The March bogey.
Our charming, cheerful child had sailed through 11-plus school years when suddenly, out of nowhere, a sullen 16-year-old appeared in our household. The curriculum interested him far less than the football ground; movies and music, gaming and girls were higher on his list of priorities than deciding on the career path he wished to follow for the rest of his life.
Naturally, at first I took it in my stride. He'll grow out of it, I told myself. He needs support and love, not criticism and nagging. So while he spent his leisure time (and there seemed much more of it than others of his age had) buried in graphic novels or in group pursuits at multiplexes and malls, I scoured the newspapers and magazines for every announcement for professional courses; I kept track of the last date for filling forms for entrance exams, read up on every possible career track I thought he would be interested in.
When months of waiting for a turnaround in his attitude produced no results, I began to lose my patience. My loving 'talks' were ignored or answered by gruff grunts and a loud slam of his door to shut me up and shut me out.
The transformation from amenable, high achieving teen to goal-less young man at this crucial time in his life now had me tearing out my hair or cajoling, ranting or counselling, depending on how dire the situation and how desperate I was getting! Mood swings, it seemed, weren't confined to the teenager!
Naturally, none of it helped, but I couldn't give up. Amid the alternate bouts of shouting and sweet-talking, I tried to make the atmosphere of the house as conducive as possible for him to concentrate on his books.
No loud music, no parties, no family get-togethers, no overt signs of the rest of us having too good a time while he was expected to study. Grandparents and parents tiptoed around the house, talking in whispers as D-Day approached. I had it all planned to the last minute for him. Time-tables for him and me, meals ready and frozen so that I could be free to wake him up on time, make sure he ate a sustaining breakfast, had his stationery and admission card and whatever else was required.
Then, just a few days before the month of March, life stepped in to teach all of us a lesson. What seemed to be just numbness and breathlessness in a beloved grandparent was discovered to be a death sentence and suddenly exams and study time-tables seemed so trivial. In between stays in the hospital, the arrival of family members to be with her in those last few days, the exams came and went almost unnoticed.
The more important test was taking place in our own home. The young man's strength was needed to carry his grandmother up and down the stairs when we needed to go to the hospital; only he could make her comfortable against the pillows at night when the others were asleep and he was up catching up on 'last-minute study'. Only he could rush off to get the medication while all of us hovered around her bedside.
By the Ides of March it was all over. The exams had been laid to rest and so had our loved one. Sometime later, when the results were to be announced, there was no sense of anticipation for us. Our son had already come through his first major trial in life with flying colours.
Cheryl Rao is a journalist based in India.
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