me, they would find out how wrong I was, how hopeless and awful. What that would mean, I didn’t know--there were no words for it. But all those fears were beside the point when I was with her. I was there to work, and I was expected to be serious, and I was. When I was at Lois’s house, I was okay, and I would be okay, and I knew it.


Lois and I spent a lot of time together for only a couple of years, but they were important years, as anyone who’s endured high school knows. I was struggling. After my lesson, we’d talk. She’d make me tea and show me pictures from her storied musical career. I’d play with her cats and tell her about my latest troubles. I don’t recall her giving any advice, although I’m sure she did, but I do remember feeling understood. If there had been a questionnaire back then, if someone had wanted to know about me, I would have asked Lois to fill it out. Even though I only saw her a couple of times a week, and even though she didn’t have the considerable task of raising me.


What do I most enjoy? How would I describe myself? What are my greatest challenges? I’m still not sure. I still sometimes think that if I could call Lois and we could catch up, she would lead me to some answers. And I hope that someday, if I can’t help Henry know who he is, he finds someone like Lois who can.