One mother's agonising decision
FOR more than a month, Chua Kee Ching agonised over what to do.
"It was the hardest decision of my life, but reporting my son to the police was the only way I could make him come to his senses," the 52-year-old production worker says in Cantonese. "He is my only child. I didn't want his future to be ruined if he ended up with a police record."
Her son, then 17, had gone on a rebellious path in secondary school.
She says: "Do you know, he actually scored an aggregate of 240 for his PSLE? My son went to a good school, but somehow, when he was in Secondary 2, something just went wrong."
And she is certain it had nothing to do with her being a single parent.
"My husband died (of cancer) when my boy was eight. If anything, I felt that his father's death made him grow up overnight," says Madam Chua with a wry smile.
"He'd help with the household chores when I was at work, and he kept promising me he'd study hard so we could both have a better life."
To reward her son for his good results, Madam Chua even saved up to take him to the Gold Coast in Australia.
But things started to go downhill after her son turned 14. "Suddenly, he was an angry teenager... He'd come home late at night, still in his school uniform and smelling of stale cigarettes," she recalls. "Because he was at that age, I controlled my urge to scold him and tried to advise him instead. I had to keep my worries at bay."
Then one day, the school called to tell her her 15-year-old would be suspended for punching his physical education teacher. She says: "I was so shocked. I couldn't believe that my 'guai guai zai' (good son in Cantonese) had turned into a stranger."
During the two weeks of suspension, her son returned home only twice - the first time to stuff some clothes into a paper bag. Five days later, he turned up to demand $300 from her. "At first I refused. I kept asking him what he needed it for, but he just said: 'You can give me the money or you can regret it later if you don't'," says Madam Chua.
In the end, she gave in. "Later on, when I thought back about the early days, I realised that it was me who had allowed my son to go further astray. I should have stood my ground," she says.
Her son stayed out of trouble when he returned to school and she thought "closing one eye" would help ease the tension.
He did well enough to get into a junior college but insisted on going to a polytechnic. "I was happy that he did well and I didn't mind. I thought he had got over that phase," she says.
Until one day when she was cleaning her son's room. She had picked up his backpack and had accidentally dropped it on the floor. "I heard a clang so I opened it. To my horror, there was a long kitchen knife and the blade was wrapped with a piece of newspaper. My hands were shaking, my heart was beating so fast."
Yet she did not confront her son.
"I don't know why... I just put the knife back and went about my chores."
But the image of the knife kept replaying in her mind.
"Finally, I told my sister about it. And the first thing she said was: Call the police.
"I screamed at her: Are you mad? He is my son! How can I do that? I was in denial then. I didn't want to face up to the fact that I had lost control of my only child."
Three weeks later, she confronted her son about the knife.
"It was his reaction that woke me up. Glaring at me, he warned me never to touch his things. He even told me to keep out of his room. 'Do that or live to regret for the rest of your life,' he told me. It was then I knew I had to save my own son."
Two days later, she approached her sister "for strength" and together, they walked into a neighbourhood police centre.
"When my son came home from school that afternoon, two policemen were waiting for him at the void deck," she says quietly.
For possessing an offensive weapon, he was arrested, convicted and sent to a reformative training centre for 18 months. "Fortunately, he had not done anything seriously wrong, otherwise it would have been worse. But the first few months were terrible. He didn't even want to see me."
When he was finally released, he went to live with her sister and mother. "By then, he didn't mind being in the same room as me but he refused to acknowledge me."
The good thing, she adds, was that he started going to church with his aunt.
"Then two days before Christmas, I returned home to find him at our doorstep with his belongings. We were a mess that day. He cried, apologised and asked that I forgive him.
"I knew my 'guai guai zai' had returned to his mother."
THE NEW PAPER