Sunday, March 04, 2007

Life is a Rollercoaster, You Just Gotta Ride it...

Well. We've had a weekend and a half and no mistake.

On Friday afternoon I'd offered to pick up no 1's best friend from school and take them to dance class together, and then I had a sudden thought that maybe she would want to have some quiet time with her mum to discuss her result. I rang my friend up to discover to my huge surprise her daughter hadn't got in. This was a big shock as she is a bright button and we all thought it a dead cert. I commiserated with my friend and then spent the rest of the afternoon on tenterhooks until school pick up time to find out our results. My original plan had been to let no 1 open the letter at home, but when it came to it, I couldn't stand the tension, so I took it to school with me.

In the morning I had seen two friends who I knew had heard online and they had kept their heads down and said nothing. I had assumed from that it was bad news. I was therefore delighted to find out when I got to the infants, that their news was positive. In fact all three of my school run chums who I started out with six years ago have got their kids in. Phew. I didn't have to commiserate any longer.

No 1 was ages coming out of school. She normally dawdles, but you'd have thought on that day she might have spared a thought for her poor stressed mother and got out a bit quicker.

Eventually she arrived, grabbed the envelope from me, ripped it open and screamed so loudly they could have probably heard it in the next town, I got into..... The Other School, not the one we were after. She went off shrieking and hollering as by now she realised her bf was also going there.

I stood in a state of complete and utter shock. Anyone who'd heard her would have assumed she'd passed the test, but hey, at least one of us was pleased.

It was at that moment I realised that I had been pretty much assuming she would get in. Which probably makes me arrogant mum extraordinaire, but it was what everyone in the playground appears to have thought too. I don't think I have ever been so dumbfounded in my life. Or quite so disappointed. For her. For the effort she's put in. For us, for having failed her in some way. Until then I also hadn't realised how much I had wanted her to get in. I had genuinely thought I wasn't bothered, but I clearly cared more then I did. (Cue anxious mummy moment am I an overpushy, over expectant parent? Until now I hadn't thought so, but jeez, this sort of thing takes the wind out of your sails).

Never mind, everyone kept saying, I'm sure she'll be borderline, she'll probably get in via the waiting list.

No 1 meanwhile seemed ecstatically happy, so I ordered Dominos pizza for tea and let her ring up all her friends. I have to say, given that she is quite a reserved child, her behaviour was way outside normal range. Spouse gloomily remarked, in the spirit of Robert de Niro in Meet the Fokkers, It's as though she's celebrating failure. I wasn't convinced by this, as I thought her reaction ever so ever so, slightly OTT. We spent a gloomy evening in front of the tv, and retired to bed fretting about the letter that was coming from the school to tell us what her mark was.

At this point I was entirely convinced that she would be easily able to go on the waiting list, but nonetheless I was wide awake at 6am, and couldn't get back to sleep.

No 1 was off on a day out with the guides, and I was on normal ballet run duties, so it wasn't till lunchtime till we found out the result.

The cut off point for going on the waiting list was 326 (in the mock test she sat she'd got 344).

This time round she got 282.

Which is probably worse then if we hadn't bothered with tutoring.

What the hell had gone wrong????

I was really glad she was out of the house so we could react away without her. Our big worry was that she'd done this deliberately. She had said at one point that that is what she was going to do, and I had had stern words about always doing your best. The trouble is I know she is both bright enough, and subversive enough to do it. How do I know this? Because she's very like me , in that regard, and I did the same thing in a Music exam once. I hated music and I deliberately wrote the wrong answers down. I got 25% and a D on my report.

Is that what no 1 had done? I wouldn't put it past her.

Except, I had my moment of rebellion when I was a bit older then her, and I think she's still at the stage when she wouldn't dare, but you never ever know...

Spouse had a heart to heart with her on the way home, trying to feel whether or not she had been mucking about. And then we told her the result. And immediately it was clear that she was shocked to the core and she couldn't possibly have thrown it.

My eldest is a stoical little soul so to begin with she didn't break down, and I thought maybe she wasn't that upset. But ten minutes later I went into the lounge to find her sobbing her heart out.

Ever since she was born and she held out her finger and wrapped it round mine, she has wrapped my heart right around hers. How could I have doubted her? And how I wish she didn't have to go through this.

After many tears on hers (and a few on mine - Why are you crying Mummy, you didn't fail an exam? - no, but I feel worse then if if had been me), it transpires that she was far far more tense and worried about the whole thing then I had realised. She covers up her feelings so well, I thought she was coping. It also turns out that she panicked on the day and didn't finish one of the papers, explaining her lousy mark. In other words, she had an off day. It happens to the best of us... As I told her at great length, naming every single occasion that either I, or her father have fluffed up an exam.

I've gone through a maelstrom of emotions since. Was I wrong to sit her for a grammar school? On paper she should have walked it, but was it right to pressurise her so much? (I had tried very very hard not to) Should I have done more (I don't know if I could, she was so resistant to any kind of comment from me)? Somehow I feel I have failed her as a mother, and my confidence in my ability to make decisions for my children has been hugely dented. It seemed like the right thing to do, but maybe I should have picked up the warning signs earlier...

....And maybe not. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and had I known all of this I would probably have still sat her for the test and tried to do things differently, but she still might not have got in.

As parents we are on steep learning curves, particularly with our eldest - they are as my fil always used to say, the trailblazers - we can only do the best we can at each stage in their lives.

On the upside, she is going to school with her mates (as she always wanted to), she can walk there easily, and she will shine in the top groups. Maybe, given her nervous disposition she wouldn't have thrived in a grammar school situation anyway. And I have certainly learnt valuable lessons in how to deal with her worries.

So... tomorrow's a new day.

Whatever doesn't hurt you makes you stronger.

We didn't make the stars, but we didn't hit a tree either.

And we've only got to go through this.... ooh, three more times...

Not to mention, GSCEs, A levels, university....


Nic said...

I am SOOO glad there was only one school in my town and it was comprehensive and we all had to go there regardless.

Sometimes I worry terribly about what our education system does to our children...

Take care all of you

N x

Jane Henry said...

Nic, you're very kind.

I went to a grammar school and in some ways I think it was harsher then. Only 200 kids sat for 100 places, so you had a 50 per cent chance of getting in, but otoh, the stigma attached to failing was huge.

At least in no 1's case she knows that there were 900 people sitting for 180 places. It was a long shot, which is what I've always said.

Am sure that when the dust has settled we will all calm down and realise it is the best thing.

Actually have already decided it was meant to be. And though it's a tough lesson for her so young, I think she will be the stronger for it. Though as a mum I have just realised I NEVER want my children to have tough lessons. Or if they do, I want to take the blows for them!

Thanks for your good wishes!
love Jx

Caroline said...

I tutor (or I used to tutor) children for the 11+ and each year I am filled with fear for them. The pressure and as you say the consequence attached to the result ... well it's huge. If she has underperformed you can consider an appeal - with her current school's support or possibly even 12+. Sorry you don't want ot hear that. If you are happy wth her allocated school, then your daughter will thrive. She'll know that you're ready to catch her and to help mop up dented confidences.

I tutored because I loved teaching and didn't want to give it up completely. I thrived on writng papers and designing a 'fool proof' method. This set of results was my final group of students.

I am now terrified that I'll be the mum waiting for the envelope in a couple of years time. It's huge.

Have a glass of wine and look forward. Lessons learned. You should write a book about it ;-)

Caroline x

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

Greetings from a fellow novel racer. I have much sympathy for your plight - but the writer in me is also thinking 'there's at least a very good short story Jane could get out of this post, when the dust has settled'. We are such scavengers, carrion-pickers - I can't remember which famous writer it was who said all he could think about at his mother's deathbed was how useful the experience would be for his writing.

Lucy Diamond said...

What a rollercoaster, as you say. It's great that she was happy to get the school she wanted, and that she'll be with her best friend - but I sympathise with how you must have felt.

I must confess I hate the 11-plus system for the reasons you've said - that no child should be made to feel a failure at the age of 11. It's just so wrong - and very divisive, too. How stressful.
I went to a bog-standard comp but at least all my friends went there, and there was no trauma about getting in.

Hope you are all okay, anyway. It's horrible to see your child experience a tough lesson when you want to keep them safe and wrapped up from all the painfulness of life.

Take care

Jane Henry said...

Aw, thanks for all your nice comments.

I do feel better now. I think it was just the shock. Also from talking to a really good friend, I think the pressure on no 1 to succeed probably comes from her peers as she is known as the brainbox of the class. That's something over which I have no control, but I am taking definite steps in making sure she knows she doesn't have to do brilliantly in her SATs for us to know she's a clever girl. Am half tempted to form a cabal with my mummy friends and get them all to fail spectacularly, so that instead of the top group getting the 5s predicted they all get 2s!! But don't know what repercussions that would have long term. (NOW there's a subject for a book. Don't steal it anyone, I got there first!!!)

Caroline, thanks for sharing the benefit of your experience. What a useful symbiotic relationship we can have vbg. I haven't been able to speak to no 1's tutor yet, but I think it is better to let sleeping dogs lie in this instance, if I go down the let's look at this route, then I think it will unsettle her again. But thanks for the advice.x

Zinnia, welcome to my blog. Now funny you should mention that about using the experience... I tend to think of writers having magpie minds, but carrion suits even more... Am sure the misery fest will work its way somewhere into the wip!

And er - not quite done the deathbed scene. But the experience of arriving at my mil's house to discover fil dead in bed, has ahem been plundered for Pastures New. I feel such a heel sometimes, because something awful happens and immediately I'm off thinking, that would make a great storyline. I have some friends who have been through some truly horrendous things in the last couple of years (on the scale of You Couldn't Make That Up) - theirs would be a great story, but even I would draw the line at using it. And also have a tricky family situation which I am itching to use to revitalise the first book I ever wrote, but don't think I could go there and still have my outlaws speak to me!

Lucy I know that not everyone agrees with the 11 plus, I just felt that as no 1 is so bright she deserved a shot at the best school in the area. Agree that we all want to take the knocks for them don't we? Children are so resilient though, she seems much happier already!

Cathy said...

Speaking as one who has a child with severe mental health problems triggered largely by school, I can only advise you all not to pressurise your kids too much.

Their health and happiness is just as important as academic achievement and while we can encourage them, we need to accept that they may prefer to go to a school with their friends, they may have different ways of learning to us and at the end of the day, if it does all go pear-shaped, it is still possible to catch up with education later.

Schools put enough pressure on kids with their emphasis on SATS and league tables etc rather than on meeting individual needs in a way that takes into account the whole person and the self esteem of the child. Sometimes I think the system sucks.

JJ said...

I'm a fellow racer and your story reminded me that I'd have been going through this with my daughter had we not moved to Bangkok 18 months ago.

We went through it with my son, paid for tuition, not because we believed it was right, but because we felt we'd been entered into a game that we hadn't wanted to play.

Our son's bright, but lazy, so we fought over the tuition and the homework, but he got his place at Grammar school and then we moved to Bangkok!

I was relieved not to have to go down the same path for my daughter. Assuming we stay here she'll just transfer to the secondary part of the school she's already in.

It's awful kids through in school now. The pressure is ridiculous. I vowed I'd never put one of my kids into a school where they struggled all the time. If your daughter is happy in a school and doing well, with family around who support her, she'll fly.

All the best to you all


mad muthas said...

what a crazy system that puts people through this amount of stress!
hope your daughter is very happy in her new school - it's the major thing i would wish for any child. and if she's happy, she'll thrive and get the most out of her years as a student, regardless of anything else.

just saw your myspace, btw. vair vair groovy!

Faithful Soles said...

Let me share a different perspective. I have an 18 year old daughter who is a special education student. Had my wife and I listened to the so-called experts when she 4 years old, she would have been sent away to a school for kids who will never accomplish anything. Instead, we fought for her, got her into mainstream schools, and I am proud to say that she is graduating from high school this year and even made the Honor Roll in her 2nd semester last year. She is my hero and has accomplished amazing things in spite of her obstacles and difficulties. I live in a fairly affluent area where I see kids getting pushed to the limit by their parents, and it breaks my heart. Let's all be proud of our children for who they are, for the talents they have, and not for what we wish they had. Your children will accomplish amazing things because they have a loving mother.

mad muthas said...

it's very good having someone of your experience and with your breadth of knowledge around to help with all the editorial, production, costing queries. and thanks for your comments earlier. i'm still feeling so annoyed! grrrrr