<%-- Page Title--%> Slice of Life <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 110 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

June 20, 2003

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The P T A

Richa Jha

He's a good boy. Very quiet, and reserved”, the principal of the school looked up from the performance sheet of my son and said to me. She continued, “actually, at this age, we see it in a few kids, but he's a nice boy.” My son is two years, two months and five days old. On the day of the PTA, he was five days younger.
“You think it's okay to be that? Reserved, I mean?” I was attending the first ever PTA (the urbane term for parent teacher meetings) of my life as a parent, and I was jittery.
We put our little one into school a couple of months ago. Not exactly a schooling school, but what in modern parlance gets sugar coated as a 'playgroup'. Kids play there. At least they appeared to be doing so the day I was “shown”
around the premises before I put him in. Swarms of children, barely few centimeters tall, ran around the mad house chasing a scared cat. Some sat in a corner playing with modeling clay, others rolled tires, some were busy defacing an already mutilated doll. Someone bawled in a corner, the other screamed, “miss wee wee!”, still another jumped from the slide landing. I looked at my tiny boy. He seemed a little fazed by the ruckus around him, nervously sucking at his thumb, but I felt confident he'd fit in with the rest. Okay, I'm lying. Not confident, but when so many children his size seemed to enjoy themselves, I saw no reason why mine wouldn't. Besides, it's fashionable to have a playgroup-going child in the house.
So here I was discussing his progress report, and the principal didn't seem too happy with it. I'd heard her crack jokes and seen the face turn purple with loud guffaws while talking to the other sets of parents. The smile had disappeared, and she frowned as she continued in a slightly patronizing tone.
“Yeah, we've had a few children like him before. He likes to be with himself. He stands in a corner without disturbing others, he's a quiet boy” . My mind raced back to the numerous scenes of delightful baby crime at home. Quiet, this boy?
“You mean he doesn't mix around with other kids?”
“Not much. Actually, we want him to talk. Though it is not all that late for him, it would have been better if he'd started speaking a few words by now.”
Few words? I was shocked! We hear him talk all day at home. Ma'am, I wanted to tell her, he can tell you how Mr. Jumbo's bus got stuck on the narrow bridge and how the dinosaur cried for it's binkit; how his cars have a bath when it rains and how the birds chirp every morning. But she didn't ask, so I didn't say.
All I said was, “Oh, that's strange, because he speaks at home”. The principal shook her head as if to say she knew what I meant by his baby talk: uttering a few 'mamma's and 'pappa's doesn't count as speaking. She, however, didn't say that aloud.
“Maybe he's a very shy baby”, she added politely.
Shy! That is the last thing any parent wants to hear about the child. Is that why we're sending you to school dear? I, like any mother, would have swelled with pride had the principal said he's a brat. And the big bad bully of the school. Let's face it. It's infinitely more dramatic for parents to have children who strut and swear and push the little ones and make them holler. Doesn't half the joy of parenting comprise sifting through ream on child psychology, and reading what Dr. Spock's mother opined on difficult children. There is so much literature available on it simply because children are meant, and expected, to be devil incarnates. Therefore, in the middle of all this if you are confronted with an angel, a shy one at that, in the making, you as parents feel lost. You could as well be making more babies and hope and pray they give you enough work worthy of harried parenthood.
Maybe she was right in her assessment. He was behaving shy now. And maybe, he is a good boy.

“Does he cry here?” I wanted to know more.
“At times, yes, but that's all right. Very natural. You see that girl there? She's very outgoing and all that, but even she cries when her mother comes to pick her up every day. She cries. Even when she is such an intelligent child”. BOOM! Okay, I get what you meant by that. Let me put that word in your mouth.
“Oh, do you think he is dull?”
“Ahhh, I wouldn't say that. He'll learn, and soon catch up with others. I think he's a slow learner, so let's not push him…don't worry…”. Her words no longer registered in my mind. At this playgroup, my child was certainly being ranked below average, and he wasn't even a trouble maker! I wished she felt there was something he was good at, other than being a “good” boy.
I wanted her to ask me, “but how is he at home?” I had gone prepared with the reply. I wanted to tell her how we feel he's a gifted child. That he is intelligent, with an exceptional memory, and loves reading his books and building cars with his blocks, and so on. That like any other child his age, his numerous 100 meter dash(es) and his prattle fill our house, and, yes, yes, he is naughty at home…. But the principal did not ask the question, and I didn't get a chance to showcase my child as such.
On our way back from school, I looked at my son. He was busy spotting vehicles of different shades and makes on the road. Suddenly he squealed with delight and said “vite amulans” (white ambulance), and started imitating the loud siren. I smiled back at him, reassuring myself with the belief that he is special. My mind was already on the flower vase he'd broken that morning. “He's normal”, I said to myself. “Who cares what the rest of the world thinks!”


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