One day, when my son was walking to school with our neighbours’ son, I walked near them to go to work, but they treated me like a stranger. I was warned that I wasn’t allowed to walk with them or to be seen to know them, as it’s embarrassing. The boys are 12 years old. It’s understandable.
I had always thought for months that the two boys walked all the way together to school, a half an hour journey.
The boys actually parted at the first set of traffic lights. Our neighbours’ son G then crossed the road, waited for his other mates at a bus stop. He would wait for his 2 mates and walked to school with them.
This group of boys would later cross the road at a very busy roundabout together.
Busy roundabout: some children cross this road to get to school.
How did my son Ben continue his journey?
He continued walking to the end of the road, walked a further 5 minutes, and crossed the road at another set of traffic lights. He walked to school on his own for the most part of his journey.
I had mixed feelings. I was pleased that Ben didn’t join the boys and crossed the road at the busy roundabout. That is a nasty roundabout. Ben sticks to the route that he and I both had agreed before. That’s a much safer route with 2 sets of traffic lights though it would take slightly longer to get to school.
However, I feel a bit sorry that Ben is on his own, without company.
I asked him, are you ok? Don’t you feel a bit left out by your friends? “No! I’m ok!” Ben sounded happy and confident. He told me that he doesn’t like the shortcut that other boys take. He likes his own route, and he doesn’t mind walking on his own.
To try to understand him a bit more, I gave him another scenario: in the middle of the night, when there’s no other cars, and the traffic light turns red. Would you still be waiting for the green man to let you cross the road? Ben said, yes. “You must always follow the traffic lights.”
My son enjoys a very simple routine in life. He doesn’t enjoy changes. Two weeks ago, it was the World Books Day and everyone had to dress up as a character from a story. Ben hates dressing up from a young age and he has never enjoyed various dressing up opportunities in the primary school, including Christmas performances. I’ve thought that kids don’t have to ‘dress up’ as a character any more in the secondary school to save me from further nightmare, but I was wrong. On the morning of dressing up, Ben decided to wear the school uniform as he really refused to be someone else in school. After a long discussion and after I’d started to raise my voice at breakfast, he finally agreed to wear casual clothes to school, a T shirt and a pair of jeans. “Are you sure I can dress like a ‘normal person’ in school today?” I warned him that he would be teased if he dared to wear the school uniform on the World Books Day, surrounded by Harry Potter, Cats in the Hat, Sherlock Holmes, vampires, Wally, Dennis the Menace and James Bond. I threatened him, “I don’t want you to be the only boy who wears the uniform today. You’d be singled out! Do you want people to laugh at you? Do you? Do you…?”
You see, I’m teaching my son to be the person that he isn’t. I tried to take him outside of his comfort zone. I tried to make him ‘socialise’ though he may not be comfortable with the given situation. It’s hard work for him and for me.
My child is not the most sociable, and he doesn’t like playing football or rugby. When he was in Year 6, his teacher gave him a Grade D in PE — a near-fail grade. Her reasons were that Ben was not brilliant in team work and there was a big gap in his social ability with his peers. He simply didn’t try hard enough to be friends with everyone. I agreed with the teacher that teamwork is ever so important in the society and school should prepare a child to function well in the work place and the wider community. However, I also challenged the teacher’s view. I asked her if she was aware that Ben is a competent swimmer, and he had been practising badminton for a few years with me. Ben plays badminton to a good degree — he does’t play strategically, but he plays for an hour each time without complaint. To a child who hates team or contact sports, who has always been clumsy with balls, being able to hold a badminton racket, serve, raise his arms, aim and hit hard and run sideway, I think it’s an improvement.
However, in my son’s primary school, badminton was never taught. The teacher explained that swimming and badminton are brilliant, but these are one-to-one activities and they’re not that important to her. “They don’t count,” she answered. In primary school, “we focus on team work and playing games.” My understanding is that, a child has to fit in to play the games that are endorsed by the decision makers, to demonstrate team spirit. Personal endeavours such as swimming and badminton skills are not as valued.
Having only one child also comes with stigma. If the child turns out beautifully, it’s because the parents simply having too much time and energy to devote 100% to the child, so it’s no wonder that the child can achieve Grade 8 in piano and can also speak Arabic and Chinese plus English. If the child misbehaves or if he is perceived rude in public, it’s because he is spoilt. “She has only one child. She must have spoilt that child.” I was once criticised that my son was obnoxious and I made too many allowances for him. Belittling criticism like this is not helpful. I’ve nurtured my son the best I could. I try to look at the world from his viewpoint. I try to appreciate why he has chosen to walk by himself and why he hates parties and dressing up. Ben also astonishes me with the way he views the world when categorising events. At dinner table today, I asked, “When is the Easter this year?” His answer was, “The day after the new Doctor Who series starts.” Never mind Jesus.
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