I know how to read between the lines. I am aware of the euphemisms. After all, I was a teacher. I am adept at wording things in such a way that parents will not take offense but still might get my point about their children.

The word "funny," for example, was one of my euphemisms for behavior from students about whom I was slightly worried. I used the word funny to describe a sixth-grade student who typically perched on his feet on the edge of his chair, talking in a baby voice throughout class. I used the term funny to describe the boy who, during silent reading, would wrap elastics around his head and look surprised when I asked him what he was doing. Don't get me wrong. These kids were lovable, but they were funny in a "bit of a spectacle" kind of way.

So, years ago, when I picked my daughter up from her first day at daycare and her teacher said, "Oh, that Mia, she is a funny girl," I thought, "fun or funny?" because there is a big difference in those two letters. I thought back to my own use of the word funny and what had message I had actually been trying to convey.

Over the next couple of weeks, it became clear that she meant funny, for those were her parting words almost every day. I realized that Mia was too young to be telling jokes, so she couldn't be Jerry Seinfeld-kind-of-funny. That description would be acting funny in a purposeful way, which I knew she couldn't be since she couldn't talk. Was she performing physical comedy?

I had always assumed that all toddlers could be described as funny. This belief temporarily made me feel better. But then I began to listen (i.e.eavesdrop) for the daily reports on other toddlers, and none were described as funny. They "had a good day," they "ate well," they "liked the sandbox." Occasionally, they were "tired," "cranky," or "very happy."

How was she funny? Considering the fact that Mia had gone through a stage where she only ate peas and Cheerios for a couple of weeks, I knew that she had her idiosyncrasies. For two months, whenever she was excited, she had walked on her knees shaking her hands above her head.

My overactive imagination ran wild, like it typically does. Was she putting crayons up her nose? Was she putting crayons up others' noses?  Was she eating Play-Do? Was she eating ants? What was she doing? Funny, (especially with her teacher's head shake) had to have another meaning.

I waited for her teacher to use any other word to describe Mia: smart, fun, energetic, cute, nice? Did she love the sandbox? Did she eat well?  But she just kept saying funny and shaking her head.

 And then, as we got to know each other, she began to give me pieces of information, bit by bit. "Mia refuses to hold the handles on the rope when we go for walks outside. The rope makes her angry. Mia does not get in line with the other children."

I didn't quite know what to do with this information nor did I know how to respond. I automatically felt the need to say sorry, but that didn't seem quite right. Mia wasn't really doing anything wrong, per say, and she definitely wasn't at the point where she realized that she's affecting others by not holding the rope. Guilt kicked in, and I wondered if I was supposed to have taught rope-holding.

"She says "hi" to everybody all day long. She doesn't stop dancing. She calls everybody daddy." The teacher told me more. When I took a deep breath, I was able to decipher what she was actually saying. I could tell that the teacher didn't appreciate kids who were "funny." I could sense the frustration in her voice. She wanted her students to sit and play quietly. But I knew that Mia was a character. At eighteen months, she was her own person with a distinct personality, and this made me smile. I finally got it, and I was glad.

I grew up a scared little kid, who knew how to yes everybody from the very beginning. My goal was to be as "normal" as possible. But as I got older, I realized how much I appreciated eccentric people. Unique people were the ones who taught me things and made an impact on me. Unconventional students made me smile, and they were the ones whom I remembered.

I finally put aside my own childhood longing to be like everybody else and remembered what it had taken me so long to learn. As my friends can contest, since pre-conception, I had wished that my child would have his/her own mind and be an independent thinker. I know now that my wish came true. I remembered that unique was wonderful. I saw that funny, in any context, was good. Funny was great.

We moved Mia to a different daycare, one that embraced her warm and silly ways. She stayed there through pre-school, loving her teachers and being loved back for her fun and funny habits.

I can only say that I look forward to parent/teacher conferences and whatever words they use to describe Mia. I will always be proud of her unique way of experiencing the world, and I am sure she will be described as funny for years to come. I hope she knows that word is a compliment. "Funny" will serve her well.

About the Author

Amy Cooper Rodriguez

Amy Cooper Rodriguez is a parenting writer, physical therapist, and mother of two. Her work has appeared on Babble and in numerous parenting magazines.

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