Friday 28 July 2017

Smug married: Exam by proxy is almost as bad as taking it myself

Preparations for the looming Junior Cert bring an unpleasant sense of deja vu, finds Aine O'Connor

Roll on Wednesday. There comes a point, with everything much anticipated and even dreaded, that the build-up gets too exhausting and you think, 'OK, bring it on. Get it over with.'

On Wednesday, we have our first brush with State Exams since I exited the Art Leaving Cert exam back in '85 hoping the examiners would appreciate my efforts (they didn't). This time, I'm doing it by proxy, which is almost as bad in a weird way, as Number One faces into his Junior Cert, this thing that has loomed into the distance since First Year, yet appeared somehow out of the blue just recently.

Our son, who will turn 15 just as the JC ends -- possibly too young I know now, but not back then -- is many wonderful things. But a born student he is not (I asked him was it OK to say that, "yeah, I'm very open about it". Mmm).

I have trawled the dusty shelves of my brain to seek out Venn Diagrams, Flying Columns and a good usable definition of Irony. And in there I have found the me who studied these things -- 14-year-old me and 16-year-old me (we were all too young back then) and I know I felt persecuted when my parents asked after my study. In honesty, I'd disappear to my room and mostly study make-up application techniques or write songs (that was a phase) or rants (that wasn't) about how wronged I was.

I did really believe I was working hard and I must have been doing something other than perfecting liquid eyeliner application because I managed to get into college. Where I got the shock of my life -- they suggested I leave French in the first few months because I was so bad -- but it was too late to leave. They were different times. I had come from a community school and while I might have been utterly baffled by the subjunctive and study techniques, boys and relative freedom were no novelty. I'd had compasses stuck in my leg, a first-year mating ritual back in 1980.

Some of my college mates, however, had come from single-sex schools and a more sheltered attitude to education, and some of these found the sudden exposure to rugby types and on-campus bars too distracting. I managed to learn to study: I never got very good at some of the things, but I never failed any exams, which is, for better or worse, what it boils down to.

I also thank the one little man who told me weeks before my finals that I'd be lucky to pass, for he possibly did me more good than all of the teachers who offered encouragement. We loathed each other, that little man and I. I desperately wanted to punch him in the face, but fortunately opted to prove him wrong instead.

Never since have I studied. Just lately, by proxy. And I have to say I have hated this part of parenting, I have loathed having to stand over him, hassle him, veto his plans, bribe, cajole, beg, threaten my lovely boy into doing what does not come naturally. He says himself he just doesn't quite get the bigger picture of all this. At times I struggle to paint it. But this is the system.

So good luck to all the examinees and to all who have worked, suffered and stressed with them. And roll on Wednesday.

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