Last Friday I took a bag of chocolate chip muffins with me to the school gate when I wouldn’t normally. But it wasn’t a normal day – not in my daughters eyes anyhow.
During assembly house captains (and deputies) and other accolades were being announced. Titles that still don’t make sense to me having not gone through the UK education system. But I do understand Hope and Disappointment and the speedy slide between the two. As the children spilt out of the hall I spotted my daughter. Her cheeks were red and as she caught my eye she shook her head and ran towards me. ” I didn’t get anything “she said -” I’d set my expectations too high”. And then she had a little weep. She’d been holding it together until school was out. In the morning she’d said to me “I won’t cry if I don’t get it mum – I’ll save my tears for home”. What could I say to that? Why should she not hope for a title when she’s more than worthy. So I didn’t “prepare” her. Instead I bought the muffins.
I wished it didn’t mean so much to her. The day before when my mam rang I heard my dad shout from his seat at the kitchen table, “ did she hear if she got house captain”. It was funny to hear the words trip off his tongue so effortlessly like discussing house captains was something he did all the time. But he had spent a week with his granddaughter last month and they must have talked about it. I’d overheard her have the conversation with her 6 year old Irish cousin who listened intently but wouldn’t have understood the concept at all.
Not every child wants these positions but my daughter clearly does. She’s been craving responsibility in that school ever since reception putting herself forward for student council (one boy and one girl chosen from a class of 30)each year. She hasn’t cracked it yet. Those that want to stand get to write and deliver an impassioned speech though I very much doubt if the votes hinge on their paper promises and not on friendships.
Later at home we spoke about being gracious in defeat and the learning we can get from this. Life isn’t always fair. I disagreed that she’d set her expectations too high. She had every right to expect an honour. After six years in the school I too thought her day had come. She’s never been involved in playground dramas. She couldn’t get better school reports if she was to write them herself. I float out of parent teacher meetings where she’s highly commended on her academic performance and behaviour. This year she managed to achieve full attendance despite breaking her arm on a school residential and causing no fuss.
A week on and she’s over the disappointment but the whole matter has stayed with me. The selection process is far from transparent. Did I contribute to the outcome? Sometimes she goes to school with scuffed shoes. I was late with payment to the Governor’s fund. Maybe I’m not visible enough. I don’t have a hotline to the school nor a path beaten to the headmistress’s office. I’m disappointed mostly for her but there’s something bugging me too. It could be around my own frustrations in making my mark in life. But even acknowledging that and putting aside my bias towards my daughter, a niggle remains.
A system that exalts some children but leaves many feeling that they haven’t made the grade is failing in some way. A practice that leaves so many children in tears can’t be right. With parents left to patch up and justify their non-inclusion. The teachers tell us the Head chooses but no-one knows on what grounds.Rubbing salt in wounds the chosen ones get issued with labels to be sewn to their uniform sporting their new titles. So a blank jumper speaks volumes. It talks of disappointment and perceived failure.
One of my daughter’s friends on seeing a purse she’d made from loom bands said they should give her a captainship for loom bands. She’d scrupulously followed a YouTube tutorial and it took her a whole day. And my sweet girl even offered to make one for the compliment-giver. There isn’t a badge that can encapsulate that. We’re just lucky to have her and I need to let her know that more.