The other week, I dutifully attended my daughter’s ‘six-form evening’. My daughter has just finished sitting her GCSEs (exams for fifteen/sixteen-year-olds for which my foreign readers will have an equivalent). And if she makes the grade (5 Cs and above, including English and Maths), she will be eligible to attend her school’s six form to study her A-levels for two years. My daughter has worked incredibly hard, so I’d be super-surprised if she didn’t achieve this and much more.
Anyway, I must admit I went along to with a rather lacklustre attitude. It isn’t that I’m not interested in my daughter’s future, but it was an evening thing and I was tired after a long day at work. A mid-week parent-teacher evening? Are you kidding me? Also, I had to drag along my poor ten-year-old who would much rather be at home watching YouTube videos on how to pierce her Design-A-Friend doll’s ears. To be honest, I just wanted my sofa. So there we sat in the hall of my eldest’s secondary school and listened to firstly the Headmaster and then the Head of Year, Mr Penny. He talked about the joys (but also the pitfalls) of six-form. He discussed how our kids were no longer kids, and yet they were not grown-ups either – so needed careful management. He discussed the opportunities on offer, but also the incredible work ethic that will be required for our children to be successful. And I remember sitting there, suddenly transfixed. I stopped thinking about my sofa which had been calling to me like Sirens to a ship-full of sailors, and I started to feel…envious.
Now let me explain, I am not jealous of my eldest daughter’s sparklingly bright and full-of-potential future. She has worked like a demon to get where she has (we don’t even know her exam results yet, but I am so confident after all the hard work she has put in, I am simply certain she is going to do well academically). I am not envious of that; I am rapturously happy for her. I can’t wait for her to experience all those momentous events that only a teenager can. But I just wish I could relive my experiences once more. Or more correctly, I wish I hadn’t frittered away the time and opportunities I had – pissed it all up the wall the way I did.
You see, when I was sixteen, I wasn’t like my daughter. Even though I was always a bright, savvy child – that potential was marred by crippling apathy and the shortest attention span ever bestowed on a teenager. If I’m not completely absorbed and engaged by a subject (like I am when writing a book or a blog), then my mind is prone to wandering. I’m the same now I’m in my forties. Whenever I do any face-to-face or online studying for my job, I virtually have to prise my eyes open with matchsticks and fashion a rudimentary neck brace out of a piece of metal that happens to be lying around just to keep my head pointed in the direction of the subject that is being taught. I have to dig my fingernails into my palms to stop from falling asleep, and my internal voice will scream at me, stay focused! Because I can’t stay focused – not for five minutes. And consequently, I didn’t do especially well in my GCSEs (or A-levels for that matter). If I’m not thoroughly interested in a thing, then I can’t keep my mind fixed on it. I’ve always been a dreamer, and dreamers don’t tend to do well academically. Not when there were stories in my head; plots and characters knocking at the inside of my skull, waiting to get out. Exams be damned!
Still, here was Mr Penny standing before us in this typical English school hall, talking about the potentially amazing life our kids could expect, the endless possibilities for our hard-working offspring. He talked about how they must organise their work-space at home; keep a tidy desk and a tidy mind, place a few plants here and there, buy some cue cards – some highlighters to brighten up their revision. They must plan their schedules, stick to timetables. And I really wanted all that – just for that hour or so spent at that parent’s evening – I wanted to relive my youth all over again. But this time, I would do it properly. I’d have a plan, set goals, have a career in mind, work diligently towards that sparkling career. This time, I would do everything a thousand times better. I would keep focused on my goal, work harder than I had ever worked before – not just fall into something, I’d have planned it. Because this time, I’d be driven. I’d make my circumstances better than the circumstances of my birth.
But of course, I can’t go back. I had my opportunities and I pretty much blew them. And if you gave me the chance to turn back time and re-do it all, I’d blow my chances again. Because you see, I haven’t changed. The forty-four year old me is much the same as the sixteen-year-old me. I care, but I don’t care enough. I fret and I worry and suffer from debilitating angst, but not about the right things; not about the important things that should matter. While I sat on that plastic school chair, listening to Mr Penny and feeling exited about my daughter’s glittering future, I knew that girl could never have been me. And how do I know that? As the session came to a close and parents in the audience were invited to ask questions, I found myself getting irritated; eyes rolling because of the mother who incessantly asked question after question about her child going to Oxford or Cambridge (like your child is going to Oxford or Cambridge!). I knew then I would never change – because I cursed that woman in my mind, I cursed her for making me late back to my sofa. Shut up and stop asking questions, I just want to go home! And you see, that’s the problem. Deep down, I’ve always just wanted to go back to the peace and tranquillity of home, taking the easiest and least taxing route to get there…
So as I watch my daughter potter about her newly decorated room; placing her new desk and chair just so, setting up her computer, arranging a couple of succulents to her liking and checking on the position of her cue cards, coloured post-its and highlighters in her intricately arranged drawer, I think to myself – good for you. Be the girl that I could never be. Set your sights and your goals astronomically high. Work hard and you just might achieve them. In fact, I’m absolutely certain you will. I can’t and won’t live my dreams through you – this is your time. Your sparkling future awaits you; and I’ll be there to help in any way I can (not in any academic way, I don’t know sh*t, but I can make you a nice green tea). I’ll be there on the sidelines, always cheering you on.