Hello from the other side

We all survived Plan B, Plan C or even Z; our kids will, too

junior cert results.jpg

So today is Junior Cert result day for over 60,000 Irish students. I know this because I’ve graduated into the class of Yummy Mummies of Older Children.

(Yes, we’re still yummy.)

Our growing boys and girls can now mind themselves and others, mow gardens, take the bus into town, and text other such teenage boys and girls. This is all mildly terrifying, it itself. Navigating the teen years isn’t easy, no matter which side of the world you live on. But in Ireland, we throw a little wrench in the plans called junior and leaving certificate examinations, and one year from now it'll be our turn to anxiously await results and discover which path our son will set out on.

I remember with dread – and still occasionally dream about – the phase of American secondary school life called 'finals.' Spanning the last two weeks of the term, those days were filled with equal amounts of angst and euphoria. All those assignments and tests and papers now seemed to fill a greater purpose, something which would either propel us eagerly into the next year towards adulthood, or complicate our progress enough to take a class over again (I’m not naming names, but my sister knows who she is). And, like our Irish counterparts, our days were shorter, breaks longer, and the game of summer holidays afoot.

Moreso than in America, however, Irish students feel the stress of this season acutely. The junior and leaving certs aren’t just markers of the school year, but they are make-or-break litmus tests. And our children start thinking about them the very first day their tender 12-year-old bodies cross the secondary school yard. Not only has my son been dwelling on his junior cert for the last two years, but he spent every day of the summer anticipating it, talking about it, worrying about it. 

I admit to not knowing all that much about how these exams work, but I do know the immense pressure our kids feel to do well in them; not just well, but exceptional. Good is just not good enough, no matter what we as parents tell them.

Do your best, we say. 

You are worth more than your results, we say. 

But even us parents feel the pressure to find them the help, the grinds, the tutors (in our case, the daily two hours of after-school help) that will give them a head start. We tell them their value is secure in who God created them to be, but of course we want them to succeed, to get their first choice, to put them on the path to Plan A.

I had a Plan A, too. I did well enough in school to attend my first choice of university. I ran after that plan like a boss; honestly, it was the only plan I had. And then I wrecked it. I simply wasn't ready for what I thought Plan A was. It wasn't the plan for me, so I hopped the train to Plan C.

Plan C was God's best for me... and it led me here, to Ireland.

So when I look at my 14-year-old son, the child who readily chose higher Maths, English and Science ("I need the points, Mum!") for his Junior Cert year, I want to tell him that Plan A might be wonderful, or it might not be the plan for him. Plan B or C could be pretty great, too, or even Plan J. He can shoot for exceptional, and we'll support him as much as we can. But like the mums I know and learn from, I want my son to be okay with being good enough, with trying hard, with knowing his and my plans might not be God's best plan for him.

I want my son to have confidence in himself, but more importantly I want him have confidence in a symbol of success beyond what our schools - or our world - has to offer. I want him to chase after that elusive thing which my parents prayed I, too, would succeed in; a verse my mother placed in my final yearbook of my final year in school.

'To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God,' ...no matter the path.