Managing transitions in school

It has been an entire semester since Big D started Secondary School. As expected, Big D displayed his usual characteristic of having a slow and very cautious start. As with all his other major transitions in life, Big D always takes a while to find his footing in any new environment. When he was just born, the nurses brought him over to me in the middle of the first night and said, “Your screaming baby is disrupting the neo-natal ward; no baby is able to sleep because of your baby. Hence, we need to park him next to your bed.” Well well, what do you know, the moment Big D was wheeled next to my bed, he quietened down and fell asleep all the way to morning.

When Big D first started Montessori, he would kick and scream his head off as they pried him away from me at the front door of the school. “Don’t worry,” the teachers would tell me, “he will stop screaming after 10min and will settle in just fine.” True enough, he did stop a few minutes after I left, and in about a month’s time, he stopped kicking up a fuss when I dropped his off at school.

Then came primary school. It took Big D three months to settle into his primary school. Big D had been used to playing in a small Montessori school with 50 other little ones. Moving to the largest primary school in Singapore was tough. This school has a cohort of 390 students per year. Multiply that by six years and adding the staff, Big D had to get used to 2,500 people on a daily basis. Initially, he felt out of place everywhere, even though the school had a buddy/mentor system—and by a coincidence, his buddy was his cousin! The first two weeks of orientation went by with him not knowing what was happening in class. “Mommy, it’s Chinese lessons all day long, and I don’t know what the Chinese teacher is saying.” Turned out that his Chinese teacher was also his form teacher, and since orientation lasted two weeks, the Chinese teacher was spending a lot time with the class.

Matters got worse after the end of each school day. Back in Montessori, transport consisted of a tiny bus that would come to pick up all the kids who needed transport home. In this huge primary school, there were about 100 school buses parked within the school compound during dismissal time. About half of the 2,400 kids would be running around finding their school bus.

Big D’s school bus was the small mini-bus type that was always by the side of the canteen together with all the other mini-buses. Nevertheless, Big D was always very anxious that he would not be able to find his bus. The first two weeks were tough for him. I tried to alleviate his stress by making sure that I was waiting by the steps of the canteen so that he could find me first. Then, with me by his side, he would find and board his bus. Daddy kept saying it was a waste of time, and that I should just let him be in finding his way on his own, or drop the school bus transport entirely and drive him home everyday. I balked at the second option, because—gasp—that would mean I would NEVER be able to have a leisurely lunch with my other tai-tai friends! So, I painstakingly took three months to sort Big D out. I faithfully made my way to the school canteen steps at 1:30pm every day, saw him up the bus and go home on my own. I would bring him back to school on Saturday mornings to walk through the process of “how to locate your school bus”. Finally after three months, he finally realised that the school bus was always located along the side of the canteen. Always.

Today, he smiles sheepishly whenever I bring this incident up. I’m quite a mean mom; I also remind him often of how he once missed his school bus when he was in primary four and had cried and sobbed his heart out in the school canteen. The issue was resolved when the principal, who happened to be walking by and saw him in his “it’s the end of the world” state asked him what the matter was. She shooed him up to the general office to call me to pick him up. He looked extremely sheepish when I picked him up.

Aiyo… how unlike Big D is with his little brother. Now, when Little D was in primary one, he would miss his school bus about once every three weeks. He never cried. He would just calmly walk to the General Office and ask to use the phone to call me. The first time it happened, I panicked and sped all the way to school. I still remember dashing into the General Office expecting to see Little D in tears. But he wasn’t. He was playing a game of who has the nicest smelling eraser with the other kids who had been left behind as well. This year, he called me once from school to tell me that he missed his school bus because how was he to know that the snack stall line would be so long and that it would take forever to buy his snack? Boy, did Little D get a scolding from me when I picked him up later. He learnt his lesson quickly; the following week, he got his school-bus friend to go queue up at the canteen to buy the snack while he waited for his friend in the bus. That way, he could tell the bus-driver that someone else was not in the bus. Would you believe that all the buses had left the school with the exception of Little D’s bus being the lone bus standing in the school grounds with the bus driver standing at the door of the bus waiting for Little D’s friend who eventually returned huffing back to the bus with his arm full of snacks?

Back to Big D. Transiting into secondary school was another huge milestone that took a while.

Again, the first week of school was difficult. By the second day, Big D was asking if he could be transferred to another school. No. Then he kept hounding me to get him transferred to another class by trying to appeal for him to take Higher Chinese. So I tried, but my appeal was rejected by the school. Over the next couple of months, he kept whining on and on about how rowdy the class was and how violent it got sometimes. I wondered if he was just exaggerating or if this was typical of an all-boys school. It was only last month in April when Big D related an incident where the class bully was called up to the principal’s office for a talking to that I realised that perhaps his class was unusually rowdy. This class bully had returned to class with this huge carton box. Apparently, the principal handed him the box and told him that if he were to cross the line again, he would be made to pack all his belongings into the that box and be personally escorted out of the school by the principal. Ooooh. So this is how boys are disciplined and warned in an all-boys school.

Big D started feeling more comfortable with school after the March holidays when he attended his two CCA overnight camps and made more friends. Early this month, a classmate invited him and a few other classmates to go watch a movie together after SA1 exams were over. Big D was so surprised to have been invited that he went to ask the chap if he was serious. I think that Big D is a very relational being and that a great part of his sense of security comes from his perception of whether he feels accepted by the community.

Over the years, I really see Big-D growing in character and stature. I can see that although he feels awkward at the start of any big changes in his life, he’s mature enough to handle the stress. I can’t believe the boy who once burst into tears when he missed his school bus home now takes the MRT and bus home all by himself. He even went to VivoCity all by himself to watch the movie with his classmates, although he was so kan cheong that he left home two hours early and arrived one hour and fifteen minutes early. I certainly hope he looks left and right before crossing the road each time.