Afterthoughts: Paper Rafts

Buoyed each day by a teacher’s notes, I kept my head above water.

Photo: Linny Morris

Each afternoon, when I pick my daughter up from daycare, I am also given a cheery yellow piece of paper.

“Here’s what I did today,” the text trills at the top, before providing the lowdown on her activities: naps taken, meals eaten and/or spread across the face, contents of diapers, memos on supplies I need to bring in. I didn’t realize how much I had come to rely on these daily sheets until a recent staffing change rotated the teachers.

The new teacher is perfectly lovely, a grandmother who genuinely cares for the babies like they were her family. But her notes are very matter of fact. Our previous teacher, on the other hand, hammed it up with a more literary take on the daily reports, perhaps using her pen to fight the monotony inherent in childcare.

Zoë didn’t just babble, she “chatted on the phone with friends, long distance.” She dined in the play kitchen, “nibbling on the artificial corn between sips of tea.” There were tales of adventure, reported in first person. “I gave Ms. Susan a scare and rolled down the climbing area…” read one sheet. “I do all my own stunts!”

Illustration: Jing Jing Tsong

There was even a running soap opera about our infant’s affections for a “younger man” (he was 6 months to her Mrs. Robinson-like 8 months) and how she liked to run her fingers through his hair. “They had to separate us!” one note said, cheekily. When my husband and I finally met the young suitor at a baby luau, we discovered that he indeed had a luxuriant hairdo. But he resembled a tiny, serious accountant—perhaps a bit conservative for our wild-child daughter? We knew the romance would not last.

Beyond quotidian information and comic relief, the yellow sheets provided vital reassurance. This was at a time in my life when I was wearing a 1-ton backpack of anxiety, self-doubt and fatigue. I thought I might topple face first into the carpet—and perhaps like it there.

The yellow reports propped me back up, telling me that despite feeling I was a crappy parent and a half-assed employee, I was somehow doing a decent job. I clung to them like little life rafts, savoring comments like, “Delicious, healthy, home-cooked food for lunch today… Thanks, Mom!” Or, “I did the sign language for ‘more’ today, Mom. Clearly, I am brilliant!’”

With a baby in the house, papers piled up—bills I had forgotten to pay, thank-you notes I’d been meaning to send, unearthed invitations to occasions long past. The yellow sheets, though, were first displayed, then carefully filed.

It will be years—probably about 35—before Zoë appreciates all that her parents do for her. Her teacher’s writing made it seem like she already did, and to a new mom, juggling a job and bottles and what felt like a flaming chainsaw, that was huge.

For more of Wagner’s writing, see her “Guilty Pleasures” blog.