New year, new normal

Give yourselves a big hand, the principal said as my husband and I sat among a sea of parents on the first day of school.

Our daughter, the younger of our two kids, is among some 37,500 children who make up the Primary 1 cohort this year.

"There were no tears at all. It shows you have all prepared your girls well," the principal added in her welcome address.

When I mentioned this to some friends later, one of them quipped: "No mother cried? That's unusual indeed."

I was more curious than anxious when my son entered Primary 1 three years ago. I wondered how our boy, who was often lost in his own world, would fare in a formal school setting.

I suffered no emotional pangs this time either. My daughter, having experienced primary school life vicariously through her brother, had been raring to go.

"I wish I could go to school today," she said last weekend.

My son, who was mourning the end of the school holidays, shot her a dirty look and rolled his eyes.

But her confidence was infectious. Having been there and done that, I felt relaxed - even a tad smug - as we headed to her school last Tuesday.

But the misplaced sense of superiority was short-lived.

Soon after the drop off, a friend told me the parents' WhatsApp chat group for her daughter's class was up and running.

Another friend had joined the chat group for a different class by the time we collected our kids.

"Wow. You guys are so efficient," I said, then wondered: "Should I be more on the ball?"

The WhatsApp group for my son's Primary 1 class got going only after eight or nine months.

The dawn of a new school year has brought new routines and new anxieties not just for my children, but also for me.

As I waited outside the school to pick my daughter up on the second day, a Land Transport Authority enforcement officer gave me a jolt when he handed me a white slip without a word.

It was a traffic advisory that urged us to park at nearby Housing Board carparks instead. The nearest one was about 10 minutes away by foot.

While my son's school is nestled in a quiet private residential area, hers borders a busy main road with a bus stop right outside one of the gates.

Friends with daughters in the same school had warned me that pick-up and drop-off can be chaotic, even dangerous, given the heavy traffic.

I didn't know the competition for legitimate parking space was cut-throat too.

I got there half an hour early on the third day and cars were already lined up nearly to the next intersection.

The sad face sporting a bead of sweat became my favourite emoji of the week as friends and I swopped updates on the new year via WhatsApp.

The afternoons passed in a blur. There were endless school supplies and books to be labelled, letters to be read, forms to be signed and a host of nitty-gritty details to be ironed out.

I am, for instance, still working on a more efficient school-run system, given that the dismissal times for both kids vary on different days.

Then there are the emotional needs that require attention too.

My son acted up when he came back with homework on the second day. The pace has quickened now that he's in Primary 4, but his mental gears are in dire need of some oiling after six carefree weeks.

My daughter, who had been greeting me with smiles and updates of new friends she had made each day, suddenly complained of vague pain around her chest after school on the third day.

"I feel so weak. Can you bathe me?" she asked piteously as tears glinted in her eyes.

I was sapped.

We all have to get over the January blues and adjust to new routines, I told my kids. This is the new normal.

One friend, whose children are of the same ages as mine, is in a similar sorry plight.

"I can't cope with two kids in primary school," she texted.

"I can't cope with having to make new mummy friends all over again," I countered, not at all joking. I am a flaming introvert, who is useless in any social setting involving strangers.

Then, unexpectedly, the pall lifted.

I had been yelling at my kids to get ready for bed as 8pm came and went. Suddenly, my daughter sprang in front of me, her hair pinned up in random spots for a mad, riotous effect. The mysterious aches she had moaned about earlier that day were but dusty memories.

My son, who had been attempting a zany robotic dance, collapsed in a fit of giggles as his sister proceeded to pull all sorts of wacky expressions.

As I, too, convulsed with laughter, my son spluttered: "Aren't you glad you have such crazy children who make you happy? You should thank God."

Indeed I should. There are, as always, lots of things to be grateful for if I could just stop majoring in the minor.

I had even managed to get myself into my daughter's class chat group somehow.

Yup, I told myself as I sank gratefully into bed that night. I should give myself a big hand.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 08, 2017, with the headline 'New year, new normal'. Print Edition | Subscribe