Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Through The Looking Glass

On weekday mornings, a little boy called Isaac, trots out of the house in a bright red jumper and dark grey trousers, then happily disappears into a rabbit hole otherwise called school, a place where he excitedly collects trophies for completing tasks, dojo points for exhibiting good behaviour and stickers for doing a good job. Such is his commitment to school life that he has a 100% attendance rate, to the point that one day when he had kept us awake with a temperature and we had to call him in sick the next day, he decided to still come in when he felt better before lunchtime.

The weekend that Red Dragon came to stay
In England, children starts school if they turn four years old before a term starts in September and it runs from nine in the morning until three in the afternoon where congregations of parents or grandparents, in their own little cliques wait for cheery little faces to get through the school doors and automatically ask for a treat from a strategically parked ice cream van just outside the gates where a cone costs just £1.

But this is a scene that I only get to see on Wednesday afternoons when I work from home. Like most modern families with an over 30-year mortgage and a car loan, we dump our child to the care of well-trained child care professionals in a place called 'Breakfast Club' before eight in the morning and pick him up from 'After-School Club' just before six in the evening.

This ten-hour daily grind seem too much for a young person but Isaac doesn't know any other reality so he probably wouldn't know any better. When my paid maternity leave ended by the time he was nine months old, he went to a nursery three times a week. We never had any issues with settling down, he easily found his place amongst the other children and nursery workers and we looked forward to the regular reports we received about his development.

So by the time he turned three and we were living in Spain where children start school at that age, we didn't think twice about waving him goodbye from the bus stop at 8:30 am as the school bus disappeared by the bend in the road that took him to school. A nursery van then takes him to an after school care at two in the afternoon and I pick him up before six in the evening where he goes off to play with his friends next door while I made dinner.
Isaac's Trick and Treat Day in Spanish School

I never really wondered about what he felt when he was plunged into a room filled with new faces who speak a language different from what he has at home or what mechanisms he used to cope. He had always just got on with it sans any tantrums and came home at the end of every term with a report that says he is a happy child who gets on with everyone and is doing as well as expected.

As parents, we are not inquisitive but we are not disinterested in his school life. We meet his teachers on the mandatory child performance meetings where we get told that there is nothing to be worried about so we never felt the urge to bother them at any other occasion. Instead, we make sure that his homework is turned in on time and suggested activities at home are complied with. We also take him to birthday parties whenever he is invited and make social conversations with other parents but it is never followed up with a play date outside the school setting because our weekends are busy enough with other activities and social responsibilities that it wasn't something we felt we needed to do.

But on a recent visit to his school during class hours to pick him up for a dental appointment, I was able to sneak a peek on what goes behind the school doors through a see-through glass door that separates the reception from the PE classes on the hall and for the first time I felt curious about this significant piece of Isaac's world that we are not privy to, inhabited by many different characters we do not know about, and came to realise that at his mere five years of age, there is already a huge part of his life and memories that we are not a part of.

At that moment, I almost felt a little jealous of my own mother who was a teacher in my primary school and who saw through all her children's early education with easy access to our teachers and knowledge of our school activities. And then I also began to understand the sense of isolation she must have felt once we all buggered off to high school and eventually left the family home. How did we grow up too soon, too fast, before she was even ready to let us go.

And yet as parents that is really our reality, the tiny lives we have brought out into this world do not belong to us to keep but to set free, gradually, in macrocosms otherwise called schools where they learn to thrive among other beings who may or may not be like them, where they learn to follow rules and order and most importantly, where they can play with other children until their hearts are full.

That little snippet of his Wonderland has made me realise that as much as I would have wanted to shrink back in size to become part of his tiny little world, I will never find that key to open it. But it doesn't matter, because the hours and days we spend with him are filled with memories too, of new experiences we enjoy together, of exciting places we continue to explore and of relationships with families and friends that we continue to develop. These are pieces of his world too and would also help shape him to become the person he will grow up to become.

Still, this conversation does make me wonder what it is that we must be missing out:

Isaac: What day is it tomorrow Daddy?
Daddy: Monday
Isaac: Yay! School!

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