Sometimes, it’s better to let kids fight their own battles.
IT was 1985. I had a feud with this girl, Yasmin. It was on the corridor on the seventh floor of our flat. The plot thickened as she happened to be my classmate.
That day, she had the upper hand as her mother had “coached” her on how to handle her fights with me. How did I know this? The humiliating way. The mother was standing by her side. So, it was two kids and an adult engaging in verbal assault. It was like a scream fest. It didn’t seem fair, mother and daughter, ganging up against me.
My mum, the rational adult, whom I wished was there to support me, was nowhere to be seen because she had no idea at all. If she knew, she would, I suppose.
Hence, I was left to fend for myself. Needless to say, I went home in shame and anger. I felt embarrassed at some of the words they hurled at me, and was furious because I was defenseless and alone. I also blamed myself for being a 10-year-old who lost the fight.
I can’t even recall how it all started and what we fought about. All I remember was my overwhelming shame and rage. I vowed not to allow such an incident to happen again and if it did, I would have the whole village behind me!
How should I describe Yasmin? If she was an animal, she would be a giraffe. She looked the part anyway. If the school had a play, they should give her the part of the giraffe.
She walked like one and had huge eyes with sweeping lashes, much like a giraffe! We ended up being classmates for several years in high school!
For the first few months, it felt horrendous to be sharing the same breathing space with her. I couldn’t even look at her. She in turn, would cast me her jelingan maut (death stare). Otherwise, most of the time, there was just deafening silence.
The animosity thawed a few months before I moved from Perak to Sarawak. We were 15 when we finally spoke.
Not one to indulge in the past, I was happy to let sleeping dogs lie.
So when my daughter, Samantha, had a similar sort of issue at school with a tyrant in the shape of Xing Xing, a girl who was a dead ringer for the cartoon character Olive Oyl, I went ballistic! The floodgate to those old memories opened. Samantha could also be feeling the same thing and I don’t want her to feel that way.
It was indeed a deep-seated pain that comes with motherhood to have this empathetic connection.
This “walking and breathing nightmare” had a field day at school, trying her absolute best to terrorise my daughter. Every single day when I picked her up from school, I never failed to ask her, “How was school?”
And whenever the story revolves around Xing Xing, Samantha speaks monotonously (she could be mistaken for being Spock’s sibling) as if she has had enough of the girl’s antics and she’s numbed by it. The things that Xing Xing did and the insults that she flung at my daughter were cruel. She had been the bane of my girl’s life since Primary One.
Recently, this mean girl managed to rally some of the classmates to “boycott” my daughter (four girls joined the conspiracy). When she told me, I was gobsmacked! My advice to Samantha was that there are plenty of other new friends to be made at school. “Take your time to know and meet new people,” I said. But our favourite line was, “She’s nothing.”
Why didn’t I confront the girl? When I thought of my mum’s zero involvement in my fights, it sort of toughened me up. Maybe, it’s a rite of passage that everyone must endure. So, when it came to Samantha, although I desperately wanted to help her, I had to be the adult here.
I couldn’t possibly wage a war against a 13-year-old. I did the next sensible step: I called the school to inform the teachers of the tension in the classroom and it was brought under control.
Despite these emotional and mental turbulences thrown at Samantha during her first year of secondary school, my girl still thinks school is cool. I’m astounded at how she carries herself. She exudes this unnerving quiet confidence which keeps her grounded and focused. I imagine her as this stalwart ship sailing steadily amidst the stormy weather. She’s determined to not allow the horrible girl to taint her high school years.
When she was appointed school prefect, she couldn’t stop smiling the whole ride home. Upon reflection, I should have taken a few lessons from Samantha and heeded my own advice. She’s taken a liking for badminton and participated in the school tournament. I sat there, cheering her on, relishing in her moment of joy. Watching her smile that day was enough.
It said everything. She’s okay. My girl is handling her own “giraffe” well. This Mama need not worry too much.