First, let me say that obviously the B4 School Check is a good idea. It aims to identify any health, social, developmental and behavioural issues that could affect a child’s ability to get the most from school – it checks hearing and basic play/coordination as well as basic awareness of colours, numbers and thinking and it’s – totally – a good idea. Until you arrive there on the day, lining up and taking a number like it’s some Toddler Idol competition.
Holy shit did he perform.
The puzzle that was placed in front of him to determine basic hand-eye and thinking was tipped upside down. Then he laughed. Then he stopped laughing. Then he mumbled to himself. Our examiner said nothing, started writing notes. I went into overdrive suddenly, “hahahaha – he does puzzles all the time!” I said, pausing just to wipe the first beads on the brow.
“Mmm-hmmm”, came the reply.
Asked to run to the end of the room and back, Oscar walked, then crawled, then staged a pratfall. Then hopped. Then walked backwards. His shoulders were locked in a perpetual shrugging match as if he figured he might “s’pose!?” his way through any question and every task.
Suddenly I’m reaching for my phone in case I need to play a video of him dancing, or flash a picture of one of his very best paintings! I fucking hate myself and this test. In that order. No, maybe it’s the other order. Anyway…
The ordeal goes on – and it’s suggested that we “book another time” but no one really has time for that, not me, not Oscar, not the examiner that made the suggestion. She starts writing a bit more furiously. Every time she has her head down – every time – Oscar looks at me and smile-smirks. At one point she looks up just as I’m gritting my teeth and whisper-shouting “BEHAVE!” I even think, for a second, that she thinks it was directed at her and not him.
Oh god it’s a clusterfuck. It’s the actual worst. Flunking the B4 School Test. On purpose. For larks. For shits. And/or giggles. Fuck’s sake.
I plea-bargain that it’s obvious he can do everything she’s asking – my only evidence being that he refuses to properly attempt anything she’s asking. It’s flimsier than that time I talked my way into a university class’s exam and final assessments after not attending any tutorials by announcing that I had a rare condition known as “Exaggerated Nausea”. And then – the realisation: ‘Oh shit, this problem right now started back then! Fuck. Double-fuck. Shit.’
The examiner waits until I stop swearing and tells me that – all things considered – she’ll be happy for us to do the hearing test and “if there are no red flags…” she’ll make her decision. No red flags? I’m basically seeing nothing but red. Feeling it all on my face too. At least a flag might cool me down if someone could wave it at me or on me.
We do the hearing test. Which means Oscar does the hearing test. And I sit there digging what’s left of my fingernails into the vinyl of the chair.
We’re given some forms to pass on to his Daycare – they’re going to sign them and add their notes. And then we’ll get a certificate or something. A tick. A badge of honour.
We leave the room, punch-drunk, the cool breeze as we swing the door back has me tasting a special type of freedom. My head puts on its best Morgan Freeman voice and repeats that yarn about Andy Dufresne being someone “who crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side”. Of course I don’t hear the name Andy Dufresne, since there’s no chance Tim Robbins could have acted as cool as I did/not in there. No. I hear the name Simon Sweetman. I hear “Simon Sweetman crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side”. I pause to drink in Morgan Freeman’s kind and knowing assessment of just how tough it was for me in there. And then I buckle Oscar up in the car-seat, mumble something about being disappointed and get in the front seat to head home.
“Daddy”, says Oscar most-timidly.
“Yes!” I snap.
“Can we have some food now please?”
I look at the clock in the car. It’s after 1pm. I think about when he last ate. Sometime around 6 or 7am. In the panic to get to the test, to be ready for the test, to ace the test, to show-off at the test, to clock the test, get the best results ever at the test, maybe even get a special mention at the test – you know some sort of acknowledgment that I stopped work for the day and turned all the cartoons off and was clearly Father of the Year just for that and that the kid, as a direct result, and through hanging out with me all the time, would be an asset to any school and, so, ‘good for him’ but mostly, you know, ‘good on me’ – I HAD FORGOT TO FEED MY CHILD!
His acting up, his lack of interest, his inability to care, to focus, to bother, to understand, to try…none of it was because he was secretly Stewie Griffin or Hannibal Lecter. And all of it was because Useless Fuck-Dad (me) had forgotten to feed the boy.
We fueled up. He flicked the switch – straight away. Reverted to being a great kid bursting with character. That burst, of course, due to some energy actually going in.
A week later a certificate-thing arrives, giving “us” the all-clear, the tick. He can go to school. Which is just as well because so long as I pack enough food into a box at 7am I can now forget about having to feed him until several hours later and never feel guilty. Something I hadn’t ever thought about B4.
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