Child One has been blowing up a storm on her bassoon of late, bless her, and so we have arrived at a crunch point. Due to the arcane processes of the Examining Board, she has to pass the Grade 5 music theory exam before she can tootle onwards towards the heady heights of Grade 6 bassoonery.
Simple enough, you may feel. But nothing, I sometimes think, is straightforward in Dulwich.
In Brussels, when Child One first picked up her bassoon an age ago – it seems like 400 years ago but is probably only six or seven years – just HALF HER LIFE, she was virtually the only one playing. Here, back in the UK and nestled in the leafy confines of dearest darling Dulwich, virtually every second child is a bassoon artiste. All the mummies in the know send their little dears to Stephanie, who is simply the only teacher. Some say she is irascible, some say idiosyncratic, some just stop searching their thesaruses for big words beginning with ‘i’ and say she is simply bonkers, but she gets results. Bassoon ducklings are transformed into the whitest of swans overnight, and grateful mummies are saved hundreds as their offspring are yanked off the treadmill of endless lessons getting nowhere, and start soaring up the grades. Not to mention that the mummies can finally take those surreptitious earplugs out during the daily torture session which constitutes practice, as the sound made gets increasingly harmonious. Joy! Naturally, Child One is a Stephanie girl.
All well and good, you may say, and so it was – until last Thursday. We arrived for our lesson, only for Stephanie to pounce straight away, and say, ‘are you going to be giving Child One £40 if she passes her theory exam?’ WTF? I looked at Child One, Child One looked at me hopefully, and I said firmly, ‘certainly not.’ Child One looked a little downcast, but not, by any means, surprised. Other children get iPods for passing tests, or Uggs for getting into schools. My children get a hug and, if they’re really, really lucky, their favourite meal cooked.
My parents didn’t do rewards for exams and, though there is much that I would criticise about the way they brought us up, this always seemed reasonable. Yes, I was often miffed to hear that so-and-so was getting a Walkman (or whatever it was back in the Dark Ages of my youth) for getting their A levels. But I did always wonder what those other parents would do if the child didn’t perform as well as expected. Would they take away the equivalent pocket money? Would the child never get a Walkman? Were the children working just to get objects, and what did this really mean about their motivation? Would they end up taking jobs they hated, just to make money for the grown-up equivalent of a Walkman? My parents would say that I was doing exams for me, and not for them, and that does seem fair enough.
This was not, alas, Stephanie’s last word. ‘Well, you should give her £40! All the other mummies are doing it and you’ll only have to pay another £30 for Child One to retake if you don’t give her this £40.’
By this time my hackles had risen so high they were poking me in the face. All the other mummies? Some of them are my bestest friends, patterns of good mummying and all-round fab people, and I was astonished to hear that they were bribing their daughters – in most cases girls who could pass Music Theory with their eyes shut while dancing the tarantella. ‘Ha! You’ll have to do it now!’ cackled Stephanie, her frightful ginger hair glowing malevolently. ‘It’s the modern way!’
‘It may be the modern way, but it’s not the way in our house,’ I said, with as much dignity as I could muster. Naturally, the moment the lesson ended, I was on the phone to my band of mummies. ‘Stephanie says you’re giving your girls £40 to pass!’ I shrieked. ‘No, no, no,’ explained one. ‘ My daughter was saying she was going to fail, I was saying I bet you’re not, and she said, how much? I ended up saying £40 – it was just a bet.’
So there we are. Not a bribe at all. And poor Child One wouldn’t be getting one even if they were. The more I think about it, the more annoyed I am that, according to Stephanie, I am supposed to be paying her to do her hobby. For goodness’ sake, I already pay Stephanie’s stratospheric fees, all the exam fees, buy the books and the blimmin bassoon itself was not free with a packet of cornflakes. If I pay her now, will she expect me to pay her to read, to draw, to watch rubbish on telly …Grrrrrrr ….
I talked about it with Child One. Well, I thought I was talking, until she said, ‘stop shouting, Mummy, it’s not MY fault.’ Did she actually want me to bribe her, I asked? ‘No, mummy, I don’t want £40 anyway. I’ve got £120 upstairs on my desk and I never get round to spending it, I’ve got Amazon, Topshop and WHSmith vouchers ….’ I made a mental note of the £120 in cash (handy for the window cleaner) and thought – what a fab daughter. I decided, there and then, to get her a nice outfit if – oops, I should say when – she passes, as she always needs clothes and I can get something for Child Two as well. But it’s still a bit irritating to have the whole thing dictated by blimmin blimmin Stephanie.
How about you? Do you do incentives? Am I out of step with the modern world? I have a horrible feeling that I may be ….