I'm not sure if the fault lies with being a people-pleaser in general, a left-over awe of elementary-school teachers specifically, or the seven long years I spent in postsecondary education, but when a teacher asks me a question - any question - I have a compulsion to ensure I'm giving the right answer.
Even if the "right" answer isn't what I really want to say.
Regular readers of this column may recall that my oldest child will be starting kindergarten this fall - an event I'm both inordinately excited about and simultaneously fearful of. It's the pull and push of every major parenting milestone: the joy of seeing your child take the next big step in life all mixed up with the bittersweet sadness of knowing they've passed through a stage they'll never return to.
There are first steps, first words, potty training (though one could argue that the joy far outweighs any sadness on this one), and about a million other events that happen over the first five years of life.
But kindergarten - whoa. That's the big one. That's the line beyond which everything changes - it is, in my son's words, "big boy stuff."
I wrote earlier about my son's hesitation and later excitement about kindergarten during our orientation in the spring; this last week, I experienced those two emotions in reverse.
A package arrived from the school, complete with the schedule for the first few weeks of gradual entry, information about some of the programs at the site, and all sorts of details about what to expect and when.
I could hardly contain the squeal. "This is it!" I thought, gleefully flipping through all the pages.
The final document was a twopage series of questions: What are their strengths? Their weaknesses? What do they enjoy doing?
I grabbed my pen and began answering each one, happily anticipating how these answers might guide his future kindergarten teacher in this upcoming year.
And then I got to the last question. The one that probably had a "right" answer I just couldn't give.
"What do you hope your child learns this year?" it asked.
About a dozen correct answers ran through my head: count to 100 without skipping most of the numbers between 70 and 85, learn to write his own name in such a way that other human beings can read it, gain a better understanding of vowel sounds, hold a pencil properly.
But as I put pen to paper, the hesitation grew: I just couldn't write any of those things down.
Because as much as I feel like I should care about those individual skills, they don't matter as much to me as I thought they would.
So I answered what was really going through my head: I hope he learns that school is exciting and fun and a great place to be. And how to interact in a big group and make friends among his peers - friends that may be with him in 30 or 40 years. To be part of a community. To love learning. To feel the possibility that exists in a classroom - that this time and this place could be the start of a life full of excitement.
If he finishes kindergarten and can count to 100, and write his name and hold his pencil properly, I'll certainly be tickled pink.
But if he walks out the door on the last day of school and says, "I can't wait for the first day of Grade 1," well, I'll be the proudest parent in the whole place.
Because loving the idea of learning and being enthusiastic about it will take him a whole lot further down the road than any one single skill that makes up the route.
And if that's the wrong answer, well, this one time I'm OK with that.
Christina Myers is a long-time reporter and the acting assistant editor with the Burnaby NOW.