My wife sobbed when my daughter got her place at school | Steve Canavan
It has been a very tense week in the Canavan household – well, at least for one person.
It was, you see, the weekend when primary school places for next year were announced.
Now I had no idea this was actually a thing but it turns out, as I have witnessed at close quarters with increasing astonishment, people seem to get a bit uptight about it.
Without sounding callous, because clearly I care about my children and their future (I’m very keen, for instance, they grow up to be millionaires so they can fund my retirement plans to travel around South America in a luxury Winnebago). But I find it hard to get nervous or even, dare I say it, remotely interested in where they go to school.
Maybe it’s because I come from a family of primary school teachers. My mum, dad and sisters were all teachers, which was very handy when, as a kid, I needed help with my homework. Though not so handy when it came to dreaming up reasons to skip school – they’d heard every excuse in the book. But I know there are good teachers and not-so-good teachers in every school and I’m sure Mary, my daughter, will be fine wherever she goes.
And, hey, if she does end up at a really dodgy primary, where half the seven-year-olds in the playground have an ASBO and a conviction for arson, then it'll be character building. I mean, once you’ve had your head flushed down a lavatory a couple of times there’s little else in life which will bother you.
Part of me – and I know this is a very clichéd parent thing to say – cannot believe Mary is actually about to start school. It seems like only five minutes since she emerged from her mother's private parts and began her mission of making our lives a misery for the next four years.
But this summer she will begin school, and though I’m slightly sad to see her growing up so quickly, how wonderful it will be to have her out of the house every single day for seven or eight hours. Can’t wait.
Anyway, for the last nine months Mrs Canavan has been banging on about which school we should send our daughter to and agonising about all the possibilities.
She’s complained about the fact she can’t go into schools and check them out because of Covid, complained that headteachers don’t respond to calls, complained about school websites – generally just complained.
I’ve tried my best to sound vaguely interested and concerned but it’s difficult to do that for nine months, especially when you’re not interested or concerned in the first place.
Pretty much every single night since the turn of the year she will, at some point during the evening, exhale deeply in a worried fashion and say something like: 'It’s just such a tough decision'.
I hate those sort of remarks, which require you to find out what the other person is on about. My old next door neighbour used to do it constantly. He’d never make a comment which was easy to understand which you could directly reply to, like, ‘How are you?’ (“I’m fine thanks”) or ‘lovely day isn’t it?’ (“yes it is”). Instead he’d always begin a conversation with something mysterious like, ‘pity about what’s happened’ so that you’d be forced to reply, ‘why, what’s happened?’ and then you’d be stuck for the next 10 minutes listening to a lengthy story about Ethel at number 25’s recent gall bladder trouble when all you wanted to do was get in your car and leave for work. (The other thing my neighbour used to do was start drinking whisky in the middle of the afternoon and play Tina Turner’s What’s Love Got To Do With It on repeat at an unnecessarily high volume until about 1am. This may or may not have been linked to the fact his wife had left him 15 months earlier.)
Returning to Mrs Canavan, I have to reply something like, ‘what’s a tough decision?’ and then for the umpteenth time she will launch into a long monologue about the dilemma of which school to send Mary to while I surreptitiously slip some earphones in and listen to the new Neil Young album.
Mercifully these months of endless droning on about where our daughter will begin her education ended when the school places were announced, at midnight last Thursday.
Although the local authority warned parents not to stay up because the results probably wouldn’t arrive till the following morning, Mrs Canavan – and an alarming number of her friends I'd previously thought sane – stayed up until 4am messaging each other and repeatedly refreshing the website, desperate to discover where their little darlings were going to.
But the email didn't arrive and, in fact, didn’t until nine the following morning. I know this because I was on my way to work when I received a call from Mrs Canavan, who was in tears.
‘Oh dear,’ I said, to try and sound as sympathetic and caring as possible, ‘never mind – I’m sure she’ll be fine whichever school she goes to.’
'No,' gasped Mrs C, sobbing so heavily it was as if she had just discovered a close relation had a terminal illness, 'it’s good news - she’s made our first-choice school.'
‘That’s great news,’ I ventured. ‘Erm, why are you crying?’
'Well,' she said, 'it’s just such a relief isn’t it?'
This moment, above any other, confirmed once and for all the difference between men and women.
No man, I am wagering, would cry because their child got into the school of their choice (or didn't get into the school of their choice, for that matter).
All I can say is thank god the whole thing is over and I no longer have to feign interest.
Well, until my youngest, Wilf, goes through the same process in a couple of years time, though by that point I’ll hopefully have secured a job abroad which involves spending long periods away from home.
One can dream.