Dealing with Disappointment


I decide to ring the Department of Education because it is mid way through August and we are supposed to hear about Jasper’s application in August. I don’t really expect to be given a result on the phone, and so when the person says, “I can check, what’s his name?” I am unprepared. I feel my heart wobble. It comes free from its attachments inside my chest. Name given – a pause – “It appears he won’t be being offered a place in the first round,” comes the reply.

I close my eyes. My head screams, NO. My heart slides downwards towards my stomach. The disappointment is visceral really. I have my own disappointment, but more than that, I have a son to tell. He has already become very attached to the idea of studying visual arts at the school. He will take it hard.

Graham is away, and so it falls to me to deliver the news. I could wait till Graham got home, in a week, but that seems deceitful – to know for all that time and not let on.

I wait till we are home, after school, in our kitchen. He has a very crunchy ANZAC biscuit in his hand and his back to me when I begin. “I rang the department today to ask about the visual arts and I am sorry to say they said you didn’t get in.” When I start the sentence he turns to look at me, a slight smile, and I can see from his expression he thinks the sentence is a good news one, but as I get through to its second half, it dawns on him that this is not a good news sentence at all and his face changes. It crumples into tears. I go to comfort him. To hug. He pulls away and rushes from the room.

I don’t follow him immediately. I wait in the lounge, by myself, wondering how long do I wait for. What words of comfort can I offer? I know you’re disappointed, I rehearse in my head.  He is not in his room. He is not in the study. He is not in my room – that I can see. He is in my wardrobe – behind the clothes – crouched in a huddle – beneath dresses and jackets and the confetti of shoes. I can see his sneakers and in his hand the ANZAC, untouched. It is a safe hiding place. Go away.

I close the wardrobe door and leave him in the dark. I’m so sorry…

I leave him.

To myself – Maybe don’t eat the ANZAC in there..

I leave him some more.

Still hiding.

He comes out.

He is outside in the courtyard, bouncing a ball, and I am in the kitchen making a cup of tea. I view him through the window, across the sink. Skinny, lanky, always moving. I see a big tear fall from his face without hitting his cheek, like a rain drop falling to the ground. I am crying too and he sees me. He comes inside. Let’s take the dog out. We walk the dog. My solution to all woes. The road by the port is closed and we must walk by the railway. Broken glass. The slap of skateboards. Still beautiful. It is a day like any other to the dog. There is winter grass to pee on. There are urine soaked telegraph poles to sniff at. There are homeless begging in the mall. Jasper asks what has happened to his career? He is eleven. “We’ll just have to show them what a great artist they missed out on teaching,” I say. We eat churros dipped in melted chocolate.



To Test or Not to Test



Who likes doing tests?

To see how much you know. To see how much you don’t know. To stare down a bit of white paper and be confused and angered by a question that, to your eleven year old self, makes no sense and is boring. Boring equals hard.

Is confidence built by doing well in a test?

Is confidence lost by doing poorly? Where does confidence go when it is diminished and trod on? What can we do to enliven it again?

What are we testing when we test boys? Their ability to sit still, like girls. Girls are good at tests. They are good at writing neatly and making borders around their work. But some boys like to move to think. Some boys like to throw a ball while they talk. Some boys like to skate. Some boys are messy.

Failure is supposed to help us succeed later. But in the moment failure is just that. It is flattening. It deadens us to that feeling that is success. Success seems slippery. Others have it. Not us. Skipping ahead, around the corner, the girl in the colourful skirt with the pretty curls. The boy child – his body sags and his shoulders push earthward. Shoes laces dragging undone, since doing them up just wastes time that could be spent running. They will come undone once more. The nature of shoe laces. Ugh another test.

And to have to miss Hockey because of a test. No reward seems good enough. He harps on It’s so unfair. My bargaining begins – Star Trek movie and a mint choc bomb perhaps.

And what is gifted anyway? Gifted – handed to you. Unearnt. Something someone else gave you that you played no part in? Gifted through good genes. Gifted and Talented exam. GATE to the parents who, like me, might have signed their child up, hoping for a spot in an elusive school. Saying GATE somehow seems less irksome than gifted and talented. And so if you don’t get in, then you are Not gifted and Not talented. Just a regular eleven year old kid with no interest in a test on quantitative reasoning and abstract thinking. Just an ordinary kid who must go to an ordinary school with ordinary teachers. Only 2.5% of kids can be labelled Gifted and Talented, so it’s a stretch to get in.

The acronym GATE is apt. Maybe WALL would be even better. For most students the GATE is locked and high and barbed. The GATE is not open wide or welcoming. It is latched and chained and bolted. Combinations and passwords and special handshakes required. It is the beginning of difference. Is eleven too young to begin to know? Maybe this is the first real gate they have come across. You have always held the door wide for them. Perhaps you are discriminated, as I am, by steps and stairs and steep driveways. Or maybe it’s the colour of your skin and the curl of your hair that prevents your inclusion. Maybe you can’t relate to people or you relate too much. Maybe English is not your first language. You live in the wrong part of town. Maybe you are a woman.

This afternoon, after school, I must ask him to sit and look at the sample questions so the exam paper does not come as a shock tomorrow. I need to tell him to not rush the paper, in the hope he can leave the room early. Only guess if you really don’t know and have no time to try to work it out. I already know it will be a battle to get him to look at the samples. When the sun is shining and friends are meeting at the park it is less than alluring to ponder a puzzle your mother looks pained to make you do.