Welll it’s been a while since I’ve risked the ire of the Department of Child Safety, and as I’ve never been one for letting the authorities relax for any length of time, I thought it’s about time to delve into the world of my parenting prowess once again. On this merry jaunt I shall take you, dear reader, through the minefield that is edgewcation, edukasion, educaisian……learning stuff.
This may come as a surprise to some, ok it probably won’t, but I was not the exactly the poster boy of scholastic achievement back in my younger days. Rather than burying myself in text books I could more often be found perusing the latest Rolling Stone or Hot Metal magazine. I can’t remember finishing a single novel which had been designated as ‘essential reading’ in the English curriculum, but I think there was one about some kind of ruler of flies and some other rubbish about a bunch of animals taking over a farm.
I always kind of figured I’d get by on my rugged good looks and boyish charm. If only someone had pointed out my severe deficiencies in both areas then my life could’ve turned out somewhat different. Anyhoo, fast forward about ten years and I’d left school, had some fun in the army and now had some kids for whom I was supposed to push the learning agenda. Despite having no interest in academia myself, I was now responsible for getting three malleable young minds to do what I couldn’t.
I’d always known that at some point throughout their schooling, there would come a time when the questions which they were asking me to assist with would be so far over my head that I’d be as useless as a Jackie Howe** at a drag queen convention. Although I had long accepted this fact, I wasn’t prepared for it to happen in around Year 5 when Mortimer came home with a long division question. You know the ones – this goes into that this many times, minus that, multiplied by the average rainfall figures across the Pilbara region plus the square root of the firing order of a VK Commodore.
As I sat down and indulged in much head scratching in an attempt to offer assistance, it rapidly became clear that in the years since I was first introduced to this weird magic the methods for solving these things had changed dramatically. I tried to show Mortimer the way I was shown, through admittedly vague recollections, and he was coming up with something completely different. Needless to say after an hour of relentless struggle my brain had melted and I think Mortimer had lost at least a dozen IQ points. Fortunately these were restored when he went back to school the following day and the teacher explained it to him using reason and logic rather than frustration and dismay.
Now well may you say “that’s ok Paddy, maths just isn’t your strong point,” and you’d be right. However my lack of ability in academic areas also spreads to the arts. Not such a concern through the early years when art consisted of painting a big orange sun above the standard square house with the triangle roof and two windows. That I can advise on. But what happens when the child in question, Brenda on this occasion, chooses to study art into her high school years?
I have occupied this Earth for 42 years and still am unable to draw a semi-recognisable stick figure. So when Brenda brings home a beautiful drawing done in pencil with shading and symbolic imagery of a young girl whose grandmother passed away prior to her birth, I am stunned as to just how she managed to do it. But not so her art teacher who, for some reason, wanted to see more depth, more colour in what was intended to be an emotionally dark piece. The best I could do was to channel the spirit of some long-dead bohemian artist and say “you can’t teach art maann. Art comes from the soul, can you dig it. Down with the Fascist Establishment trying to dictate art maaaan!”. No it didn’t help with her future scores throughout the remainder of her schooling, but at least her belief in her artistic integrity is still intact. So a big middle finger to the education department on that one.
So with Mortimer and Brenda I may not have been of much assistance but at least I was able to at pretend. With Kertrude on the other hand, I never had a chance. It’s pretty obvious that she must share some kind of separate DNA string to the rest of us. Of the many traits on this particular branch of the O’Neill family tree, she displays none. First of all, she’s academically gifted. And by that I mean she’s sharp as a marble as far as day to day functioning is concerned, but throw something academic at her and she’ll excel in all areas. And secondly she actually has the drive to push herself to reach the dizzy heights of academic success. I’m not saying Mortimer and Brenda aren’t smart, because they actually are, but putting in effort just for a good grade, well who could be bothered?
Anyway, for those outside of Queensland, the University entrance score up here is known as an OP and is measured from 1 to 25, with 1 being the highest. Kertrude is on target for 1 to 5, so ya know, she left me behind a long time ago. But she still asks for assistance as though I might actually be able to provide it. So when she says “Father, this assignment on the ways that the Earth’s various spheres interact to influence flood events is only supposed to be 1000 words long and I’ve only just done the introduction and first dot point and I’m at 1500 words,” well the best I can do is stare blankly and hope I don’t dribble too much on my shirt.
But, despite my lack of scholarly nous I’ve managed to guide one school captain, one vice-captain and one prefect through to successful completion of their schooling. I realise that these are not my achievements, but are due to the personal traits of each of my tax deductions. But bugger it I’m taking credit. It’s all down to my spectacular parenting skills I tells ya. And that my friends is why it is important to educate your kids – vicarious achievement.
** For those who come from overseas, or those who like to spend their time sipping lattes in inner city cafes, a Jackie Howe is a blue singlet which is the native dress for your discerning Aussie bloke and is usually accompanied by a pair of shorts and thongs. It derives its name from Mr Howe who wore one while achieving the record for most number of sheep shorn in one day (321) in the 1890s. Not bad considering he did it with the old hand shears and the record remained in place for about 50 years after the invention of mechanical shears. If you’re a bloke and have never worn one of these singlets then we can’t be friends.