Similarly to the ill-at-ease feeling I get when reading in-flight magazines at 28,000 feet, I finally understand what makes me kind of queasy when I think of next week's parent-teacher conference at my kid’s school.
This has little to do with his teacher, who seems smart, caring, funny, friendly, and professional, and everything to do with how some institutions — airlines, schools, whatever — may not be on the same page with we who are paranoid.
The paranoia is merely a survival instinct — a reaction against a highly impressive effort to put people at ease in instances of high stress and high consequence. And whether it's air travel or the education of our offspring, some of us are not at peace when we surrender control to complete strangers.
In the case of in-flight magazines, the airlines seem to go to absurd and tortuous lengths to avoid printing content that would have even the faintest effect of freaking passengers out.
Which is why you find yourself reading a soft feature on Frankie Valli and the inspiring support given to him by his parents, and how to “Wok on the Wild Side” in Hong Kong, and about a stylish new line of gravy boats modeled after clay urns discovered in the caves of the Anastasia. Yes, everyone needs a decent gravy boat, but these stories are so completely off topic to the task at hand — soaring in a projectile above the dark, icy North Atlantic — as to be so deeply upsetting.
Instead of a glossy magazine, I’d prefer that airlines break things down to the indisputable facts. Use charts and graphs if it’d be helpful. Give me specifics about “fatal events,” operational errors and worst-case scenarios. And don't make us beg for hijacking statistics, either.
And also, every now and then, the captain should come over the loud speaker and say something like, "We are now flying over New Brunswick, and the chances of us dropping from the clear blue sky and crashing in a mangled heap somewhere between now and our destination in Amsterdam are about as slim as being eaten by a pack of wild donkeys."
I'm reasonable. That, in itself, might put me at ease enough to don the eye patches and not make a peep. But when you give me Frankie Valli or gravy boats, what that says to me is that you're probably trying to hide something.
I've only been to one parent-teacher conference — last year, when my boy was in kindergarten. All I remember is his teacher opened his folder and employed adjectives that, like Frankie Valli himself, hit way too many gratuitous high notes, which put me on “gratuitous high-note alert.”
She told me my boy was “very articulate,” which I’ve come to understand means he's kind of a loud mouth.
She told me he was “very enthusiastic,” which apparently means he's nailing kids in the head with the kick ball.
She told me he’s “trying very hard," which means his 3s and 2s are backward and he keeps hanging his coat on the doorknob.
What I'm hoping for this year is that his new teacher sits me down and says something like this:
“So what’s with all the farting?”
That would impress me.
Or this: “OK, this is the deal. Your boy has got a 3.4 percent chance of serving time in the state or federal pen. Dr. Spock, Dr. Phil, and Dr. Seuss all would probably agree that these are the steps we need to take to avoid this …”
That would also impress me.
When it comes to important matters – such as not dying in an aviation disaster and raising my child to become a good citizen and scholar who will make a contribution to the collective – pandering only signals trouble.
Of course, I say all this with debilitating jealousy. I'm jealous I cannot, like certain saints, skip air travel all together and bilocate. And I'm jealous my boy's teacher gets to spend more time with him than I do. (I used to be the only one in the world who taught him chicken jokes; now I’ve got competition.)
Maybe I just need to talk to someone about these things. Do first grade teachers offer psychological counseling during parent-teacher conferences?
I hope so. I'll have to ask his teacher Wednesday night. But first, like all parents on parent-teacher night, I'll have to dutifully fold my body into one of those tiny chairs, which requires jackknifing my knees to my chest.
In the world of aviation, they have a name for this position. It's called the crash position.