Saturday 20 April 2019

Dr Ciara Kelly: Before the exams let's celebrate what our children have achieved already

Dr Ciara Kelly
Dr Ciara Kelly

Three weeks to go in our countdown to the Leaving Cert and to be honest I'm starting to feel the pressure myself when I see that written down in black and white! It seems all too much that there is a single exam that is supposed to sum up 14 years of education - the ups, the downs, the trials, the achievements. It's probably best not to think about it. A lot of the kids will also graduate from school this week with Masses and school ceremonies, so that odd feeling of something big coming to an end is in the air at the moment, for them and indeed us.

My guy will graduate on Friday which doesn't seem credible when I can still remember so clearly his first day starting junior infants and the tears (mine, not his) as I walked away from his classroom with the tiny chairs and Stickle Bricks. It doesn't seem right that someone who only very recently had pudgy cheeks and pronounced C as T, is now about to sit French, biology and history and is talking about the points he needs for various courses. I know this is not news to those who have already walked this road with their kids. But he's my eldest and I'm half-addled by managing the whole Leaving Cert thing while also dealing with a powerful wave of wistfulness about where the time has gone.

The graduations and the end of year school stuff is important. They need to mark the end of these formative years in more than just academic terms with study and exams. This is the end of an era for them. And the friends they've made and the experiences they've had over the past six years will become an integral part of the person they are becoming as an adult.

So despite the fact that they are a bit distracting, these end of year rituals are a milestone and a cause for celebration - not every family will be lucky enough to have gotten their child this far along the road in life. We should be very grateful indeed for our healthy children, whose main worries revolve around what to wear to sixth-year graduation and whether one college course is better than another. There are people around us who would love to have those worries, who would love their child to be going through the normal rigours of teenage life - but for some reason they aren't. And it's important to keep some perspective on that in the face of the all-consuming Leaving Cert.

So allow them a bit of guilt-free time this week to acknowledge that they're leaving this group that they have gone through so much with, over the past six or more years. To feel that excitement tinged with sadness. The friendships they have made and lost and remade. The loves and laughs they have experienced. The rites of passage they have gone through. They have felt alone. They have felt they belonged. They have felt confused and oh so sure and certain. There is a real beauty in watching the child grow into the adult and I think this week they should be allowed to do that without it being about the countdown to the first Wednesday in June.

Or perhaps it's not just they who need time this week to reflect - it's us as parents. I know I love all my four children fiercely and absolutely equally but there's something singular about your relationship with your eldest child. They are your little pioneer. Always the first to do the things you subsequently take for granted with your younger children. You go through things for the first time together with them. They are the first to go to school. The first to do exams. The first to graduate. Perhaps the first to go to college. You grow up as the parent, as they grow up as the child. Some people say you make your mistakes on them - which may well be true - but you're also feeling your way along the steep learning curve of parenting with them. They are your guide as much as you are theirs.

I promise I'll get back on track about the run up to the Leaving next week. But this week, let us celebrate what they have achieved already in getting this far. Class of 2018, you are impressive irrespective of any exams you sit - I salute you.


Ciara presents 'Lunchtime Live' on Newstalk weekdays from 12-2

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