Grunting Teen is acting strangely today. He keeps flapping into my room, sighing, then disappearing. I reluctantly pause the latest YouTube cat video to investigate.
‘What’s up?’ I ask in the break between his online classes.
‘It’s this,’ he shrugs, pointing at his newly acquired laptop.
‘But we’ve only just bought it,’ I panic, wondering what could’ve gone wrong so soon.
‘No, not that thing.’ He rolls his eyes, knowing how technology and his mother don’t mix. ‘It’s the whole on-line whatsit. It sucks. I know, like, the teachers are doing their best but it’s just not the same as being in class. I hate it. And I’m going to, like, fail all my thingies. And then I’ll never have a proper whatchamacallit.’
I raise my eyebrows. Sometimes his grunting is easier to understand than his actual speech. By ‘thingies’ I assume he means his GCSEs. And so far, the government’s explanation of how grades will be awarded this year has been no clearer. First there were going to be actual exams. Then teacher assessment was deemed fairer. Now there is talk of ‘mini-exams’. So, I can well understand my teenager’s angst.
‘I’m sure you’ll be fine,’ I tell him.
‘I don’t think so, mum,’ he wails, his pale face making me anxious now. ‘And remember you’ve got my thing this afternoon. I bet, like, it’ll be awful.’
I’m confused. I wish he’d be more specific.
He continues, as if I’m the idiot. ‘You know, the what’s-it that Dad never comes to ‘cos he claims to be at work. The thingy where the teachers tell you how badly I’m doing.’
Aaah. All is finally clear. Parents’ evening. I’d totally forgotten. And this time it’s online. Great!
A few hours later, with the Nearly-Beloved conveniently ‘at work’, I go on to the school’s website. Where on earth is the log-in code? Several frantic texts later, a friend forwards me the link. I type it in and stumble into my first appointment with the Maths teacher, who looks barely older than Grunting Teen. To make up for her youth, she bamboozles me with class test results, percentages and ratios. It’s exactly like the nightly Covid news. Facts and figures fly around and statistics are brandished to prove a point. I leave the meeting none the wiser.
Then with a click of the mouse I land in the next room. At first, I assume I’m in the wrong place. Grunting Teen – a ‘natural historian’, a boy with a ‘keen curiosity’? Are we talking about my son? The one with zero interest in current affairs? The one too busy invading imaginary countries on his PS4 to even notice the storming of the Capitol building in Washington. But before I can request clarification, my five minutes are up and the system sends me on my way.
I end up in French territory where ‘le prof’ and I both agree my teen will never be a linguist. But as going abroad post-Brexit and mid-pandemic seems increasingly unlikely, it’s not a career-breaker. When she unexpectedly awards him ‘cinq’ rather than ‘nul points’, I leave our talks with what I consider to be a ‘good deal’.
But now I have a gap between appointments. In normal times, this is the fun part of the evening – the chance to catch up with other parents and realise my child is almost normal. But alone in my virtual waiting room, boredom takes over and I start to explore the website. Suddenly I’m logged out of the system and when I eventually log back in there are only ninety seconds left of my meeting with the biology teacher. Just enough time to be informed that science is not my son’s strong point. Is it anybody’s though? After all, our politicians have a rather selective grasp of the subject.
Whilst I’m pondering whether the latest vaccination figures are down to good science or good PR, Miss Biology morphs into Mr English and explains how the class have been discussing the language of the pandemic, with its focus on fear and dread. He reassures me that grunting and incoherence are natural parental-adolescent interactions and that my teenager is actually quite articulate.
This fact is also confirmed in my final session with the Psychology teacher. It’s Grunting Teen’s favourite subject and, apparently, he’s done brilliantly in his latest module.
So, I leave the Parents’ Evening pleasantly surprised with my son’s progress. From the way he was behaving I was expecting far worse. As a treat, I order a takeaway and put some money on his PS4 games card. He thanks me with a knowing smile.
‘Just out of interest,’ I ask, ‘what have you been studying in Psychology?’
He flushes, then confesses, with no hint of a grunt or a ‘thingy’, that he got top marks in ‘the art of manipulation’. Oh well, he should have a bright ‘whatchamacallit’ in politics then…