I cheated on a test called a PSI earlier this year. It was my first time cheating on a test, as I was always an honest student in school and proudly flunked every math class as a result.
I had never heard of PSI before, or rather I had only heard of it as PSI the scientific exploration of psychic phenomena and yes I would probably pass a test in that, it has been a hobby of mine for the last few years. To my dismay the questions did not entail details of what happened in last week’s episode of “The Ghost Inside My Child,” or “The Haunting of that guy from CHIPS.” … and it was multiple choice, something about multiple choice fills me with anxiety… but let me explain how I came to have to take a standardized test at age 37 while thinking I was enjoying a twenty year hiatus between the horror of taking standardized tests and the anxiety of coaching my child through them. I was always one of those students that was much much smarter than her test scores (no one accuses me of modesty) but that’s not very remarkable is it? It’s far more interesting to meet someone who fails in school but scores perfectly on the math SAT. The exams are rigged, that’s my theory. Multiple Choice was invented by men to befuddle women so it came to no surprise to me that the PSI test I was subjected to was written by a man, a man named: Richard R. Abidin.
In January the Department of Child Services mailed me a pamphlet asking if I wanted a free assessment of my child to assess her two year old development progress. Of course I will go for anything that is free, so I filled it out and said: Yes please, I am unemployed so my schedule is open. At some point later in January a nice woman named Edwina (she even has a name from the 12th century) came to visit my daughter one afternoon to “assess her development.” I was worried that Eva would not accept Edwina into her lair at age two for Madame Eva takes some time to warm up to strangers especially when they are in her space. At the moment she is even jealous of the dogs, and says to me “You are not Piggy’s mommy, You are not Lum Lum’s Mommy, You are only Eva’s Mommy.” She freaks out if they come near her when she is eating or if they try and come into her room or the bathroom while she is on the throne. It’s called Sibling rivalry. If Piccolo tries to sit on my lap, she bears her teeth at him and stares him down in a declaration of war until he gives up and returns to his pillow. It made me wonder when the fangs would come out with Edwina.
Eva was suspicious and obviously concerned that Edwina might be that monstrous thing called a babysitter. I tried to distract everyone,
“Would you like a cup of tea?”
Eva stared at Edwina and the enormous blue suitcase that accompanied her. I could tell Eva was wondering what the hell was in it, and I was having the same thoughts, because when she was assessed at eight months old they only brought a few blocks and stacking toys. I wondered if they made it that big, big enough to fit a two year old if they felt her surroundings were “unfit,” and needed to smuggle her out of the neighborhood. I had spent the two hours before Edwina came scrubbing Eva’s play area, which probably had not been cleaned since it was erected. Nothing was giving me away except for the unmistakable odor of cleaning fluid. Pine- Sol fresh. I wasn’t really trying to hide anything other than cockroach droppings and I didn’t put those there on purpose. I was trying to be a good mom even if I was a few cockroach droppings shy of perfect.
Edwina’s first words after, “Earl Grey,” were, “My goodness she is small for her age.”
I winced wondering how much Eva understands of that sentence, as I am sure she will hear it over and over throughout her life until she is my age and starts growing in other directions, out and down and soon no one would be able to call her small anymore even though she never broke five feet in height.
“Don’t tell her that, she calls herself little.“ I say.
Eva says nothing but stares at Edwina’s clipboard with fascination and mistrust. Halfway through our tea cups I decide to interject.
“Shall we all go down into the play area?”
The three of us march downstairs, Eva’s head swivels around careful never to loose sight of Edwina but careful not to get too near. Edwina follows my lead and does not try too hard with Eva as not to blow her chances.
The three of us sit down in the play area, Eva just keeps staring at Edwina’s suitcase like she was waiting for the big reveal. Edwina slowly unzips it and very quietly she pulls out a toy and places it on the floor between Eva and herself. Eva’s eyes light up, and Edwina pulls several other toys out of the bag. Eva looked at me with excitement and perplexion as if to say,
“You lied mommy, Santa Claus isn’t an old fat man in the red suit at the mall in Boston with ketchup on his beard, Santa Claus is a beautiful woman named Edwina.”
Eva snuggled in next to Edwina like she had found her long lost mother, and at the same time theorizing in her tiny mind that I had kidnapped her from the maternity ward. As soon as the toys came out, Eva had one foot in the big blue suitcase and was hoping to be signed on as Edwina’s little helper or a reindeer if the position of chief elf wasn’t possible. They got along like a house on fire. I was surprised, maybe I was a little jealous. Edwina was one of those people, with an enchanting way about her. When you see them with children you know that was what they were born to do. Poor Eva she didn’t get one of those as a mother, but now she has one as her own special social worker / Santa Claus at least for the next hour.
I was hovering over them; I admit it. I was wondering if Eva would thread the needle just right, or pick up the right colored ball, and when and how and for what I would get points deducted from my placement in the institution of motherhood. Edwina noticed me hovering, she returned to her suitcase and I was sure she was reaching in for tranquilizers but instead she pulled out a folder of paperwork.
“While I am testing her I need you to fill out some paperwork.”
“Okay “ I said, figuring parents did not belong in Santa’s workshop.
Edwina handed me a pencil and pointed to the opposite end of my dining room table. I obeyed and flipped open the booklet.
“Don’t worry it is multiple choice.” Edwina says from across the room.
“Okay.” I say with anxiety looking at the pencil.
“Now Eva, mommy has to do some homework and you have to play with Edwina”
“No!” Says Eva, “ I want to get naked.”
I drop my pencil and return to the play area, Eva was feeling too at home in Edwina’s presence, and because she was only two had no idea she was actually being examined and that her behavior was impacting on our standardized test score. I hoped there wasn’t a time limit.
Eva tries to take off her shirt and it gets stuck on her head and she starts to panic. I grab the shirt and whip it off. Then she bends over and starts taking her pants down, bending over so that Edwina gets a peek at her bum. I panic and pull them back up.
“No Eva, its not Naked time.” She starts to whine and scream.
“I want to be naked.” I look at Edwina trying to see if she is shocked and try and determine if I should take a stance or give in. Edwina didn’t seem to mind so I gave in, and let her take her development test in the nude.
“I am naked” Eva says with a smile.
“Play nicely with Edwina.” I say turning my attention to the test. To my surprise, naked Eva sits down crossed legged and with quiet concentration plays with Edwina like the perfect child wearing an imaginary tunic from 1805.
Meanwhile, I look down, and instantly suspicious of this PSI test I roll up the sleeve of my left hand and like a grade school cheat I scratch the website and address at the bottom of the test sheet onto my forearm to look up later. After answering the first few questions I look to see how many sheets this thing was, it was going to take me forever- in actuality about an hour, about the same time Edwina needed to test Eva without interruption from an interfering parent.
It came with directions:
“In answering the following questions, please think about the child you are most concerned about.”
And it continued.
“The questions on the following pages ask you to mark an answer which best describes your feelings. While you may not find an answer, which exactly states your feelings, please mark the answer, which comes closest to describing how you feel. YOUR FIRST REACTION TO EACH QUESTION SHOULD BE YOUR ANSWER.”
“What is my first reaction: F this test.” I start to write that down then realize I am not actually answering a question so I read on.
The first question is: When my child wants something, my child usually keeps trying to get it.
My answer “ Strongly Agree”
My child is so active that is exhausts me?
My answer “Strongly Agree.” And then I scratch in the margin, “especially after a few cocktails.”
My child appears disorganized and is easily distracted?
“Strongly agree,” “ but that might be my fault not hers.” I scroll in the margin.
My child squirms and kicks a great deal when being dressed or bathed.
“She prefers to be naked but will wear shoes but we argue about that: she likes her high heels and I try and make her wear her red sparkly Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz shoes every day and she hates bathing, she can’t get her hair wet unless its Wednesday.”
My child rarely does things for me that make me feel good.
“Strongly Agree. “ I have visions of when she ran around the grocery store piercing plastic packages with her uncut fingernails and knocking things off shelves then crying and saying Mommy hurt her. I gave the cashier my best Derelict Mom fake smile.
Most times I feel that my child likes me and wants to be close to me.
“Strongly disagree.“ I remember last night at 2am when she slapped me in the face and screamed for her daddy, her gigi, her hamma, her nanna, her pops, the man on the street corner, anyone but MOMMY.
When I do things for my child I get the feeling that my efforts are not appreciated very much.
“Strongly agree. Last week I made her Sheppard’s pie she threw it on the ground and then screamed when Piccolo ate it.“
My child seems to cry or fuss more often than most children.
“Strongly agree. “
I feel that my child is very moody and easily upset.
“Strongly agree. She is just like her father, it’s genetic.”
My child does a few things, which bother me a great deal.
“Strongly agree”, and I begin my list: Tantrums, she likes Daddy more than me, she is jealous of the dogs, she never wants me to play with her.
When my child came home from the hospital I had doubtful feelings about my ability to handle being a parent.
“Strongly agree. When I got home from the hospital I was hoping I would wake up from a dream. Go away bad dream! “
My child turned out to be more of a problem than I had expected.
“Strongly agree. It started with the colic.”
The probing personal questions were making me feel like Harold in the movie Harold and Maude when his mother makes him sign up for a dating agency and he has to fill out a questionnaire. See this clip on YouTube. One of the best movies ever made in Hollywood. Not only can I relate to Harold, but I bet my mother had a hat like that in the seventies.
I was at the end of the first page of the test when I looked down at the copyright symbol at the bottom of the first page and noticed in small print © PSI, Parental Stress Index.
“Parental Stress Index”
This test was testing my development not Eva’s somehow I knew this had to all be a ruse. I was being tricked into being honest again. I looked down at my test; I was most certainly flunking. I looked at the pencil Edwina gave me, — it was one of those ones WITHOUT an eraser. I took a deep meditative breath like they teach you in pregnancy yoga and tried to figure out my options.
“Yes? “She says from the playpen.
“I am about half way through, do you mind I will excuse myself to use the bathroom, but Eva seems to be fine with you.”
“Of course,” Edwina replied.
I waited a few minutes, then as quietly as I could I slipped out of the room without Eva noticing, closing the door behind me. I ran up the stairs into my office and ransacked my drawers. Among the old canisters of film, and old cell phones I found a disregarded pencil eraser- thank god for saving things from the nineteen eighties.
I ran back down the stairs flushed the toilet, counted to ten then calmly entered the room and sat down shifting my presence so that my back was hiding my erasing arm. By some miracle of 1980s textile manufacturing the eraser didn’t fall apart and I was able to fill in the “correct” answers with enough variety to not arouse suspicion.
There were even better questions on the next page:
There are problems in me marriage
I feel I have lost my identity
I resent my child
(I am really glad these aren’t essay questions. I think)
I feel trapped by my responsibilities as a parent.
I often feel that my child’s needs control my life
I feel that I am:
- A very good parent
- A better than average parent
- An average parent
- A person who has some trouble being a parent
- Not very good at being a parent.
And still more, these are my favorites:
Sometimes my child does things that bother me just to be mean.
“Strongly agree, I mean disagree. “
The number of children that I have now is too many.
“Strongly agree I mean disagree.”
Eva’s test seemed to be going even better than mine and she was really pulling out all the stops. Suddenly she said to me, “Mommy I have to tee tee.”
Edwina’s eyes popped out of her head.
“You mean she is potty trained?”
“Yes, she was potty trained for tee tee from 18months, and we conquered number twos at twenty two months.”
Edwina was astonished. She was even more astonished that Eva knew her opposites, complex concepts, could count and use prepositional phrases, plurals, and had better pencil grip than her mom. The only thing I could really take credit for was that I was pretty good at lying to my kid about the TV being broken so she would read books.
“Well on the Ghost inside My Child, they say children with exceptional abilities have a past life they can still remember.”
Edwina’s eyebrow arches in my direction. I start to back track.
“I know going to the potty isn’t exceptional to most people.”
When Eva and I returned from the bathroom, Edwina had packed up her suitcase. I think I scared her off with too much talk about Lifetime television. This is what motherhood had done to my Saturday evenings. Edwina seemed to be in a rush out the door.
As she zipped up the suitcase, Edwina said, “Eva passed with flying colours.”
I thought to myself “Mommy passed too even if she had to cheat but Eva will never know until she finds my Derelict Mom blog archive.”
We were walking up the stairs toward the front door. Edwina paused to say goodbye and she could look directly into my office from where she was standing. Out of the corner of her eye I could see Edwina spot and stare at the ransacked drawers. I follow her eye and thinking on the spot I got creative to try and cover my tracks.
“Eva has a pet rat and it escaped when we were cleaning its cage. We think it is making a nest somewhere in my desk. “FiFi” “FiFi”
I was getting better at lying and now I was thinking it was right up there next to cheating, hoarding and parenting in the Derelict Mom list of useful skills.
Edwina seemed to buy it, and we said our goodbyes, Eva and I stood on the doorstep waving goodbye like the perfect developmentally advanced, Derelict Mother and Daughter.
Eva and I spent the rest of the evening looking under the couches, and in the desk drawers for Eva’s imaginary pet rat. “Fi Fi” “Fi Fi”
I was relieved. The only thing that stood between Derelict mom and a visit from the mental health visitor was a pencil eraser. Thank god for pencil erasers. One day I will be honest with my daughter, I will tell her the truth, that mom was just somebody who had some trouble being a parent. I know there are others out there.
A few weeks later I got my results in the mail. We both passed. Tucked in the envelope though there was another pamphlet “ Time out as a discipline technique.” I guess Eva’s naked episode made Edwina think I needed a few pointers. At least Derelict Mom didn’t have a naked episode was all that came immediately to mind.
Xx Derelict Mom.