Friday, 24 September 2010

Good Mummy or Pushy Mummy?

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I had some stuff going on that I didn't feel like posting about at the time, well finally as things resolve I'm feeling better about it, so here it goes. The Primary (hah!) reason for my worries were the looming eleven plus exams. We are lucky (or maybe not so lucky - read on) to live in an area where a lot of the Grammar schools have stayed in the State system, so it is theoretically possible to get a top class state education for your bright child, if they achieve the grades in the competitive entry exam for the school of your choice.
Things went horribly wrong for us when we realised that despite the tutoring, the reading the Kumon, Bug was not ready for the 11+ Maths test for the most selective school in the area - she was ready for the Entrance exam to the school that her Primary feeds into, but not for the mega-selective (4:1 applicant:place ratio) one that we thought was the best match for her. This was not a question of ability, but of her having been exposed to the types of questions being asked.
I could go into all the reasons why - but suffice it to say that the feelings of guilt were primarily mine. I questioned all aspects of my life - was being a Working Mum the issue - was it because I chose the tutor that lived nearest so the Au Pair could take her, was it because I was too busy to supervise homework, because I hadn't been around to run her to a better tutor further away, was it because of my insane travel schedule which left me largely excluded from the School Gate conversations, where I might have discovered that he wasn't very good, was it because despite all this I still don't earn enough to send her to a private Prep school?
We were 'lucky' enough to find out in time, and find a different tutor - one who could actually prepare her for the exam, and then followed what have been the most testing, guilt ridden few weeks of my life.
Running Bug backwards and forwards to almost daily Tutor sessions, having her do 11+ tests between times, worrying, worrying worrying, gave the last two weeks before the test a nightmare quality that I never want to repeat.
And this was my problem - is this really the right way to approach education? Bug is bright, Bug is confident, she is a strong soul who knows her own mind, she is literate and verbal and could probably give a Literature undergraduate a run for their money in the length and breadth of her reading list. Most of all she is loved, and hopefully she has successful role models in us to aspire to, she has all the traits to be highly successful wherever she goes to school. But she is barely 10 years old and we have been treating her like an exam machine...
Here is the rub - State Grammars were intended to give all academically bright children an equal chance at a top class education, but the have largely become the preserve of the wealthier middle classes, who actually send their children to Private Prep schools which guarantee entry to the more selective State schools - in the end I was flummoxed by the parents at the gates of the school on the day of the test last week - We could have been queuing at the gates of Benenden from the accents and the clothes and the cars.
I never ever wanted to be a Pushy Mummy - but found I became one in the end - was it the right choice? I don't know - I'll tell you in a couple of weeks when the results come out, or in 7 years when the University question comes up, or in reality in 20 years when she is making her own way in the world. But I know this - I desperately want the best for my child, and for her to have every opportunity, even if I can't afford to fast-track her now.
So what are my conclusions? If you are bright but impecunious family, and you want to go this way, you need to start early, you need to practice for the exams, or get them tutored - the schools tell you not to, but this perpetuates the problem - the wealthy are doing it for sure - because they can afford to, and as long as that is happening your equally bright (if not brighter) child has an even higher hurdle to jump.
So I hope I have been Good Mummy in trying to secure Bug's future for her, for giving her role model of a woman relatively successful in a Man's World, for working hard to give her and her sister a good quality of life, but above all I hope that she doesn't remember me as Pushy Mummy who made her last year in Primary school a misery.....

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Uncomfortable Reading

Tomorrow I will go to Mass for probably only the second time since Christmas, and the reason is the same - because my daughters attend a Catholic primary and tomorrow Bug is doing the Introductory and I want to be there for her.

The Catholic Church has been in the press a lot lately, and this week interest is at its peak with the Papal visit, yet I find I can raise no enthusiasm and in fact shudder inwardly at every mention or appearance of Pope Benedict.

Now I actually grew up in the church. I enthusiastically attended two of Pope John Paul II's masses in Ireland as a teenager, and like many a Catholic child considered the Religious life, but as I have fully realised the extent, not just of the abuse in the church, but the extent of the institutionalised cover-up, it has turned me away from a life which once had huge importance for me.

I attended a convent school where a committed teaching staff - where nuns and layteachers alike were dedicated to ensuring that every girl reached her potential, and who gave me an education and confidence in my ability that still surprises me. There was never any hint of abuse - institutionalised or otherwise, and I will always be grateful for the start they gave me in life.

Likewise my parents - I grew up much-loved in a family where we were told we were clever and funny and beautiful and all of us have gone on to lead successful lives. We were street-smart in the way only the children of a serving police officer in a big city can be, which certainly saved us on occasions where we did encounter predators, in the streets and parks of our neighbourhood. Bad things did not happen to us or anyone we knew, in our home, school or church, not until we moved to the country and a Priest call Fr. Thomas Naughton was assigned to our parish.

I was not aware of what he was, but as a teenager got a great sense of unease in his presence. He was a young priest who revitalised the parish and many were very fond of him. My dislike of him stemmed from his 'fussing' over the boys of the parish, and his apparent disdain for girls. In my naiveté and nascent feminism I put this down to patriarchy and the way women were treated in the church, and while I felt disenchanted and started to turn away from the organised part of the Religion, I still respected his authority.

Fr Naughton left the parish suddenly in 1984 while I was away at university, and while my parents seemed very agitated, I was pretty uninterested. It was only over several years that the truth about the abuse of a whole generation of boys - family and friends - began to emerge. What also became clear was that he had been moved away because of complaints made, but only on to another parish and more children.

In my own world, I got busy and kind of never quite got round to getting to church for many years, but always had an abiding sense of guilt that I should be involved and I missed the rhythms and the rituals that had formed such a part of my psyche.

Then the girls came into our lives, and we wanted to bring our children up with the same moral codes as we grew up with, with the same care and respect for each other and their peers, and the same chances in life that I and Macca had been given and that drew us back to the church, and to a community where we felt we belonged.

But in the last year as first the Ryan Report and then the Murphy report have brought back some of the discomforts of my Teenage years, and as the deep-rooted conservatism of Pope Benedict starts to bite, along with the possibility that he was involved in much of the cover-up, or at least in the denial, I have found it harder and harder to continue to go through the motions, even for the sake of the girls.

This is no reflection on the lovely school the girls attend, or the community of which we are a part, and I will attend tomorrows mass, and many more over the coming months as Bubble prepares for her First Holy Communion - a Spiritual journey I can't deprive her of, but then I think I may stop. I have given my girls a choice - they will be able to make up their own minds, but I can't help feeling the weight of guilt that Leaders we trusted first allowed and then covered up such terrible abuse.

I also feel for a generation of 'Lost Boys' who I knew as children - for the majority who 'survived' but also for those who have died , some by their own hand, and others in experiments in risky living, and it makes me feel cold and sick.

Tomorrow the theme is 'Hope' and I want want to Hope, to believe that the church will find it's way, that there will be a place for a more liberal and open hierarchy, that Women will be granted a place at the table (and the altar), and that clergy will be allowed to marry and to raise families - the best priests I have ever known were actually family men - one in secret (Father Michael Cleary) and one a Vicar who converted - but in my current mood, with the current leadership, it may have to do it without me......

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Twitter Tribes

Events over the last few weeks - and I will blog about them when I can put some perspective, and therefore some humour on them - have started me thinking about the life I want for my family and myself, and how I might end up just a little less "Demented".
In the course of seeking some inspiration and in my journey in discovering the great interconnectedness of everything, I have started exploring the world of Social Media.
Triggered by a single evening - at an end of term night out I was sitting among a group of Mums who took an alternate approach, and had a different set of priorities and incentives, who opted out of mainstream corporate life and took their future into their own hands. I was fascinated to hear of their various enterprises, their Networking events and their use of social media. Connecting with them through Linkedin I began to receive their Twitter feeds, was knocked out by the mix of the social, informational, business, marketing and humorous things they had to say, and how connected and interconnected they all are....,
As these horizons began to expand, I pondered some dichotomies - the use of New technology by a traditionally untech group (and I reckon I could get a post or even a blog together on what I think of as the 'Feminisation of Tech'), my own subversive use of the technology in a company where all forms of social media are governed out, yet where there is a groundswell of employees using their own Smartphones, iPads and even some sneaky tricks on the Intranet (ref LinkedIn) to bring some colour into the Corporate and external world, and the existence of the domestic and geek worlds in a single 'space' - Twitter, I started to explore further.... .
Spotting a tweet around some of my thoughts, I started following several people in the Social Media and Tech worlds, as well as the Mumpreneurs, and their replies and began to uncover many of the themes that are troubling me - how to get social media into my corporate world, how to leverage the fact that so many employees are currently doing it anyway, how to better utilise the models that the technically savvy small businesses are putting in place.
What a revelation!
Then today was a real eyeopener - I began to pick up a Tweets stream from my favourite Tweeter - @Rotkapchen - about HEROs - from Empowered by Josh Bernoff @jbernoff - and you know, I suddenly felt like I could be one - well maybe a little like one of @rotkapchen's 'walking wounded', but so delighted there are others out there who feel this movement, and are trying to verbalise it, utilise it and share it!

So @BLD, @Clutterfairy, @Euan, and in particular @Rotkapchen - thanks for your streams, for brightening my Grey Corporate days, and for showing me there is another existence that I can aspire to where I can be a little more myself :-D

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Feast before the Famine

Our lovely Au Pair 'Daughter' is heading off home before she starts university next week, and I have discovered some primeval urge to feed her before she leaves 'home'. In what is no doubt a foretaste of things to come, when the girls get to that stage, I can't stop myself feeding her like she will never see food again.
Maybe because of the level of appreciation she has shown for everything we have put in front of her and which she has eaten without complaint, and for all the times she has put up with feeding two young ladies who can be somewhat faddy (well one of them anyway ;-) this week-end has ended up being all about food.
As the piece de resistance the full on Roast-Beef-Yorkshire Puddings-Roasties blow-out that she and the girls (and Macca, and me) love is on the agenda, and by the time she has finished that, she may well not be able to eat another thing til she actually gets to university at the end of next week ;-).
So I can safely say that I am my mother's daughter, and that in our world Food=Love= more Food and that probably explains a lot :-)