Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Weekend

Kerry McLean: How a short break away from home was always going to be a testing time for me ... and my daughter

I've had that rarest of rare things this week - a couple of nights away with my husband, without our children.

When my husband first suggested a little trip to Liverpool, I'll confess, I was excited at the thought of a few hours of shopping and relaxing without having to think about dirty school uniforms, lost swimming goggles or trying to coax the youngest to eat anything other than sausages and breakfast cereal, her only two food groups at the moment.

I was even more excited at the thought of a couple of nights of uninterrupted sleep and the hope of reducing the size of my under-eye bags from a six-piece matching luggage set to small clutch. Even the knowledge that my other half had no doubt suggested Liverpool because, as a massive LFC fan, he wanted to sneakily add in a visit to Anfield didn't put me off.

But as always happens with a planned escape from my babies, by departure time I was racked with Mummy Guilt about leaving them behind, a feeling only compounded by the fact that it's exam week at my daughter's school.

My eldest is in Year 9 and this is the first time when the exams have felt like a serious undertaking. I'll hold my hands up straight away and say that I had completely forgotten about them when I agreed to go. It just didn't occur to me to make the connection between the end of May and the start of tests and my only defence is that, having been far from a shining student myself, exam time and the pressures that go along with it are clearly something I've erased from my memory.

To be fair, most of the stress I felt was caused by myself. I was one of those teenagers who created gloriously designed study planners to put on the wall a month or so before tests began. They would always be a thing of beauty - equal-sized squares, shaded with various pastel hues depending on subject and accompanied by stickers I had bought to encourage me along the way.

The stickers had life-affirming messages like 'Go for it!', 'You can do it!', 'You've got this!' or 'You're one smart cookie', complete with a drawing of a half-eaten biscuit. I remember gazing at that sticker as a youngster, when I was meant to be concentrating on my books, and thinking, you're not that smart because someone's eaten half of you.

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I spent a lot of time gazing at my creation, far more than I actually spent studying. And when we would be gifted days away from school as study days, I would spend them lying out in our back garden on a blanket, books arranged around me in case my mother came to check on my progress, and doze in the sunshine. It was always sunny when exam time came around. I've always said, move the exams to the middle of November and you might just see the scores rocket up. Though, as a natural born procrastinator, I'm sure I'd have found something else to distract me…

I'm delighted to say that my daughter could not be more different from me. I did worry when I went into her bedroom and found her study chart on the wall but - and here's the strange thing - she actually uses it. If anything, she's gone too far the other way.

For the last few weeks her bedroom has looked like the kind of space you'd see decorated by an obsessive stalker on CSI. She has her walls plastered in a rainbow of coloured Post-it notes, each one containing a scribbled nugget of information. A4 pages are pinned up, covered in spidergrams and mind maps, all fighting for visual dominance, with a multitude of memorable facts all linked together with the help of coloured pens and paper clips. She was organised and prepared which is probably why she felt a lot better about me being away this week than I did.

Here's hoping it translates into good grades for her when the reports come out in a few weeks. And if her report "accidentally" gets lost on her way home from school, I'll know she's more like her old mum than I previously thought…

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