It’s kind of like seeing a ghost – you never quite believe what others go through until it happens to you.
So here I am, sitting alone in my car, parked in the compound of what I hope would be my child’s future school. I said a quiet prayer, switched off the car engine, armed the alarm and walked towards the school office – conscious that I would return in less than an hour’s time with a reality that either my wife and I have hoped for or…otherwise. Yes, I am here to witness the balloting process for my child to enter this school and like what another parent ahead of me joked casually, meritocracy begins with pure blind luck. So…here goes.
Together with a few other parents who have arrived at the same time, we followed the black and white directional signs that pointed us to the Conference Room where the balloting would be held. “What a somber-looking sign” I thought. Perhaps it’s just me…I mean, would it really ease the tension if they had stuck a few Disney Frozen stickers on the signs?
Before entering, we had to check our child’s name on the board and note the ballot number assigned to her. ‘Great! She’s now a number’ I muttered. ‘ Now, now David…don’t be sensitive here.’ my imaginative angel reminded me…or was it my wife’s voice reaching into my subconscious…after all we have been married 15 years and she is praying at home (not being able to take the nerve-wrecking experience) and, like any good wife would, she has sent her best man to do the job. I’m elated.
Once inside, I quietly took my seat. Other parents who entered were exchanging nice little pleasantries. “Yes, keep your enemies close to you…yessss?” said my little devilish voice. Before long, the Principal, VP and some key staff of the school entered the room, almost procession-like – stiff and sombre. The suspense was palpable.
It didn’t help that the person administering the ballot and the ‘ball-roller’ both held straight poker faces. “They might as well have put a black executioner’s cloth over their heads…” the little devil muttered again. So, with a poker face, the proceedings, rules and guidelines were methodically made known to us in his moderate, monotonous voice, adding also that all the numbered balls and ‘Toto’ device were issued by the Ministry of Education.
And with that… they got the ball rolling…literally.
Actually no. They had to put all the balls in first. Even this was ceremonial-like (“Aw…give me a break! Get it over with!” little devil shouted within the otherwise well-composed me). One after the other, each numbered white Ping-Pong ball was brought to the visualizer to be projected for all to see. This was followed by an announcement of the number before slowly putting it to rest in the ‘Toto’ number picker machine. I was going nuts inside.
The ‘Toto’ number picker was first spun thrice forward and then reverse. During the reverse, a little catch at the bottom would scoop up a ball and drop it out. Once it came to a complete stop, Mr. Guillotine, aka the henchman (aka the guy making the announcements with a robot voice), would ceremoniously pick up the ball, read the number aloud and show it on the visualizer so that all would know which lucky child has filled that vacancy. Surprisingly, the first few parents whose children’s numbers were picked were quite ‘tame’. I had expected lots of hugging, crying and shouts of jubilation etc. but no. We are after all stoic Singaporeans. Except parents of child number 15 who shouted triumphantly, ‘Number 15! Yay!’ Little devil within me had some words to say to them which are not quite suitable for our family-themed blog here.
So, one by one balls came and went. With every spin, I chanted my child’s name…I chanted my child’s number. That’s all I could do. Pray , hope, chant! Pray, hope, chant…
Then it happened. Right before we entered the last ten vacancies, my child’s number was announced. I didn’t know how to react because all this while, I was tensed…all this while I was praying, hoping , chanting…The only reaction came from my eyes which gave me away. I’m not one who cries easily but tears welled up on its own that afternoon. To avoid embarrassment, I quickly closed my eyes. Years of hope had come to past. My child is going into the school of our choice and hopefully her children and their children after would too.
As the last vacancy filled, up I can’t help but think and feel for the parents who were not successful at the ballot. Life is about choices – from a simple cup of drink to what we eat for lunch, who we marry, where we set up home and decisions big and small pertaining to our children’s lives. It’s not about whether the school is good, they all are. It’s about personal preferences and we want to make that choice to send our child to this school for a myriad of legitimate reasons. For us, it’s not only about the quality of education or ‘brand-name’ of the school but about us giving it a go to pave a legacy better than our own for her to inherit.
Finally, if you’re reading this and your child will be balloting for a place (read that 91 schools have to conduct ballots in Phase 2C this year!), our hearts are with you. For a couple like us who have been thrown life’s shorter ends before, here’s how we prepared for whatever: We planned and talked rationally about possible alternatives. We prayed. Not on the day itself but a few months and weeks before, well aware that on the day of reckoning, both of us would be too emotional to make rational choices whatever the outcome. Most importantly, we committed to God our child’s life (and school) – knowing full well that He has a greater plan for her that transcends her parents’ choices. If God willing, He will open the door. If not, He will help her blossom wherever she is planted. That remains our prayer for our child and we pray she will thrive in her new milestone as a P1 kid.