Tuesday, June 26, 2012

An Open Letter to a Brand New School Year

Dear School Year 2012-13,

It’s that time of the year. That time of life.

My daughter, my little darling, my pride and joy, is about to get into her first year of formal school.

My firstborn, so far sheltered within the embrace of the home and never too far away from the loving arms of those who care for her, is stepping out into the real world. My husband and I have been her teachers so far, and we will continue to share our feeble wisdom with her. But now we’ve come to one of those baton-passing moments in life.

Given the magnitude of the milestone, you must forgive me if I seem a tad sentimental. You’ve probably seen countless young children pass through your stately portals since the first school began. But this is a first for me. Maybe in three years when it is time for my little son to take those steps, I will be more assured. Of course, knowing me, I’d say, highly unlikely. But no harm in being optimistic, don't you think?

By the way, you must forgive me for writing this long missive. I am a little overwhelmed, and I’m hoping that writing to you will help. You see, I am a mere mortal, and this motherhood thing is my grasp of something bigger than me, something too big for me to contain. And like every mother, I want the best for my child. Not just the best things. Even the best, well, non-things.

What I want for her seems conflicting at first sight. I want to be able to protect her always; I also want her to be independent. I want her to always remain within my sight, so I know that she is safe; I also want her to fly and achieve her own goals. I am not bothered by my own ambivalence. It is only natural for human beings to feel very deep and sharp emotions for their little ones.

I read somewhere that the most important thing that parents can teach their children is to get along without them. As a mother who still has an invisible umbilical cord binding her with her kids (then again, which mother doesn’t?), I find the separation (for want of a better word) strangely disconcerting. I knew there would come a time when she would grow up, and start to do her own things, have her own friends, make her own decisions. I knew that life would beckon and she would answer it. I knew this would happen. And yet I feel as if I have been caught unawares.

The one year she spent at her playschool, KidsLand, of course, doesn’t matter. For one, it was just down the road, so it never really felt like she was away. And secondly, there's something about kids at playschool. They all studiously ignore each other. It's as though, somewhere deep down in their little minds, they've got it all figured out; they know it is only a temporary arrangement.

Besides, going off to school is, in most cultures, the first definitive rite of passage. It is the first time my little girl will be setting out on her own. She will be making her own friends, getting snubbed, bullied, yelled at (sometimes with good reason, and sometimes without). She’ll learn to distinguish between good company and bad. She’ll learn that, if she lets them, people will buoy her spirits and deflate them in equal measure.

One part of me, a very small part, would like to cling to what has been so far. To her childish prattle, to her innocence, to her dependence on me. But even as I cling, I know childhood is not mine to keep. She has to grow up. She has to learn to be independent. Losing one's illusions is one part of growing up. But I am still optimistic enough to hope that she only loses her naivete, not her innocence.

Experience, I’ve learned, is the best school teacher. And life throws so many experiences at us. It cares little whether the person at the receiving end is a wizened octogenarian who has seen more than a 1000 full moons or a little one whose age is a single-digit number.

School itself is a foretaste of everything that life can offer. Bullies, fighters, among other things. Ironically, children will still persist in believing that algebra and exams are the greatest bugbears there ever will be.

But despite it all, school was fun for me. I made some good friends. I had fun learning. Not everything I learned back then has particular relevance to my life today, but I won’t abuse you for that. That is the fault of the education system.

Because I loved and enjoyed school so much, I wish the same for her. I hope she will enjoy school. My parents were encouraging and supportive throughout, never once pressuring us to score more marks, and I hope I can do likewise.

I remember returning home every day to give my mother a blow-by-blow account of everything that had transpired at school that day. I’d like her to use me as a sounding board in just that way.

I hope her eyes light up when she sees the school library. I hope she reads all the books there.

When she steps on to the playground of her school, I’d like her to stretch her arms and legs and feel refreshed at the thought of being out there in the open.

Of course, school isn’t the place it used to be anymore. For one, it’s been accused of wiping off the originality that kids are born with.

You know what I mean. You know how children are. You’ve seen enough of them over the years. Every moment of every day is brand new and carries within it the seed of a host of beautiful experiences and opportunities – that is the attitude with which children view and live life.

I’ll be keeping a close watch on what the school teaches my kid, and hopefully I can teach her to understand and question, to ask and listen. I see us (my husband and me) as allies of the school, doing our best to bring out the best in our child. I hope the school and I are on one page on this.

I hope even as the school seeks to educate her, it also instills in her values of goodness and kindness, courage and sensitivity.

I wish I could sit her down and talk to her about all the mistakes that I made back then and all the things that I would do better if I had the chance. But four-year-olds have no need for philosophy. And I have no desire to burden her with the load of my accumulated experience. Right now she is living in an ideal world. All rights, almost no expectations or responsibilities, except for the “Put your toys away,” variety. But that will soon change. Examinations, tests and other challenges will loom up large.

Right now my little girl and I are best friends. I hope it stays that way. Through the wonder years and the hormone-driven years when kids are always rolling their eyes in the presence of their parents, when they find their parents so un-cool. 

I told her yesterday that she would be making friends in the big school. And I asked, “Will you forget this friend when you make other friends?” And then she said something that fit snugly in my heart. She said, “No, Mama, they will be my school friends. You are my best friend. ”

When it comes right down to it, I must confess, there is another concern. Once you are a mother, you never stop worrying or thinking about your children. You get used to feeling vulnerable on account of them. And then you realise that you cannot always protect them. It's enough to drive anyone batty. Fortunately for my sanity, I am a prayerful woman. And so I am going to pray to Someone to whose authority you, O unit of Time, are as subject as I.

I am careful not to project my anxieties on her. In their own childish way, little children are far more mature about these things than we can ever hope to be. It is we adults who must guard against the urge to put our old, burdened heads on their young shoulders.

School also brings another huge change into our lives. I will now have to get used to there being a whole host of influencers in my child's life. Right now, there is just me and my husband, and she cheerfully accepts whatever we tell her. But that will change as she enters school. Back in the days, I remember closing some arguments with my parents with these words, "My teacher said so." And the peer group, that formidable set of youngsters that gives many parents sleepless nights, will also raise its hydra-like head. And she may begin to wonder how her parents who such a short while ago were the smartest people she knew suddenly don't seem to have a clue about anything.

My little girl has been the centre of the Universe for so long. Now she will meet other little people who have also held similar positions of importance, and through those associations and sub-associations will emerge her world view and her self-image. She will make mistakes along the way (as parents, we would give anything to spare our children the pain of going through some tough life experiences and choices, but that is not to be). It is Nature's decree that every being must face its own tests, make its own mistakes and learn its own lessons.

As I put my thoughts down on paper, trying to sift through the welter of emotions that has overwhelmed me, I turned to watch my little girl fast asleep, blissfully unaware of the things that were driving her mama into a tizzy. The expression on her face calmed me, and as I watched my sleeping child, I made a wish and more for her.

I wished that even as she lost her illusions, an inevitable part of growing up, she may never lose the magical prism through which she now views life. May she grow without the gravity that is associated with growing 'up'. May she never forget that her mama and dadda will always be there for her.

And so finally the uniform was crisply ironed, the shoes shined, the little school bag and the accompanying paraphernalia of water bottle and tiffin box all ready. And somehow, in a halting, faltering way, juggling her my-darling-is-a-big-girl-she-can-take-care-of-herself and her my-sweet-baby-I-hope-all-goes-well-with-her moments, this mama is ready too.

Dear School Year, 2012-2013, Bring it on.


  1. Hi Cynthia, enjoyed reading this! :) You've articulated the thoughts very well.

  2. Thanks, Nupur. It was a huge moment for us. I wonder if our parents felt that way too when we started school.

  3. Very well written bible for your daughter. When she grow up and read, she will appreciate your concerns and the efforts you have put/made on her first day in her school.


  4. Thank you, Pat. Yes, this blog is one fantastic way of expressing myself in the present so that my daughter can know more about her childhood years into the future.



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