Last Thursday, Zach grew up.
It all began normally enough. He has unit tests this coming week, and I was stuck in office, so I couldn’t do our usual evening study stint. Usually, this means innumerable phone calls to and fro, to ensure that a bath is had, the school bag is made, lost books have been corralled, and then, that some study or revision (if we be so lucky) is achieved.
Last Thursday, Kevin found him watching TV.
Happens often. But Kevin decided to take over the 'incentivisation' programme: If he did not get good marks, Zach would not only not get the Plunderland upgrades on the iPad, he would not get the iPad itself for the usual half-hour he does.
(As an assurance to anyone who is alarmed at this point, let me offer some reassurance: Kevin and I, as parents, don’t really care about the marks when they come; we do care intensely about the effort that needs to be made to be prepared for an exam – more as a culmination of the learning process, and towards the building of a bank of knowledge, which for Zach, because of the dyspraxia, has always been a concern.)
Anyway, here’s what happened next: Zach phoned me and asked me to get all his tutors to come the next day and the next. He wanted to study and do well, he said. He rang me twice to tell me he couldn’t get through to his science tutor, a much-admired young dentist who makes his charges do baitaks if they seem inattentive and wash their faces if they seem to be sleeping through the session. FIY, he is much loved.
When I finally got home, at 9pm, Zach was still studying...
When he came around at 10pm to say his goodnights (this involves many toothpaste-y kisses and drumming on Zach’s back by Kevin), we spoke again of how he was going to work this whole studying thing on his own, and he extracted a promise from me that I would help when he could not understand. And then he said, “If you had let me do it when I was nine, I would be studying on my own now, no?”
Kevin explained, to my wounded squeak later, that that was deduction, not criticism. And even if it had not so fine a name, I know it was plainly spoken, but not to hurt.
Zach is not that sort of boy. After each bout of irritation (an inevitable precursor, I suspect, to the full-blown angst and rage that will come in the teenage years), he comes back to me to apologise. We are in the process, incidentally, of learning not to say 'sorry' too much. He is still invariably kind to little children and courteous to older people, and positively gaga over animals. He is still heart-warmingly enthusiastic about things that other boys his age have long since dismissed as boring. He is no saint, not by a long shot – but I usually smile secretly at every new stab at independence, at self-assertion.
But this... Injured, I thought of how I have spent hours before every test and exam drawing mind maps, making worksheets, learning the chapters myself so I could quiz him better, enduring little reminders that they are his exams, not mine. At nine, he would not have been able to really get through exams without me because the results of therapy were just kicking, but were very much in need of reinforcement. But undeniably, now at 12, he is growing up. Not as quickly or dramatically as his friends, who are conquering the world; one close friend of his takes buses all over Colaba; his own uncle (my cousin Sujay who is four months younger than him) took a bus eight kilometres by himself to come see us when we were in Mangalore. Zach still loses school books, and we are always grateful when he comes home with his own shoes. But he is growing. He plans his time better, he knows when he is hungry, thirsty, sleepy, he writes down information, he manages his rather-complicated schedule of tuitions,therapy sessions, and social commitments quite well, he knows his mind... and speaks it.
And when he reads this in a few years, and he will, I would like him to know that I was very proud of him at this moment. And that I have been very proud of him in all his little victories. And that I was very proud of him – even if I didn’t know it, or show it, then – when he was hardest hit by the then-untreated challenges of dyspraxia, as we struggled through the heaps of worksheets so kindly provided us by Mrs Bose, my friend’s mom; through all the advice given us by Ms Celia Robinson, his first-ever 'big school' teacher (who incidentally, was the main motivator in getting the dyspraxia diagnosed and treated); even through all the times I screamed frustratedly at him for writing a single word in every exercise book instead of a page or two... and when he still came and hugged me when I cried immediately after.
I may have cried then, and cried writing this, and cried a few nights ago.
But for Zach to be at a stage when he wants to fly on his own... these are tears of joy.
Last Thursday, Zach grew up a little.
And I, though I feel a bit redundant, am ready to start letting go.