Homework for a Three-year-old

The pressures of a child going through early childhood education doesn’t just wreak havoc on the child’s life; a large part of the time, parents are also – if not more – stressed out by what their child has to go through.

In this excerpt from Dear Xander, that same pressure led to an emotional breakdown between mother and child in what was ultimately a miscommunication between parents and preschool over how a 3-year-old’s homework should be done.

It begs the question: are we putting too much stress on ourselves and our children, in the quest to prepare ourselves for the rigorous, competitive academic life that is signature of the Singapore education system?

You can read the full post here.

Your mother tried getting you to write the Chinese characters on a blank piece of paper, without much success. Sensing something was up, she asked you to write your name in English; you went as far as X and A before finally exhibiting what you were only capable of writing at 39 months of age – crooked lines. Your mother started wondering what you’ve been taught in school since you enrolled back when you were 18 months old. Then she started getting angry, then anxious, then worried.

She started to cry.

You realised what was happening, and went up to hug her. you took some tissue nearby to wipe off your mother’s tears, and then started stroking your mother as you would always do whenever you think she’s sad. You started crying as well, and in between breaths, you said to your mother, “Mummy, don’t cry.” confused and not knowing what else to say, your mother replied, “But you’re not writing your words.” And then she cried even harder.

Time Flies

It’s June, 2010. Seems like only yesterday when we celebrated the New Year; I still have Chinese New Year goodies sitting on our buffet counter in the dining room.

I really need to throw those goodies out.

My kid’s been going to daycare for 2 days now. We keep referring to it as school, which really throws people off, but really, it actually is a school, and we’re gonna keep saying he’s going to school until either he graduates from university or we can’t afford the school fees any more.

So a lot of people have been asking me and my wife, school? At 18 months old? Are you sadists? To this, my official reply would be that this is one of those decisions we took quite a bit of time to make. In Singapore, this is a situation that invariably crosses the life of any parent in our current generation. Almost the entire population is working in one way or another (elderly included), and dual-income families are not just a norm, but compulsory in an economy where government housing costs about 20-30 years’ of an executive’s salary, and a decent car costs 5 years’ worth (and has to be paid for all over again every decade; COE is a four-letter word).

My wife has been lucky to be offered a very flexible work schedule since my son was born, but at some point we both realized the time we have both as working individuals as well as together as a family needed to be better managed. We’ve pored through every available option society has to offer, from our own grandparents (emotional blackmail is a craft best honed when your mother and you can both use your kid as leverage), to a full-time maid (those maid-from-hell stories should be compiled together and made into a episodic Hallmark Channel horror-thriller series), to playgroups (rare, and no guarantees), to our present daycare/preschool option (more expensive than a university education).

Amidst all the questions and seeking all the answers (…can we afford it? …is the curriculum suitable? …are the teachers of sound mind and body? …is he going to raise a coup with his classmates against his teachers?), we finally decided to bite the bullet (and my?leather wallet, because after paying the initial fees, it was the only meat-based product I have left to eat).

By the advice of the school teacher-in-charge, we were told to expect a rough ride for the first month. Separation issues, changes in habits, misbehaviour,… and that’s just the parents.

The first day was a little rough. We managed to be late (school starts at an insane 7am; We usually wake up at 9.30am on a good day), and dropped him off 1 1/2 hours behind time. We dangled around him for a little while to see how school mornings would typically go (washing hands, setting down school bags in the classroom, washing hands, breakfast, washing hands), took a few pictures (if you got my wife in your Facebook list, they’re online now), and sneaked out. We had it easy?already; we saw a bunch of parents drop their kids off at the door and have to literally run away before their kid realized they’re leaving him/her there and started screaming for waffles (you know, “WAAAAAAH! Fuh, fuh, fuh, WAAAAAAH!”).

The remainder of the morning and half the afternoon we were both wondering what to do with ourselves, what with the sudden freedom of time. But we were wondering much more, how our son was doing. Was he playing with the other kids? Was he hitting the teachers? Did he miss us? Is he napping properly? Eating well?

After a round of roaming around 313 Orchard and visiting Uniqlo for the first time, and failing to find an iPad in EpiCentre to ogle at, we headed back to the school at 3.30pm to find our kid greeting us at the door in his teacher’s arms, pouting and red-eyed from
just waking up and realising everything that happened that morning wasn’t just a bad dream.

An hour later, he was back to his old cheery self and we heaved a sigh of relief from the fact that the transition wasn’t as bad as we imagined it to be.

Day 2 was when we found out our kid was as much a morning person as his parents were, which, very frankly, was not at all.

We were determined to make it to school at a much more respectable time, and woke up at 6 in the morning (the only other times we woke up that early was when I had a flight to catch, one of us smelled something burning or Glenn and the Flying Dutchman were too loud when they start their shift on the radio).

I dug our son out of his cot at 6.30am and dressed him in his school, and instead of running around the house after that as per his usual after bed routine, he just lay there on the sofa, eyes half closed with his milk bottle hanging limply from his mouth, occasionally complaining with a short teary cry about how 6.30am was really a ridiculous time to be alive and being generally as grumpy as the void deck uncle with 2 beers and unloving middle aged children.

But he fared much better in school on his second day. At one point, he even managed to entertain the entire school (about 9 kids total and 4 adults; it’s a very new school) with his signature twirl-till-you’re-dizzy dance, and we would like to believe he managed to Casanova his way into the hearts of the pretty preschool girls there, and will soon be bringing his girlfriend home to see his parents.

Time flies. He was only just born not long before, and now he’s in school. I always dreaded the day he would start primary school; never would I have imagined that at 18 months old, I would already have to start waking up at an ungodly hour to bring him to school. I now know the problem I have understanding the grammatically awkward phrase “suffer the children”; it is missing a “with”.