That’s my six-year-old’s teacher talking at our parent-teacher conference the other week. My husband kicks me under the table, and I have to hold in a smirk.
My daughter is smart, funny, perceptive, creative and fun-loving. But “sweet” is not a word we’d use to describe her. “Sassy,” yes. “Obnoxious,” for sure.
“Sweet,” however, is the word teachers consistently use to describe her, dating back to preschool. Camp counselors, too, as well as parents who’ve hosted her on playdates. And basically any person in the world who isn’t me or my husband.
The truth is, my kid belongs on two separate Santa lists: Naughty and nice. Because she is supremely nice to everyone else but me and my husband, and pretty naughty at home. Forget the Terrible Twos; we are experiencing the Sucky Sixes. My daughter’s favorite phrase around us is “WHATEVER!” She is a master of the eye roll. If I ask her to share, say, one of her fries at dinner, she will tear off off a piece so teeny that a microscope would have trouble picking up and hand it over. She’s been known to charmingly retort, “You’re so mean!” and to break down into tears at the slightest perceived injustice, like asking her to wear a dress to an event even though I know she only likes to wear t-shirts and leggings. One of her favorite pastimes is arguing about requests, as a lawyer might do.
Me: “Five more minutes to bedtime!”
She: “Don’t you want to read to me more?”
Me: “It’s getting late, and you really need to go to sleep. We’ve been reading for a half hour!’
She: “But reading is good for me! You’re being mean!”
I get uncomfortable discussing this topic, as I think her non-niceness reflects badly on me and my mothering. I’d like to think it’s some genetic mutation, like having six toes or something. But when I have brought up the devil-angel child phenomenon with other moms, I’ve found relief in knowing it’s not uncommon. “I swear my kid could use anger-management training—she gets so mad at me sometimes and yells,” a friend recently said. “But at school, she is Model Child. They’d never recognize the kid she is at home!”
Other parents have also pointed out that it’s good that my kid doesn’t act like that at school—as in, behaving this way at home is the better of two evils. I guess that’s true. At least she has a good sense of good public behavior, but it’s not much of a consolation when she gives me the evil eye and announces “You’re lying to me!”
I do see the sweetness peak through at times. Like when she’s helping her brother, who has cerebral palsy, with something that’s hard for him, such as maneuvering a remote-control car. Or when we do crafts together and she’s thrilled to show me her creations and hear my praise. Or when she calls me at work and says, “Mommy, can I ask you a question?” in this adorable way, then asks me about some mystery of the universe, like where California is. Oh, and she is ever so lovely at at that stage of semi-unconsciousness, right before she nods off to sleep.
Meanwhile, I am fine if other people think my kid’s all sweetness. As her personal publicist, in fact, I am glad to promote that impression.
“Yes, she’s a good kid,” I told the teacher that day. And basically, she is.
But “sweet?” Nuh-uh.