School was out for summer
First day tears, but not just because of school
By Aileen Crowe
As the child walked around the shoe shop in the new school shoes I heard a whisper: "They're a bit heavy."
The eight-year-old had never had to wear school shoes before but assured me that he knew how to tie the laces!
I jokingly asked: "Did you learn that on the ABC, too?" To which, with a twinkle in the eye, came the reply: "No, but I did learn a lot from the ABC's Play School!"
Thanks to the ABC, this young asylum seeker speaks perfectly fluent English.
And thanks to "council days", other people's cast-offs have provided the TV, all the other furnishings in the house, including bookshelves and the storybooks that have allowed for different levels of reading material.
The parents, who are not allowed to work, have plenty of time to use their many skills to mend and scrub and remake the treasures they collect off the streets.
In the uniform shop I argued with the child's mother who tried to assure me that her child could manage with just one school outfit and that the three pairs of socks the child possessed were enough.
I forced the parents to leave us for a while as we wandered through another store trying to figure out what grade three children would have in their school bags as they begin the new year.
I persuaded the child, with lots of encouragement, to choose some pencils and textas and other stationery that might be useful.
Upon finding us the mother dragged us away proclaiming that the child had enough - Dad quietly carried the parcels.
Back at home sharing a cup of coffee, Mum, Dad and I watched as the child rummaged through the goodies and tested out the new scissors and textas and, with sheer delight and precision, stuck stickers on the new, colourful lunch box.
With tears of gratitude, Mum tried to tell me that she doesn't cry much. I told her that she cries every time I see her; she cried the day we were told the child couldn't get into the school and she cried the day we managed to enrol the child!
She cried again on Christmas Eve as she opened the present of a new and complete dinner set - something the couple had never owned before.
January 30 promises to be a very big day for the parents of this child who will walk into a classroom for the first time, at age 8.
The child tells me: "I'm a little bit scared you know."
As I left in my car, my eyes welled up with tears, too.
Tears of sadness as this child had been denied the opportunity to begin school with other preppies three years earlier.
Tears of relief that this child was bright enough to work at becoming educated at such a young age, alone.
Tears of frustration that such an experience is a sad reflection on a society that claims a policy of compulsory schooling and yet makes it impossible for some, by insisting that overseas fees ($5800 per year) are charged to children - with parents who are not allowed to work - for their first year of school.
Aileen Crowe is the Justice and Peace Promoter for the Archdiocese of Sydney.