Musings arguments and gig reports from your favourite Goth lesbian transsexual vegan recovering alcoholic and drug addict sceptic rationalist atheist comedian chameleon and caricature.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Growing up Clever.

I was one of those kids that if are great if you're a middle class parent of an only child, and horrific to anyone else. An uncanny child that appeared to have been born old.  My mum loves to go on about how far ahead of my age I was in terms of intelligence when I was little.  I know that many many middle class parents do this that they tell everyone that their kid is special, that they're intelligent, that they have a talent.

Turns out though, I did.

I was apparently 8 months old when I started talking, I've barely paused for breath since, and apparently by the time I was 16 months I was sat in a trolley outside Asda Supermarket in Clayton Green, just outside my home town of Chorley and to my mum's surprise I pointed to the sign above the shop and said "What does that sign mean?"  Apparently I'd figured out the interplay of signs and signifiers that were required to convey information, in this respect I knew that the sign was a sign, and wanted to know what it meant, as if the knowing of this would unlock one of the key puzzles in human existence.  And that was it, I was on my way.  I can't remember I time I couldn't read, and at primary school I had a theory that the longer a book was, the better it was and the more difficult to read.  like longer equalled more words and therefore better, as if knowledge could be weighed by the pound, the longer a book the more worthwhile and enlightening it would be.  Fortunately this was before John Grisham and Dan Brown so this theory could have held water.

The other uncanny trait I had was my memory, I could remember everything from being 18 months old like it was a film on Blu Ray that I could just skip to a scene of and replay it in high definition with Dolby surround sound and repeat back everything that had been said to me.  The first time this became apparent was when we had a builder round to the house and I was talking to him and following him round asking things pointing at stuff and telling him all about Star Wars, I must have been about 2 or 3 years old, as I was chatting to him I followed him out to the van where he was getting some stuff and I saw that the back of it was carpeted.  I said to him "Oh, that's our old carpet.  We used to have that one."  My mum who overheard this walked over and looked and went "no, but it's just like one we used to have, how do you remember that?"  I said "It's not 'just like' the one we used to have, it is the one we used to have."  the builder when pale and said I was right "It is your old one, I was driving past ages ago and saw it'd been thrown out and thought I'd have it for my van."  Apparently I was 6 months old when they'd got rid of the carpet.

That one's easy enough though because when you're 6 months old the carpet's pretty close to you most of the time, it's only right that I should recognise it, up to that age the only other thing I should have been able to spot in a line up was my mums boobs. 

It wasn't all clever though, around that age I did eat a dog turd, that one's handily forgotten when my mum's telling these stories.

I was a serious and bookish child, on a trip to Blackpool Illuminations (just before my third birthday) with Janet Potter, a friend of my mum's, we were on the top deck of a tram looking at the lights, there were some in the shape of a Macaw, and Janet said to me "ooh, look at that parrot, what's that parrot saying?"  My reply was a terse "It's not saying anything you stupid woman, how can it?  it's not real it's just an illusion created with lighbulbs."

In fact the more I look back on it the more I realise I was probably exactly like Stewie from Family Guy.

Why am I writing about this?  I'll tell you.  I just read an article in the Guardian which you can find here about a woman who had twins and sent one to a private school and the other to a state school.  It's annoyed me more than anything else I've read today.  Never have I more wanted to grab someone by the lapels and slap them about a bit and say "You're doing it all wrong! Bad parent! Bad! Naughty! Get in your basket!"

Whatever your opinions on private schools I personally don't care.  I have opinion which will surely be negated by all of those people who wish to flaunt their experiment in practical heterosexuality in my face (ie having a child) and use it as a basis for why their argument is obviously more justifiable than mine, because obviously that's why juries are full of the people directly affected by the crimes of the person in the dock. 

"So what's your opinion Beth?"

"Well, I don't think that anyone should be entitled to a better education than anyone else on the basis of the fact that their parents can pay for it."

"Yes, but you don't have kids, and you're not going to be having kids so what do you know?"

"What I know is that I believe in as far as possible levelling the playing field and not giving the richest 10% a leg up in education terms just because they can afford to send their kids to better schools, schools which are taking some of the best teachers out of the state sector because they pay better."

"Yes but you've not got any kids, in fact it's physically impossible for you to have kids so how can you even have an opinion on this?  I mean you can have an opinion on this but it doesn't weigh as much as mine as I've had a child so therefore I'm opining for two.  It's maths isn't it Beth?  That's how Maths works, I've a child, they're my legal responsibility so therefore any decisions I take are made on behalf of me and my child, two people, well one and a half, but the point still stands."

At this point the only way for me to have any sort of a win in this argument is to burst into tears and claim that I'm upset at being barren and mourning for the children I'll never have and why did they bring that up.  Usually guilt does the rest.

However my opinion of private schools is not why I was telling you all that, nor was it why that article made my blood boil, it was the tone of the mother in it.

She starts off by trying to justify herself by saying how angst ridden she was, Ohh she was angsty! some days she couldn't move for angst, still it was better than her husband's jaded sense of ennui, or on occasion his hubris.  "Poor old middle class me!" she seems to whinge from the opening word: "If"

She quickly moves on to show that she's a good parent, a concerned parent she is, how she's is what every liberal middle class parent with only their child's best interests at heart does and that's to consult the experts.  the Multiple Birth Society, (who by the way are excellent)  and then she manages to undo all of this, all her right on credentials by then saying her son was smart and excelling and her daughter wasn't.

So what does a concerned parent do?  One who wants the best for their children?  She writes one off there and then: 

""Girls aren't the same as boys," we'd say. In that respect, their gender difference was a godsend."


So, basically you're a good parent you just tell one of your children that she's not as good as the other because boys are just cleverer.

It makes me feel like some sort of Darwinian Lifeguard stood at the edge of the genepool screaming at this fucking minge-bulb "Oi you out of the gene pool!"

She continues through this attempting to justify her position that her child was good at arty stuff, you know, like girls are, because they can't be trusted round intellect, they'd probably only want to paint it or turn it into some sort of knitted doily, she wouldn't thrive in that environment.

I've never known a family write off a child at 7 before and still try and convince the rest of the world that they're in some way good parents, let alone some kind of Guardianista-houmous-and-tofu-sun-blushed-tomato-organic-food-eating-"some-of-my-best-friends-are-lesbians-(gay men are so last season as a fashion accessory)"-against-sweatshop-labour-except-for-Primark--occasionally-obviously good parent..  Obviously religious fanatics write off children based on their sex all the time, but they're mentally ill so they've at least got some semblance of an excuse.

So she sent one child to Private school and the other to the local state school.  The kid who's at the private school loves it, the other feels left out and wants to join him.

Well fuck my hat! that's the last thing I would have expected.

One of your children is going to be good at something academic, he's your pride and joy because in your world the academic is the most important, the other is good at the artistic, it's OK but it's not as good as academic, but you know at least she's trying.

It sickens me to my core, it's endemic of this horrible state that certain middle class parents have got themselves in to.  This idea that happiness only comes through social climbing and that somehow this is acceptable as long as it's based on intelligence.

Not, that being happy is an end in itself, however the problem there is that it was Aristotle who posited that particular theory, but defined happiness on intellectual terms through knowledge and social status, which seems to be the issue, it's funny how we held on to that part of his argument and lost the other bit where he said about how it's possilbe that you can become less happy after you're dead if some secret about you comes out into the open.  That bit of his theory is just shit, but I suspect for some people that's like discounting Pythagoras' theorem on account of the fact he said that it was "immoral" to eat beans.

Happiness, cannot be measured in monetary terms, nor can it be measured in academic terms, because if you base your happiness solely on one criteria it's an empty kind of happiness.

I feel like writing to this woman, to say: 

"It's alright love.  You don't have to write an article to the Guardian to justify your choices.  Nor do you have to feel guilty that for the rest of your life that you prefer one of your children over the other, it's every middle class families nightmare isn't it?  What if one of your children is average?  What if you can't tell your friends that one of your children is going to be a genius, that they aren't double their reading age, that they haven't split an atom by the time they're ten.  It's especially hard when they're twins, but fortunately you've got one of each and at least it's your heir who's the smart one, at least he'll go on to captain some industry somewhere, you know provided his interest in this particular type of academic learning doesn't start to fade at some point in his teenage years, maybe he'll get into smoking weed and you'll have to write an other article justifying your decision to chuck him out of the house, after all you spent a fortune on his education, why is he now getting B's and talking back to you?  It's only right you should feel like this, of course you shouldn't feel guilty about your teenage daughter who's self harming and fucking every teenage boy or girl who'll show her any attention at all in the vain hope that if they gets enough spunk splashed up her miff that somehow that will fill the hole that she feels is there, as if every fuck is the simple question "why did you love him more than me mum?  Will you love me mummy?  Will you love me?  Whilst whatever she achieves she'll achieve, there's no pressure on her other than the weight of disappointment you've already placed there, meanwhile if your son fails to live up to his early potential, goes off to a less than red brick uni after getting mediocre A-level results and then gets a 2:2 in some sort of humanities non course and then ends up working in a call centre along with everyone who didn't even go to college, and spends his adult life depressed at the lost potential, confused about his place in the world.

And when all this happens there is no need to blame yourself.  You did what you could.  You did what you thought was best."

I know I may sound a bit bitter there.  It's kind of the reason that I started this blog the way I did and the reason I chose that particular article, and why in spite of the fact I'm neither able nor willing to have children that I have an opinion on this.

I remember being a kid, that memory I have is still there, in spite of almost two decades of drug and alcohol abuse, it's not what it once was, but I can still remember loads of things absolutely clearly, and i remember what it felt like.

I remember getting positive feedback for being academically gifted, I remember this being prized, I also remember my brother not being quite so academic, he's very intelligent in so many ways and a lot cleverer than I'll ever be but he wasn't academic.  My parents had both come from working class backgrounds, my dad was a blacksmith and my mum sold cockles in pubs when they first got together.  but they both decided to get qualifications to educate themselves out of the roles that had been assigned to them when they failed their 11plus and got sent to secondary modern schools.

My dad became a primary school teacher, and then a head teacher, my mum did all sorts of different jobs and then when I was small went to the local polytechnic and eventually became a probation officer.  Their escape from the life that had been assigned to them at birth came through education, and so it was that above all other things that was prized.

And so it was the thing I was good at, my sister too, my brother not so much, and that affected all our relationships and still does to this day.

As I got into my teenage years there were so many things going on in my head, being trans, discovering alcohol and drugs (I maintain that I've always been a drug addict and alcoholic, even before I had my first experiences with either, it was already inside me just waiting to get our, like those indoor firework snakes you can get, in this case just add alcohol and watch it grow.) and being bullied all took their toll and I never achieved academically what my early promise had shown.  I got average GCSEs poor A-levels and then dropped out of uni.  when I went back a few years ago I managed to scrape a 2:2 but there's still that mourning of lost chances, of potential not lived up to.

I think what I'm trying to say is that too many people put too much pressure on their kids to do the things that they wished they'd done, and what you end up with is a child whose personality is the sum total of the mental scarring left by the things that the parents have done to it.  The idea of unconditional love is a noble one and one that needs to be practiced, not putting value on one set of skills over another, and certainly not saying "boys are different to girls" as if that somehow justifies your belief that one child is better than the other.

The world needs people of all levels of intelligence, of all hues of academic ability and physical ability and creative ability, each child is uniquely gifted and their gift is no better than another's simply because you've put some monetary value on the end result.

Yes every middle class parent wants a clever child, a child that's cleverer than every other child.  But that child is a person, not a Top Trumps card.  The value of a life well lived is in the happiness experienced and the ripples we create and the affect we have on others for good or bad.

So where are we now as a family?  My brother has a lovely wife and two kids and has a very high powered and well paid job that he's got through hard work and intelligence, a very highly powered and well paid job.  My sister trained as an anthropologist, who has the worst thing that any anthropologist could have: identical twins called Felix and Test Subject 1(a), we joked about doing social experiments of the sort that the woman in the article was doing, but only joked about it, even at that level we could see the problems there.  Now she works in public health.

My parents retired to France and now have a farm house and grow their own vegetables, it's lovely they look where they came from and where they've got and know that they've had a charmed life that neither of them could have expected when they were 7 years-old.

And me?  Well you know what's happened to me, I'm a gobshite for hire who considering the hours I put in to this job earns less than minimum wage doing it.  I've got a flat with a wonderful partner and two cats, and I share too much about myself, and lament the fact that I never managed to find a use for this supposedly large intellect I've got, aside from that one time I won a pub quiz.

In the end though I've got the life that I always wanted and I'm happy with that, the things I own don't make me who I am and I'm comfortable with me.

And that's worth far more.

1 comment:

Sonia Diamond said...

Excellent blog post. The woman sounded typical of the mothers at my daughter's school. I separate myself from them and their eternal bragging and ambitions for their snotty children who all seem to be devoid of any personality.