When I was a student all my friends were taking tuition for some subject or the other. My grandmother who was a school principal was horrified by the very idea. Children should not study after school hours she insisted and if you needed to study beyond your classroom your teachers needed to be shot. In spite of much begging and pleading, I wasn’t allowed any. I didn’t really need it – it was just the cool thing to do. You got to meet your classmates out of uniform (very big deal in a small town!), you got to hang out with the opposite sex (even bigger deal but not really my incentive since I got to do that anyway) and the coaching you studied at was a matter of status – it defined how cool you were. Yes, I realise how small town this is, but there you have it.
As the years passed, I began to struggle with Math in earnest – might have been a combination of shitty, disinterested teachers and plain phobia, but I’d break out in a cold sweat the day before the exam. Even so, coaching was out of the question. It had never been done in the history of our family and what would the neighbours say? That a child from our family actually needed extra help? Unheard of. Finally my grandma caved and a guy some years my senior would drop by and teach me Math every second day and earn some pocket money. But that is where it began and ended. No coaching centres for me. And her basic rules were dinned into my head until I could say them in my sleep –
1. No one with any brains needed coaching.
2. If you paid attention in class in the first place, you wouldn’t need help with your homework.
3. If your parents had half a brain and some time for you, they’d be able to help you and you wouldn’t need coaching.
Right. With that engraved on my brain it is no surprise that I was convinced my kids would never take coaching. No sirree. We have a family tradition to uphold. And what is with children in class 1 taking tuition anyway? Often it’s just parents sending their kids to the neighbourhood aunty to do their school homework.
Thankfully the Brat and Bean’s school doesn’t give too much homework, but the little that they do, is a struggle. For no reason other than that the Brat tunes out. Half way through he’ll look up at me and say, How do astronauts drink water on the moon? Does it fly out of the glass? And I glare at him, ‘It’s almost 7 – you need to finish this page of writing, not worry about gravity on the moon.’
In theory I want to be the smiling, unruffled mother who pours him a glass of milk, hands him a biscuit, pats him on the head and homework forgotten says, “About gravity, son…”. But in reality I’m the mother who looks at the time and panics. Dinner and bedtime lie ahead and I don’t want this to overflow into the next time slot. So astronauts can worry about thirst, I have my own rather practical issues at hand.
One of the first being, that while Class 1 math or english is no rocket science, there is a certain way they’re being taught in school. And I hate to confuse the kids by teaching them in my own way. Teachers are after all trained professionals. They know what they’re doing and there is a method to the madness. For me, it’s less racking of the brain and more torture on a rack as I try to explain to him evaporation and why S sounds like Z when writing cheese and please. Not everyone is meant to teach kids, not because we haven’t learnt it or understood it, but because not everyone can come up with innovative ways to teach and make learning fun.
This by itself is a good reason to send a child for tuition – so that they are taught they way they are meant to, without any confusion on the basics. But I’ve decided not to let this break me down. As long as I can, I’m going to work with the teachers, find out how they are teaching and also read up and find fun ways to teach the alphabet, numbers and everything else. Wish me luck.
Anyway, getting back to the present, I didn’t realise that my tension was coming across to him. And I have no idea when it started. All I know is that it gets exacerbated when we’re doing Math. Mostly because even though it’s only primary level math my own fear of the subject plays on my mind even while I explain it to him. Am I doing it right? How do I explain this to him in a simple way so that he gets his basics clear unlike mine? How do I not screw him up? And children being perceptive the way they are, he’s twigged on to it. I struggle for words and don’t realise how my tone has changed. How he can sense the desperation and tension in my voice?
A few days ago we were doing Math home work and after 15 minutes of explaining to him and watching him do his work I felt the fear ease out of my body. I sat there and watched the little head bent over the table and miniature-OA-stubby-fingers holding the pencil and forming the numbers. And then he looked up at me and said, “Mama, you’re not angry with me anymore, are you?”
To actually experience the moment you need to know the Brat. Skinny rat though he is, he has the sweetest, curved baby cheeks that give him the innocent face of a younger child. His big brown eyes don’t hold half the edge of the Bean or even another child of his age. He reminds me of what you’d get if you crossed a sad-eyed puppy with a tub of melted butter. Soft, gentle, quick to step back if he thinks he is hurting you, parenting him is a walk on egg shells. I worry that he worries. And he worries that I worry.
I looked at him in surprise,”I’m not angry, sweetheart. What made you think I was?”
“I don’t know. You just looked angry and sounded angry and your body was angry.”
And there you have it. I’ve already done it. Passed some of the tension on without trying. He already thinks Math = angry mother.
I pulled my chair closer and wrapped my arms around him and rocked back and forth, at a loss for words. “I’m not angry at all, sweetheart,” I croon. He was too smart to comment and just buried his face in my neck soaking up the mommy love. I felt his trust pass into my body and the tension in mine ease away. It’s hard not to fall under his spell.
A few seconds passed and we both pulled away and without a word got back to the math homework. The crisis had passed and I had a lesson tucked away for the future. Math and motherhood don’t have to add up to tension. I can do it. And so can he.
Just to remind you of the kind of heart-wrenching Brat he is, here’s a picture of him gently kissing my best friend’s four month old. He fed him his bottle of milk along with the grandmother and told the older lady – “When you reach half way, don’t forget to stop and burp the baby.” ROFL!