Schoolbag in hand: To all the families farewelling school this year... | HerCanberra

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Schoolbag in hand: To all the families farewelling school this year…

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Yesterday, I read my daughter’s 20,000-word Criminology Honours thesis.

She’s researching violent and sexual offending facilitated via dating apps, and it’s as heavy as it sounds (Thank you to HerCanberra readers who recently assisted her with a survey for her study).

All through, while reading, I was getting flashbacks to the delivery suite, the quadruple zero onesies, the monkey bars she swung on at preschool and her early high school ‘persuasive writing’ pieces…basically every little step she’s ever taken, leading to this accomplished piece of research in early adulthood.

In every sentence, I saw the baby, the toddler, the little girl and the teenager she became, as she picked up her native tongue and learnt how to do amazing things with it.

I remembered writing an emotional piece when she finished Year 6, in which I reflected that she’d been ‘barnacled to my ankle at every morning drop-off for the first five weeks of kindergarten and now it’s me—barnacled to her ankle, as I watch her race past me and clatter the front door behind her, despite my telling her every morning not to slam it. Racing past me full stop…’

I’d distracted myself, that day, by watching the movie, Mamamia: ‘An hour later, I’m submerged in a swamp of used tissues and empty chocolate wrappers, with Meryl Streep’s Slipping Through my Fingers on continuous loop’.

When I saw how much hard work she’d put into the thesis literature review, the stats analysis, the results, and her future research directions in the planned doctorate, part of me felt sorry for bringing her into the world at all and creating all this bother. It’s nonsensical, but later she joked, “It’s your fault! You gave birth to me!”

The night before this, I’d finished the fifth draft of my next novel—a RomCom about a midlife widow finding her way back into love. (The romantic plot isn’t autobiographical but the gamut of grief emotion is heavily drawn from life. It’s been a labour of love, and life and death for a couple of years).

I thought of my almost 90-year-old parents, currently holed up in St Andrew’s nursing home, where there are a few cases of COVID, and wondered if they ever felt about my self-imposed creative slog the way I feel about their granddaughter’s.

I know they’ve keenly felt the serious life struggles my sister and I have been handed at various times, but did they ever want to alleviate the overwhelm and the frustration and the sleep deprivation brought about by projects we didn’t have to do, but chose?

When my daughter was in Year 8, late for the bus and crying on the floor of the bathroom, using cold tea and candles to ‘burn’ the edges of faux-ancient pages for a history assignment, I thought, ‘She’s all-in’. This self-directed academic intensity was something I’ve sometimes wished I could lift, because of the added layers of stress it creates in her life.

In retrospect, I’m glad I couldn’t. If she wants to drive herself into a tornado of perfectionism while she continues to reach for the very same stars she’s had her eye on since she was little, then I’ll continue to stand behind her choices until I’m in St Andrew’s myself, admiring the way she phoenixes her way out of difficult things and rises into a stratosphere of her own desire.

She might be heading into a PhD, but nothing much has changed since she was twelve:

By the time she gets home, I realise she’s still a little fish—about to be thrown into a big pond, and the journey is far from over. We’re only halfway there…

Schoolbag in hand, she leaves home in the early morning, waving goodbye with an absent-minded smile… I’m glad whenever I can share her laughter, that funny little girl.

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