Thursday was my big day as my son, the oldest of three, took his first PSLE written paper.
To outsiders, it's just a rite of passage for 12-year-olds. But it was my big day because it marked the end of two years of stress and worry for me.
Two years because Primary 5 is really when the child is being prepared for PSLE, while Primary 6 is the "revision" year.
Face it, mothers are stressed so their children don't have to be. Forget clueless fathers.
Ten days earlier, I had looked at my son, Reef, with a mixture of suspicion and worry. He seemed blase about taking the biggest exam in his life so far. He's just like his father, who works for this newspaper.
Not once this year had he stayed up till midnight to do his homework. I was even concerned by his peaceful slumber. He always looked fresh when I interrupted his sleep on school days at 6.20am.
Meanwhile, I'm the one haunted by nightmares.
Like how it was me taking the PSLE science paper and not being fully prepared for it.
I'm no Tiger Mother, but I do have a tower of assessment books and practice papers, and many Internet bookmarks for educational resources from the US, Australia and Vietnam.
I run a tight ship. Reef does homework after an hour's rest after school until dinner. He's then rewarded with two minutes of Internet time for each piece of homework.
As it got closer to PSLE week, I began to worry even more and even wondered if I should be more frazzled.
So I texted his classmate's stay-at-home mother to ask if she thought I was too laidback. I wanted her to urge me to push my son more. Instead, she was the voice of reason, saying that our boys perform better without stress.
Her approach is to trust their independence and to regularly dish out verbal encouragement. I just couldn't be convinced.
PSLE will define the rest of my son's life after all. So I tore away at the keyboard and downloaded exercises for up to Secondary 2.
I wrote colourful character descriptions for Reef to memorise for compositions and blacked out words in newspaper articles to turn them into cloze-passage exercises.
I put away his childish, non-educational fiction and considered limiting cartoons to Mandarin. I also boiled barley water to help him maintain his ying-yang balance.
Yesterday, he came home after his first paper, English.
All nerves, my nails chewed to shreds, I asked if he was worried while waiting to file into the exam room. Reef shrugged his shoulders and said "no".
"How was the paper," I asked. "Easier than I thought", he replied nonchalantly and turned to play with his brothers.
That was when it hit me: I had been influenced by the enormity many parents and educators accord to the PSLE. It's as if I've been loading him with memories of my failures and inadequacies.
He must succeed for me to forget my mistakes.
There isn't a one-size-fits-all formula for how parents and their 12-year-olds can survive PSLE week.
In a country where hard work and a good education are useful tools to a good future, is it any wonder that mothers like me stress out over our children's homework?
Reef sees an exam paper. I see a future in the making. Or unravelling.
How do you not worry?
- Wong Siow Yuen
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