This morning Sanyata nudged me awake at 6.30am, saying “It’s morning time.” I begged for a few minutes more, mentally noting that the birds have not yet begun singing outside our bedroom window. I had about 10 minutes more before this happens. She patiently lay beside me and whispered she was giving me five more minutes, loudly counting the seconds and ill-affording me the requested shut-eye. “Okay,” I said, regretfully standing up as my husband softly snored on.
Sanyata followed as I proceeded to open window shutters in the lounge, kitchen and the rest of the rooms to let in the morning light. With enough sunlight in the house, I was fully awake and greeted her good morning.
“It’s the preps’ first day in school,” she said, as if to explain her excitement to get up that morning.
That’s right, Sanyata started grade one this year and she’s feeling like a grown-up already, not being a newbie anymore. She’s looking forward to meeting her buddy – the prep student she’s partnered with so she can help ease into primary school. Yesterday she said Christie (her teacher) asked her to work out the preps’ names in the computer.
‘Were you able to do it?’ I asked. ‘Yes!’ was the confident reply.
I knew our Friday computer time has not gone to naught. Today she read aloud a book in front of the class and she earned a ‘well done!’ from her teacher. She already knows a lot of high frequency words and often gets my thick books from the bookshelf. She squints her eyes trying to decipher the small print and once or twice in a paragraph she would ask me to read a difficult word.
How far she’d gone. Just last year she was the weepy preppie who was easily distracted during activity time. This year I see her (through peeking at the class door window and listening in by the door – things we mothers have a licence to do!) confidently playing and participating actively in class. I see a more responsible Sanyata who takes it upon herself to help the teacher clean up her classmates’ mess and to right the wrongs done to the more quiet members of her class. When I collect her, she says goodbye to all the teachers – even her principal and those teaching the older class – and amazingly they all seem to know her name (and what a difficult name it is!). As we walk home she offers to carry her own bag, a big one we bought to give space to the library books she’ll be borrowing and the readers she’ll be bringing home. She doesn’t run anymore as we tread the footpath to home, and instead walks beside me like a mature and responsible little lady.
Just one summer that’s gone by and Sanyata has grown.
(*Sanyata is a Filipino word of Ilokano origin meaning beauty and light)
Sanghaya started kinder last Wednesday. To support her (or me) on the day, I didn’t report for work so I can stay with her the entire three hours. Excited as I was, I prepared her one too many snacks and her brand new clothes – a gift from Daddy on her recent birthday. She just turned four and as someone commented, “she still looks like a baby!”
We were the first to arrive. I took advantage of the time to show her around the grounds, showing her the playground, the toilets, her box, her peg where she’s supposed to hang her bag. I showed her all the different things she can do in kindy--the “home corner” where she can play with dolls, the book corner, the painting corner. All the time she clung to me and wouldn’t speak to Rae and Michelle, her teachers. I was anxious for her. I didn’t worry as much for her big sister before, who showed signs of being able to take care of herself, and of others having a bad time at the playground. But Sanghaya was soft and sweet and was almost innocent of any form of harshness.
When her classmates started to arrive, she seemed to shrink inside her imaginary shell. We finally settled on doing the puzzles so she can warm up in her new environment. She liked it and kept going for more puzzles on the shelf. Parents were starting to leave one by one and there were at least two kids already crying.
“You’re not going to cry because you’re a big girl.” I said.
“No!” she declared, looking as if what I just said was preposterous.
Beside us there was another mother who was reluctant to leave her boy. She had a camera in her hand and was repeatedly saying “bye” but not moving. When she finally stood up to leave, she looked ready to cry.
“Oh, Mum’s not yet ready to go. That’s okay, mum can stay,” Rae said kindly.
Between the two of us and the two crying kids, there were an equal number of kids and adults who was suffering from separation anxiety.
Finally, an hour has passed and it was ridiculous to stay. The kids obviously had adjusted. I took Sanghaya to Rae and said, “Sanghaya says she is ready for me to go.”
Rae nodded to me and engaged my four year old girl in conversation. She didn’t even look up when I turned to leave.
With no work to be done for the day, I found myself with too much time in my hands. Go back home and work on the computer? Do some reading? Go to the mall? So many options. I decided to do some errands, which took longer than expected.
Three hours later, I was 15 minutes late for pick-up time. I was running from the bus stop to her school, certain she was miserable and that I traumatised her on her first day. I read somewhere that it makes a kid feel secure if you’re there for her as promised.
I need not have worried. She was sitting with three or four classmates (whose parents were also late) working on play dough. She was talking to a little girl whose mother was kind enough to stay on and wait for me so Sanghaya would have a friend to play with. I learned the little girl also attends the child care centre where Sanghaya goes. Between three days in childcare and in kinder, they will be spending a lot of time together.
As we were walking home I asked her the name of her new friend.
“Zoe,” she said, “Can she come to our home?”
I got flashes of future scenes of sleepovers and playdates and birthday party invitations. By being late I may have just found my daughter her first best friend.
(*Sanghaya is an old Filipino word of Tagalog origin meaning dignity and honour)
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem