We’re novices in the whole secondary school subject choices arena. Marque 1 is forging the way, educating us. We will be more adept for lucky marque 2. There were six subjects from which he could choose two as options for the Junior Cert. He loved them all to begin with when the trial runs were on. We could imagine him doing and enjoying each one of them. We were unable to attend the night of the subject choice discussion. Where teachers meet and discuss the options with unenlightened parents such as ourselves. Then in our ignorance we tried to help him decide. He whittled away a couple for himself – the Latin and technical graphics – and then made a play for home economics. In our infinite wisdom we said ‘sure you do all that stuff anyway, you’ve a natural flair for it, the cooking and the shopping and the economising.’
He is a child who makes real chocolate sauce from scratch without measuring a thing. He just seems to know. Someone who shops for food bargains in the German stores and whips up a steak and crème fraîche mushroom dish for a certain parent’s birthday lunch. Crème brûlée without the aid of a blow-torch. When one night we dropped the tray of freshly made rice crispie buns for the school’s annual cake sale – I stood staring hopelessly at the smithereens – he said ‘don’t worry’ and whipped up some fresh cookies instead.
‘But I really love it’ he implored.
‘Yes but maybe it’d be a waste to do it as a subject seeing as you do it all already’ these wise folk spouted.
He chose business studies and music in the end. A fitting choice steered by the elders. Until not too long into the old business thing he began to complain of boredom.
‘I can’t believe it’s so boring, all budgets and stuff. I don’t want to waste an option on this – not when I don’t have to do it’.
The elders paused for a moment and then advised. Wise counsel again.
‘Stick with it a while longer. It won’t be all boring. Sure you’ve been thinking up business ideas since you were tiny. It’ll be good to get some knowledge of how business works.’
Some weeks later he produces a change of subject form.
‘I just can’t do it any longer. I really want to change. I’ve asked about home economics but it’s too late. There weren’t enough people for the second class and now if I was to do it it’d clash with music. So I’m going to change to art. Will you sign the form?’
A whole plethora of feelings rise and fall in me. All intricately related to guilt. We didn’t listen well enough to him, or at least we didn’t hear him. We didn’t attend a vital meeting which could’ve staved off this unfortunate situation. We thought we knew what would suit him best when in truth we hadn’t a clue. He knows himself well enough to be able to tell us. We’d have served him better if we’d stayed out of it altogether.
‘Of course I’ll sign the form, here hand it over’ I say eager to make up for the deafness. ‘Will you enjoy art do you think?’
‘Well the art teacher has to see if I can draw first. I have to do a still life tonight’.
‘Of course you can draw’ I say, fingers crossed, otherwise he’ll be consigned to three years of business and it’ll be all our fault.
I press him and probe him about the still life all afternoon. ‘Have you done it yet, when are you going to do it?’ He is ultra relaxed about it, especially considering he is so desperate to change. ‘Not yet, I’ll do it later’.
At 11.00 that night he rocks into the sitting room and nabs the bowl of fruit from the dinner table, plonks it on the coffee table in front of him and using his legs as a prop he sets to work. I pretend to continue reading the newspaper and not to be peeping at the unfolding still life. He doesn’t appear to notice anything else, the concentration is deeply relaxed. He waves it at me on completion and to my non-artist’s eye it’s pretty good. He waves it at the other parent, the one with the discerning eye, who nods and smiles.
‘Here’ I say excitedly now, offering my half empty glass of red wine to be included in the artistry. ‘Put that in too, fill the page’.
He draws the wine glass and the bottle of wine. Then he meanders over to the book shelves and selects a book to plonk the fruit bowl on to finish off the effect. The Art of Thinking Clearly he selects, seemingly randomly, but I’d guess he’s trying to tell us something, fair play to him.
I knock back the rest of my glass of wine. We are saved. He will do art and enjoy it. Better than home economics any day surely?! We will not be made to pay for steering by watching years of miserable toil because we did not listen.
I’m ready to pounce on him as he gets in from school.
‘What do you mean well what, what did he say?”
‘Oh the art, good yeah’.
‘Did he say it was good?’
‘He did yeah’.
‘So you’re allowed to do it?’
‘I think so yeah’.
God give me patience…
Today is the day of his summer art exam. He has to select something from home to draw as a still life. He wasn’t worried enough to choose something last night. He knocks around the kitchen this morning with a list of possibilities.
‘Sure I could just pick a flower or something on the way to school’ he says and I simultaneously love how relaxed he is about it while being utterly perplexed by his laid back approach. I try to keep my ‘be prepared’ girl guide anxious motto to myself. He finds an old head of garlic, complete with green shoots sprouting.
‘This will do’ he says wrapping it in tin foil, happy out. What about all those other choices on the list I think to myself. What if there’s something easier to draw, what if he’s setting himself up for a fall? I manage to remain silent and watch him saunter off with the ease of someone who knows and trusts himself well enough. Thank goodness for that.
I’ll have to think of a new motto (‘listen, don’t steer’?) which chimes in more readily with this diverse crew.