Friday, 5 September 2014

The upside of exam stress

The way it used to be when he went to sleep with me. 
The last time I stroked my eldest son to sleep was when he was two. I still recall smoothing the damp golden curls from his forehead, watching his eyelids flutter as he drifted off. Listening to his breathing fall into the regularity of sleep and watching his grip relax on his constant companion, Barnabas the bear. I thought that I would never again experience this, as he grew older and lulled himself to sleep with podcasts and gory tales of zombies and vampires. Indeed nowadays it is not unheard of for him to fall asleep after me.

Which is why I was pleasantly surprised to discover one of the hidden side effects of exam stress. Tomorrow my boy has to sit four difference entrance exam papers for two selective schools, one of which he is really keen to get into. Test nerves began to bite at the dinner table, he'd had a disastrous session with his tutor when he'd completely messed up a mock paper and the tears pricked at his eyes as he worried that he would let us down.

I hate myself sometimes for putting a 10-year-old through this, particularly as there is no guarantee of success. But on the other hand I feel as if I have to let him have the chance to prove if he can do it or not. Personally I am more than aware that a good education counts for very little, but that doesn't mean I don't want him to get one so he can throw it away if he chooses to.

In an attempt to calm his fears I offered to read him a bedtime story. This was a sacred ritual from the moment we brought him home from the hospital until the day he learnt to read fluently by himself. I treasure my memories of reading Kiss Goodnight Sam to him as an uncomprehending baby while we rocked together in a nursing chair in his lemon yellow nursery. The best bit was always all the kisses I got to bestow on him at the end in my role as mummy bear. I can recite the words to The Gruffalo by heart and Percy the Park Keeper is a family friend.

The bedtime story was never quite the same once more children came along and I tried to read whist feeding another baby or fielding a toddler who was keener on eating the book than listening to what its pages held, so in some ways it holds particularly precious memories of my two years alone with my firstborn.

However I thought the days of reading to my golden son were long over, until tonight when he asked me to read E Nesbit's The Enchanted Castle to him. It was a bit different to the old days as he picked me up on any errors I made, but it was such a delight to snuggle up with him in bed and put on accents for the different characters. A delightfully unexpected step back in time, even if the child in bed beside me no longer fits into the crook of my arm, but is almost as tall as me.

As I read I felt his tension relax just as it used to when he was a tiny toddler resisting his nap. But when the chapter ended I felt his grip on me tighten. "Please mummy stay with me until I go to sleep", he pleaded. How could I say no?

I sat beside him on his bed stroking his back and once again listening to his breathing getting steadier and deeper, watching his eyelids closing and his body relaxing into the slumber that will transport him to his next set of tests.

Yes, I hate putting him through these exams and I abhor seeing him stressed, but I can't complain at the side effect of allowing me one more chance to soothe my beloved son to sleep with a story and a back rub. I just hope that this tells him that no matter what happens tomorrow he could never disappoint me. Just watching him sleep is enough to fill my heart with pride, everything else is a bonus.

1 comment:

  1. Very heartfelt. Well done U. Not taking too much to make me sob at the moment! Good luck to Jacob today xxxxx