A novelist writes about the mind, body and soul.

Archive for the category “Anguish of being a parent”

Just one more cigarette – Can I give up for Lent?

I can’t seem to stop. I’ve tried. Yes really. Once when pregnant with my first child I didn’t smoke at all.  The second time I was pregnant, I have to admit that I smoked very occasionally and at a party, a stranger came up and berated me for it. A couple of years ago I gave up after I’d been hypnotised for a magazine article I was writing  (subsequently, I was convinced that me managing to not smoke was more to do with will-power than anything else, and I substituted great handfuls of the children’s sweets for cigarettes and made myself feel sick.) Gradually, as the month passed, I allowed myself to smoke other people’s roll-ups at parties, then gave in and bought my own, kidding myself that roll-ups are better than a packet of twenty.  I’m not saying that I am a chain-smoker, far from it. I am talking one cigarette a night. Recently it’s somehow creeped up to two a night. That’s the problem, it’s not a disaster, but it’s a habit. If I’m socialising it can escalate to the dizzy height of three or even four.  I hate the smell in the house and on my hands, but I love the thrill of it, the escape from the day, the whiff of release.

When the children came home from school last week, and demanded to know what I was giving up for Lent, I was foolhardy and replied smoking. Ash Wednesday arrived (yesterday) and when I woke, I visualised throwing the packet away, but when it came to it, I decided not to, because I fooled myself into thinking that perhaps someone else would want one, or  perhaps I could have just one on Sundays during lent, which apparently you are allowed to do.  By 9.00pm  I had smoked my one cigarette but managed to hold off from two.

I don’t fancy patches, I’ve read they give you weird dreams. The idea of nicotine gum sounds awful.

It’s National No Smoking Day on March 14th. Yesterday  I read that around 157,000 children between 11-16 start smoking every year. That was me, I started at boarding school, partly to hang out with the “cool girls” partly for something to do to relieve the monotony. My father is a keen smoker, and always has been, I remember my mother smoking when she was stressed. My mother hasn’t smoked for years now.

I have to stop. For all the obvious reasons. Not least my children hate it.

I’m going out to dinner tonight at a friend’s house. There will be people, wine, possibly someone else smoking (though that is doubtful). I may blog tomorrow and tell you what happened. I really really do want to give up.


The hell of getting into a London Independent School at 11

My ten-year-old son, recently sat three 11plus exams for two academic independent London schools, (One co-ed, one boys only) and one less academic, but oversubscribed school.  Let’s just say all the schools he tried for are oversubscribed. Seriously oversubscribed. Recession? What recession? My only conclusion is that the parents of children who would have normally gone to boarding school, are cutting back by trying for London day schools. When I say the exams are hard, I mean hard, I could barely manage the maths papers that he was practicing, although I have to admit maths was never really my thing.

We live in West London and the competition is fierce, very fierce, much more fierce than I had imagined, even though I had been warned.  One popular, academic co-ed school near us, had 950 applicants for about 100 places. He is a bright boy. We have always been told this by our friends, and by our families. His teachers have always told us that he is articulate for his age,he is in every gifted and talented programme the school has going, but this means nothing when it comes to trying for these schools. It’s madness. We had him on track to go to the local Church of England State Secondary, when about 18 months ago, my mother offered to pay independent school fees. This sent me down a different path, a path that perhaps he was not fully prepared for. He had a tutor, but only from the summer half term of year 5. What I didn’t realise is the private school children have literally been preparing for these exams all their academic life.

These few weeks have been hell. Taking him to the three hour exams, seeing the hundreds of children, some tiny, like him, queuing up, clutching their see-through pencil cases, made me feel tearful and emotional. Watching them come out looking pale and shell-schocked wasn’t great either. Our son was very brave, never complained, but really, these children are young.The days continue to be tense and nerve-wracking.   The first letter came from the boys school, – “the competition for places was fierce this year,” it said. Our boy had not been asked for interview. My heart sank. We feared the worst, he wouldn’t get in to any of the three schools, he  tried for. I feared the worst, because he would feel like a failure. He had worked hard, he had turned up, he’s only ten! Not even eleven until the summer term. I began to think he should have been tutored for far longer, than just from the summer half term. Then a few days later, a letter from the less academic school arrived.  He’s been asked for an interview on this coming Saturday. My sense of relief was extraordinary. When I asked the school secretary how many children have been invited for interview she said %60 of those that took the exam. This is still in no way a done deal.

We are waiting to hear from his favourite school, the academic, mixed school, the one he really really wants to go to. We will hear early next week. Last night he came downstairs saying he couldn’t sleep, he wanted to ‘curl up and hide.’ Why I asked. “It’s just the exams, he said, “the interview,everything.”  I have not put him under pressure, I have told him that the state school is a fantastic option, that he can only do his best. Whatever school he  end up going to will be the best one for him. He knows that. He just doesn’t believe it any more. He has seen the facilities, the sports fields, the libaries, the exclusive hush and comfort of the private schools.

I wrote an email to a friend who had gone through the same thing last year and this is what she said. Yes I know exactly what you’re going through. (my child) went through the same gruelling system last year – also transferring from a small local state school.  The mother of her best friend  got in such a hysterical state that she applied for 12 schools.  He’s a very bright boy.  The statistics do seem horrendous but the picture is not nearly as bad as it may seem.   the idea that there is only the private school or disaster is definitely very VERY far from the reality.  The options are wide and varied.  But the climate of fear is so pervasive.  And paranoia is catching.  Everyone is muttering the figures to one another.  Everyone has a looming foreboding that their childs whole future happiness and well being is one the line.  
Step back, stop listening, hold your nerve.  I promise you it will work out fine! 

This was her advice, step back, stop listening and hold your nerve. Her child did get into the three schools she applied for. But still for all of us out there, going through this now, Step Back, Stop Listening and Hold Your Nerve. And if you’re applying next year, think hard before you do. If your child is coming from a state school you will need a tutor, and that is the least of it.

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