I'm not exactly sure how to write this post because I have privacy to respect, business that is ours to mind but also something very important to say, not least because more than a few of the people I have confided in with this personal tale have told me they wished their own path had taken different turns and how lack of courage had been a factor in open doors not walked through.
Since I began writing I have been saying that I don't think any of my experiences are that unusual. In a lot of ways I'm your common or garden Jane Soap. But that's the thing-Jane Soap doesn't exist. There's no such thing as your common or garden person. Everybody is different, I'm different and so are you. Nobody is repeatable, replaceable and so far (and hopefully never) cloned from someone else. We have temperament, character, dreams and talents completely different to the person next to us. And that's not nothing, it's the way The Divine Artist planned, no work of art of his is the same as the next, each complete and perfect in ways so profoundly different that only a Divine Artist could have come up with. The omnipotent Creator who delights in his creations and loves them (us) with the intensity of love a mere reflection of which I tried to portray in one hug today, if only those pesky tears hadn't gotten in the way. Or maybe the tears expressed what the eloquent speeches of Goneril and Regan could never portray. Was it not precisely Cordelia's lack of words that most described the fullest love?
So what was this hug?
This afternoon I hugged my eldest daughter goodbye as she stretched her 18 year old wings for her first test flight. She's going to France for a school year.
What's so special about that? Don't students do semesters abroad all the time? Student exchanges and so on? Nothing different there.
The only thing is, she isn't going to school. And she's not coming back to school either. And she didn't finish school.
Isn't that what you call a drop-out? I hear you think.
Here's a story.
When my husband and I met we knew within days this was it. After just six weeks of dating we were engaged though we didn't tell anyone for a year because my secret fiancée was a 20 year old pre-med student!! It was a crazy commitment in the eyes of the world. We finally married three years after meeting though had we had means we would have been married in the minimum time of three months required by our diocese.
About ten years after we married my husband was invited to take part in a TV studio audience discussion on marriage. The presenter put the question to him why he had married at such a young age, as a student with still several years to go when it was so far removed from the social convention of his peer group.
His answer, though improvised, as it wasn't the question he was told he'd be asked, was profound in it's simplicity.
'Well, we knew we were doing the right thing, and why would anybody wait or delay doing the right thing?'
So why would we do something that was different to the right thing just because nobody else was doing that thing? Friends thought they were being helpful by suggesting we travel for a while, or move in together. These weren't options we even considered because, believe me, never did a young couple put themselves in God's hands like that couple did. I'm not embarrassed to say that contrary to what sniggerers might suggest when we sat in a parked car before beginning every date, we were actually saying the rosary asking Mary for guidance. Every single day, dear Mother, guide our path. Moving in together was not the permanent and public commitment we wanted. Travelling? A poor compromise. So we waited until the first chink in that door and went for it. Our first baby arrived a year later, our second child was born eight weeks before John's final exams and our third when he was in the throes of the nightmare of the unearthly hours of hospital rotations, our fourth decided to be due the DAY we were supposed to be moving from one country to another. All socially unconventional moments that invited numerous inquiries into our sanity by the socially conventional.
So we did things a bit differently. We are a bit different. We have taught our children that they are going to be different in the post Christian European culture into which they have been born. To be an authentic Catholic in Europe or any western society today by jinny you'd better not be afraid to be different because it's a culturally unacceptable difference to hold. Long ago you just needed to go with the flow and you'd be carried along once you just did what everybody else did. No challenges, no questions, no apology (as in apologetics) required. Not so today. Today you need to be able to answer your teenage radical atheist friends with answers that ring true. Today's teens need to be able to place their neck on the block and let their Christian difference speak for itself. Why? Because it's the right thing to do, even if nobody else is doing it.
So back to my little French traveller. The Mother Mary her young future parents appealed to with heartfelt prayers is the same Mother Mary her now slightly (and I emphasise slightly) greying parents who are starting to show a few fine lines ( and one of us is pondering whether Botox is such a bad idea after all) prayed to with no less heartfelt prayers to show us the right path. Today I am fully at peace that she has shown us the right path. It's the one, quite literally, less travelled by. In fact I hope Our Lady is going to provide us with a machete because this road is pretty much virgin.
Our daughter hasn't dropped out of school. She has dropped INTO life. I've heard a million times that school doesn't suit everyone. And yet when we considered all options, school was the ONLY one which was socially acceptable. Nobody could give us any better reason apart from 'you have to'.
Well...no. You don't have to. Life isn't a race and we have reduced the education of our children to precisely that. The points race. How well can you perform in X subject by regurgitation on a set day. Don't take Y or Z subject because those...you know...arty subjects...are for deadbeats...the lazy ones...for the lazy...or the non academic.
In the olden days the Jesuits were known as master educators. Looking into this, it was because they were masters of temperament. They studied the concept of temperament and were able to individualise the approach to education to best suit the educatee. As far as I know, the original purpose of study and university was to become learned. The focus was learning and becoming knowledgable in things worth knowing. Philosophy was valued because it is precisely only by living a philosophy can we know which direction we wish to go. As the Cheshire Cat said, if you don't know your destination then it does 't matter which road you take. Somewhere along the line, producing learned and wise adults became a secondary function of education. My father is a long retired teacher of many many years experience. He told me once that he felt sorry for children starting school because they started with so much spirit and individuality and came out the other end either conformed or broken. Wow!
When an A student who is incredibly artistic (and I'm not boasting, I'm stating a disinterested fact) is quite clearly gradually drowning in (at least what she perceives) the cattle mart crowd control system which subvervetly (and probably inadvertently) punishes the unconventional and those who learn by thinking rather than by fitting into an ever narrowing corral, is it not time for parents to throw the life buoy? And had they not better throw it regardless of what everybody else does. Have you ever looked at those YouTube videos about crowd psychology? You know the ones where actors pose as a victim being beaten by an aggressor or as somebody passed out on a street. How many people walk past simply because nobody else seems to be helping? As soon as one person intervenes, suddenly everybody offers help. Well, a parent can't wait for somebody else to intervene. They are the first educators. It is the parent's DUTY to be the frontline. It's not their duty to follow the pack, it's their duty to study their child, to seek and listen to advice from every source, and by doing so discern that the time has come to change route. And that's exactly what we have just done.
So in case you've been wondering, or heard it on the grapevine, or behind our back...did you hear...are they crazy...I'd never have allowed...?
Are we crazy because we suggested and allowed something unconventional?
Do you know that hammering a square peg into the round hole IS actually possible? Oh you can do it all right. The only thing is, your beautiful square peg will be very badly damaged in the process. We're taking a different route to success. Yes it may be slower...equally it may be faster...not one of us knows the future. All roads begin with where you are today and all roads lead to Rome.
One of the many wise people whose judgement we trust said two things to us. Firstly...the most prolific phrase in the bible...
Be Not Afraid.
The second one, we can't plan the entire expanse of our lives, but you'll find that when we turn to God with heartfelt prayer (like we did) doors you never even could have thought of will present themselves to you, but you have to be willing to open them and forge paths that are different.
Well this door is something we couldn't have dreamt of last year. And as I was busy a few days ago ironing the last few clothes helping her squash her life into Ryanair's restrictive allowance I looked at my daughter with great admiration.
This girl has a helluva neck!! To calmly do what she has done-gone against the 'you have to because they say' (who are they, by the way...you know...they...the ones who say things?) and had the courage to be different. Courage to be different by remaining steadfast in her faith, courage to be different by speaking up for it even though mockery. Courage to know that the hole was round and that the square peg needs to take the path God has designed for the square peg.
And back to Jane Soap. Every one of us is a square peg. What other people think or say or do should never never be the criteria for our life's decisions. If you are a parent you should not be choosing school subjects for your teenage child against their desire. Most definitely YOU should not be filling in university course choices or pushing a child down the path you always dreamt they should take (or even worse, that you would have liked to have taken) as I know several parents who have done exactly that. Remember that your child is not a peg, she's a thousand piece jigsaw, and she has to fit those pieces in herself.
So while my heart broke in the airport today, it was the sentimental break of a mother launching her first child into the world. Yes, I'm fully aware that there are still five in my nest, but people aren't
birds who can't count and don't notice that there five mouths instead if six. There's an R shaped hole in our home just now and there's a gapingly empty chair at our table.
Be reassured that she's not gone off like Dick Whittington with a pack on her shoulder facing the unknown to make her fortune. She travelled along with her Dad (who will come back in two days lol) to a very safe home from home environment to people we trust and where her life view will be nourished and her faith respected and where she'll hopefully become fluent in the world's most beautiful language. Next year we'll look at the doors of school and college and exams, or maybe the year after that or maybe like this, a door we never imagined, but today...I love her, I miss her and my tears are pretty close to the surface, but I am completely at peace that God has given us the courage once again to be different.
My brother wrote a song when he was in his 20s...the words go like this:
Believe and keep on dreaming
That who you are will see you through.
Why follow someone else's star?
Why change the person that you are?
Believe and keep on dreaming
That who you are is where you're going to.