School days are the best days of your life. At least, that's what they say. 'They' usually being adults long gone from education, and their target audience are usually people still trapped within the system. Nobody has uttered those words to me since I left school - it was always a friend's parent or some other well-meaning soul who had obviously recovered from the trauma of sitting the Leaving Cert, as they made a sort of half-hearted attempt to tell me that, actually, school is awesome. And it is awesome, of course, once you leave, all wise and worldly and able to see how important education is in life. But while you are in there, it can be hard not to desperately seek a way out, as my eldest child is now trying to do.
'I wanna drop out of school' has become a daily mantra, with 'you're not dropping out of school' being the immediate response. We should really have been prepared for this, given that she is now in fifth year and is starting to really feel the pressure of the Leaving and all that it entails - choosing subjects, choosing levels, choosing a college, choosing a course, choosing how the rest of your life is going to pan out. I thought that by being open with my kids about my many, many errors in life - not working harder in school, dropping out of college, having a random collection of jobs that makes my CV look like I was taking roles for a reality TV show - would make her wise up, so she wouldn't make the same errors. Obviously this was fabulously thick, as all it did was give her ammunition - every time I tell her she isn't dropping out, she counters with 'but didn't you drop out of college - twice?' I tell her that this is precisely why she can't drop out, because I know what a bad idea it is; but it falls on deaf ears. All she now wants is to quit school - there is no plan for what she does afterwards. Turn on, tune in, drop out - that's all she has right now in terms of a plan. Not much of a collage for the vision board.
Obviously there are differences between my childhood and my daughter's - she has an illness that means she misses a lot of school, she is tired almost all of the time, and crucially, her memory is poor. I, on the other hand, grew up in robust health and even more robust privilege. It really is only as an adult I can look back and see just how remarkably fortunate I was, how hard my parents worked to give me a gold-gilt education.
My daughter will have no such luxuries. She is one of four, and the child of someone who has consistently made nonsensical career choices, so there is no golden safety net. I tell her that this is a good thing, that she can know that her victories are hers alone. Unsurprisingly, this is of little comfort to her. She still just wants to drop out, and then goes on to cite any number of famous people who dropped out of education as though somehow they are the norm rather than outliers that any relevance to the argument. 'Look at Mark Zuckerberg', she wails. 'Precisely', I counter.
So we keep trying to tell her that while all this is important; the Leaving Cert is not the be-all and end-all of achieving success in your working life, much as college is no guarantee, but it certainly helps.
The best I can do is assure her that the next two years goes by quickly, that the Leaving will be over before she knows it, and that after that she has so much to look forward to, including living her life in the knowledge that she did the right thing by staying in school, and that a lifetime of anxiety dreams about sitting the Leaving Cert are a small price to pay for knowing with absolute certainty that you gave it your best shot.