Saturday, November 07, 2015

Of tears and recriminations: a post mortem.

The end of the exams did not come fast enough for the twins. And they rejoiced, from the night before the last paper till the day they got the papers back. Then there was a bit of a pall in the house. One did better, one didn't do as well. The problem was that the one who didn't do so well, didn't do so well because of a lackadaisical attitude rather than general inability.

As with grief, there were different emotions that I encountered.

First it was denial.
Those scores couldn't be. The incredulity was greatest for English. After all, the twins are the products of two English teachers. How could it be that their English was so bad? I had to remind myself that my 8 year old self once spelt "other things" as "oether thinks". So, if my 8 year old self had crap English, why not the twins?

Then anger. 
When I saw the results and saw the mistakes that led to the results, it truly did make my blood boil. My emotional and irrational response was to wonder if I could get away with caning them. I had grown up listening to how my classmates got caned for bringing home less than perfect scores. Then I asked myself, to what end? How would my inflicting pain on them do anything beneficial? It might make me feel better especially since I would have an outlet for my frustration but I would not inflict pain on a child to make myself feel better. That would just be plain child abuse.

Then the big bad word came along. Guilt. 
I work. I'm out of the house 3 days a week till evening. By which time, I can manage a cursory glance at what they've done through the day. Most of the time, I leave them instructions as to what they need to do. Would it have been better if I had been home every afternoon and put a gun to their heads and made sure they did what they needed to? It was easy to blame myself for it. Could I have put in more effort? Could I have been more vigilant and drilled them a bit more? Then it occurred to me that I wasn't the one taking the exams and I wasn't the one who had to do the work. If it was only being done because I was there, then the work was done under duress. Admittedly, I think if I had drilled the twins more, they might have been in a better position for the exams. But what would they have learnt? That Mommy is their crutch? As they get older, it would get more and more ridiculous for me to be home just so that they would get their work done. So the uphill task that the rational part of me had was to convince the not-so-rational- penchant to be helicopter- tiger mom part of me that it wasn't my fault and my stopping work or staying at home more wasn't going to do the twins any favours. I haven't stopped feeling guilty but Packrat keeps reminding me that the twins have to take responsibility for their own learning and their own achievements.

So where am I now? At this point, while writing this, I think I'm still at  the bargaining phase, full of despair; trying to find reasons and solutions.
I ask myself "Why?" Why is it that the papers were so badly done?  I ask Packrat, what can we do? Of course, the million dollar instinct is to plough them headlong into tuition classes. After all, part of the problem comes from that fact that there is so little rigor in the school work that they aren't used to sitting and practicing for extended periods of time. They don't take, as seriously, the homework we set for them because they know that we aren't their teachers. But this is a path that I'm willing to explore but unwilling to take. The time, the cost and how it's still a short-term solution that breeds a certain amount of dependency and helplessness make it a less than desirable plan of action. We have sat and talked about it to death, coming up with reasons, justifications and recriminations. Eventually Packrat suggests a two-fold action. First we sit with them and ask them the following questions.

1. Do you think you could do better? (Rhetorical question that has to be asked)
2. What do you think you can do to make it better?
3. How can we help you to make it better?

With that, we devise a holiday work schedule (even though we promised no work during the holidays, the caveat had been that they had to earn it) where they stipulate how much work they are willing to do and stick to it. The pages would have to be done to the best of their ability. By the end of the holidays, we'll give them a 'supplementary exam'. If they still show that they aren't doing well, then we start thinking about additional help. The consequence of that, as told to the twins, would be that we will have less money to vacation and they will have less time to play.

I'm not sure if I've reached Acceptance yet though. I'm still annoyed with careless mistakes and and the low grades. I dread finding out what the consequences are. There is some calm albeit resigned acceptance; that these are the grades they were meant to get and the classes they get streamed into are the ones they were meant to get into for whatever reason. That and the fact that 15 years from now, no one will really care what they got in primary school and the ones who did well and the ones who didn't would have all levelled out onto the same playing field. Those thoughts need to become strong enough to block out the more negative, dark and twisty ones that convince me that with these grades at 8, come 12 at PSLE, we're going to be in trouble. Such dark and twisty thoughts have the potential to snowball into panicky, psychotic, crazy mother behaviour which benefits no one.

So have we returned to reality and the living of a normal life?
On the surface, yes. For now, We're giving them a bit of breathing space to go nuts and just play. But deep down inside, I'm still upset and angry. But I know that it's important to move forward and use this as an opportunity to fix what they are weak at. I also know that they need to take on the responsibility of getting the grades they are capable of getting. The latter is a bit harder to teach because it involves us watching them by the wayside and not reacting even if it is a train wreck in slow motion.

There have been counter suggestions. Migrate. Leave this less than ideal system. We would still like to, at some point, but if we did it for this reason then we wouldn't be any better than who pay to get their kids certified as special needs and we'd be running away. Now, that would truly be something to feel guilty about.


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