What my firstborn’s grammar and schoolwork taught his dad

HWI scolded my eldest boy recently over his schoolwork.

And in doing so, I realized I had to bear some responsibility for what happened too.

The scolding took place shortly after I found out he tried to hide the results of a recent grammar school homework from me. What he did was to show it to my wife instead, just before bedtime one evening. He was hoping that she wouldn’t tell me and would just sign on the cover sheet to prove to his teacher that a parent had seen it.

Good thing my wife and I are on the same side when it comes to mutual transparency over our kids’ school results. So our poor friend had no choice but to show me the paper after being told to by his mom!

Bummer.

Now we never thought we had to worry about his English. After all, he’s always been a voracious reader, often devouring two or three storybooks in one afternoon. Despite living in a bilingual family and society, Jaedon thought, spoke, and communicated in every way like he was monolingual.

He’s even been known to say on many an occasion that he’s “from Britain”!

Partly my fault I guess, since I’m the anglophile in my family.

So these were probably the reasons why my wife and I ‘let our guard down’ when it came to English. We ignored the reality that, at Primary 5 this year (the equivalent of Grade 6 in the States), the grammar will get a whole lot harder for my boy. His grammar challenges were probably the challenges of many an adult too! Like when to use the past or present perfect tense, as well as the right word to complete comprehension cloze passages.

But it wasn’t even the grammar errors that had me scolding him that evening.

Now my son generally does above average in all his subjects. He’s also a kid that typically appears quite nonchalant about his academic performance in school, even as he dutifully completes all his schoolwork on time.

But we noticed that while he’s often fairly quick to show us assessment results that showed he did well, he’s a whole lot slower when it comes to those that barely make the mark. This tells us he’s not as cavalier about his results as he would have us believe.

Mind you, we his parents have always strived to de-emphasize the importance of grades and emphasize more about the learning. Doesn’t matter what the grades are we tell him; more important is to find out what went wrong and learn from mistakes.

So this particular incident was quite an eye-opener for me. Because there were other issues besides the score, and where his grasp of grammar fell short.

I know the script. I’m supposed to appear not to be so moved. After all, a 63% score isn’t a death knell. Why get so upset? But the score was just the signpost, the wrapper, the frame. Probe deep, peel away the skin and what’s revealed is a piece of homework that was given a generous two days by the teacher to complete – at home! Where dictionaries and a dad were available. Where checking and re-checking were more than possible.

It smacked of laziness, cockiness, but worse of all, subterfuge (cos he tried to avoid telling me!).

I was appalled.

I thought he knew better.

I thought I knew better.

Apparently neither one of us did.

And so the dance resumed. The one where the parent tries to unearth all the issues while the kid tries to defend himself. We were like two cockerels skirting the perimeter of the fighting pen, each eyeing the other to see who’ll make the first move. Who will lead the dance and who will follow.

It made me rethink how I’ve been parenting. Am I really so bad a parent? Should I have put on the angry face that evening while scolding him (and which made him tear up)? But if instead I put on a poker or sage face, would he have taken what I admonished seriously?

You see, for the longest time, my eldest has been able to do a lot of his schoolwork independently, allowing me to focus more on helping Caleb with his schoolwork.

But I see now that I was wrong to ‘ignore’ him. I forgot that my 11-year-old Jaedon’s still a kid, a kid who’s only 20 months older than his brother.

A kid who also needs his dad’s help with schoolwork. And navigating life’s ups and downs.

And so what happened was my responsibility too.

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