As I look at my teenage son struggling with his Additional Mathematics, I
remember an incident that helped me pick up the pieces and start again. We
had finished our trial examination and had just received our results of the
mid-year examination. I was sitting among the top scorers of the school,
trying to appear calm. I felt small and hid my Chemistry paper from them.
Every now and then, this swell of fear would rise and threaten to consume
me. I took a deep breath and tried to be brave. But the truth was, I had
failed my Chemistry and Physics again. The teachers had entered the class
only to give us a piece of their minds. They left, disgusted and
disappointed with failures like me.
For a year and a half, I had struggled to understand the subjects. At
that time, tuition was unheard of and even if there were any, my parents
certainly could not afford it. So, as I cycled home that afternoon, I began
to cry. I felt like dying. Then, instead of going home, I took a detour and
went to my friend's house. Swee Fan, a third-year law student was my
comrade, my friend and my mentor.
One look at my swollen eyes and she beckoned me to her room. She listened
patiently as I related the events of the day. My parents had placed such
high hopes on me. I was their hope to move out of their financial
difficulties. They would be very disappointed with me. She listened calmly
and then wrote something on three slips of paper. She told me to open only a
slip of paper each day. I could not wait to open the slips of paper.
I woke up early the next morning, feeling fresh after the 'torrential
downpour' of tears the previous day. I rushed to open the first slip of
paper. It was written in print: ACCEPT IT. I tried to understand what she
meant by the word 'accept'. After some time, I realized that she wanted me
to accept my results, no matter how bad it was. I had been going through
this denial phase, struggling to accept that I had failed. I knew that there
was nothing I could do to change what had happened.
The next day, I opened the next slip and it read: FORGET IT. Could I
forget what had happened? The wounds were still fresh. How could I forget my
teacher's remarks about me and my friends' comments? I kept thinking about
what I could have done and what I did not do. Then, I realized that I had to
try to forget all those things. It was difficult but I had to do it.
Finally, on the third day, I awoke, eager to read what my friend had
written this time. I took out the last slip of paper, almost wishing that
there would be more slips. The slip of paper read: MOVE ON. That was
brilliant. True, in time, I could probably accept and forget what had
happened but if I did not move on, I would still be wallowing in self-pity
and worry. If I did not move on, I would certainly fail my papers again.
I went to see her the next day. She told me that she had faced the same
situation and someone had given her the slips of paper and it had helped
her. She asked me what were the things I needed to do to move on. I thought
for a long time and I told her I needed to look at my weaknesses and work on
them. So, we got down on the floor together and worked out a schedule that I
could follow. Then, she taught me to highlight the things that I didn't
understand and to get help.
The next few weeks were the hardest of my life. Each time my past
failures threatened to engulf me, I would remember those three magic
phrases. When I finally received my examination results a few months later,
I was pleasantly surprised that I had managed to get credible results for
both subjects, thanks to those three magic phrases.