Sunday 18 February 2018

The student: 'My mother's scones with jam and cream - that's all I need'

Dearbhail Clarke was the Irish Independent Leaving Certificate diarist in 2015 Photo: Caroline Quinn
Dearbhail Clarke was the Irish Independent Leaving Certificate diarist in 2015 Photo: Caroline Quinn

Dearbhail Clarke

It's earlier this week, and my grandmother has just died. My mother is driving me home down grey and twisted country roads and we're silent, thinking.

"Katherine from the Irish Independent called", I break in suddenly.

"Oh really, what does she want?" Mum answers, her voice heavy with exhaustion.

"An article. About the parents of Leaving Cert students. She wants to know what advice I would give them."

"What advice you would give them?" she retorts, the indignity of it piquing her interest.

"What are you going to write about? Scones with jam and cream?"

"Yeah, mainly" I laugh. "That's exactly what I was thinking. Scones with jam and cream."

Scones are my mother's speciality. The recipe goes as follows: however much flour she thinks looks right, a splash of sugar on top of that, maybe a bit of baking powder and cinnamon if it's there - not raisins, I'm not keen on those.

I'm allowed to whisk up the eggs and milk to bind the mixture together, but the really important part is the butter: she roughly cubes up pats of creamery butter and delves her hands into the bowl - rubbing the flour-butter mixture into fat yellow crumbs with brisk, practised movements.

This step is where she puts in all of the love and anger and fear and bravery and confusion she feels.

The things that make the scones more than scones.

The scones are symbols of comfort. They come with butter if I'm having a bad day, jam if I'm having a really bad day and cream if I'm going through the state exams, the death of a loved one, or the crux of a depressive episode. Really, really, really bad days.

I ate those scones while I bombed the Junior Cert, while I conquered the Leaving Cert and while I dropped out of college earlier this year.

Regardless of how Mum felt about my decisions, she did not argue or direct me. She just made the scones. She was just there to comfort me when I came home.

She trusted that I would do the rest myself. That trust is what makes her such a good mother.

I can't give you hard-and-fast advice about how to get your child through the Leaving Cert, because that's their job, not yours.

It's their job to excel or pass or fail or drop out pre-emptively, whatever they decide to do: and honestly, it shouldn't matter to you what they decide to do. What matters is that you are there to support them outside of that.

I need to carefully define what I mean by support, because I've noticed a growing prevalence of what's called 'helicopter parenting' in Irish schools, especially at college open days.

This is what it sounds like: when parents hover nervously over their children's lives, tracking and micromanaging every movement.

You are not the author of your child's life. You should not be doing their research and asking their questions, because your overbearing love will stifle their growth.

Let them make mistakes and get burned, because they won't learn about fire from you describing it. Just be there to tend to the wounds.

My mother is an imperfect being.

Sometimes she makes me sadder and angrier than anything else on earth.

But she is the wisest mother I could ever ask for. She knows when her opinions and feelings are needed and when they are not.

She knows how to listen and console. She knows how to suspend judgment and keep an open mind. She knows to never, ever threaten me with failure or compare me to another child, or mollycoddle me, or take charge of my future.

She knows how to make scones. That's all I've ever needed.

Irish Independent

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