The World’s Biggest Underachiever


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.

Can I get you a green tea?


 

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14 thoughts on “The World’s Biggest Underachiever

  1. Awh I feel quite emotional after reading that Adele. We had a similar evening in the week as my youngest is heading off to secondary in September and the same sort of advice was given us by the head (I couldn’t daydream as was sat right in his line of vision!)
    It’s a wonderful time for our children certainly but don’t under sell yourself Adele, look at what you have achieved so far and who knows what’s round the corner? Keep that pencil sharpened for book signings and the like 📘✍ X

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ahh thank you, Lizzie. The post made my daughter cry too (hopefully not in a bad way)! I haven’t entirely given up on me (well, I have academically) but sometimes you have to be realistic. If you could do it all again, could you do it any better? I might make a few different choices, but I can’t change my nature. Let’s just hope being a ‘dreamer’ will work out for me in the long run!! And it’s great that we get to be so proud of our kids, Lizzie – not every parent can say the same! 😕xx

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  2. Super liked the dreamer reference, because I relate to it so much. The other day while I was helping my 10 year daughter with her history that people thought the earth was flat in the renaissance period, I remembered that I in my toddler days thought if I go at the end of the earth and jump I might fall on Mars, Oops! Ha ha. My good wishes to your daughter and yes we cannot go back but at least be there for our kids to achieve what they deserve.
    – sarojavasanth

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    • Thanks Saroja. I feel privileged that I get to be a (hopefully) good role model to my daughters. I’d like to reexamine a few choices I made in the past – but I can’t do that. So it’s time to make the best of the future – mine and my family’s. x

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  3. She’ll go a long way! She’s brilliantly talented. Unlike you, I intend to live a very full vicarious life through all the things I cattle-prod my little ones into doing and claim half their success. Lovely post, as always.

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  4. Compared to me, Adele, you are indeed a high achiever! Mind you, I was quite good in my school/college/academic endeavors. Oh, yes. Mostly A grades. Some Bs. Below that? No. It wasn’t acceptable to my mother, who was raising her three daughters on her own and doing well enough that we didn’t actually realize we actually fell into the poverty range. We didn’t know that because she refused to accept government programs. She worked, and worked hard. We had no male role models and so we accepted that we must always, always work, set goals, do our best and . . . well, you get the picture. Fast forward: Now, 20 years your senior, married 36 years and with plenty of career accolades behind me, thanks to my high-achieving mother, I am actually the dreamer who lives best through the characters I become in order to write them in my own books. Perhaps that’s because I had no children of my own. Or perhaps it’s because despite the immense push to be better, always be better, I secretly lived as a child in a fantasy world. I was the one on the little red wagon, furiously pushing with one leg up and down sidewalks, imagining myself to be driving a car. With me? People I made up as I went along. Stories I made up as I went along. My sisters? Although close in age, they were different, and while I played pretty much solo, they were combing the hair of Barbie dolls and the like—activities I detested. But my mother? A big part of her high achieving goals for us was reading. Yes. For every A grade we received, we were actually allowed to go into a Real Bookstore and buy a Real Book to own. Imagine that! I don’t know how my mother afforded that, and she’s too long deceased for me to ask. But she read voraciously herself. The morning newspaper. Novels from the library.

    I guess the point of my overly long story is this: All parents make us, in part, who we become as adults. We get the good, the bad, and sometimes, yes, the ugly of who they were. And we come out all right, most of us. God speed to your own children as they grow. What they do in the end may surprise you. They, like you, may even have a swift boredom streak and a desire to flirt with pretend characters who become stars in books. What you are? Who you think you are? You are perfect in what you perceive as your imperfections, and please don’t change that.

    Now go look up “wabi sabi,” which very loosely interpreted means “the art of imperfection.” Japanese philosophy, I believe. I like that we have wabi sabi in our lives. In fact, Adele, I would suggest we both embrace it on some level, and I think that’s okay.

    (I probably have a misspelling in here somewhere and if so, let’s call my response a “wabi sabi” response and smile at it.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ahh, thanks Laura! What a great childhood recollection. I think we’re kind of alike in that aspect. I like that ‘wabi sabi’ notion and I think I’ll embrace it! Maybe I’ve been using it to my advantage all along. Knowing my imperfections and poking fun at them without falling into self pity is pretty much what my blog is about. I’ve been thinking on this post, and although I’m proud of how well my daughter achieves her goals – she’s such a worrier. And I worry for her because of it. That’s one thing I wasn’t (a worrier) – I never stressed about studies, anyway. But perhaps, like I say, I didn’t worry enough. Anyway, thanks for your comment – it’s always great to hear from you! 😊x

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  5. Almost deja vu for me Adele. I had a similar chat with my two sons about my time in school recently.
    Let’s hope we got through to our children that our parents were unable to with us.
    But if you could go back in time and visit your school-age self, don’t you think you’d be able to convince yourself to knuckle-down at school? I know I’d be able to scare the be-jeezus out of myself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hmm…I’d make some difference choices, I think. But you can’t knock the lazy out of a…ooh, look over there, a cat. But seriously, it’s nice to know I’m not the only on who ‘could do better’.😉

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