**Disclaimer** It’s not personal. It’s societal. Hold on to your hats. This is a rant.
There is much about the world today that I don’t understand. Big Brother, Celebrity or otherwise, I have never got that. One Direction. Can’t get my head round that. And much of the stuff around children and their upbringing leaves me stumped. Like bras for pre-pubescent girls, or t-shirts with slogans that denote how sexy they are, or small children watching horror movies or playing Grand Theft Auto. Or babies with pierced ears. Or expensive tablets for toddlers for that matter. I don’t get those either.
I used to think that I had it figured. We lived in a community of adults and together we would bring up our young. We were the adults, the parents, not their best friends, and, because we had their best interests at heart there would be early nights, and kids TV that went off at a reasonable hour and clothes that looked like they belonged on the backs of children and all that jazz. The first time someone had a go at me for telling off their child for attacking mine was a wake-up call. In more ways than that I know that I am out of step.
Most of the time I zoom about my life, too busy to worry about it overly much, but, every so often it is shoved in my face, just how much of an oddball I must seem. It isn’t only that I am picky and choosy about what my children watch on the telly or play on the computer, or anything like that. This time it was the whole leaving primary school fandango.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am just as much aware of the passing of an era as anyone else. When Sam left Year 6 behind my heart ached for not only the fact of his lack of awareness of how his life would change but also for us all, the adults who would miss him, who I would miss. When I attend a leaver’s assembly as a teacher, I am just as much filled with emotion at the thought of how much of a hole these cranky, too hot, too big for the furniture young people will leave behind them, how much of their growing I have witnessed, and how much of their transformation into young adults I will not see. As a teacher, when they come up to the front to be feted with awards, I am just as much filled with joy and pride as anyone else.
It’s the other stuff I don’t get. I mean, it’s a reasonably big deal for us teachers, it’s perhaps a bigger deal for us parents (especially if it’s our youngest child, or all the children are off to different schools, a community scattered far and wide across an anonymous city), but is it the same for them? I don’t remember my last day of primary school. I do remember as a six or seven year old gazing enviously upon The Leavers, a capitalised state where you were allowed to sit on the slope outside the baby classroom eating ice lollies (probably lemon) and looking forward to the day when I would relish such privilege.
There was similarly no ceremony when I left secondary school. For me, I left with a massive sense of relief, shaking the dust of the place from the soles of my shoes, glad that I wasn’t planning to darken the doors of the classrooms again, excited that I was off to pastures new. When I left Sixth Form College, the place where, for an intense two years, I discovered that I wasn’t alone, that there were other mouthy, bookish girls like me for whom the ambition to university was a given, not an oddity, aware of the day it all ended, we made our own celebration. My friend Liz and I stood at the Clock Tower, the place where her way home went one way and mine went another, reluctant to leave, cracking jokes and calling goodbye, excited about the future, knowing that, even though we wouldn’t be sitting next to each other in class any more, we would be friends forever.
So why are we suddenly picking them up from primary school and sending them off to places unknown in stretched limos? They are eleven years old! Some of them are still ten. What have they done, really, to warrant such expense, such ostentation? And it doesn’t stop there. There are endless assemblies with powerpoints and heart-string-twanging soundtracks, prize-givings, discos-that-are-called-proms, the list goes on.
It’s not just Year 6, it has to be said. Gone are the days when it was a fancy dress party to mark the end of nursery. No, now we must have a mock graduation ceremony for infants barely out of nappies, a celebration of their 2.i in play dough. We must make a big deal out of a move down the corridor into Year 3. We must look at each other and declare with amazement at the passage of time, ‘I can’t believe they’re leaving the Infants!’
We seem infected with a desire to rush our children into premature adulthood. No longer is it acceptable for the Biology Field Trip to be in some field in the back end of nowhere in North Wales. Instead, we parents must fork out instalments over years in order for our offspring to enjoy a tour of the New York Stock Exchange, or take part in some sporting fixtures in Australia. What must we do to celebrate their real graduation from a real university, their real entry into adulthood? Send them to the moon? They won’t be happy with a card with a key on it, that’s for sure.
And what will they think about it all when they get there? These children, who I have seen, at seven, already bored by constant magicians and increasingly expensive birthday celebrations. What else is there for them, these over privileged, over entertained, over feted youngsters we haven’t allowed to take their own sweet time, so keen are we to make it all about ourselves, to show what amazing parents we are, what fabulous schools we run, to enjoy the cute factor without consideration of the consequences.
I wonder what the Too Much Too Soon generation will make of it all.