Mapping his own path

Two different events, two long paths for our eldest son. One with a known destination; the other far from certain.

On Sunday I accompanied Isaac on a training walk with the Scouts. After the appalling weather we have endured over the past couple of weeks, it was a relief to set out under blue(ish) skies. We did have three random but brief hailstorms – sunshine and hail, could it be any more British? – but otherwise it was a lovely day for a walk.

He did brilliantly. A 15km ramble was a pleasant way to spend a Sunday. We had plenty of time both to chat and work on his map-reading skills. And he coped with the long walk well. He’ll have his Hiking badge in no time.

An offer he can’t refuse

Better still was to follow. Last September, Isaac sat the entrance exam for Reading School, a well-regarded boys’ grammar school. Every year they receive ten times as many applications as they have places; it’s highly competitive and selective. I know several people who paid for as much a year’s worth of tutoring to prepare their sons for the exam.

In truth, we weren’t originally going to put him through this process.Β In the end, we only decided to submit his application at the very last minute. Which meant Isaac had just a couple of months of doing practice papers as preparation.

He’s a smart kid, though. He easily beat the pass mark, so we knew he was in with a strong chance of receiving an offer. But when March 1st rolled around, the first email we received – on the stroke of midnight – told us he hadn’t been offered a place but would be put on the waiting list.

When we broke the news to him in the morning, he hid it well but I knew he was disappointed. He’s a lot like me in that respect. He puts on a practised air of indifference to protect himself from the pain of disappointment. Behind the mask though, the competitive fire burns brightly.

Nonetheless, he was really in a no-lose situation. Our local catchment school has a fantastic reputation: strong academically, lots of different activities. Plus it’s where most of his local friends will be going.

Anyhow, I had just arrived in the office later that morning when Heather forwarded another email to me. This one confirmed his position on the waiting list – number one out of 89! Essentially, this meant an offer would be a formality.

It’s possible I may have punched the air at this point. From dejection to elation in a matter of hours. The best of all worlds – it meant Isaac would be able to choose between two great schools.

And so, earlier this week, we received official confirmation that he has been offered a place. He was over the moon.

We’ve always been keen for him to give Reading a try but we’ve also been careful not to influence him too much. And we’ve been clear it is ultimately his choice. It’s a decision which will map out his path for the next seven years of his life, so of course he should have a big say in it.

As it was, his choice was immediate. He will be going to Reading next year. (I told you he wanted it, really.) It means a tiring commute and it will stretch him academically but he’s up for the challenge.

I’m so proud of him. Not just because he did so well in the exam. But the way he has handled such a major life decision with care, level-headedness and maturity has been really impressive.

I think he’s going to love it. And, if he doesn’t, he can always revert back to our local school and never have to wonder “what if?” Being who he is, I know he will give it 100%. We don’t yet know where this path will lead and the journey is, figuratively, a lot further than a 15km Sunday stroll. But I look forward to accompanying him along the way and negotiating any hailstorms that come along.

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