This year has been an interesting one. My eldest started local primary school in Singapore. It has been a steep learning curve. There were a lot of tests. Way more than I can ever recall during my primary school years. And I can’t imagine American teachers calling out individual grades in the classroom so that every student knew what everyone else received, let alone ranking them so that each student knew where they fell against their peers. (I’m sure some parent would’ve sued for emotional trauma.) But we got through it. Her grades were good and I was very proud. Most importantly, she is excited to start primary two.
I see so much of me in my eldest. She seeks approval and external validation. She’s so proud of herself at times, but all it takes is an innocent comment from a friend to knock her off balance. She’s learning resilience, but at this age, it’s so hard. Perhaps it’s hard at every age. I try to remind myself that I can’t protect her from everything. And neither should I try. There’s so much growth in hard knocks, just like there’s learning in failure.
My youngest also started a new school this year. She’s a lot more confident than my eldest, though. She’s got this fire inside her that really makes her a challenge and a joy to parent. She’s the type of kid I don’t worry about being bullied, but worry about bullying. At home, she runs from one room to the next, her volume set to 10 — always. But this year, I saw a new side of her personality emerge.
Her new school has 80% of its lesson in Mandarin. And while her previous preschool taught her Mandarin on alternate days, there is no comparison in terms of difficulty. My boisterous, energetic spit-fire turned into this timid, quiet girl, and the teachers pulled me aside to ask if she were an only child who was afraid of socializing. They said she prefers to sit in the back of the class (and listen), but speak in whispers. And this concerned them because “language is living”, and they strongly encouraged me to encourage her to participate more.
Worry took root. If they told me she was struggling with her math or english, those are things I could help her with. My husband is in AI and I’m a writer, so, we’ve got those two pretty well covered. But Mandarin? When I asked her why she was hesitant to participate, she said, “Everyone can speak Chinese, but not me. I don’t say it right, and I’m scared.”
I felt crushed. Had we done the right thing? Sure it crossed our minds that things would be difficult for her, but she was the one who always chose the difficult route. A straight line was for those who lacked imagination — and that she had in spades. We chose this school because they had such a great Chinese program and we knew that as she progressed into primary school, she’d be at a disadvantage because we don’t speak Mandarin at home — not even a little bit. Not being able to help our eldest prepare for her Chinese presentations in school really worried us. (I gained a new respect for non-English-speaking immigrants who moved to the USA and had children in public schools.) If we could help our youngest out even a little bit by putting her in this school — given her character — surely she would be better off than her sister when she entered P1.
But thank goodness for Dads. I shared with him the school’s concerns as well as the conversations I’d already had with her. He nodded and said he’d have a talk with her. Now, I’m going to be honest with you. I had very little faith that he would be able to say anything that would make the situation better. I am her mother. I see her in layers and levels that only a mother can. But Dads see things too. Differently, of course, but just as important. His talk with her lasted less than five minutes — probably less than three. He told her that she didn’t have to be shy and she didn’t have to say it right, but she did have to try. She said, ok, and then the next day after school I was told she raised her hand to volunteer the answer — in Mandarin!
A week later she was volunteering to go to the front at assembly to join some of the other kids during Monday- and Friday-morning calesthetics. (Yes, I took videos!)
I learned a lot from that experience. Firstly, it was humility. I hadn’t even realized the hubris I harbored. Secondly, I learned that sometimes, our children have different relationships with each of their parents. My eldest comes to me for learning new things and seeking advice, but then when she feels comfortable with something, she quickly wants to show it to her Dad. My youngest just uses me for comfort, like if she falls down or has a bad dream, and so for the most part, she’s happy wrestling and playing with her father. When she picks up a new book to read, she wants to read it with him first.
Having grown up in a single-parent home, I cannot tell you just how grateful I am to have two stable, loving parents for our kids. I know from experience that separations are sometimes necessary and better for everyone, but it’s so nice to share the daily worryload.
I’ll be the first to admit that we’ve no clue what we’re doing when it comes to parenting. Oh, we’ve read the books. A lot of them. Probably too many of them. And every now and again, we’ll read something that truly applies to one of our children. Or if we’re really lucky, we’ll come up with a winning strategy the first time around all on our own. But for the most part, as I’ve said before in other posts, we’re just winging it.