Saturday 16 December 2017

'Gin is an important part of our coping strategy' - Irish dad's tips to get through the Leaving Cert with your sanity

David Diebold and this wife Emily have turned to gin to battle the stress of their child doing the Leaving Cert
David Diebold and this wife Emily have turned to gin to battle the stress of their child doing the Leaving Cert

David Diebold

My wife and I have been doing the Leaving Cert all week. It’s tough, all this stress, particularly at our age. I mean, we’re not exactly teenagers any more and it’s been quite the struggle.

Coping mechanisms, needless to say, have been very important, and we’ve been supporting each other through this difficult time.

Emily and David Diebold with Sammy (16) and Jessica (13) pictured in 2015
Emily and David Diebold with Sammy (16) and Jessica (13) pictured in 2015

I’ll say: “How are you doing, darling?” And she’ll say something like: “I don’t know if I can do this for much longer.”

I’ll remind her that there are only two exams left next week, that we’ve done this before, and we’ll do it again. Then I’ll hand her a second gin and tonic.

Gin is an important part of our coping strategy. Copious gin helps us to cope. The harder the exams stacked up the following morning, the harder we’ll hit the gin. It really seems to help.

I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone who  actually has to sit down and do an exam the next day, but...

“Can you please turn the television down?” our school leaver will ask, padding in to the room in his socks and glaring, pale and hollow-eyed at us in accusatory silence before turning around and padding back out, muttering something under his breath.

“Just two more exams,” I’ll whisper hoarsely to my wife, adding: “Do you have enough ice in that?”

My wife and I have an entirely new appreciation for stationery supplies for the Leaving Cert. She bought the very last two maths sets in the world, several more science-calculators than were needed, apparently, and a sharpener with which to pare every coloured pencil in the house into a perfect point.

“I don’t need coloured pencils,” says our school leaver.

“Of course you do,” my wife tells him. “For drawing diagrams. Everyone knows that.”

“I don’t need them,” he croaks from under hooded eyes ringed with exhaustion. “I’m not using them.”

“I think they look great,” I whisper to my wife when we’re out of earshot. She makes a thin line with her lips and looks at me.

The Leaving Cert isn’t always about getting a question right. Sometimes, it’s just how you answer them.

“Who moved the book that I left just here?” our school leaver might ask.

If I’m answering, I might be tempted to say something like, “What book? I never saw any book.” This is the wrong answer.

My wife will know the question actually means, “I can’t find my book. Will someone find it for me?”

Without rushing her answer (you should never rush an answer), she’ll look around until she finds a schoolbook, then say, “Is this it?” (It usually is).

With the right preparation, a quick-fire round of questions can be easy to get right during the Leaving Cert, but you have to keep your answers short. It’s often against the clock, and at the very last minute.

“Where’s my school tie?”

In any other circumstances, the answer might be: “Where did you leave it?” There’s no time for playing around during the Leaving Cert, however. “Top of the washing machine.” Great. Full marks.

Similarly: “Why aren’t there any pens in this house?”

Some other time, the correct answer might be: “There are loads of pens. Use your eyes. Go look.” Not for the Leaving Cert. “Box of pens, beside the computer, in the study,” will get you a pass.

Don’t try to be clever, see. Not for the Leaving Cert. Keep your answers short and concise and you’ll probably scrape through the tough bits just fine.

True, there are such things as trick questions, as my wife and I have discovered while doing the Leaving Cert. They are questions you don’t want to answer too quickly because, more often than not, your first response will be incorrect.

“There’s no milk,” as a problem posed might, in any other situation, prompt you to rush to answer: “And there’s no maid.” For the Leaving Cert, however, this is what’s called a ‘practical’ and the only acceptable response is to dash off and get some milk. Quick like.

The Leaving Cert takes a lot more out of you than the Junior Cert. My wife and I know this because we are doing the Junior Cert too.

For the Junior Cert, we notice, you answer less questions. Instead, you get to ask questions and then interpret the answers.

“What exams do you have tomorrow?” we might ask.

“I’ve told you a million times,” the youngest might say. “I’m not telling you again.” This is a tough one. It requires physically checking the exam schedule.

“Have you done enough study today?” my wife might ask, meaning: “You haven’t done enough.”

“Yes. I told you. Now leave me alone,” is usually followed by the slamming of a door.

“Do you think that means she’s gone to do more study?” my wife might whisper hoarsely.

“I don’t know if I can do this for much longer,” I’ll invariably respond.

“We’re almost there,” she’ll tell me. “We’re over the hump. After next week, it’ll all be over.”

“Gin and tonic?” I’ll ask. It’s the easiest question of them all.

There is only one answer.


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