Neo’s First Day In School

By N Mark Castro

So I’m taking my son, Neo, to his first day of school.

He is excited.

He is scared.

So am I.


“You’re gonna love school so much, Neo, and make lots of friends,” I said.

It was a lie.

Neo actually woke up ahead of me for his 7:30 AM roll call. It helped that his school was walking distance from our place. It helped that his brother, EJ, was still asleep.

So there he was, all bathed and sparkling in his new uniform. And he had a tie. He was inside his small room and kept to himself, playing pretend announcements to his invisible audience.

The 4-minute drive to the school was easy and I knew we could get there on time. What’s more amazing was that our family driver, Yudi, CUT SHORT HIS VACATION so he could drive Neo to his ‘big school’ on his first day.

That’s how much of a family member he is.

photo 3

Neo’s supernanny, Melya, was evidently holding back her tears. This was her child as much as her mom’s. She had been there for him ever since he came out. She had taken and accompanied him to more places that we ever did. And she had consoled him for his ‘boo-boos’ and had protected him as much as US Secret Service would.

Pretty soon, as Neo grows older, she would no longer be his nanny but his accomplice.

It was good she didn’t come with us and took care of a sleeping EJ instead. Her emotional reaction could add distress to whatever Neo’s roller coaster emotions must be speeding through his young mind.

When we got to the school, I was floored by the reception of the administration.

All teachers and officials were there!

It was an imposing sight!

This isn’t Hogwarts!

It’s real magic inside as they turn young minds into sharp objects, combining elements into productive use, gravity, adding numbers to infinity, questioning space.

Real magical stuff!

Neo was welcomed by the principal then another teacher and was reassured that he was going to have fun.



The International Primary Curriculum is a comprehensive, thematic, creative curriculum for 3-11 year olds, with a clear process of learning and with specific learning goals for every subject, for international mindedness and for personal learning.

Whatever that means.

All I know is that it’s available in the Philippines as well so that if and when he transitions to a Philippine school, his education here would be credited and that he wouldn’t miss so much on the learning curve. Eton International School in the Philippines provides the same program. As do 92 other countries that are using the international program.

But I’m sure I won’t be sending him to a fancy schmancy school named Eton unless it’s the Eton College.

Unless he can afford it.

Frankly, I see no problem with Mataas na Paaralan ng Araullo. They even have their own Facebook Page now. Or Colegio San Juan de Letran, where they produce some of the toughest boys in the country.

But that’s for later.

When he’s 30 and he got his mom’s permission.


Right now he’s on his first grade and it helped that his mom managed to take the time off to accompany him too.

Then the other kids came.

Neo kept to himself.

But he kept looking at the other kids, hoping that they would like him, that they would talk to him.

I’m shot inside. I’m hoping that the other kids would like him, that they would talk to him. I’m hoping that the teachers would see how special he is.

I know Neo is just one of many, that all kids are special, that he’s neither the first nor the last to go through this experience.

I wish they could see how caring Neo is, how he talked to his favorite toy Thomas, making his own narration, creating a wonderful little world for it, and how he made his pretend voice as Thomas answered him back.

I wish they could see how he’s moved from Thomas to Pocoyo to wanting to become a Jedi Knight and now his current obsession, Spiderman that, wait, I hope the kid’s not suffering from identity crisis.


I want to turn around and drive back home and sit down on the living-room floor and play with him and hug him forever and the hell with developing motor skills and language skills and math skills and socialization and growing up and some such crap.

Have you seen the world?

Gaza? Afghanistan? Iraq? ISIL? ISIS? FPI? Political instability of world governments, Russia shooting down a civilian plane, graft and corruption, corporate espionage, General Motors’ deliberate negligence of continuing to produce millions of cars despite knowing that they’re defective, the global banking sector?

Show me proof that we are products of an educational system.

Oh how I wish I could give him my muscles or my height or my weight, in case a big kid tries to bully him.

I wish I could give him my mind, so he’d understand why he has to go to school.

I wish I understood it.

“This is going to be fun, Neo,” I said.

It was another lie.

More than anything else about school, what do you remember of it?

What I’m really remembering is the way kids got teased in school: because they were fat, because they were short, because they were different, because they were slow, because they were cute, because they were smart and, sometimes, for no reason at all.

We teased them and teased them and teased them, and it must have been hell for them.

I glided through my academic life unscathed because I held my ground. The tease I got was as much as the tease I gave.

That was one thing I learned about competitive sports early on in life. Regardless of whatever part of the planet you’re in, if you could play — you could stay. And it’s what led me to so many school yards, backyards, campuses, villages, in-roads, provinces, shanty towns, squatter areas.

I wanted to ask God, don’t let the kids tease Neo. But he will be teased. He will be ridiculed. As much as he would give it. I just hope that he won’t make any child’s life miserable. Or that he wouldn’t be at the worse end of it.

But knowing how he cares for his brother who has Down Syndrome, I am certain he won’t.

At a young age I’ve already witnessed him play rough with his friends, tease one another, tease EJ together with his friends as much as EJ teased back, but he never ever allowed any of them to go overboard.

He’s just grown so much so quickly despite having just turned 6.

It’s a dilemma all fathers have gone through before me and the same emotions that those after me will go through as well.


We’re in the hallway and we’re supposed to leave right away. They already told us that hanging around only makes it worse.

It couldn’t be any worse.

His entire life just flashed before me. Here was a creature I once held in my arms, fed, changed clothes, placed under the sun, played with, took to preschool, took to playdates, and now he’s off alone to do some serious business. We’ve always enjoyed driving around and what’s next is he’ll be driving me around in a blink of an eye.


Neo must be fighting panic inside while showing up a good quiet front, stalling to keep me there, and even though there were no tears running quietly down his cheeks, I’m sure he’s having a roller coaster of mixed emotions of fear and excitement.

“Your mom and I will pick you up later.”

“How many hours will it be?” he asks.

Thousands, I think.

Thousands and thousands, in classrooms, in campuses, in universities, away from your mother, away from me, until you’ve learned to accept it, and you don’t cry when I leave you, and Thomas & His Friends never talk any more.


About Asmartrock

N. Mark Castro is the Southeast Asia Director of JUMP DIGITAL Asia, which is an internationally-awarded and fully integrated digital marketing agency with 5 out of 10 offices in the ASEAN region. He is also the Secretary General of the Philippine Business Club Indonesia, managing and assisting the traffic of investments between the Philippines and Indonesia. He shuttles between Indonesia, Philippines, Myanmar, Singapore, Cambodia, and Australia. The views posted here are his own and do not in any way reflect the views of the companies he represents.

Posted on August 11, 2014, in Fatherhood, General and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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