Sunday, 23 September 2012

Forgive me.

My ten year old daughter is nearing meltdown. She has a lot on her plate. It is of course, as it always is, my fault but I can at least offer myself small comfort in the knowledge that it is not only me that has a grumpy ten year old in the house because several other mothers I know, convinced that we are doing ‘the right thing’, are putting their child through the same pressure. We speak nervously to each other occasionally, either on the phone or in supermarkets or, whilst walking dogs and we all have the same furrowed expression on our faces. The one that says, ‘My child is going to take the 11+ exam. It is a punishing regime of hours upon hours of practise papers and hard homework. Like, really hard. So hard in fact that we struggle to help them. Verbal reasoning? Since when did that advance anyone’s chances in life? My heart sinks when I mention sometime after dinner, after ballet, or tap or swimming or musical theatre or just watching tv that it is homework time.’ These mothers, going through the same thing, nod silently, knowing exactly what you are talking about. Knowing the tears and the tantrums involved, the coaching, the cajoling, the tuition, the fees, the concern and ultimately the hope that after all this hard work one’s little darling has put in, that they pass, go to their grammar school of choice, continue to university, make like-minded friends, find a partner for life, become affluent, happy, fulfilled. Then it will all have been worth it. Of course, Hubby and I did exactly the same for the other two and we all know what has, so far become of my son. Shacked up with his bird, working in several pubs to pay the rent. I say so far, because hope springs eternal and he is a very bright young man with ‘A’ levels and a family who have always adored him. So you never know. Our eldest daughter on the other hand is, mercifully, following the party line and has excelled at her grammar school, has many interests, which as yet, do not seem to involve the attentions of love-sick, seventeen year old young men. She is ambitious and curious and desperate for adventure and can see that exams are just a stepping stone to that adventurous life. Exams which, if studied for and succeeded at, will never be referred to again. Hubby and I have not had to point this phenomenon to her; she has the sagacity to see it for herself. So, here we are again then, child number three attempting her 11+, her parents driving her on in the hope that it will deliver a better future for her. When you are ten though and are quite happy dressing up in your mother’s clothes and teetering around in her high heels and playing make believe with your sister, it is very hard to comprehend how another two hours homework will be better for you than whatever imaginary world you are currently immersed in. “Come on sweetie”, I cajole, “Just another few percentages”. She bites my hand off at the chance. Come off it. “But muh-um, I’m playing. I’m not eleven plus anyway, I’m only ten plus”. She has a point. For some reason, which has yet to be explained, the exam has been brought forward from January next year as it always was, to September this year. Many of the children will be very young indeed. Our youngest for instance, whose birthday falls on August the 29th, will only just be ten should she also take the exam when her time comes. “Ok, just finish your game, then put my clothes and shoes away and then, after homework, you can watch your ballet DVD”. She sighs. It is hardly surprising. It is not Swan Lake that I am promising her by way of a treat or Coppelia, or even The Sugar Plum Fairy. Alas not. It is an instructional DVD to help her with her ballet exam, which she needs apparently, because her ballet teacher is concerned that at the moment she is, “away with the fairies”. On top of which, she has a tap dancing exam and a summer show to practise for, a swimming gala to compete in and, as if that weren’t enough, she and her younger sister have recently relocated to a new school. I am hardly surprised that she is away with the fairies, were she my age, she’d be away with the valium. It will all soon be over though I keep telling myself and she is not the only one going through this I tell myself even louder. It does beg the question though whether it is right to put our children through this type of academic pressure. What if they fail? Do we as parents take the risk with such a young mind, allowing it, after having worked so hard for something perhaps ultimately unattainable, to consider itself spent and a failure forever? ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained’ I can hear my mother say. And she would have been quite right, for, where my mother’s idiom is as old as the hills, the more modern take, ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’, implores us to be brave, to take a new direction when it is so much safer, if far less satisfying not to. And as adults we know this. We know how set in our ways we so quickly become. How easy it is to say no instead of yes. How scary it is to start over. How scary it is to sit an exam. Children on the other hand are the bravest of the brave. They will give just about anything a try. We must strike whilst the iron is hot. In the end it will be worth it. She will never thank me, but please, let it have been worth it. 15th June 2012


Chris said...

Very sorry to see that you are no longer in the Western Morning News. Hope all is well with you and your family, and hope that you will continue your writing. Please keep us informed!
Best wishes,

brick said...

to hear that.
how's things now?

Anonymous said...

My darling wife's brilliant column was pulled by the WMN after 10 highly successful years. Cutbacks apparently, I trust you all enjoyed her musings as much as I.

Chris said...

Really sorry to hear that. I have been enjoying her writing for a long time, and hope that she can find another outlet for her creative energy!
Best wishes to you all,
Chris H

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Sally Writes said...

Sorry for the rather later note on the matter, but that is very sad that they pulled your column. Silly people. It was excellent and very funny! :)