"You took leave, right?" the wife said.
I nodded. The wife had been reminding me of Isaac's first day at school since November, and January the 4th was the day we would join the great parenting rite of passage known as Kid Going Primary One.
I remember my own first day at Primary One. Stand by as I use one of those phrases that old folks use... In MY day, my mother or father could not come to school with me. They had to work and so mom took the school bus with me, and then halfway, told me "You are going to be ok, right? I am going to get off the bus here and go to work."
I told her I was fine and went to my first day at school alone, spending the day wondering why so many parents were there and why so many classmates of mine were crying.
Fast forward decades later, and it was now my turn to take my son to his first day.
Our first mistake was driving there. The route we took cut through at least FOUR famous schools, all having their first-day-of-school traffic jams. We left the house at 6.30am and spent 40 minutes crawling from the Stevens Road exit of the PIE to Bukit Timah.
We managed to find his classroom and left him with his teacher. They were assembling the boys in the auditorium and assigning Primary Five boys to be their buddies. These buddies would guide the new Primary One boys through the complexities of school life, like how to buy food and where the toilets are.
The wife and I spent the rest of the morning hanging out in the tuckshop. I am not sure if it is still called that. Maybe "canteen" is a newer term. We had our breakfast there, then it was time to witness the chaos called Recess.
Try as we did, we could not find our son. Other parents happily reunited with their kids in the tuckshop, relieved that their children were still in one piece after not seeing them for those long excruciating two hours. Some proud parents brought the extended family along.
One mother was filming with her iPhone, as she followed her son and his Primary Five buddy who were taking food back to their table. Staring into her iPhone and walking at the same time, I heard her say, "Be careful, son! Walk carefully with the food, ok?"
I am surprised she did not walk into a lamp post.
I have not seen a school recess in a long time. I am glad to report that it is still the same: boys eating, boys running and playing, boys competing with Pokemon cards. Okay, maybe the last part was different from my time. We competed with rusty bottle caps in my day.
I saw boys who had mastered the art of eating their wanton noodles or rice as they walked, obviously not wanting to waste time competing for tables with parents. Besides, the faster you finish your food, the faster you could go and play.
The principal came out a few times to shoo the parents away from the tuckshop. "Move back. Give the boys space to eat please," he commanded like a drill sergeant, but with a smile.
The wife felt a little miffed that we did not see our boy during recess so she went to his classroom. She came back and reported that he was safely back in his class, and was seen showing his classmate his Spider-man wallet.
Children at this age don't really have a sense of money. We were a little worried he would not know how to buy things with the $1.50 in coins we gave him for recess.
(Side note: In MY day, I received 20 cents for Primary One but then a huge plate of beehoon cost 10 cents and a glass of sweet coloured water cost 10 cents.)
A few days later, we asked Isaac what he bought with his money, and he told us he bought a bottle of Yakult. "It costs one 50-cent coin and one 20-cent coin," he reported.
Our friend told us when her son was in Primary One, he would come back with more money than he started with. She asked him how this happened and the boy replied, "My friend said his wallet was too heavy so he took out the coins and gave them to me."
The other change we had to make to Isaac's life was bedtime. Instead of 10pm, it was now 9pm because he had to wake up at 5am for the school bus to pick him up at 5.50am. That did not pose any problems because, with the full day he now had, sleep came easily. Children are so adaptable that way.
After a week of school, I got around to asking what he had learned so far. Confidently, my son replied, "When the bell rings, it is time for recess and to eat and to play. And in class, when we want to pee, we must ask teacher permission to go to the toilet."
Not bad for a week in school.
mrbrown aka Mr Kin Mun LEE is the accidental author of the popular Singapore website, mrbrown.com, and has been documenting the dysfunctional side of Singapore life since 1997.
Affectionately known as the Blogfather of Singapore, his readers follow his writings closely, which these days range from current affairs, his family, and even his trips abroad.
Currently, mrbrown also hosts the mrbrown show (mrbrownshow.com), probably Singapore's best known comedy and satire podcast.
mrbrown is married to Ginny, his long-suffering wife for 12 years, and is father to three lovely kids, Faith, Isaac and Joy.