I have always wondered about the situation where a mother turns in her child to the authorities in order to protect the child from his/herself. These moms, who take the 'tough love' approach are very often at the end of their tether; I am sure no parent would take such steps lightly.
I have always wondered how I would react in a situation where turning my child in is the only way I could help him/her. I imagined I would most probably be unable to follow through- I would most probably end up covering up my children's faults and they, in turn, would suffer as a result of being raised by an enabler.
Or so I'd thought.
Last week had been such a difficult school week. The kids were having an incredibly difficult time adjusting to being back at school even though it had already been the end of the second week. I don't think that the hot 'holiday' weather and me allowing them to swim before tackling their homework had really helped them to settle into a 'back to school' routine.
Tharaa had been incredibly grumpy while doing her work. I could see that she was doing it very half-heartedly. Like last year, she was leaving her homework diary at school so I was unable to see what she was expected to do at home. When I tried to help her with homework she moaned and cried; and just ended up doing it really unenthusiastically . I'd check her work, see it was incomplete and mete out punishment, which in turn made her cry more. When she is in this state, she becomes absolutely unproductive and impossible to reason with.
Nuha, most likely imitating her older sister, too was resisting every instruction I gave her. "Take out your books. Let me check what you need to do this afternoon" was met with her twisting her body and writhing like someone experiencing a fit. She too would often burst into tears when I issued any instruction.
Shakeel, who had been stressing about his academic performance this year being so vital to his acceptance at a good high school, was surprisingly blasé about his homework and was more focused on not missing Dragonball Z (which is the only program I allow them to watch during the week). So I was so terribly disappointed one day last week when he came home and announced that he had a project due the following day! That was so unlike him.
I was becoming increasingly depressed and overwhelmed with the feeling that I was losing control. What's more, I had no idea how to deal with any of them. I sat with them, speaking calmly and appealing to their desire to do the right thing (but apparently they had no such desire). I tried positive motivation, clapping and jumping up and down with excitement when any of them even remembered to place a full stop at the end of a sentence. I watched Tharaa's face closely for the scowl to disappear for even a second, so that I could praise her for doing her work with such a positive attitude- but to no avail. I became angry and raised my voice, which caused them to sulk and become even more unproductive.
I was at the end of my tether.
On Thursday, they had no homework since we had a "Meet the Teachers" meeting at the school at 18:00. I had really had no energy for this meeting, since I'd been to them so often- they outlined school rules, teachers expectations regarding school uniforms, cell phones etc etc etc. Because we have 3 kids at the school, Mo and I usually have to juggle our attendance at each one's class- Mo attended the first part of Nuha's, then headed off to Shakeel's class. I spent most of my time listening to Tharaa's teacher and then headed off to the last part of Nuha's class meeting.
This was merely supposed to be an introduction to the teachers- with no discussion on individual children, as most teachers were still getting to know the kids' names. But at the end of Tharaa's meeting, a mother approached the teacher asking very specific questions about her daughter. Most of the parents started to leave, as the meeting was clearly at an end. But somehow I could not bring myself to move away from the class. I'd had no idea what I was about to say to the teacher, but my state of despair seemed to be keeping me glued to the person whom I was most likely perceiving as the 'light at the end of my dark dark tunnel', my saviour or just a helping hand.
When the other mother left the teacher looked toward me with a kind smile, which in my fragile state almost brought me to tears. I felt like a pent-up emotional wreck on the couch of an understanding calming and wise therapist. But fortunately I'd managed not to come across as the wreck I was- I hid my feelings under jocular (albeit slightly nervous) babbling, the details of which I absolutely do not remember. I think the jist of it was that Tharaa was not working as she should at home, that she fails to perform if there are no consequences to her non-performance.
I think I may have used the word 'manipulative'. (cringe)
I was nervous about what I'd done, but at the same time felt some sense of relief. Perhaps my motives had been entirely selfish- perhaps I'd just needed someone on whom to offload. But whatever my intentions were- I had just turned in my daughter.
I could not have foreseen the ripple effect this interaction with Tharaa's teacher would have.
The following day Mo fetched them from school. The moment he walked in I could see something was wrong. He was visibly upset. Tharaa went to her room in tears.
Shakeel informed me that he (Shakeel) had been summoned by Tharaa's teacher, who had shown him the state of Tharaa's homework book. (1) It was filled with 2 year old Aisha's scribblings, (2) The work was an incomplete mess (3) Most importantly, and the reason for Shakeel being summoned, my husband's signature appeared in the book, but had clearly been written by a child's hand.
I could not understand how I'd missed this. How had Aisha gotten hold of the book? How had I not seen that the latest homework she had done was incomplete? Shakeel, kindly put an end to my self-torture by reminding me that they all had been home with a stomach bug on Wednesday, which is how Tharaa's book had ended up within Aisha's reach. Tharaa had started to feel sick on Tuesday while doing her howework, and when she'd gotten up to go to the bathroom Aisha had gotten hold of her book. This was also why she had not completed the homework. As for my husband's signature, Tharaa insists that she had just been doodling (and to be fair- her homework book is filled with drawings and doodling where there should be math problems). Her teacher had seen it as an attempt to forge my husband's signature. Tharaa responded that if this were the case she would definitely have been able to do a better job at imitating his handwriting; while the signature in the book just looked like a child's cursive writing.
In the car my husband had lost his mind- he had ranted and raved and Tharaa had cried. They would each be given one more chance to get their act together. Failure to do so would result in them being banned from TV for the entire term.
But I don't think it was the threat of punishment that had caused the change I've now been witnessing. I think that the entire incident had been incredibly traumatic. Shakeel, who is not accustomed to getting into trouble, being summoned by a teacher (despite the fact that it had not been for any offence he had committed); had him a bit shaken up. Tharaa had endured the humiliation of having her brother summoned and then being reprimanded in front of the entire class. (I was not too happy about the way in which it was dealt- I would have preferred if the teacher had dealt with the matter privately).
Hubby and I were still discussing how to proceed with the issue of Tharaa's public humiliation, when she came home on Monday beaming. She had approached the teacher without being summoned (and without being instructed by me to do so) to show her how she had managed to catch up with all her outstanding work. She had even tidied up her book and re-written untidy work in her best handwriting (which is really beautiful, by the way). She had even raised the issue of the signature, reiterating to the teacher that she had merely been doodling.
When I asked her what the teacher's response had been, she replied, "My teacher said that she was proud of me for umm...I don't remember".
It appears as if she had just heard that the teacher was proud of her and had then zoned out- probably to admire the bird nesting outside the classroom.
On Friday afternoon Shakeel had come home and done 6 pages of additional maths from his workbook. He has been much more focused on his work since then.
Tharaa has undergone the most amazing transformation. She goes into the room and closes the door (which I would ordinarily not allow), but it seems to help with shutting out external stimuli. She finishes her work within the space of an hour (last week she had sat in front of her books until just before bedtime- and her work had still not been done properly). Her work is neat and organised. She brings it to me to sign after completion. I had had no idea that I was supposed to be signing her homework book each day- I had been under the impression that we just signed the homework diary (which she had previously always forgotten at school anyway).
The positive approach to homework seems to have filtered down to Nuha, who came to sit by the kitchen table while I was preparing supper without being told to do so. She too has been displaying a really positive attitude and we have already made significant progress in preparation for her weekly test on Friday.
Mo and I have decided not to raise the issue of Tharaa's 'public humiliation' with the teacher unless it happens again. The reason is that she and her teacher are establishing a really positive bond, upon which I am relying heavily in order to keep her motivated to perform her best this year.
I am praying that the effects of this incident last and that they are not just the kids' initial response to a stressful incident. I would really have preferred not to have had to take those measures and if I had not been in the situation myself, I might have judged someone in my position for being unable to handle the matter at home. Now I realise that there is nothing wrong with involving the other key people in their lives (without relinquishing or diminishing our own responsibility obviously- although the thought of running away had crossed my mind). Keeping relevant information from the teacher in order to 'protect' Tharaa, would in my humble opinion, just have amounted to enabling her to continue to neglect her responsibilities.
Whether I had ratted on her for her own sake or simply to obtain some assistance for me, I am quite content with the outcome of my disloyalty. And it seems, so is she.