Now I always knew that I would have to face grade one some day, but I never thought it would come at the cost of a good night’s sleep, or an interminable conversation with my husband and friends as to what to do with Leila. We’ve always described her as our wild little spirit, someone different, vibrant and unique. We are proud of her in countless ways: for her thoughtfulness and her gratitude; her organized creativity, her musical intelligence and her determination steering the way.
For the woman that we know she will become.
But in the meantime, we are up against something big and strong, something not moving, not curving to meet her on her own bends: the school system. A rigidity unchanged since we sat in those teeny, tiny grade one chairs.
Although we’re trying to be open minded, our Leila is not used to conformity. Even in our family, our daily routines, and the hourly operations of this house, she has struggled. She’s not used to sitting in a desk all day, answering questions on demand. She’s used to action, to imagination.
We know that to her, school life begins and ends on the playground. The only daily reports that we receive are from her music class, which her father and I carefully follow. Last year’s highlight was Kindergarten Choir, in which they danced like bumble bees and mimicked rainbows. This is her truth in life, her raison d’etre.
Meet the teacher night didn’t go well. We were greeted with an impromptu critical analysis as other parents walked into the room, her teacher pronouncing that because we had taken the last month off kindergarten, Leila was already behind. She was in Mandarin classes in Beijing, i said, an attempt at her defense. Our decision. Our choice.
Next came homework. Another hurdle. An entire lineage of teachers, parents, grandparents, and other relatives in the mix, and the child will not read. Words on a page suddenly don’t make sense to her, and when her father and i sit down to do homework, a mysterious tummy ache appear out of nowhere. Our only salvation is to sing the homework, in rhythm and in rhyme. She laughs, clapping to the beat, forgetting for a moment that she’s doing it- she’s reading.
But still, I worry. Frustration. Panic. A breakdown in the Superstore parking lot after Parent-Teacher interviews.
A voice inside calls to me, just love her. Wait for her. Her time will come.
The deep breath of parenthood.
I call to others, questioning parents on the whens and wheres of normalcy. Some show sympathy, painfully remembering the days when their kids didn’t or wouldn’t fit in. She’s probably the next Steve Jobs, says my boss casually, shaking her head, her eyes growing wide as she remembers back, or a pro surfer.
A pro surfer, I muse. I could handle that. Summers in Tofino, winters in Hawaii, and I catch myself drifting away, almost late for class with a pile of unmarked midterm exams in one hand and a cold cup of coffee in the other. Am I really the teacher whose daughter won’t confine to the slow, labored breathing of the system? Do i really wonder where she gets her impassioned, mercurial tendencies?
More than just the teacher, I am the woman who resisted authority, her parents, her older brothers, even to this day (by painful times) – her husband. The very slow learner whose explorations were not always academic, they were mystical, transcendental. I was stuck in epic Wordsworthian poems of immortality, and for that, well, I don’t apologize.
“… our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!”
And so to my dear Leila, I will not give up on you. Let rainbows and choir practices be your guiding stars, and may we all catch up with you some day.
P.S. As a post-script, here is a photo of what Leila would like to change her name to. I don’t know where she came up with “Ziley”, but I quite like it.