I can always tell when College Boy is nervous – he starts attacking my dress sense. It didn’t matter that my early go turned into a much later go and that I barely had time to pat the whingeing cat and have a wee before we had to head back out again to college. My sin this time was to be wearing double denim – or to be more accurate – double chambray – and this would cause him maximum embarrassment in front of his teachers and his mates. Tough – if it’s good enough to go to work in – and we do apparently have some kind of a dress code – then it’s good enough to spend half an hour being lectured at by some snot-nosed teacher with an eye on the clock.
We parked in the wrong car park. That would be the car park that we always park in but he wanted us to park in a different one, he just didn’t bother to tell us that until we stopped. We don’t walk fast enough. Some of us have been at work all day but work is nowhere near as arduous as college – apparently.
First of the five teachers on our hit list – Mrs Psych and Ms Soc – the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of social sciences. I have been hearing about these two harpies for the past 6 months and am not impressed. I already know that they are teachers who are teaching social sciences as a subsidiary of their main subjects – so their hearts (and minds) are not really in it. This is obvious from the copious amounts of photocopied handouts they send home and an over reliance on the text-book. My suspicions are confirmed by flabby wet handshakes and a reluctance to look me in the eye. They trot out a pre-programmed spiel designed to bamboozle the average parent and start moaning on about the fact that College Boy does all his work on a laptop. We know this – we bought the laptop for Christmas at the suggestion of…..Mrs Psych and Ms Soc who said it would help the boy catch up on work after his mammoth battles with the quinsied tonsil. Apparently he plays chess on it in class when he’s bored. Why is he bored? Because he whizzes through the work and his teacher tells him to go over his work again – and again – and again until the bell sounds for the next lesson. We have been telling teachers for years that College Boy likes to help those who have trouble learning. He is a good and patient teacher and when his maths teacher listened to me two years ago – not only did he get good grades but so did the other kids that he helped. He is a pragmatic learner who learns better by doing and showing than reading the same chapter over and over again.
Using the word pragmatic was a bad move; I can see their hackles rising as I seek to question their teaching style. What kind of fool am I? Don’t I understand that parents know nothing about their children? Or teaching? Or learning? My hub describes me as an eternal student and I suppose after nine years of Open University study I am. I know schools have targets to reach and I know that teachers are under pressure. I spent ten years working with grotty adolescents so I fully understand how obnoxious they are. My own studies in Psych and Soc and the discussions College Boy and I have about them, would lead me to believe that he is genuinely interested but has questions that his teachers cannot answer because they only know what’s in the book. We leave with a parting glare and Mum’s gauntlet well and truly thrown down.
As we wait in the corridor to see the science bods, the chill wind of College Boy’s disapproval is blowing over me again and I may have overstepped the mark somewhere. So hard to know when the mark is invisible and keeps moving anyway.
We love College Boy’s Chemistry teacher – he is on YouTube dancing on the lab worktops to ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ and ‘Dancing in the Street’ and he knows all the words. When he tells me my darling boy is bone idle but brilliant company in class, I love him even more. He admits to having dropped out of college mid ‘A’ level himself and how hard it is to study when you are a party animal. This is a real teacher. College Boy promises to knuckle under and the three of us promise not to kill him this week. My heart lifts slightly.
The Physics duo are sweet and smile at College Boy a lot. He smiles back and promises to try harder. We all acknowledge that Physics is the hardest of his four subjects and the one that is likely to get dropped next year but these ladies are fighting hard for my boy and I can see in their eyes that they really want him to succeed. I kind of love them too therefore.
It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I find that if I really dread things then they seldom are that bad – which is at odds with my normal cock-eyed optimism. We only live a five-minute drive away however and by the time we get back I want to strangle my boy – who has moved back into arrogant adolescent mode and is telling us that he will do what he wants because it is his life – not ours. No – we are just the financiers.
My head is throbbing and the fairy lights are shooting around the periphery of my eyes. The black walls of tunnel vision are closing in and all I want is five minutes peace and quiet from College Boy’s pseudo-self-confident drone. Lovely hub takes him away indoors and I sit in the car with my eyes closed and try to think about nice things. Chocolate. No! Lent isn’t over yet. Wine. No! Can’t take it with migraine medication. Dinner. No! Can’t order it whilst College Boy is playing up or we’ll be seen to be rewarding bad behaviour.
Hub returns about ten minutes later and we sit in silent sympathy in the car, holding hands and wanting to run away from it all. The peace is broken by a distant thumping noise and the classical music that is the ringtone for Uni Boy’s mobile. “Mother, where are you? he appears to be trying to bash my door down again. I’ve barricaded myself in.”
We leave the car. Hub bellows at College Boy – who bellows back. I mollify Uni Boy who I know has wound his brother up by using his own brand of exceptional fluent and razor-sharp sarcasm. It’s times like these that I think back to another of my Grandma’s homey platitudes; ‘I’d rather have had a set of jugs”. This used to cut me to the core when my own mother said it but I understand so well what she meant now.
The dust settled – as it always does. I took the drugs and the takeaway was ordered. I wish we’d had more to celebrate than another storm weathered but one sweet day my baby boy will wake up from his dream and realise that he has to put in more of an effort if he wants the things that his dad and I have worked so hard to achieve.
What makes it harder is that I’m looking into a mirror of myself at seventeen. His faults are my faults but so are his strengths and if I survived then so can he. Now he’s talking about getting a motorbike. Oh god…..