Parenting Motivations #8 — New school, new beginnings

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Hey Sons!

Happy New Year! Hopefully 2022 is going to be the year we see Covid become an endemic disease everywhere. More like the common cold rather than the never-ending pandemic it is now.

But more importantly, this will be one major milestone year for you both.

Not only are you approaching “teen-dom” , you’re moving on to bigger things too!

Are you ready for new school experiences?

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J, you’re starting your first year in a new school — a secondary school that’s arguably the best in its immediate district. With the first full week of orientation for newbies outta the way now, you’re all set to dive waist-deep into some serious studying from next week, with double the number of subjects plus new co-curricula activities to sign up for.

Are you ready?

And C, you’re into your fourth year in a special needs primary school and have moved over to a bigger compound in a different building on campus. You’ll finally (fingers crossed) be joining a co-curricular activity this year too, after Covid derailed plans for it last year. Your workload will also be more challenging as your school ramps up curriculum content, to better prepare you for the nation’s major exams two years from now.

Will you be prepared by then?

Admittedly, even as I muse over these “big-ticket” items like a protective parent prone to worry, I doubt they’re as front-and-center in your young minds as they are in mine.

More likely you’re wondering about day-to-day stuff, like who’s going to be your new best bud, most dreaded teach, most formidable school bully. Or which is going to be your fave food stall in the canteen, shortest route to the new classroom, and so on.

Yeah I remember all those feelings quite well too, even though it feels like forever since I first stepped into a new school, a new surrounding, with new faces everywhere I turn (albeit with face masks still firmly in place).

In fact, if I had to pick a memory of my checkered school days, I would say that first year in my new secondary school had to be the most nerve-wrecking one of all!

“Those were the days my friend!”

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Yep I still remember…

My secondary school sat on top of a hillock.

Each morning after alighting from the bus, I would take a long walk down a back alley called Kay Poh Road (colloquial phrase that meant “busybody”!), and arrive at the back gates of the campus.

From there, it was a long and steep climb up the side of the road leading to the back of the massive canteen. Massive to my then barely 13 year old self, because it was at least five times the size of the canteen in my previous school!

Was that my long, painful and uphill climb towards academic supremacy? And was that vast cavern of a canteen where the nation’s top young minds were being fed with all manner of delicacies, designed to ensure peak performance?

Now why didn’t I see what I was getting myself into then? Oh right. I was still a tween that’s why! What did I know?!

There were many studying in that school who eventually became our country’s top politicians, doctors, lawyers, architects, engineers, CEOs —  the proverbial movers and shakers of any country’s government and large corporations.

As for me, the only shaking I was doing was the one involving my knobbly knees, especially during a class test or exam!

One of the things I quickly learnt was that my classmates were frighteningly intelligent, and they were never afraid to show off. Within the first few weeks of school, I was so intimidated by these “mini-Einsteins” I retreated into my little tortoise shell.

There was just too much to absorb, too much noise, too much peacocking.

The lost years

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Among the many intimidating things was the tripling of the number of subjects I had to learn.

There were the usual English, Mother Tongue, Science and Mathematics (so much harder!). Then there were newer ones like History, Geography and Literature. I remembered going about my school days in a blur, like I was in a dream — rolling down a mountain side in a wine barrel with ever increasing speed and being thrown in every direction!

There was no guidance as to what I should be focusing on. No scaffolding or time management tips to be dished out by the sage teachers, every one fiercer than the last. One teacher even had the nickname Tiger Lily! Guess which part of that name describes her to a tee?!

Everything that was taught seemed so important and urgent.

In those days of course, no one really equipped students with time management skills. They should have, since the jump from just four subjects in Primary 6, to nine subjects in Secondary 1 was a massive leap!

But since it was supposedly the top boy school in the land, the teachers probably assumed everyone came in fully loaded.

I didn’t.

Still don’t!

May your new school experience not mirror mine

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To this day, I don’t think I ever fully recovered from the four years I spent there.

Much of the first year was spent on things that were actually not that important. I lingered over subjects that caught my interest, but left out many other important content, much of which turned up in the year-end exams!

My family, thinking I had made it into the top boys school in the country, pretty much left me to my own floundering. I don’t think any of them really understood how much I suffered, how lost I felt, and how desperately I needed to feel worthy.

It’s hard when you’re navigating all of that. And pimples too!

Now in case you misunderstand, and think the “all of that” I just referred to was solely about studying, allow me to clarify.

The bigger challenge with “teen-dom” had to do with negotiating friendships and struggling to find my own footing in the world, which at that age, was essentially school and home. To fulfil a sense of belonging and acceptance. Those things they never teach you, so your dear old dad had to discover it all through the “school of hard knocks.”

I can’t say I’ve nailed it all yet (even as I turn 52 this year). But with the benefit of hindsight, I most certainly hope to navigate these choppy waters of this phase of your life with you.

Hopefully that will ensure your experience in school won’t mirror mine!

So here’s to 2022 and all the new school experiences that await the three of us.

We got this my sons!

Yours always

Daddy Doofus

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