family & parenting / Sunday, July 27th, 2014
This post is a bit late, I’ve missed the rush of blogs and features on SATS and school reports and the start of the holidays. It has been in the air though – exam and test results and that dreaded social impetus which is the humble brag.

And in the world of humble bragging what you see or hear is rarely what you get, no opinion is unfiltered by neurosis.
I remember it from my school days as much as I can see it now. Parents and gossips feverishly comparing the A level results in the local paper, looking especially at kids who went to the same primary school but different Secondaries – the photo line up stand offs between the prettiest cleverest clogs types at opposing private schools in the vicinity.
In a way though the results analyses I remember best are those tastily awful seconds after Mrs Kelley gave back the A Level English coursework and the skittering whispers started.
What did you get? What did he get? What did SHE get? What did Mrs K like? What did she SAY?
Always the search was for the best kind of comment. Acerbic or congratulatory in the body of the essay, or scribbled with a grade at the end.
My best comment was usually something arch or chastising but personal nonetheless hiding in the margin. I cared far more for the moments where I knew I had made some dialogue with my reader teacher then the grades I actually got (complacent teen). Comments meant connection:
‘Lucy, really!’ next to a heroine/heroin spelling malfunction = she remembered my name!
‘I know what you mean here, an examiner will not. More clarity.’ Next to an assumption everyone agrees that Jane Eyre and Rebecca are basically the same book = she knew what I meant!
It is understandable for both parents and pupils to pour eagerly over reports and marked work to look for evidence of how they or their child have done and also proof that they, or their child, are known and understood and well cared for. It evidences our own choices within our circumstances, doesn’t it, makes us think phew, this is going okay, or shit, something needs changing.
I find the whole question of how to be positive to and about your children regarding school work, without be a dreadful show off and/or a boring twat, quite hard. In that, of course I know what side of the fence I want to stand on, but I don’t know how to do that without falling straight into the thorns on the other. Especially because there are so many pitfalls of complacency around it.
I was pleased for my lad and pleased, I guess, for me when I read his report. And I know I am lucky for that. He’s lucky too, but he also worked hard, and deserves some credit as well. Quiet, non braggy credit, but credit all the same for the work he did within the realms of his massive good fortunes. It is funny blogging as your kids get older when there is so much you want to think on and discuss which is really not yours at all. He’s had great and not great times at school, but those are his stories and lessons, not mine to learn from.
But I have been thinking about perceptions. To what extent is it useful to be ranked against your peers, is it as rude to write off results (they don’t mean anything!) as it is to brag about that, even humbly? How helpful are comparisons really? A lot of my dissatisfaction throughout my life has been cased by comparing myself to other people, personally, socially, physically, whatever.
I saw several wonderful parents with marvellous kids getting upset about the facebook and forum showing off. I saw some incredibly dissing of ‘average’ from people who blatantly do not understand maths. And heard a lot of thought about whether the most important bit of the report was:
  • the teacher’s comments
  • the remarks about effort/how hardworking child was
  • enthusiasm for subject/school
  • social happiness or
  • results achieved.
Forget all the arms taken up against phonics, what I think is hardest about parenting a child at school is that while it unutterably does help to have a good education, and therefore one must encourage trying and excelling as far as possible across the boards, the real life lesson in terms of attainment and effort is lost. For surely the prize in life is always maximum achievement with minimum effort and most fun on the side or as you are doing it? And by God would I have loved the Facebook Mom saying:
So thrilled with X’s mega results. Totally nailed her sats, with a long comment from the teacher saying she barely gave a shit all year!
Formal marked education cannot teach you that sometimes in life you need luck with you and, even more god-willing, an aptitude for what you are interested in or vice versa. You have to witness it yourself and set your own parameters.
His teacher, whom  I like, and who knows my son very best 30 hours a week at school, described him as quiet and softly spoken little boy. Ha! I thought. I had the instinct to insert a load of jokes into my repertoire about not knowing who that boy was. But I do, or at least I can imagine him, he’s just my boy as he is for other people, a side of him I can never see without spying.
And that’s okay, but it does kind of kick into a cocked hat any idea that I can be an exam result peacock beyond something very superficial. My boy is different to my boy at school, the credit and responsibility is his. Even as young as 7.
My son snarls if I mess up on series link, dresses as a bear for the fun of it, has his own spotify playlist, sneaks pickled raw garlic with me in the kitchen, and asks for a custard pie in the face for every Birthday. I have no idea really about the little boy who did my boy’s SATs, but I don’t need to, he needs to keep finding his own connections with his own teachers and his own interests. At the moment he’s lucky enough to have the sort of environment and circumstances which make that possible.
The day son got his results and his report something far more significant happened. I ran to collect him from afterschool club, scuffing round the school corner at a sprint, tripping over the mound of bookbags on my way to find the sign out sheet and only to be greeted by an empty room.
Disastre! Son was playing outside. All the kids were outside.
This is good – BIG TICK – fresh air, fun for him, hooray. It is also a –BIG BAD CROSS for logistics.
When the kids are outside it means another three minutes (or even more if a shoe is lost in a bush or he’s smuggled yet another bloody toy into school and lost it).
Four minutes is a killer in the mad dash to get from one childcare venue to another and get his brother. Commuting doesn’t give me any elasticity. Beyond five minutes and we are fuck-a-doodle-fucked. And taking time to strategise is crucial when hoiking him out. The potential for a tantrum if I extricate him at the wrong moment of a game could mean we actually take longer than if I’m dead casual. And then we would miss the nursery 6pm cut off and we will ALL TURN INTO STONE.
I pause on the edge of the playground wondering whether being chatty, cajoling, or shouty will be most effective today. He and some friends are in some bushes, their shirts grime smeared, their hands and faces sticky and hot and dusty with discussing who is in charge of the game, which seems to be taking place in a cloud of parched earth and dry rhododendrons where the picnic area used to be.
One of the TAs who works at the club walks up. I don’t normally have much time for chat and today I am on the wire so I am only half listening.
‘I love your son’ she says, staring as I do across the hopscotch. ‘I love him. Look at him, Eh!’
I look. He is animated like a cross between Jim Carey and Scooby-Doo. White spaghetti legs flying out of polyester shorts, shoulders pulling back thrusting out his chest, shoulders looping up and back again, everything ranging around, as if enraged, the storm suddenly breaking into arm whirling outreach as he throws back his sweaty, sticky, sticky face and parts his lick-spittle rosey lips in a laugh.
I don’t know what I’m looking at, but I love it too. He’s exhausting to watch, total Loony Tunes.
‘Look Thatwoman,’ the TA carries on. ‘Everything he does he feels. His whole body is his smile. When he loves something it is all there. When he plays his whole body and his hair play’.
She was right. That’s my boy after all. The one without filter. WYSIWYG.

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