My eldest son, 'Idle Jack' turned sixteen in July.
When you’re sixteen you think you’re a grown up. You can get married, have sex and smoke. Sixteen, for some teenagers is the new ‘key to the door.’ For Idle Jack it was time to get a job. He would have happily spent the summer, post exams, exercising his thumbs on the PlayStation and lifting his legs as I hoovered around him. His dad had other ideas.
“We’re going to stop your pocket money, so you’ll need to get a job. At your age I’d had a paper round for two years and was walking whippets.”
An online application and ten days later and he had an interview at McDonalds. It’s always been a favourite of his. He was nervous it being his first interview. Then there were two more interviews, one of which was an ‘on the job’ evaluation. Finally, they handed him his uniform and advised the shifts. Idle Jack had his first job.
Six weeks on and he’s “LOVING IT!” He’s repaid what he owes us and has money in his pocket (when it’s not dropped through the hole that it burned.) But as Bridget Jones said, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that when one part of your life starts going okay, another falls spectacularly to pieces.” And it did when we got back from holiday last week and found his GCSE results on the doormat.
“I don’t understand, I thought I’d done enough. I’ve blown it.” His colour dripped into his Fat Face trainers along with his dreams of going on an Animal Management course.
“Too right, you’ve blown it!” declared his dad after he’d come down off the ceiling followed by World War 3 between his dad and him, his dad and me. I could have walked out. I didn’t. I’m a mother. Idle Jack needed me to shield him from his dad’s wrath. He needed me to help find him another college; to give him some words of encouragement when his plans and dreams were unravelling.
“I’m a failure. I can’t get anything right,” he cried.
This was my son crying – my son who normally wears a mask, an invisible shield with his feigned self-confidence and bravado. Aside from the fact that he left it too late to work hard, one of his failings was that he never told anyone when he was struggling. Teenage boys don’t like to open up and show any weakness or vulnerability. Perish the thought that he should ask for help. It’s difficult to know the state of mind behind the mask; what’s really going on in his head. You try to talk. Sometimes he doesn’t want to. Sometimes he can’t. Sometimes he hates the world. You try not to nag or push too much. You can’t win with a teenager.
He’s never been an academic. That’s probably because he’s never liked school much. His first day at school set the tone for the last eleven years. As I met him at the gate, flung my arms around him and asked eagerly how his first day had gone, he wiped my slobber from his cheek before he nonchalantly replied, “Oh, it was fine, but I don’t think I’ll go again.”
Personally, I think kids have so much more pressure on them these days. I hated being a teenager. Without doubt it was the darkest period of my life. I truly felt that no-one understood me. They probably didn’t. For teenagers, there is so much peer pressure - having to be ‘cool’; if you’re attractive; your weight if you eat too many Mackie D’s, or being too skinny if you don’t eat enough Mackie D’s; whether the Clearasil is working on your acne; the size of your manhood or breasts; You want to become independent. Then, on top of all that, you have to worry about grades. Even worse, for ‘Jack’ when the grades didn’t reflect the hard work he put in, even if it was too little, too late. There are demands from parents, demands from school. Is it any wonders so many teenagers face depression?
He tried his best. Or even if he didn’t try his best all of the time, he now realises that he should have worked a lot harder. It turns out that he was having second thoughts about the Animal Management course anyway. I’ve always said that things happen for a reason. He’s not a failure. He got the part-time job at McDonalds when there are so many that are unemployed. So Business Studies it is. It’s a good, general course that is very marketable and he can re-take the GCSE’s alongside. And there are worse places than Ludlow he could be travelling to. It won’t be too onerous for me to pick him up once in a while and educate him to the towns gastro-delights and delightful independent shops!
He’s not blown it. It’s not the end of the world. It’s how he copes from now on that is important. And how we support him. Who knows, it might end up being the making of him.
It’s been a tough lesson. But then as I'm always saying to him, life is tough.
So until another day
ENOUGH: Not Screaming, but Resisting
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