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Illustration by James Ferguson of Mrs M erasing the words 'school fees' on a blackboard

Back to school next week and, for the first time since about 1996, only one set of school fees to pay. This is a weird feeling; a mixture of elation and reflection.

Elation because the fiscal effects are like having a pay rise. Being the boss of my company, no one but me gives me a pay rise, and I have not done so since I bought the business in 2004. Indeed, at various times I have given myself a pay cut, and currently pay myself less than at any time during my proprietorship, so the joy of having one less lot of school fees to pay is very keenly felt.

Cost Centre #2 tells me that leaving school hasn’t really sunk in yet. I am not surprised. Given that he started at nursery (in Singapore) in 1997 it has been 16 years of school, school, school. He got his A-level results while we were in Edinburgh. The BBC website published a helpful article that day entitled “Ten Mistakes Parents Make When Reacting to Results”, which I read with interest. So I didn’t try any lines like “well done for the A*s in maths and further maths, but why did you only get As in physics and chemistry?”, which I might otherwise have done.

CC#2 has a place at his first choice, Imperial College in London, to study mechanical engineering. I confess to being a little concerned about this; Imperial is of course one of the best places in the world to study engineering, and I am very proud of him for getting a place, but is university in London really a university experience? Surely it is just living in a very expensive city for a few years? I would call that self-flagellation rather than education. And also, because Imperial is a specialist campus, he won’t be mixing with people studying, say, history or French. Will that impair his university experience?

I don’t know why I am even worrying about such things. I should be much more worried about whether his Criminal Records Bureau clearance will come back in time for the gap year job he starts on Monday, with an aerospace and defence company, or whether he will remember to go to the orthodontic appointment I have made for him, or indeed if he will ever get round to changing his sheets.

In Scotland this month, I confess that I only changed his sheets once. With eight of us in the house (all three Moneypenny offspring were allowed friends to stay for the duration of the Fringe) I am afraid that I was barely able to keep up with ordering the groceries, let alone changing beds. Left to their own devices, how often would teenagers change their bedding? Indeed, would they ever get out of them for long enough to change the sheets at all? Their capacity for sleeping in never fails to astonish me. I think there must be some kind of biological clock that switches on when children are about 13 that stops them waking up before noon.

Before you think all I do is complain about the CCs, I loved sharing a house in Edinburgh with them, despite their lack of washing up or sheet changing. The Fringe is one of the best trips in the world to make with teenagers and indeed any mixed-age families. There are masses to do, lots of it are free, and no one is ever bored. And we spent a whole month together as a family, something that these days we rarely do.

This brings me to the reflective part of having only one set of school fees, and therefore only one child still of school age. I miss them being little, and have many happy memories of when they were. Those years have gone now, and can never be got back. Mr M and I look at each other in astonishment that suddenly we have two adult children who are no longer at school, and think longingly of the years gone by. Did we spend enough time with them? I am well known for saying that I don’t do guilt, or regret, because I believe they are wasted emotions. But reflection? That I do. And I am doing it now.



Letters in response to this article:

Teenage sleep patterns: a rude awakening for parents / From Mr R Vijayaraghavan

Cost Centres will be welcome at sleep conference / From Dr Sara Montagnese

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