Monday, June 09, 2008

Worry beads

I posted sometime ago about my concerns about Gillian's friends and how agonising it was to trust and to let go the reins.

Two weeks ago we had the parent-teacher meeting with Gillian's form teacher. Well, the warning bells have officially started their peal.

I asked Mr ST about her friends, the ones whose names she constantly mentions, whose company she enjoys. There was some hesitation but he came clean with me and I am grateful for his honesty.

Her friends, he explained carefully, are the trouble brigade in class. They have had complaints from the public for bad behavior at Parkway, at the beach nearby, at the bus-stop outside school etc. Parents have also complained. It wasn't only about bad behavior but also public snogging with boys. These girls, he said, have very poor parental control. He warned me to look out for changed behavior - like Gillian not coming home straight after school, being defiant, lying etc. He said that girls whose behavior were not deemed problematic in the first term had been 'turned' by the second term. Their parents had observed this and had highlighted it to him. He acknowledged that it would be a hard problem because the trouble brigade always seems so attractive - they were loud, popular, outspoken etc and always seemed to have interesting fun lives. And, he shrugged, who would not want to have fun too?

I sighed. This was how it was going to be. I knew it, suspected it would happen and maybe I was in denial but I did not think it would happen so quickly.

He said Gillian is always sunny and well-behaved in class. She was not rude or noisy. I thanked him for his insight but left unspoken, hanging above our heads, was the knowledge that this could change at any time.

I left the PTM worried and a bit heavy-hearted. What could I do? How could I protect her? How could I influence her so that she made the right choices?

I went to the bowling alley to meet Gillian. It was the last bowling practice of the term. From there, we walked to Parkway Parade to meet KH, who would pick us up from there.

As we walked, I asked her: you know that time you went with your friends to Parkway... were there any uh, boys... there?

She looked at me: Of course mom! They went there to hang out with their boyfriends.

My eyebrows must have gone up because she continued: But don't worry mom. I didn't do anything. I'm not interested in boys and all that now. Besides, there's not even a cute one among them there!

As if that would reassure me!

She went on: You know today, when I called to ask you if I could go to the beach with them...

Uh-huh, I said. I said no, remember?

Yes I remember. Well, they wanted to go to the beach to meet the boys again.

My heart pumped. And she said: I said I had to call you to ask you and Charmaine said why I had to call you, everything also must call... She said I could just go to the beach and tell you that I had gone for bowling. You don't have to know. But I said I better call to check or I would get into trouble and then Charmaine just said aiyah, you don't go lah! so troublesome! But I called you anyway and you said no, so I went bowling.

Can I say how I felt in the last few minutes when she made that tiny speech? My heart went from anguish, to fear and then to relief and to pride.

Right then in the busy road, I gave my daughter a hug. Both of us were a bit embarrassed and tried to be cool about it. I nodded and said Gill, I am SO glad you did that. I'm so glad you called mummy. I'm so glad you didn't just go with them.

She scoffed: Of course I'd call and ask. If you found out, can you imagine how much trouble I will be in?? Don't worry mom, I know what to do.

I hope so. For now at least she knows what to do, she will call and ask and check and seek approval. But for how long? She has another 4 years in KC and then after that, so many years where there are mistakes ready to be made.

I am being pessimistic. I know there are mistakes. There inevitably will be. I know I can't shelter her from all this. I know I will keep getting heart attacks like this. I know that she will one day let me down. As I will one day let her down if I have not already. It will happen because we are all human.

But for now, at least for the moment, I am grateful that she sticks close to my shadow.

I try to remain non-committal about her friends. When we talked just yesterday, she said that she knew her friends always get into trouble. But not her, she said confidently. I said darkly, yes then I hope you change THEM and not they change YOU. I don't want to condemn her friends in front of her. I don't want to turn her against them. If I do, she will turn against me. But I want to create enough awareness of their choices and our values such that she knows what is right and will not be afraid to make choices that make her different or less accepted.

I find it tough and a struggle to balance, not to be so quick to warn her off her friends, and to project a 'neutral' stance. For instance, when I said that so-and-so should not have been so aggressive to start a fight in the toilet (the girl has since been disciplined and suspended), Gillian defended her. She shot back: You were not there. You don't know. The teachers don't know anything. It was not her fault at all! The other girl started it and yet she was not suspended! Its so unfair!

Yikes. Had to backpedal a bit.

While I fear for Gillian, I also feel for these girls - why do they not connect with their parents? Why is it so hard for them? I think of the twins and the family situation they come from and I find it hard to blame them. I feel sorry for them and I wish I could take them into my house. But at the same time, I am filled with strong protective feelings for MY brood. If I take these girls into my household, inviting them to come over, stay over etc., what influence will they have on my younger ones? Already, according to Mr ST some parents have complained of their bad behavior when they go over to their homes. When I raised the issue with Mr ST about including them in my household, he brightened visibly. That, he said, would be ideal - if you could help them and if Gillian could influence them instead of the other way around. And ideally yes, this would be good. But it would be a responsibility that I am reluctant to take on at the moment, no matter how much sympathy I have for them.

Why do mothers feel it so keenly? I don't think KH angsts about this as much. I have so much fear in me. Is this the way to parent? I don't think so. Are all parents filled wth this much worry? I keep going back to the image created by the words in the bible: "...and sorrow, like a sharp sword, shall pierce your heart." I know exactly how that feels.

The worry beads already keep poking at me inside.


The Chengs said...

Ah...this is one reason why I try not to be too "unhappy" when my big 14yo "Princess" wants me to pick her from here & there. At least we know where she is and doing what. So far, she hasn't seemed to ask for more freedom and seems fairly happy to be be "babied". ;-P Although I'd like her to be much more independent, well...seems like it can wait.

The Chengs said...
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