I’m having a conversation, by text, with my daughter the day before the A level results are published.
Me: What are you doing today?
Her: I’m tidying up. I’m stressed about tomorrow and keeping myself distracted.
Me: You’ll know soon and then you can look to the future.
Her: Yes but not knowing means I can’t be disappointed. Once I know I can’t not know anymore.
It reminds me of something a colleague of mine once said in his thick French accent, which seemed to give it both extra romance and gravitas.
“If you have a pile of ugly rubbish in your garden growing a beautiful tree in front of it won’t make the rubbish disappear.”
It also makes me think about the time a couple I was working with didn’t want to do the exercise where they write down the things they love about one another. If you don’t ask yourself the question you don’t have to face the answer.
As my conversation with my daughter developed it became clear that she was less worried about how well she had done with regard to her University place and more about the level of her success versus that of her peers.
“I’m coming off all social media so that I can’t see what results anyone else got,” she tells me later.
“Why don’t you want to know what anyone else got?” I ask.
“Because if I get an A in Psychology I’ll be happy unless one of my friends gets an A*,” she says.
I look for a response but I can’t find one because I know exactly what she means.
Thinking back to my own A level results, which were largely disastrous, I can remember feeling disappointed in comparison with my peers even though I’d spent most of the entire two years playing “Defender” in the common room off my head on magic mushrooms harvested from a field behind a fellow student’s house in Horsemonden.
Trying to offer my daughter some crumb of comfort I tell her that all news is best confronted, good or bad. I say, “It makes you a better person” without really understanding how while knowing that it does.
“I know,” she says, “I just don’t want to disappoint”
That’s the part which really gets me. The inference that it isn’t only her that will be disappointed if it goes badly but that I will too.
“I’m proud of who you are,” I tell her. “No exam result will change that”
“Thank you,” she says in that way people do when your words haven’t landed.
In the end, she needn’t have worried but she still maintained her self imposed social media blackout for fear of finding that someone else had done better than her.
Sitting together after dinner she says, “I don’t know what to do on my phone now I don’t have any social media”
I say, “How about talking to the other people in the room?”
She gives me a thin smile.
“I’m just going to ice the cake we made for Auntie Clare’s birthday if you want to help” I call from the kitchen.
“No thanks. How did it come out?” She replies.
“It’s OK,” I say. “But I’ve made better.”