Draw the line

I am not a parent yet but have been a ‘surrogate’ parent to what probably now total to thousands of children since I embarked on a career as a teacher. Even now, I am homeschooling and tutoring children full time, is no different from playing a parent to them.

This morning, after my pre-dawn meal, I thought I would just lie down for a while waiting for subuh. The kittens, Milo and Seuss were all over me trying to get my attention to feed them. But it was not yet 7 am and we usually feed them at 7 am. Somehow I fell asleep. Suddenly, I was rudely awakened with something thrown onto my face ( I fell asleep on the prayer mat next to the coffee table in the living room ). It was a string of tasbih ( prayer beads ). One of them decided I wasn’t going to wake up with them biting my toes or jumping on my tummy, so the next resort was to climb up the coffee table bite the tasbih and yank it onto my face. His objective to wake me up was of course achieved, but I was not the least bit amused. To some, that was a cute thing to do. But to me, Seuss misbehaved and deserved a spank, as firstly they both have been trained that going up the table is a no go in this house.

However, as the husband pointed out, they are kittens. If they are children, then it would be a different ball game. It is so not cool if, had they been children and we see their misbehaviour as cute. So Suess or ( was it Milo ? ) was spared the big spank.

That kind of made me look back to all these years of handling children. Through the years, I have redefined the concept of what is ‘cute‘ in children and what is ‘you are being a bloody rude brat’ behaviour. In my first two years of teaching, I could still safely say that children were cute, and innocent if I may add. Coming to primary school, so wide-eyed and so full of childhood, I found so many things they did to be really cute. However, as the years go by and the newer batches of children started to enter primary school, myself and my colleagues, back then when most of us were singles, began to wonder which hell did these children come from?

Often, my colleagues and I like to observe the parents of our students. More often than not, they hold the key to the behaviour patterns of these children from hell which we complain about incessantly in the staff room. Bearing in mind that these children from the age of 6/7 to about 10/11 years old, are usually very much still in the parent’s mould, sans the turning into teenhood angst which usually begins at 12.

We observed that many times, of late, children are not even afraid of their parents anymore. I had, on many occasions, threatened to call the fathers of the children in my class to complain on their behaviour, only to be returned with the ‘ok, whatever’ shrug from the 9 year olds. Gosh, when I was in primary school, the mention of calling our parents to complain about our behaviour not only sent chill down our spines, but sometimes, it could make us pee in our pants too!

And really, I can’t blame the child. Once I told a father over the phone that his son hit his classmates and pulled a girl’s ponytails and rolled on the floor showing tantrums each time he didn’t get his way in class, disrupting lessons and making it impossible to teach. Guess how the father reacted? He laughed! Yes, he laughed and said ‘ mann.. that’s cute! Children..are so cute aren’t they?’

When I shared this incident with a friend who was teaching in a secondary school then ( notice the was? she cannot ‘tahan’ already ), she simply told me, if that was what I was getting at primary school, imagine the HELLville in secondary schools. Once, her 15 year old student peed in the classroom just to prove a point. When she chided him, he retorted back with ‘ Cher.. ( a slang in short for teacher ), this is the age of human rights ah cher, where have you been?. I wanna pee, I pee lah.. it’s my right what. This era, I can do anything one lah cher… human rights.. UN will fight for me one…’ came his Singlish reply, to the cheers of his gang of male classmates.

I was tempted to ask my friend if she had called his dad or mum, but I held myself. I didn’t want to risk listening to her pain having to tell me his parents think it’s cool for their son to seek democracy at such a young age.


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