11 May, 2007

'Tis been a very eventful academic year ......

............ for both Aparna and Abhay.

Eventful in terms of what they have achieved during the year and eventful in terms of the trials and tribulations that they’ve faced during the year.

It has also been a very eclectic year for us, as parents. This year has brought us face to face with the multitudinous diversities that parenting entails, that parenting demands, that parenting required. Some facets that we came across were pretty well known ones that most parents are familiar with – the joy, the contentment, the pride, the sense of accomplishment. And there were also aspects of parenting which we had not faced so far. The past year has made us reach into depths of our hearts that we did not know existed and in more ways than one, forced us to face realities and deal with them as we knew best. All in all, the past year brought us to an edge where steeping, infusing and imbuing all that we had in us, as parents, became imperative.

This post is a sum total, the essence of what the year has been like for the children and for us, as their parents.

Abhay, ever since he started kindergarten in September of 2006, has had trouble settling in at school. During the first couple of months at school, there used to be tears in the morning and he used to be totally uncommunicative about what was happening or not happening at school and we were totally in the dark.

One particular incident, however, totally raised my hackles and I was beside myself with rage and pain at what he had gone through at school.

An indication of things being awry came when his teacher asked me “Does he speak ?”. That was a premonition of sorts. On hindsight, an indicator of things to come. The churn, the dilemma, the quandary was just beginning. Little did we know that.

Little things, little actions of his like screeching and screaming over seemingly nothing at home, tearing paper into unrecognizable bits (something that had stopped a long long time back), going off the deep end with absolutely no clue as to why – all these pointed out to the fact that something was not right somewhere. He was stressed out and very badly so.

Sometime around November, his teachers wanted us to go down to the school to discuss with them as to “what can be done and how best Abhay can be helped at school”. Somehow, that letter, viewed in the context of his teacher’s above query to me, did not bode well.

I remember heading off to school with totally leaden feet and in a totally perverse sort of way, I remember very vividly as to how bright and sunny the skies had been as I walked the short distance to school that afternoon. The picture of Abhay the teachers painted that afternoon was formidably gloomy, very effectively dismal and incredibly dark and depressing. The image of the little boy that they conveyed to me that afternoon was not the Abhay I knew, it was not the Abhay that I had ever seen, it was not the Abhay that I would have ever imagined in the wildest of my dreams. The only thing that kept up a resounding echo inside of my head was the voice of one of his teachers saying something to the effect of getting him “assessed”.

I countered and parried each and every one of their accusations that afternoon. But with each new “observation” that they leveled at me, my heart sank just that wee bit lower.

I don’t have any recollection of how I got back home that evening. I very acutely and lucidly remember that there was a huge roaring noise that seemed to emanate from inside my ears, effectively shutting me off from the outside world. I saw things around me that evening but I did not comprehend. I heard things around me that evening but I could not synthesize or coordinate them for what they actually were. That evening, I understood the meaning of the word “pain”. It was then that I realized exactly how much it hurts a parent when one’s child is in pain, in trouble. It is agony in its purest form, it is an anguish that leaves one gasping for breath while one is still breathing, it is a torment, a torture that eats into oneself and permeates and pervades one’s very sense of being.

I very vividly remember sitting inside the bathroom and narrating to Vic over phone, all that had taken place during the meeting with the teachers at school. And that night, as sleep refused to claim me, I remember sobbing like I have never ever sobbed before. I could not, for the life of me, even imagine and envisage the pain that Abhay must have gone through during those first two months at school. Even thinking about it was getting to be a bit too much to stomach. The situation called for a countenance, a level of tolerance which seemed far beyond my reach at that point of time. I was such a confusing mixture of emotions then. I cannot even begin to describe the wide spectrum of sentiments and feelings that the meeting in the afternoon had unleashed inside of my head and heart. To cut a long story short, what had happened in the afternoon had taken precedence over just about anything and everything and I was swirling in a vortex of total confusion and bewilderment, not to mention denial.

Those were a few extremely dark days when I did what a parent is absolutely not supposed to do. I started to look at Abhay and each and every one of his actions with a jaundiced eye. I am not one bit proud of the way I acted during those days. Those days, when I, as his mother, should have been at the forefront refuting all those arrows that were being aimed at him, when I, as his mother should have been trying my level best to counter and contest all that his teachers were saying about him. Instead, what did I do ? I started to compare him with other children his age – at school, in the park, in the shopping malls, buses, trains – just about everywhere – albeit unconsciously. And even when I did realise what I was doing, chagrined as I was with myself, I did very little to curb this newfound tendency of mine. And this is something I’m going to pronounce myself guilty of, this is something I’m going to be ashamed about for just about as long as I live.

Abhay’s pediatrician, after having taken stock of the situation and after having gone through the written note from his teachers (I asked for one) very rightly put her finger on the “problem” by saying “It is just that he is an extremely sensitive person. He is ultra sensitive. I don’t really see any reason to put the cart before the horse here”.

Once that initial shock wore off, much more lighthearted after having spoken to his pediatrician and having heard what she had to say, we set about fortifying Abhay. Every single free minute, well, virtually every single free minute of my day revolved around him. Stimulating him mentally, healing yet revitalizing him emotionally and most importantly, restoring, elevating and uplifting his confidence levels – that of his confidence in himself. Every single free moment that Vic had during the weekends – he spent with Abhay. Things took a turn for the better around mid-November.

A week before we left on our holiday to Bombay, his teacher reported a setback in his communication levels at school again. Once in Bombay, Vic devoted all of his free time to Abhay and dad and son started to form an extremely close bond, they began to connect with each other. It was beautiful to watch this unfold. It was like a flower slowly starting to bloom and once in full bloom, a very exquisite and delightful comradeship began to manifest itself. The camaraderie among the two of them was unmistakable and now is inimitable.

Back on homeground in HK, back to school and problems started all over again. Complaints started to come in once again and when we went over to school for the Parent-Teacher meeting in February, his teachers suggested that I could try being in the class with him for a short period of time each day till he started to get comfortable with the class, the teachers and started to participate in the activities and started to open up to them vocally and verbally.

And that was what I did.

Little was I prepared for what was in store.

It was during this time that I got a bird’s eyeview of exactly what transpired in the classroom. During the initial few days, things seemed OK. Nothing out of the ordinary. But slowly and steadily, that veneer began to fade. That fa├žade, that pretense, that mask began to slip and the true persona began to emerge.

One of the teachers in class was overtly and blatantly aggressive with the children. Phrases like “Mind Your Own Business”, “You have a big mouth right ? So use it !!”, “Why don’t you learn to use your brains ?” were heard flying around the classroom at shockingly regular intervals.

I knew firsthand then, the meaning of words like “shocked into silence”, “dumbfounded”, “numb with shock” etc. because that was precisely how I felt. I could not comprehend, for the life of me, the use of such language in an aggressive manner and tone, aimed at children who were all of 3 ½ - 4 years of age. Best part of all, from a person who, the school claims and the parents believe, is professionally qualified to handle children of that age.

That was when things began to take shape with crystal clarity. The reason for Abhay being withdrawn, the reason why he used to go into his shell, the reason why he used to “clam up” when he got to school, the reason why we used to get to hear “I don’t want to go to school” from him.

He has never ever been good at handling aggression or aggressive behaviour. And he simply could not cope with this form of aggression – mental and emotional – that too from an adult. And in such a situation, his “flight” response took precedence over the virtually non-existant “fight” response.

We were waiting for him to move on to KG2 before we started to take any action in this regard. What we wanted to avoid was any kind of a vindictive whiplash reaction if we took matters into our own hand at this stage – given the fact that there barely is around 1 ½ months of school to go before the summer holidays begin.

Little did we realise that his teacher had plans of her own.

I was in for a shock when I went in to hand over the form for his move to KG2. That was when I was informed by the school reception that his KG1 teacher had refused to put up his name on the KG2 list and had strongly recommended that he repeat one more year of KG1.

When I spoke to her in person and led her through the maze of questions I had in store for her, she almost went over the edge. Once she realised that she had been cornered and had her back to the wall, what I got from her was nothing short of totally inarticulate and meaningless interpretations.

We were terribly upset, to say the least. And what hurt us more was the fact that we knew that in truth, in reality, Abhay did not deserve any of this. Those of you who read my blog regularly, know him quite well by now, although through my words. But forming a mental picture of him will not be a very difficult task.

His progress sheets which have been coming in from school regularly indicated that he did indeed absorb everything like a sponge. He was very much aware of what was happening in the classroom and when called upon or when queried about something, he could answer and retort to the point.

Over ten very stressful days, we garnered our defences, honed our weapons, roused, kindled and sharpened our appetite for the combat and conflict that we knew was undoubtedly necessary. As his parents, it was our responsibility to take up this crusade on Abhay’s behalf, to make sure that he does not have to suffer one more year of torture at the hands of the abovementioned distinguished teacher. For us, this encounter was indisputably essential.

And take up the issue with the Principal, we did. Vic took charge of most of the conversation that evening and the way and manner in which he put things across to the Principal could not have been packaged better. Make our stance clear, he did. Make our displeasure known, he did. But nothing was said or done explicitly or blatantly. Yet, the message that went across could not have been more clear.

After having heard all that we had to say, the Principal finally was convinced that we had a very strong case. She gave her consent to Abhay moving on to KG2 but at the same time added that she would also have a talk with him. So there was that little frontier where the little trooper had to substantiate his parents’ faith and confidence in him.

The Principal did indeed have a talk with Abhay and he described to me with great pleasure as to how he explained to the Principal about a teddy bear which was brushing its teeth and wearing its glasses and eating its lunch etc… Apparently, they had been reading a book together. And after having spoken to Abhay, the Principal has decided that he is indeed ready to move on to KG2.

While all this skirmish has been happening on the “adult front”, Abhay has been pretty much busy drawing his own battle lines. Now, he is out to exasperate her. And from the looks of it, he is doing a mighty good job of it. He has chosen the path of passive resistance, one of total non-cooperation – to whatever she says or does. I guess, that is his way of saying “Go take a walk and make it a long one”. His voice takes on a very defiant note when he tells us “I don’t want to say Good Morning to Ms.ABC” “I don’t want to talk to Ms.ABC” “I don’t like to talk to Ms.ABC”.

So, come September, he is going to be heading off towards the KG2 classroom in school and not towards the KG1 classroom as his extraordinarily illustrious teacher had sought.

With Aparna, this year has been one in which she has repeatedly, constantly and continually scaled newer and higher heights. And these have worked wonders for her self-confidence.

There have been troubles with bullies and troublemakers but this newfound confidence that she has in herself, with support and advice from both me and Vic when required, has seen her handle situations in ways that we would not have thought possible, say, a couple of years back.

Her participation as a violinist in the school orchestra also has gone a long long way in motivating and inspiring her to strive and get better still. It gave her a huge window of opportunity to showcase her musical talents in front of such a huge audience and also the entire teaching community of her school.

Her class teacher has repeatedly been of the opinion that it is becoming increasingly difficult for her to set targets for Aparna because she has long surpassed all the targets that could possibly be set for children her age.

Yesterday, we received a letter from the Deputy Principal of Kowloon Junior School, stating that Aparna’s class teacher has chosen her as a recipient for an award. We have been invited to a Special Celebration Assembly to be held at their school on Monday next, during which time Aparna will receive the said award from the Principal of their school.

And with Mother’s Day and Father’s Day just around the corner, we could not possibly have asked for better gifts from both our children.

Both of them, in their own individual, unique and distinctive ways, have gifted us with the one thing that, at one time or the other, surges in each and every parent – That Sense of Pride in knowing that your child is capable, accomplished, talented and qualified – and as an added bonus – the fact that the world knows it, recognizes it and acknowledges it.

7 voice(s) said so:

Ramblings of a wandering mind said...

Atta boy Abhay .... way to go man!

Gauri, don't blame yourself for doubting your son. Every once in a while we tend misinterpret those we love. What really matters is that we get the correct prespective before it's too late. And this you did ....

Say a hiya from me to Aparna and Abhay.

karmickids said...

Gauri, I feel terribly for the pain you have undergone with Abhay. With the brat, when my sis in law who is a preprimary coordinator with DPS, Bangalore, and a person who knows her pre primary children and the developmental milestones, pointed out to me that perhaps I needed to get him "assessed" yes that terrible word again, when he was one and a half, I immediately clammed up and went into a shell. I actually went into a state of denial, my son was fine, he was just a tad slow and difficult. My pediatrician continued to insist he was fine, just a bit slow. He wasnt talking at all. There were temper tantrums, he wouldnt settle, constantly on the go, aggression, hyperactivity. You name it. Then at playschool, the complaints started. I shifted him to nursery at another school. After the first PT meet, the class teacher gently suggested I bring the special educator onto his case. I died a million deaths, and realised that by kidding myself that all was well, all I had done was deny my son a chance to get help for over a year. Krish goes for speech and occupational therapy thrice a week now, and has a special educator sitting with him in class everyday. And he is a radically improved child. While I do know that Abhay was hemmed in by a difficult teacher, the point I'd like to make is that the toughest thing as a parent for me was to accept that Krish needed help. I had even conveyed to the school that I was okay if he repeated nursery, but in their wisdom they have decided to upgrade him to Jr KG. At the end of the day, its the teacher in class who makes all the difference to the child's attitude, and the brat loves going to school...God bless and sorry about such a long and rambling comment. And here;s wishing Abhay a great teacher in his next class....

Rohini said...

You have two aweesome kids. All the best to Abhay with KG2

Kodi's Mom said...

congrats to Aparna! great job :)

i've said this before and I will repeat - Abhay is the smartest kid I've come across in blogsville. That kind of smart doesnt usually sit well in an academic setting, esp ones with teachers who believe they are dictators. instead of learning to love learning, kids like him end up learning to hate school..such a sad state of affairs. glad that you battled for him and won! i hope you complained abt that terror teacher to the princi - god knows how many other innocent kids will have to suffer at her hands.

hugs to you and to li'l Abhay! I hope he enjoys summer away from school and doing all the things he loves best :) (hint - that means more posts abt him, G!)

Orchid said...

I am shocked...that the school wasn't aware that one of their "distinguished" teachers had an attitude problem, seriously how can they justify that?....but I think you all did a fine job of straightening matters out...I guess, the school would've let Abhay suffer had you not intervened and that is a little disconcerting.
Congrats on two wonderful children!

Preethi said...

Oh my god G I am so shocked.. how can the school not know that there is a teacher like her amongst them? When 3 yr olds go to school they are leaving the confines of a protective home and embarking on something so big and unimaginable.. they need all the love and support they can get!!
I find myself thanking God that Abhay found Ms S and has started liking school since...

the mad momma said...

i'm horrified G. both by the teacher, as well as what Abhay went through.. hugs.