Well, are you all set for the Leaving Cert? It’s a question I’ve been asking my teenage daughter for nigh-on two years in the vain hope that at some point she will actually be able to say yes, yes she is all set for the Leaving Cert. But that day is not today. I don’t think it’s going to be tomorrow either, or the day after.
In fact, I’m starting to reconsider my cool dad approach to education, all my hippy dippy ‘just as long as you try’ and ‘I’ll still love you no matter how you do’ was a giant mistake. I should have gone with the helicopter parent approach, monitoring every test result to make sure she never dropped below an A- average, remortgaging the house so I could send her to a cramming school, grinds, private tutors, and placing her under unrelenting pressure to do well because failure would not be an option.
Except it always has to be, and finding the right balance between striving for success and being able to accept and learn from failure is difficult for any of us.
Given that this was our first child to face down the LC, trying to figure out the right approach was a challenge. Where does encouragement end and pressure begin? How much pressure is the right amount?
We had to set boundaries, had to try and tell her that although these exams would be far from the most important thing to happen in her life, they are still of relative importance. There are many other paths to take to a career but the most direct and efficient way is through a decent LC result. I’m not sure if the message ever really struck home with her as I’m starting to hear the words ‘mature student’ being bandied about. But apparently that’s Plan B, a back-up route in case the algorithms somehow pick up on the fact that while she has studied a bit throughout the last two years, she has not thrown herself into it.
In some ways she is fortunate — down the road she will be able to look back on it and say well, I did my best but it was in the middle of a global pandemic in which I had to cocoon in my room for months at a time, so little wonder I didn’t get the points for medicine, ah well, it’s neurosurgery’s loss.
Aside from having something to blame for any potential hiccups (other than blaming her parents which she will no doubt do anyway), the way the process is running this year means she is only sitting three exams, each one a week or more apart, which seems more manageable than the usual barrage of two-hour-plus scribblefests.
Also, I’m starting to get the impression that those inter-exam weeks will be when the real studying begins — she has made stacks of flash cards but I have yet to see them in action, so maybe that’s when they will have their time to shine.
By late June she will be done and no matter the outcome she assures us she will not be repeating. She hasn’t enjoyed school all that much. I’m not sure anyone does, and the old saying about school days being the best of your life probably has more to do with yearning for lost youth than actually enjoying learning about photosynthesis or the assassination of Franz Ferdinand.
She will be glad to see the back of it, of this whole cycle, but she doesn’t seem entirely clear on what comes next. I know that she worried about the future because there have been times over the last two years when she has really struggled — in one moment of zeitgeist she broke down crying because she said she would never be able to afford her own home.
Part of the reason we never put too much pressure on her was because we knew she was already putting herself under enough; her face would change when we mentioned school or the LC, as though she had been given a dig in the stomach. As an already anxious person the last two years have been a nightmare for her — a global pandemic which directly threatened her health combined with the Leaving Cert, a series of exams about which I still have the odd anxiety dream, three decades later.
But we are nearly there — in a month it will be over, and something else, some known unknown, will begin.