I absolutely LOVE the news that a 52-year-old Frenchwoman has been thrown out of a Baccalaureat exam for impersonating her teenage daughter. In a mean-spirited and purely speculative way, I can’t help but imagine this lady as one of those whip-thin, perfectly poised Parisiennes who spend their lives looking fabulous – and cross. The type for whom cigarettes and black coffee are essential, and food is entirely optional. No doubt she can get into her daughter’s clothes with no trouble at all, and she obviously thinks she’s way cleverer than the poor child. Honestly, what a lesson for the girl. “I look as good as you do, and I’m brighter to boot.”
But, having said that, I do understand the compulsion to do things for your children if you can see that they are struggling. Sometimes it just seems a lot easier to say, ‘oh, give that to me, I’ll do it/fix it/sort it/buy it.’ This is the reason why one of my darling children is not great at looking for things. She is used to shouting, ‘I can’t find X’. Then I’ll tell her it’s in the kitchen or wherever. Then she’ll shout, ‘it’s not there,’ then I, by this time beside myself with exasperation, will go and drag it from the kitchen and wave it with a flourish under her nose. The silly thing is that I feel a little bit triumphant that I’ve found X, which was of course exactly where I said it would be. But the one who has really scored is the child, who yet again has got me to do her bidding. But is she really winning? She has just learned not to find things, and her success in this depends on having a (somewhat) willing accomplice. As soon as she leaves this house, the number of people available and keen to locate her stuff will plummet alarmingly. I have really done her no favours.
At least I do realise this, and I know that she has to make her own mistakes in life, and sometimes fail, painful though that may be for us both. It is the difference between giving your children their own life to lead, with all the leaps of faith and finger-crossing that involves, and trying to fulfil your own wishes and ambitions through them. If this French teenager is not very academic (and surely the mother must have been convinced her daughter would fail, otherwise she would hardly take the risk), then maybe a good Bac result should not have been a priority.
The mother, I am sure, felt under huge pressure to get her daughter through, whatever it took – dinner parties in Paris can be no fun in August, when the results come out, and everyone is seeking a ‘Mention Bien’ or ‘Mention Tres Bien’ as the Holy Grail. And the idea is not new – it comes from the aptly-titled novel May Contain Nuts, by John O’Farrell. I haven’t read it yet, but maybe I will over the holidays. While I’m putting my hands over my ears.