I walk into a kindergarten screening for my son and find myself staring at a clipboard.
“At what age did your child start walking?” says the form.
“At what age did your child start talking?”
“Did your child have a normal birth?”
And I want to write, “Does it really matter?”
These questions pop up more often than I ever thought they would, at the dentist’s, the eye doctor’s, and now on school applications.
I wasn’t there. I don’t know.
And as I stared at yet another one of these forms this week, I was a little frustrated.
“Just look at him,” I wanted to write. “He’s sprinting across the room, chasing his little brother.”
“He speaks more clearly, and with fewer contractions, than I do. And you should hear the questions he asks, the stories he recites—and the ones he makes up himself.”
“What’s a normal birth? I wasn’t there, so I can’t say, but how could it have been normal? It must have been extraordinary. It was the moment our beloved son made his entrance into the world. It was an absolute miracle.”
Every time I face one of these forms, I write N/A, N/A, N/A. Then I scrawl something in the margins about how we adopted our son at 25 months old.
This week after I finished completing—or partially completing—the form, I was feeling a little inadequate as a mother. Of course, it’s not my loss. It’s my son’s. He’s the one who has the gaps in his story. It’s easy enough for me to write “N/A” on form after form.
Does the fact that I wasn’t there for those moments mean I am less of a mother? Am I somehow deficient because I can’t tell you when my son crawled, or when he first tried solid food?
I was sitting there in the lobby, watching my sons play, and thinking of all I had missed. If I had been there for his birth, my son’s form wouldn’t look so blank, I thought.
Then I overheard two mothers talking.
“I can’t believe these questions,” one said. “I can never remember when she started walking.”
The other mother agreed.
“Yes, I always get the girls confused. I just don’t know which one was which age when she took her first steps.”
Aha, I thought. They can’t answer the questions either. And they can’t get away with writing, “N/A.”
I couldn’t help but smile.
After all, I do know quite a bit.
I can tell you when Leo first called us “Baba” and “Mama.”
I can tell you when we first saw him smile as we paced a hotel hallway in China.
I can tell you where we were when he learned to do the fist-bump explosion, and that he tasted his first cheeseburger in South Bend, Ind., on our drive home from China.
Those just don’t happen to be the questions on the forms.
In the car after the screening, I tried to talk with Leo about what had happened.
He wouldn’t tell me anything.
“Let me guess,” I said. “Did the teachers say, ‘If two spaceships blast off from Earth, and one goes to Mars and another to Pluto, which one goes farther?’”
“Well,” he said, “the answer is the one that goes to the planet Pluto, but we did not talk about that, Mama. I am not going to tell you what happened. It is a secret.”
Oh, I thought. It’s a secret. Well, if I run across a form with the question, “How did your child’s kindergarten screening go?” I will be ready.
I won’t have to write, “N/A.”
I can write, “They didn’t ask him about spaceships going to Mars and Pluto.”