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Last Day of School

It was the last day of school for my son today. His nursery organized a graduation ceremony and as parents, we were eagerly anticipating attending the event. We had dinner last night with my aunt's family and they were laughing at how our son was having a graduation ceremony for graduating from nursery.

The ceremony started off with a speech by the school principal, followed by a slideshow chronicling the kids' past year in school - countless funny and happy pictures of what the kids did at school, the activities they were up to, the festivals they celebrated, the craft work they did. It was a simple powerpoint presentation but it struck a chord deep inside me and made my eyes well up in tears. I'm so proud of my son and how much he's grown on this journey, he was just a little baby but now he's older - all of 3 years old and so much more independent. I was quite overcome with emotion - it hit me that my son is so grown up and I don't know when he became such a big age. How did we get here so fast? 

I guess I've never stopped to think but I've actually been a mom for three years. Which feels surreal. It's an incredible place to be, it's bewildering, mind-boggling, and exhausting but I also feel so proud - so proud of my son, and so proud to be a mom. How many more moments like these will I know, how many more lie ahead, moments where I will see my son at centre-stage, and how proud I will be of him. 

After the slideshow, each child was called out individually to receive their graduation award. My son went up on stage, did a handshake with the principal, received his award with two hands, and even did a little bow. Too funny! I didn't even know he knew how to behave so proper!

The teachers gave a speech after that, and Ms Kwok, his teacher was getting all choked up too - she said she was honored to be the first teacher in their lives, which is really special. She was proud of how far they've come, she said she used to wipe the snot off their noses, but now they come up to her and ask for a tissue so they can wipe their snot themselves. She's seen the kids go from crying every day at the start of the school year, to not crying anymore. From wearing diapers to now being potty-trained. What a huge year for the kids!

The kids sang a song afterwards - "I Love My Mom and I Love my Dad", and it was so, so sweet. They also sang a thank you song for the teachers, which was really cute. We made cards at home this morning for the teachers - my son drew pictures with crayons and pasted stickers in the cards. We gave them to the teachers today. His English teacher said it's been a pleasure teaching him and he's such a good boy (phew!).

I really didn't expect to feel so emotional at his graduation ceremony. All too soon, he has attended a full year of school and we've come so far from when he was 2 years old and just starting school on the first day. I remember we started him off in a two-week orientation program to ease him into being in a school environment. He was accompanied at school for one hour per day, and then gradually in week 2, he was at school unaccompanied, attending classes by himself. He didn't understand a word of Cantonese when he started - he didn't even know his name in Cantonese. I had a call from his teachers a few days into starting school and they politely wanted to know if he might have some hearing problems - every time they called his name, there would be no response. A friend found it hilarious that I didn't prep him before starting school, she said we could at least have told him: 'Uh heads up, your Cantonese name is Ka Ho.' 

I think my son is such a champ - we threw him in the deep-end for school, he went from being with mom all the time, to going to a brand-new environment full of strangers and other kids, no mom present, and in a language he didn't understand. He bawled every single day for an entire week, it was a tussle to get him out the door to school every morning. But in less than two weeks, he was adjusted and hasn't looked back since. He's never cried again and practically prances to school now, he's so eager to start off his school day.

And that's how I know he's in a good place, he's genuinely happy and he talks about his teachers and classmates all the time, and he's a happy camper when he gets off from school every day. What's been the most remarkable thing for us is his ability to pick up the Cantonese language. He went from knowing nothing, to being absolutely fluent in it now, so much so it's his native language right now. He prefers speaking in Cantonese and he loves singing all the Cantonese songs he learns at school. Completely home-grown! Spouting colloquial Cantonese! He cracks me up with the things he says. Where did this local boy come from? He's so much fun and such a delight!

This school is a great one, and I've been impressed by how caring the teachers are. They genuinely go the extra mile to ensure the kids are well, and to keep the parents engaged and involved in how the kids are progressing at school. It's with regret that our baby girl will never get to experience this. I would have loved for her to have this quintessentially Hong Kong experience, of being immersed in the local culture and language, and to be indelibly shaped by this, whether in ways we can or cannot see.

He went home with a graduation cap and a thick binder filled with pictures of his past year at school. It's such a beautiful and priceless keepsake, and I am so glad that he will have this to look back on when he's older. I am so grateful that he had the opportunity to have a Cantonese education, to have local friends to laugh and play with, to learn the Cantonese language, and to be such an integrated part of local society. His Cantonese proficiency is definitely one of the best gifts ever from our time in Hong Kong. 

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