Her first choice

The last five steps.

The last five steps.

She is all set. I watch her from afar as she slings her new handbag-cum-school bag over her shoulder and slides tanned feet into new shoes. Her sun-streaked hair is brushed to perfection and even the designer holes in her jeans – ‘I hope we didn’t pay extra for those holes,’ growled her Father – have been ironed to a crisp. There is a new notch on her bedroom doorpost to denote her height on the first day of term – my initiative, not hers. I swoop in for a motherly kiss; she rolls her eyes before relinquishing her cheek. Then without a backward glance, she follows her Dad through the door to embark upon her new adventure. Upper high school.

………

If you ask her, she’ll tell you there are 5 steps leading up to her new school. If you ask me, I’ll tell you there are 5,000. At least. Because this journey started almost exactly a year ago when she began her final year of compulsory school and all she could think about was what’s going to happen to me next year? Which is when we started hobbling along the next 4,995 steps together.

Our first port of call was the traditional Upper High School trade fair that is held in Stockholm in November. Turns out there were too few kids born in 1997 to fill all the places, so the upper high schools were all looking to score top marks. The popular, inner-city schools were sitting fairly pretty, but the sums weren’t adding up for schools on the outskirts and the less well known. They needed to fill their quota or they weren’t going to make the financial grade. Free travel cards, free laptops, free driving lessons. Wow. We impressed upon our offspring that these things should not enter into her decision-making equation. But what if she were tempted to take them into account? Or should she? Hmmm.

As we moved from stand to stand and talked to the enthusiastic young people who were endearingly adamant that their courses and schools were the best option for my daughter, it became clearer that the choices were as varied as the students touting them. True, the programmes could be generally categorised into Sciences, Social Sciences, Aesthetics, Economics and vocational programmes, but then came the specialities and variations: Sciences/Maths, Sciences/Sciences, Sciences/Aesthetics, Sciences/xyz etc. etc. etc. Ditto the other main programmes. In addition, each individual programme also offered enough twists and options to boggle the mind of any intelligent 15-yr old. Not to mention the big issue in the life of a teen: what is everyone else applying for? Or the strategic consideration of whether it’s easier to achieve good grades in a less popular or less academic school. Education vs. grades? Wow again.

She was drowning in considerations and choices. Some adult school representatives were giving her the impression that the wrong choice at this stage in her education could ruin her career (excuse me?) or at least do it serious damage. Wrong! And no teenager needs that kind of ridiculous pressure. Nevertheless, this was an important decision and we wanted to get it as right as possible. Ummm… “we”? How much of this decision should be in her hands and how much should we simply wait to be – hopefully – consulted? Teens are contrary creatures, and as every self-respecting 15-yr old wants to believe she’s making her own decisions, we didn’t want to put her off doing exactly what she wanted to do by overwhelmingly supporting the idea. Nor did we want her to feel we didn’t mind, or worse, didn’t care. This took a crash course in advisory tactics.

So we nudged and nuzzled, helped her consider and reject. One school made it easy by boasting – yes, boasting – their boys did better than their girls. Pfft! she said. Licked her pen, crossed it off. By January w(she)e finally had it narrowed down to a handful potential programmes. Each school held an open evening for students and parents. She chose to visit 4 schools and every “I like it here” added to her confusion.

Final applications had to be submitted by mid-April and it wasn’t without a sigh of relief that the “send” button was clicked and the six-month selection process was finally… set in stone?

This was the first real decision she had ever had to make. And she knew it. This was the first real decision we ultimately had had to stand back and let her make. And we knew it.

Throughout the summer I would see a familiar flicker of worry in her faraway eyes and knew she was wondering whether she had made the right choice. How do you ask your teen daughter whether she is having second thoughts without her assuming you secretly think that she should be? Sigh.

………..

I watch as the car pulls out and slowly turns towards the city. There she sits, talking nineteen to the dozen to the man who is privately as nervous as I am. She has no idea. I close my eyes.

Dear Whoever,
Please take care of my daughter. Let her live up to her full potential, find the other young people to be fair and decent, work hard, party hard, don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t discover drugs, and still have the best three years imaginable.

I don’t remember mentioning anything about having chosen the right course. But when I open my eyes again, daughter and dad are gone.

Several hours later a delighted upper high school student returns to the fold. I think she mentions awesome and great and made right choice after all, but I am only listening to the smile that’s stretching from ear to ear.

Well done, Darling. I love you.

PS! If there are any 9th graders reading this blog, listen up!
• There is less variation between the programmes than you initially think. Don’t be overwhelmed!
• Follow your heart. If your heart beats for a particular programme, apply!
• Follow your own heart, not your BFF’s heart. And encourage her/him to do the same.
• If you change your mind, speak up! The sooner the better.
• You can always change your mind. No one cares that you switched from A to B by the time you reach college or your first workplace.

Just do it.

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