Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Getting over it

The PSLE results are out and Isaac scored 229. First choice St Gabriel's, second choice St Pat's.

I was in shock for most of Nov 20. And I am still recovering and trying to get over it. Isaac - I think pretty much the same.

Will never forget looking at the results slip that day and feeling shock, dismay and disappointment wash all over me at one go. And then, marshalling every bit of self-control that is left, to comfort my boy. He was tearing away and I was babbling away that it was okay, he did great, not the end of the world if he could not get into SJI, blessing in disguise, God's will. Heck, I threw every cliched platitude I knew into the messy mix of comfort and klutz that I offered. I think most of it did not sink in.

Around us were kids and parents, clutching results slips, talking away in excitement. Isaac's P4 teacher Mr Phillip came by. He hugged Isaac and congratulated him for doing well. I caught Phillip's eye and mouthed: No SJI. He's rather upset. And Phillip poohed-poohed it, saying to Isaac, no you did good. Forget about SJI - its nothing. You did great.

Then Isaac's best friend and his parents came over. They checked out their results and then we were all in shock all over again. Patrick scored less than Isaac, despite 2 A*s. SJI was out for him too. What a day. So unexpected. But I was less concerned about Patrick than Isaac - he was still crying and I knew I had to get him out of school. So we said our goodbyes hastily and left.

I then messaged KH with the news. He called back immediately and demanded to know if this was my idea of a joke. Gosh, I wish it were. He demanded to speak to Isaac on the phone. Isaac shook his head. He couldn't get any words out, tears dripping everywhere. What could he say? Told the daddy it's no joke, his son can't talk and we'd discuss when we got home.

Isaac and I spent the rest of the day in a hollow space of disappointment and sadness. Me trying my best to lift his spirits, boost his now-shredded confidence level and pushing aside my own feelings of disbelief and sadness. We sought refuge at my mother's house. I noticed that for the first time, Isaac was not making a beeline for the computer. He was just happy to sit and talk with me and his Mama or be quiet and listen to us.

In the evening his daddy did not say much, just that we would go the next day, to St Pat's and St Gab's to check out our options.

We spent time in St Pat's and in St Gab's the next day. I liked St Pat's for the atmosphere, the old school buildings, the culture, the tradition, the strong alumni, the Catholic-ness of the school. I also liked the principal, I liked the way he turned the school around, I liked his forthright manner, his stand on discipline. More interestingly, I liked the idea that he was starting a scholarship class. This class of higher-end students would be offered more opportunities eg overseas trips, exposure to life sciences etc. While Isaac would not qualify for the scholarship, I thought he would stand a chance of being in the 'scholar class' - created for the higher-achievers in the PSLE. At 229, and given St Pat's highest entry aggregate this year was 234, he would certainly be at the higher end.

I didn't really warm to St Gab's. I thought it was like any other government school - in terms of its architecture, environment etc. There was not much information there on St Gab's either and there were no promising opportunities in terms of the curriculum. But the boys we met there were really nice and showed initiative, good people skills and one of them was also from SJI Junior, or as he retorted: St Michael's School! I was never a Josephian, only a Michaelian! Ah, so even their youngest alumni was not in favour of the school losing the St Michael's name to SJI.

The key points that were in favour of St Gab's were the distance (Isaac could walk to school) and the fact that the L1B4 scores were higher than St Pat's. The average L1B4 for St Pat's is 18 while St Gab's average L1B4 was 15. The school also has a special needs officer. We also met Isaac's classmate there and it later turned out that most of the boys in Isaac's class who did not make it to SJI will very likely end up in St Gab's. So that was comforting to Isaac.

We also visited SJI to check out the possibilities of an appeal. But at 229, its quite a long shot, and the school is expecting the cut-off to move up to 238. Had we put SJI as first choice, we would have had only a slim chance of getting in but would have lost St Gabs as first choice.

We had lunch with Patrick's parents and discussed all the issues, trying to clear up the murky waters. But it was hard. And we left lunch on Sunday, no clearer in purpose and intent than before. The weekend and early part of the week was spent mulling things through, trying to get through to St Pat's principal to find out more about the scholar class and Isaac's odds (we didn't get much headway there).

After angsting over it for so long, we finally submitted the S1 form last night. I did tell Isaac that we just have to move on and take any painful lessons in our stride. SJI is not totally gone - he does have the option of taking the entrance test next year for Sec 2 transfers. But Isaac does not seem keen. Right now, he just seems wary of another setback, another rejection. He's not even in favour of St Pat's because he might not get into the 'scholar class'. I think his choice in St Gab's stemmed a great deal from just playing it safe and licking his wounds for now.

I also had soul-searching to do. It ranged from the trivial to the serious - did I hex him in any way? Maybe it was better if I didn't have that silly dream about him scoring so highly in the exam. Maybe I should have stayed away from school when he got his results then I would not have jinxed him. Should have worn the other lucky t-shirt. Should not have stepped on the cracks in the pavement. Should not have washed hair the night before. All these idle, trivial thoughts, bordering on the superstitious - wishing things could be different and wondering how they went wrong.

But I also pondered on other issues. Was I off the mark to expect him to do better? Is that really the best he can do? Is that a true indicator of his abilities? Was I overly confident of his abilities? Can you 'over-believe' in someone? Can I please walk my talk and not compare my children's achievements? Can I please just stop mouthing off on education bla-bla-bla on AP and looking like a horse's rear end right now?

I've come to realise that no, I can't 'over-believe' in my children. I believe in them and what they can do. I still believe Isaac could have done better. I don't believe the PSLE is the be-all and end-all of academic success. Yes, it is hard when we realise he can't make the grade. But in the grand scheme of things, its early days yet and Isaac has a long way to go. As KH said, better for him to get this kind of disappointment and setback now, then he learns a hard but valuable lesson about life, expectations, confidence, humility, complacency, drive, determination and hunger. Hopefully this will make him a better, stronger person.

As to the rest - re mouthing off on AP etc - yes. Lie low. Lick wounds. Whine a lot. :-)

And me, I am learning from this too - about myself, my own expectations, about friendship etc. I've realised how much of a lonely place I am in. When things go well, the congratulations will naturally flow in. People are attracted to success like moths to the light. But when the road darkens, who walks with me? I feel like a bit of a pariah leper these days. I have had only ONE message of comfort and support since Nov 20. But for the most part, I have also been met with an ominous silence from many whom I thought would understand and provide support and comfort. And gee, the silence is deafening.

Maybe people don't know what to say. Awkward situation after all. Feels kinda like a funeral when you really don't know how to dish out the condolences.

Well I don't want any faux, oily condolences - these days I am so hyper-sensitive I detect insincerity a mile off. I don't want anyone pussy-footing it around me. Yes, my son did not do as well as I thought he would. No, it seems he was not good enough. Yes many others did much better. I wish people would just be upfront about it, acknowledge my feelings and help me move on. Don't tiptoe around it, don't be silent and pretend all is fine and dandy. I just need someone to listen to me when I rant about my disappointment and then, when I am done crying, tell me what I am telling my son: "It's okay. Things will be okay. You will be okay." Why is this so hard? All they got to do is listen. And if they're really good friends, they'd tell me what an absolute little shit I am to moan about grades like these when it could have been far worse!

Still, at least I suppose the old adage holds true: if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. At the very least, maybe it is better than getting a text message like: All according to ability la... Wow. Ouch. And that was after I told this person that we were very disappointed and that Isaac was very upset. Man, that message just left me shaking my head and pressing delete on my phone pronto.

Times like these really help me see who are real friends who would be with me in a time of need.

My immediate concern is my son. Damage control. I'm helping my son get over it, restoring his sense of confidence in himself and stroking the damaged feathers. I'll work on my end when I'm sure he's feeling a bit better.


Paul said...

Hey Pat,

Uncle Paul here. Ha....tell Isaac don't worry. SJI is not all that good. It's the person that matters and not the school. Look at me now, i was in a worst situation during PSLE then and i even had the option to go to SJI in sec 2 but i'm glad i turned it down.

I worked hard and i scored much much better than most of my primary school mates in SJI. More importantly, i made better friends and learn more about life in Bartley then anywhere else.

Tell him not to worry and come our place collect his $150 from uncle paul.

makeupmag said...

Hi Pat,

Tracey's hubby is teaching in St Gab's and he's a really good teacher. FWIW, I know a few people who have come from there and they're all good, religious men who are doing well!

I'm sorry you're hurting though - email or call me if you need to talk. I didn't know about this till today; sorry for not having been there.

makeupmag said...

Oh, I also want to add that my friend is teaching in St Pat's and he's an awesome person both in academia and religion. If I were living in the east, I'd apply for St Pats!

My cousin is studying there too and I'm impressed by the English syllabus. They did 'Millions' this year for Literature and it's an incredible book choice with its Catholic/religious yet contemporary themes.

The Chengs said...

Hey Pat. This will be me next year! I have NO IDEA what to expect from Daniel, seriously!

I do admire you for being so sensitive and exploring the avenues with Isaac.

Julia Chua said...

Hey Pat, personally I don't think 229 is a bad score. Sure Isaac cannot make it to SJI, but you sure SJI is a good env for him??? I'm not saying it like sour grapes, but I have a fren from there, not very impressed with his character. But I'm not infering that Isaac will be like that... (aiyah, the more I explain, the worse it gets).

My dh's niece scored 216 and hoping to make it to St Nics through affliation. Her treatment from her parents (my bil and wife) was worse, calling her stupid, etc. I think that's a negative way to learn... Anyways, I am learning from you on how to be a better parent, how to encourage my kids in times of disappointment or under-achievement, cos I can be very competitive and insensitive to my kids' feelings.

Like what you said, hope Isaac can learn from this and move on. Who knows what will happen later, right?

Momto5 said...


Thanks for all your comments and very kind words. I am humbled and very touched. Its been a couple of days and I am getting there. Nothing left to do but look forward and to look ahead. Trust God I suppose - there must be meaning in here somewhere and that silver lining. Just got to look hard for it. :-)

Frond said...

Tell Isaac that as long as he did his best... that's what is important.

Plus sometimes, brand new surroundings are a good thing. He'll make new friends and learn new things.

*big big hugs* to both of you.

btw, I'm struggling with the whole comparision game too... guess its part of life?

barbs said...

pat, i am REALLY late on this. have emailed you. hugs. barbs