This morning, I dropped the boys off at school as usual. But I hung around for a bit, since I was meeting my cousin for breakfast a little later on, and watched them do their usual morning singspiration, complete with jumping-around-action-songs and loud singing.
I saw Daryl jumping with glee, with not a care in the world. I’m pretty sure he has no clue what the song was about.
I saw David, also singing with gusto, but with a noticeably more self-conscious air about him than his brother. I saw the same for his classmates. There was a marked difference between the N2s and K2s, and this is not the first time I have made this observation, but today it hit me with a pang.
How fast they grow…
In just over six months, my baby will join the ranks of primary school kids lining up in canteens and queueing up in rows for assembly. He will learn to tell the time and give the right amount of money, he will make new friends and say goodbye to old ones. He will have homework to do, tests to revise for, and holiday projects to complete.
How can it be?? I can hardly believe it, but it’s true.
Of course I’m scared. I know I’m not alone, but that doesn’t necessarily make it any better. All over Singapore, K2 parents are recognising that these next six months are that last stretch of “fun school” before “real school” comes into the picture. We will cherish the time we have, keep our fears and anxieties in check, prepare as best we can, pray hard, and hope for the best.
I know that the reality is that the Primary 1 year is going to be a big leap for all of us – academically, socially, physically and emotionally. I read letters like this and I swallow that big lump in my throat, because I know this is real. And I recognise that I write this as a middle-income parent with the benefit of relative financial security and my own educational background. I still stand by the statement that, while the system is far from ideal, how much it affects us, dear parents, depends significantly on us. Not completely, for sure, but significantly.
Chatting with my cousin today, we lamented the system for what it is, that seems to force our children to meet unrealistic expectations, follow the crowd and, well, grow up too quickly. It’s no one person or agency’s fault, really – it’s the culture here in Singapore, it’s us who have made it what it is. The schools, the teachers, the parents, the media, society in general – in no particular order.
I tell myself, “I will not be that parent.” I will not give up my ideals of letting my child grow at his pace, discover what he loves, pursue his passions, and enjoy learning new things. I will not make him feel inadequate, overwhelmed and plain stressed out by what he does not know.
I will not, I say. But I know, it is easier said than done. And that scares me.
Still, my gut feel is that if I go into this new season with an air of resignation to “the system”, I am done for. No, I tell myself, it is not a done deal, as many would say.
There is no need to buy into the rules that others live by – the endless tuition and assessment books and weekends filled with enrichment classes. There is no need to panic when so-and-so blithely tells me her daughter is into chapter books these days, or learning fractions, or that your child needs to know this and that before primary school or they are doomed for. The game of comparison will always be out there, but for now, the buck stops at me.
Does that mean I am living these next six months in a cocoon, like the ostrich with its head buried in the sand, refusing to do whatever I can to prepare my son for the next six years of his life?
Of course not.
There will be activity books to work through, concepts to learn and life skills to impart. He will need to learn to sit at a desk for longer stretches of time, and focus on completing the task in front of him without running off to play.
But perhaps, my focus will be different. Instead of forcing him to read fluently, I will encourage him on how far he has come, and continue to read to him as much as he wants me to. I will make stories come alive for him, so that he will one day want to read all these books for himself, even if his teacher does not ask for a book report.
Instead of drilling him on his Mandarin and maths, I will continue to cheer him on in his homework, look for fun activities to do together, and teach him how to order and pay for his food. I will cultivate and cherish the satisfaction of solving problems together, the confidence gained from accomplishing what was previously too challenging.
Instead of telling him all about the challenges of primary school life, and questioning if he is ready for it, I will point out to him all the ways that he is already ready for primary school, and have long talks about friendship and responsibility and courage and kindness. Instead of worrying about possible failure or berating him for his current ones, I will teach him to learn from his mistakes, and not to fear failure or being wrong, because these things do not determine his worth.
And along the way, we will forget, sometimes, and falter, and the cycle of anxiety and rest may repeat many times over, but it is part of the journey of getting there. I want to get there with our relationship intact, our joy undiminished and our hearts in the right place.
I want to do all these things, be this kind of mum. I honestly don’t know if I can.
I said this to him today, when he asked me if primary school will be fun. “David, primary school is different from kindy. You will learn lots more things and make new friends, and find out how to do many things all by yourself. I think it will be quite fun!”
And then, as an afterthought – perhaps more for myself than for him, I added “You will do just fine”.
We will do just fine.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.