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Is That My Kid?

At preschool orientation for my then 4-year-old, the principal reviewed policy: safety, pinkeye, naptime, bathroom readiness. During this last point, while several parents looked panicked, my wife and I sat smugly: Sam had long ago been toilet trained. But when the principal noted that, except for emergencies, teachers wouldn't enter the bathroom but rather would wait outside the door, I sought out my son's new teacher. I explained that, while my son was well versed in potty use, "we haven't worked too much on the wiping-by-yourself part, so if you'll just help a little at first, we'll work hard over the next week and I'm sure he'll get it."

"He already gets it," the teacher said. "We don't wipe anybody here. He did it himself all last year. All the kids had to."

Stunned, I confronted Sam as soon as we got home. "So you're telling me that all this time you've been wiping yourself at school?"

He looked at me like I'm a sucker who answers to the name Daddy. "Yeah," he said."Then why have you been making me and Mom do it for the past year?"

He shrugged.

Because I, um...could?

It's happened to you. Not the wiping part, maybe. But a version of it. "I don't know what tantrums you're talking about," the pre-K teacher shrugs. "She's an angel in class."

"No, I had no problem getting him to eat his greens -- I never do," says the babysitter matter-of-factly.

"A little alpha child at day camp?" you ask, incredulous. The same child who uses my leg as a lookout post when we step out into the world?

Cranky vs. Sweet, Bold vs. Shy, Involved vs. Solitary, Leader vs. Follower -- it can be confusing. And it's not unusual for a parent to be left wondering where, in the mixed messages, their real child resides. Some answers to our questions:

Andrew Postman, father of Sam, age 6, and Charlie, age 4, writes for a variety of national magazines.