You've just got to love the losers
Qualities and defects on display ... pupils of Tasmania's Scottsdale Public School at Presentation night, 1900.
One of the many, many pleasures of grown-up children is that I no longer have to attend their school presentation nights. It is not as if either of my daughters were ever prolific winners of awards, but (sigh) they were singers, so they were usually roped in as the light entertainment.
I blame my husband - after all, it is what he is there for. I've never been able to sing a note but he was a bloody boy soprano. As part of my rather bizarre late-onset media career, however, I do get asked to speak at a few speech nights, so I am well aware it is now the season for long-suffering parents to suffer some more. Indeed, for any who may be attending a ceremony that I will be speaking at - my apologies in advance. I will try to keep it short.
In my early days as the parent of a school-age child - while I was still eager and hopeful, rather than the battered and bruised old harridan you now see before you - I approached presentation ceremonies in a completely different spirit. I still blush to remember that I spent three years attending my eldest child's primary school presentation days, hoping against hope that this year it would be my darling child's turn to win something … anything.
Then my youngest daughter finished her first year at the same school and I received an actual written invitation to the school's presentation ceremony because she was winning an actual award.
A fog of mortification descended as I realised what a pathetic twerp I'd been for attending previously. Everyone else in the room had known in advance that their kid was getting one. I had wondered why I'd been getting all those sideways glances.
Fortunately, my youngest child soon reverted to family tradition and failed to live up to her early promise when it came to winning awards. I was able to slink off and pretend that I had never foolishly gotten my hopes up or, worse, revealed the paucity of my parenting, my genes and my vanity quite so publicly. Then, the eldest trotted off to high school. This is always a terrifying time for any parent because while your child is still a sweet and biddable primary schooler, you can see just by looking at the older students the full horror of the future that lies in front of you. Putting my fears bravely aside, I felt vindicated when my eldest announced at the end of year 7 that she was winning the good citizenship award!
Once the initial euphoria passed, however, a dark thought entered my soul. Did this mean she was the best citizen they had? My anxiety rose sickeningly. And, indeed, a couple of years later when she was invited to go on Challenge Camp (yes, the school's equivalent of Brat Camp) the principal did confide that although she'd had the fastest trajectory from good citizenship award to Challenge Camp in the history of the school, unfortunately they didn't give awards for that. You can perhaps understand why, when my youngest daughter followed in her elder sister's footsteps by winning the same good citizenship award in year 8, I had to be physically restrained from making her hand it back.
There followed a long period where the only awards my children won were ''N'' awards.
The ''N'' stands for non-complete and is a fancy way of saying they haven't done their homework. This was a relatively pleasant time in my parenting journey because all I did on receipt of said ''N'' awards was pour myself another stiff drink. There is always a silver lining, as they say.
Then one day, my eldest came home and said: ''I have good news and bad news.'' My hand began to stretch towards the stiff-drink cupboard. ''The good news is I am winning an award!'' My hand froze in mid-air. ''The bad news is … it's for knitting!'' I made it a double.
Worse, thanks to my husband's sodding musical genes, we didn't even have the compensation of not having to attend speech nights. Oh no, just to add insult to injury, we were forced to watch other more successful parents glow with pride at their offspring's achievements and pretend to be pleased for them. And our children's performances of Bohemian Rhapsody or River Deep, Mountain High (don't ask) were always the bloody finale. I remember watching (while bitterly regretting I had forgotten my hip flask) as the better parents fled the hall in droves while the sports master presented a spontaneous 50-minute oration at one scorching speech night in the un-airconditioned hall (during the day it was the basketball court) about getting permission slips back on time. We couldn't leave because our daughter was lead singer in the next (and last) item. She belted her heart out to us and a few wilting dignitaries.
I finally got my revenge on speech nights once and for all, however, when I was invited to speak at one at my old school. I accepted the invitation with some surprise but also with pleasure. As I stood in front of the microphone, looking out over the gathered throng of students, teachers and parents in a hall that was at once strangely familiar and yet strangely strange, I said the following:
''Before I begin my presentation, I'd just like to speak directly to all the students who are only here because they have to watch a deeply irritating swot of a sibling accept an award. Honoured as I am to be here tonight at the school I went to over 30 years ago, I'd just like to point out that this is the first Forest High speech night I have ever attended.''
It seems that just as vocal cords can be inherited from your parents, so can an absolute inability to win awards.