Remember holding your baby for the very first time? Looking into their blinking eyes, wondering at their tiny fingers and toes and finding yourself staring at them for hours as they slept? Remember all the promises you whispered as you held them close, drinking in their baby smell, relishing the touch of their soft cheek next to yours?
Years pass but the love we felt for them from that first moment never wanes, despite sleepless nights, tantrums, separation anxiety and the many moments they are less than perfect in public. From their very first breath we protect them, holding their hands crossing the road, worrying about them when they have trouble with friends and worrying just as much when they have friends who are trouble.
We did all that and more because this child of ours, no matter if it’s our only child or one of many, is precious. They mean more to us than the air we breathe. There are no limits to what we would do for them.
Yet tomorrow for many of us, all over Ireland, our children will become numbers as they sit the Leaving Certificate Examination. For the past year they have been imprisoned in a world of education which cannot see further than this exam. They have been taught answers, instructed in essay writing and coached in how to maximise results. The inquiring mind is discouraged, the enthusiastic scholar defeated as they speak daily of the Leaving Cert. The enthusiastic child we left in the care of our education system at five years of age, is nowhere to be seen. There is no room for individuality in the Leaving Cert. One size fits all.
Moments ago I said goodnight to my leaving cert child. Tomorrow I will wave her off. For many parents, I expect, this will be a moment of anxiety and pity, for myself it will be a moment of rage. For who is anyone to judge my daughter or any of the other thousands saying goodbye to their parents, based on exam results? What intelligent person believes a good nurse is only someone who can achieve high points? That to be a doctor it is important you are among the top ten percent academically, or indeed that you are a lesser individual if you chose not to attend university? Yet that is what my daughter has been taught to believe. That is the education system we partake in.
As I watch her walk out our gates tomorrow I will wish her well, but as she walks away I will replay other days I watched her walk through those gates, all the way back to the excitement of her first day at playschool. As she disappears from sight, I’ll travel back just a little bit more, until closing the front door I will remember opening it eighteen years earlier, my precious, beautiful daughter in my arms, coming home for the first time.
For regardless of what these exam results tell the world, to me she will always be, just as she was the first time I ever saw her…perfect.