Saturday, January 26, 2013

There Goes the Neighbourhood

Global City, circa 2000
Circa 2012

On December 31st, 1999, my father took our whole family to celebrate New Year's Eve at a new events venue that was built in the middle of a grassy area formerly allocated to the Philippine Military. The land had been recently privatised, and was going to be developed for residential and commercial use. First to rise were some very expensive condominiums. 
Next to come up were lower-priced ones, including the one Big A and I moved into upon the building's completion in late 2005. Then, there was a construction boom. For three years, we endured endless dust coating everything inside our flat. High rise after high rise rose to obscure what was once flat grassland.   Office buildings, condominiums and commercial areas mushroomed and greenery disappeared.

Naturally, small restauranteurs and new businesses eagerly signed leases and took spaces, hoping to make names for themselves in the ever-difficult industry called retail. Some have thrived. Others, sadly, have simply disappeared.

Around the corner from where we live is a small shop that Little A discovered a few months ago, when he suddenly developed a passion for skateboarding. He saw some boys practicing jumps and was instantly enthralled. Loving, as he does, jumping, crashing and falling, seeing these boys try and succeed at their tricks, or try and fail, made him ecstatic. We would walk to this shop at least once a day, and he would either chase after the skateboarders or jump up and down delightedly while watching the looped video playing on a tv in the store.

The store's staff knew his name, and the regular customers would patiently allow him to play with their boards, usually quite roughly. Big A and I got him a skateboard for Christmas, one with a detachable handle that started off as a scooter.

Today, we visited the store and saw that everything was being packed away. Like several of the restaurants in the area, the shop was closing down and moving elsewhere. It would still be in the neighbourhood, but just a little further away.

I wish I had kept a photographic record of how quickly things are changing in this little area where we live. Visitors from abroad are shocked and amazed to see the pace of the development in the span of just one year. I mourn the loss of green spaces and curse the now inevitable traffic jams blocking the narrow streets. Truly, change is one of the few things we can count on. I suppose I only have to look at my little boy for proof of that. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Behaving Badly

So a new year has begun. Work is becoming manageable again, and Little A is back at school. Much to his dismay.

Unlike older school age children, Little A has long loved school, particularly these last few months. He would spell "Let go to school" or "Car school" even on weekends and especially on rainy days that forced classes to be called off.

In the last few months, he improved significantly in the social area, seeking out playmates and voluntarily joining group activities. I hoped the three week Christmas break wouldn't cause any setbacks. He seemed eager enough to return, judging by the amount of time he spent poring over the photos of their Christmas program, and the number of instances he asked me to name his classmates in the photos. Perhaps I should have crossed my fingers.

Monday morning, first day back, Little A sat in the car outside of school, a little apprehensive. He went into the classroom cheerfully, pushed me out as usual, and began his first day back.

When I picked him up that afternoon, he was crying. His Shadow Teacher told me there had been clapping in the class, and that bothered him. I assumed it was a song or an activity that was part of circle time or something similar, so I consoled him and reminded him that if he was upset by clapping he could just clap "his" way (putting fingers of one hand to the palm of the other, without sound) or ask his Shadow Teacher to clap that way.

That night, he refused to go to sleep. I reminded him that tomorrow was Tuesday and there would be school again, and that made him more upset. Every time his eyes shut, he would stamp his feet or flap about to keep himself awake. He finally fell asleep at 230am.

Tuesday and Wednesday at school were similar. While in the car, he would ask particularly to go to the bookstore, or the toy store, instead of to school. I thought he was just adjusting to being back, but when I'd pick him up, he had been crying again. I asked the Shadow if the clapping was due to an activity planned by the teachers, and he replied that some classmates were provoking Little A into getting upset by deliberately clapping in the way he didn't like.

When I asked what was being done about this, and put it down to children being wilful or naughty, he said that the teachers had asked the kids to stop, so I assumed things were under control. I also wanted Little A to get that he couldn't always control the environmnent around him, and thought this was a way for him to adjust. The Shadow said he was communicating well using his word cards, which was a great thing.

On Thursday, during Speech Therapy, his therapist asked about school. When she asked if he was going to play with his classmates at school that day, Little A started crying, then took the photo of his classmates, shook his head, put it on the floor and jumped up and down on it angrily. This was a clear sign that something was really wrong.

I didn't realize just how traumatised my son was until Friday morning, when I dropped him off and he had tears in his eyes. I tried to hug him, but he was being brave and pushed me away, and walked into the classroom crying quietly. I rushed after him and pulled out the pack of word cards, reminding him to use them with Teacher, if anything upset him. He watched carefully until I left.

That day, he had a good day at school. The Shadow reported that he joined a game with the other kids, and enjoyed himself. So I thought we were back on track. Until today.

Today was another crying day. And by now my mum had already heard some of the story - how Little A wasn't sleeping because he was so afraid of school the next day, and how he would walk into the classroom crying - and she was fuming. My mother has an MA in  Child Psychology, and she has taught at, run and set up preschools and school guidance offices in the city's big schools. She recognised that Little A was being bullied, and demanded that something be done about it.

We spoke to the Shadow, who was careful not to name names, even when I did, because I saw who frightened my son when he would look around his classroom at certain faces and start crying. He was still vague about the nature of most of the incidents, which prevented me from getting a very clear picture. Still, I scheduled a meeting with the Headmistress the next day.

I recognise that my son is not the easiest child to manage in a classroom, and he can be disruptive at times. But his school accepted him that way, and in many ways has been helpful about his needs. I would think that their policy should not only discourage bullying but set a positive values program for all the children who attend. I could, as with many other things, though, be wrong. More after the meeting.