Don’t you know that I have my GCSEs on Monday, mum?

2D junk food landscape is complete. Almost. With the clock ticking and GCSEs due to start next Monday daughter one has taken her art coursework to the wire. It’s been tense. Other members of the family have been painting 2D junk food landscapes in sympathy. Her laptop battery charger failed just as she was trying to pull up a picture of Fruit Loops for fruit loop lake. A tense exchange followed. “Don’t you know that I have my GCSEs on Monday?” We have been living the countdown to GCSEs since Year Seven. At least it feels like it. Baked bean river took eons. Each bean was perfectly crafted. Daughter one is nothing if not a perfectionist. The modern world demands a lot of young people, but it is difficult to be a perfectionist and meet deadlines. Sometimes you just have to hand stuff in. “It’s finished!” I said as she did the final Fruit Loop. “I still have to tweak it a bit,” said daughter one. Noooo. It’s GCSE art, not an exhibition at the Royal Academy.

It’s been a long final lap. Halfway through baked beans river she announced that she had failed to paint a Battenburg cake which was another part of her coursework and had to break off to do it. There is still a fish and chip hat to complete, but I am assured that this is just some sort of technical exercise. I have taken a photo of 2D junk food landscape as I am slightly anxious that only son will accidentally tip something on it before she takes it in. Imagine if she had to start all over again.
“Did you have a good day?” I greeted her the other day. “I have my GCSEs,” came the sober reply. “Everyone is freaking out.” I don’t recall this level of tension in the old days. My partner was in the chemist the other day and a mum came in seeking something for her daughter who was not sleeping or eating due to GCSE nerves. When we went to the GP last year about daughter one’s migraines the doctor said this kind of thing is rife. He counselled meditation. The school counselling services were jammed with GCSE year students too. Is this a sane way to conduct an education system?

Meanwhile, daughter three, who is facing SATs, has told me that her teacher thinks it would be a great idea if everyone came in early next week so they can relax before the tests start. I’m thinking that being with lots of other children who are slightly on edge about tests may not be the best way to relax unless they are doing a yoga session. Daughter three, of course, wants to be with her mates. The thing is going in at 7.45 means I will have to take only son and either drop him early [meaning he has a very long week] or bring him back and return to school an hour later. Daughter one has also told me that when her GCSEs start she is on study leave, which means she can come home as soon as an exam finishes. That’s either me picking her up or a very long train, tube and bus journey since there is no direct route via public transport. Only son came home with a letter the other day saying he is taking part in a dance club in two weeks which requires parents to take him to the venue at 10am and pick him up at 2pm. All very well if you have one school-aged child or know all the phone numbers of people in the dance club. But the same day, daughter one has a GCSE in the morning and daughter three needs dropping and picking up from school. I could spend all day driving round Essex.

Yet when, for instance, you suggest to schools that this is a bit difficult if you work, you feel like some sort of evil parent who simply doesn’t want to encourage their child. Meanwhile, only son is honing his dance skills and looking very excited about the dance club. I could feel guilty, but instead I feel annoyed. Guilt is pointless and, until science comes to the rescue and I can create a robot version of myself or send a driverless car out to do pick-ups, it’s not my fault I can’t be in two places at once. It takes a village to raise a child, so they say. Yet we are all so compartmentalised in our own busy lives that it’s hard to build a hamlet, let alone a village.

*Mum on the run is Mandy Garner, editor of

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