Post 264.

As term concluded all over the country, parents sat through sweet, wonderful and interminable school and extra-curricular Christmas shows of various kinds. If you want an ethnographic look at the nuances of the modern social contract, observe hundreds of parents generously applauding each others’ children’s best attempt at anything audible or coordinated on stage  (or not) in a mutual agreement of after-work patience and reciprocity. 

Thousands of parents will help make these shared moments happen; those in the parent-teacher associations, those who work full time and give far more than I can even imagine, those who are primary care-givers and are the real glue in school efforts at Christmas shows, carnival costumes, Divali celebrations, and fundraising efforts. Most, but not all are women.

I’m not one of those moms. I’m terrible at staying on top of what my one child has due in school, attending choir meetings, helping to paint the classrooms or cultivating a school food garden.  I don’t have an excuse. I know mothers of more children than me, working full-time and raising their children virtually on their own, who also make muffins for class bake sales and show up in the right length shorts for the school fundraising car wash. 

You mothers are amazing. I honor and appreciate you. I’m wracked by guilt for being what feels like a bad mom, often more interested in work than anything else, but I haven’t yet organized my life to contribute in ways that share the care. I always wonder if dads ever experience that guilt. Nonetheless, it’s a resolution for next year.

There’s the expectation that a good school will put on these Christmas plays or Carnival productions, but there’ a lot of extra effort needed to pull off something that parents won’t quietly grumble over.

This year, rather than going big, Ziya’s school held their play in the school hall and the decorations had that handmade for the school auditorium feel. It’s always a negotiation between the fanciness of the production, and the cost and effort required.  

I liked the scaled-down version because it felt authentic. It simplified the point, which was to collectively be there for children to shine for a few minutes in more than their parents’ eyes, not spend money which some don’t have during economic hard times nor make the space and style more impressive than the small people singing in or out of tune. It was clear that the teachers had acted, not only out of professional responsibility, but out of immense pride and love, to display to us how our children have grown through their hundreds of hours of care. I want to salute teachers too and recognize your contribution and value.

A school production is not only an prime example of community, it’s a rite of passage for parents; those memories you will lovingly cherish, and yet are happy to leave behind, of sitting through class after class or age group after age group of skit, song and dance of questionable though super-cute skill.  The extra-curricular end-of-year productions are like that also, lots of rehearsals and costuming, and lots of empowering parental response, an extension of the way we look at our own little ones’ drawings and imagine their adult artwork hanging in the Louvre. It’s a shared soft-focus approach and one of the best things about the end of term when everyone is tired, but a coalition of the willing.

When strife dominates the front pages, it’s easy to forget that these end of term shows can be those precious moments of life which matter most to thousands of families, often taking priority over headline news. 

I highlight them here because, now that the term and tests are over, it’s good to remember that teaching and learning is sometimes less about our heads or our ranks and marks, than the memories we are blessed enough to gather in our hearts.

Post 207.

Tears. In the morning when I left the classroom after pulling Zi off me, feeling her like a small, green sapodilla clinging to its branch. Tears. In the afternoon as I transitioned her from the end of school to her extra-curricular activities, and because there were more new teachers, new rooms and new children, and she wanted me to stay.

One particular afternoon, she realized it wasn’t the gymnastics teacher she already knew, and watched the large number of unfamiliar children in the class with increasing apprehension, for her shy self the perfect storm of terror. More tears upon tears. One teacher held her while I walked away without looking back, as if everything was okay.

In my office, I’d have to recover from that last plaintive wail of ‘mummy!’, that I turned my back on, echoing in my head. I knew that within minutes of my leaving, she would be getting on with the moment, but the tears made me wonder so many things.

What if the world followed children’s readiness to separate, when might that happen instead of at such a young age? When you know your child feels overwhelmed in new situations, with new people and large groups, is there a parental secret to helping her adjust? Or, is tough love the right, real deal?

When you see the value of teaching philosophies that point to the importance of children identifying what they are interested in learning, does insisting your child press on through tears help or hurt their relationship to education? I thought about myself in childhood piano lessons, bored and afraid of the teacher, who somehow failed to nurture passion, curiosity or fun. Being forced to go wouldn’t have helped me learn and, eventually, to secure permission to stop going, I might have bawled down the place too.

Of course, when it was time to collect Zi, she was busy doing floor rolls with the other children in the same flood-of-tears gymnastics class, her sobs forgotten by her more than by me. I thought about how I almost got fooled, almost agreed to take her home, through wanting to value the kind of learning that children choose when they are ready, almost to counter the opposite experience of typical schooling.

How to know when to lovingly push children past their comfort zone, or when to listen to and follow their instincts, for there are important lessons there, particularly for girls, which they may carry into the ways they see their emotions, treat their bodies or defend their choices. Yet, life involves learning to make the most of situations we are in, chosen or not, and in the process to develop skills that include patience, self-discipline and courage. Better to learn them at four than at forty years old, free of charge from mom instead of through lost jobs, relationships or creative opportunities, or nose-bleedingly expensive therapy.

For moms, community is a must. Observing the momentous trivialities of Ziya’s first two weeks of primary school, one mom wrote me to share that she took the week off work to settle her daughter into secondary school. I sent back my respects. My aunt told me how she was granted milk and cookies from her 1950s, primary school nutrition programme. She drank the milk and, until she left for high school, used the cookies to bribe the school bully so she wouldn’t beat her up. She was so introverted that she didn’t tell her sister who was also in the school, nor her mother.  But, “it worked,” she said, “no beatings and no osteoporosis”.

Uncertainties and fears are life-long challenges as life continually changes. As every parent knows, it takes children different lengths of time and different kinds of support and smarts to adjust, but all have to. “One of our biggest jobs as a parent, messaged wise mom Gillian, is simply “to be there after they return from the sometimes heavy world”. “We all have to go through growing pains”, concurred my sistren Shalini, “just always receive her at the end of the day with love”. As I watched Zi skipping off this morning, I thought, there are tears, but there is time, toughening up, and hugs.

Post 205.

Growing into parenthood is truly an opportunity for life-long learning.

As you prepare your little sapodilla for that memorable moment of starting primary school, you learn that your skills are really not up to that sticky, plastic wrap, book-covering thing. You learn from a next mother (for it seems that it is moms who cover children’s books), and after you paper all the copybooks in brown paper,  that they are sold already covered in plastic. So, you tell yourself you had planned it so to be more environmentally-conscious anyway.

You learn that you can actually iron those tiny school uniform pleats with love in the days before primary school finally starts, even though you hate ironing, and you know that you will likely not iron with such love by week five.

You learn to make new friends with parents with whom you may have nothing in common, but the collective, educational welfare of your children, and the fact that you will attend more of their children’s birthday parties over the next year than adult dinners, drinks or fetes.

You learn you might be the only parent who thinks its scandalous that the mandatory school swimsuit for a four year old costs $45 USD, precisely because education should rely on low cost resources unless those costs are for the best books, labs or musical instruments, and you realize, in a suddenly less naïve moment, that the children of UWI lecturers might be the poorer ones in the classroom.

You learn how to manage your self too, your philosophy and your ways of securing the kind of education you want for your child. I couldn’t find a school that didn’t believe in tests, homework, hierarchical ranking of students, or the idea of learning through competition, rather than in relation to their personal best. All of children’s educational experience from Reception is geared toward that master-test, the SEA, itself a grand, nation-wide, hierarchical and competitive ranking and, eventual, class stratification.

And while we think that discipline, structure, examinations, conformity and competition are the core principles of learning, I’d prefer to see care, cooperation, creativity, acceptance of eccentricity, and fearlessness for nonconformist experimentation emphasized, as these are historically the bases for art, activism, science, philosophy, invention and ecological conservation

So, I know I will have to learn how to negotiate my own values of alternative education with those of Zi’s teachers in a way that puts first her ability to feel at home and forge an enabling relationship with her school.  Zi’s already asking if its okay to make mistakes in her school work, just as she’s asking why its important that her hair be so neat, just as she’s already looking amongst her motley belongings for a present to take for her teacher, just as she asked me to let Miss know that she’s scared of the big children because they are too rough, just as she wants to know why no one else besides me thinks God shouldn’t always be referred to as ‘Father’, for that’s a hidden curriculum in every assembly, just as she will learn to identify who writes, reads or adds well, hopefully realizing children should help rather than judge others with weaknesses where they have strengths. So, listening, I’m aware of this new experience as a complex one for her, and the reflection it requires of me.

As always, there is labour and logistics. There is love and letting go. There is taking the best of what is offered while protectively nurturing a sense of the right and capacity to challenge the status quo in the best ways, based on what most creates confidence and independence, as well as instincts for justice.

There was pride and nostalgia shining like morning dew in mom’s eyes this week as we watched our children step away and into a new experience. Zi entered a school and class I was in, at her exactly her age, thirty-seven years ago.

Life long learning as a woman and mother over that time have brought me this far. As my sapodilla grows with each school lesson, her challenges will also challenge me to best support her learning, as well as her individuality and empowerment, in a holistic, harmonious, healthy and honest way. In this educational experience for us both, I guide, but she’s leading the way.