It all start with smiles and giggles.
We sit in her room, on her bed. She is excited about her new school and has been chirping non stop about how her class has only toys for boys and very little items for girls to play with.
I open her daily folder and see a sheet. In it is a page which says “I can count up to __”
“Hey kiddo, let’s see up to how much you can count”, I say and she is all perked up.
“I can count , I can count”, she volunteers and starts
“1, 2,3……”, it goes on and I listen with a smile.
And then comes 28, 29…and she stops for a sec…40..she adds after hesitating for a moment.
“Uh..ho, what comes after 29?”, I ask
“Hmm..what comes after 2?”, I ask
“Yup, so what comes after 29..?”
I give her a look and she shakes her head..”I mean….60?”
“No..its 30. Remember 10, 20, 30,40,50..”
“..60,70,80,90,100…”, she takes it from there.
“30”, she repeats.
“Okay go on..”
“31,32……’,she goes on.
She counts till 100 after a small bump at 70 and then I ask her to count again.
She is not very eager this time but does it any way.
“1,2,……28,29,….”, she pauses…”..40?”
I take in a deep breath.” What did I tell you just now? What’s comes after 29…?”
Her face is blank and I know that she is no longer into this counting thing. But I insist anyway “29…?”
She restarts counting “1,2….29….40..no..I mean….29….29…”
I am beginning to lose my cool. I take out a note book and write down numbers from 1 to 50. “Can you point to the numbers and read?”
“Amma, I am tired, I need to sleep”, she complains.
“Read..”, I thrust the note book into her hands.
I am worried. Kids her age can easily count up to 50, can’t they? And we have been going about this ’30’ business for weeks now.
She points to the numbers and starts reading. Her lips are trembling and her voice breaks as she goes over the numbers.
“Why are you crying?”, I ask sharply.
“What did I do that made you cry? I am just asking you to do a simple thing. Stop crying.”
By this time fat tears have started rolling down her cheeks and I feel frustrated.
“Don’t be such a cry baby”, I say. “All other kids in your class can do this. Now, read”
She reads halfheartedly sniffing and wiping her tears from time to time. I can see that she is not concentrating and after 20 her hand goes down to 31.So this time its “20,31..”. She stops mid way as she has realized that something was wrong. She looks up and says.”Can I try again?”
“Please do, try again till you get it right”, I snap.
She sniffs again and start from the beginning. I wait.
She reads the numbers and announces that she is ready to count again.
“1,2,3….28,29….”.29 and nothing. She looks at me helplessly. I give up.
“Whatever..I say. I don’t know why you can’t do this simple thing”, I say.
I am mad, I am concerned, I am frustrated. I can hear her sob. I shut the folder, toss it on to the table and leave the room.
I walk into my bedroom. She is only five,a voice tells me from within.
I know, I know that she is only five!
I know what is eating me. Next year she will have to go to a school in India. She will have to learn two new languages. The syllabus will be much difficult than what she is being exposed to here.She will be amongst kids who know way more than her. And I am scared for her. I want to protect her.
But I know that I am doing her more harm than good.The reasonable part of me tells me, So what if she can’t count perfectly? She is going to be fine.
I feel that familiar surge of guilt and regret.I walk back to her room. She looks up and I smile.
She looks away. I hug her and tell her that she did a good job.”But you were mad at me.”, she accuses.
“I had a messed up day. That is why.Its my fault. I shouldn’t have”, I say.
She stares at me.”You counted till 29 without any mistake. Its just 30, right. We can do it tomorrow”
She nodes, still unsure.
“And see you can read now. Remember how surprised Amma was when you read those words for me?” She smiles.”Yes, I am smart”, she says.
“So why don’t you brush your teeth and tell me all about your day at Kindergarten?”
She rushes to the bathroom as I make her bed.I know I am going act like a moron again some other day. I know that I am going to break her heart again. I know I am worried about her for no reason. She is doing great and I am proud of her. But I am scared that she would be overwhelmed when we move back to India. I want her to be ready for that. And she is such an easy going, sensitive kid.
I see her run back to the room, all smiles.
“So ready to hear all about things at my kindergarten ?”, she asks as she hops on to the bed. I nod. Yes I am!