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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Gap Year 1

Christian age 18; high school grad.
Gap Year? What's a Gap Year? In my day, dare I use those fateful words, things were different.

   You matriculated, or not, and went straight on to something that could easily turn out to be your lifelong trade or profession.

   When my daughters left school in the 1990s, things were different, but not as much as in the 21st Century. Straight from school, Daughter No. 1 went off to Wollongong University to do Science, did well and got a Biology position at the University of Melbourne. Daughter No. 2 was less sure, mucked around a bit after leaving school, and for reasons I won't go into here, had an epiphany. Read about it here if you like. She set about doing a degree that would see her teaching in her chosen and challenging environment.

   But with Tracey's son, Christian, it was a new ball game.

   His personality as it developed was markedly different from that of my girls, which is hardly surprising, given that they share no DNA. He matriculated in 2010, the first year we were battling with this cancer.

   All through school he'd been something of an enigma. He had wrestled with reading, which perplexed me. I was a trained primary school teacher and felt that I should at least understand the problem. Let's not get into that but just say his reading problem was fixed. His reading skills rocketed and doors that had been locked before flew open. The book-world of information was his oyster.

   One thing I knew for certain was that he was highly intelligent, and had mastered from a very early age concepts of time, space, and logic that often matched those of a university undergraduate. He adored books, particularly science, bookmarking pages and storing considerable amounts in memory.

A fascinating book. Free download!
   But he had little tolerance for school, and it for him. Bullying was a problem, as he was the most inoffensive, non-aggressive kid you would see. Bully gangs recognise that a mile away. Worse still, he tended to believe anything the verbal bullies threw at him. Sensitive kids do, and that's why this form of harassment does them so much damage.

   He was a born researcher – but only in what interested him. He loathed any sort of homework – very frustrating for his mother and me because if he'd applied those research skills to an ancient history essay, he'd have aced it. Even more frustrating, he had excellent English language skills with creative writing. He'd write some long story of a thousand words or so, and then he'd simply erase it and move on.

   He was, and remains, highly adept at computer and online gaming, with their attendant computer skills, so it will be little surprise to you that his secure place was the computer or game console, where he was happy to eat junk food and avoid exercise. He had a growth spurt in height, as adolescents do, and put on girth weight; not grossly so – he just got pudgy. Taunts in vogue amongst adolescents in the high school playground to describe someone overweight were added to the list of insults.

   These are things kids bear alone. There's nothing really that can be done about them, especially when there's an element (or a lot) of truth in them.

   I'd better get to the point, but I just wanted to make clear these circumstances and what seemed the enormity of his crimes against his intelligence by getting indifferent school grades. The grades weren't bad, but we knew he could have done so much better.

   It wasn't his fault, of course. Personality is what it is. I used to comfort myself with the story of Einstein. "This boy will never amount to much," so the school report to the disappointed parents of one of the greatest scientists of all time was said to have gone.

   The final years at high school were the most difficult all round. I was undergoing treatment for this deadly disease, so we were coming and going to Melbourne, and at times he was living alone in this house trying to figure out how best to give the illusion that all was OK. And like many smart kids, he could do that quite well most of the time.

   He was, and remains, a 'serial enthusiast'. It's all or nothing with him, usually one or a couple at a time. He decided he wanted to learn to fly small aircraft, researched it all thoroughly, and was flying solo by the age of sixteen. And then while in his last year of school, he got interested in Parkour.
Parkour … is a training discipline that developed out of military obstacle course training. Practitioners aim to move from one place to another, negotiating the obstacles in between. The discipline uses no equipment and is non-competitive.
   Note that last term. He loathed sport that involved competition with others. He enjoyed hugely anything where he was in competition with himself. But at that time, he was an unlikely candidate for an outdoor activity of the type you see in movies where youths leap across rooftops and over walls and gates with alarming dexterity learned from Parkour and free running

   Still, he researched every scrap written about it and watched each "how to" youtube video, dissecting technique and driving us crazy discussing it. (Just put a fraction of that effort into your English assignment!) He then went out and tried those first rather awkward but technically correct shoulder rolls down a grassy bank at the creeklands. He got bruises and scratches and learned how to tolerate pain. His mother was valiantly and constantly washing grass stains out of his clothes. 

Fun-run: self-competing
   It was a price she was happy to pay. Anything that got him out of the house in the open air she was willing to put up with. He thought his shoulder rolls were pretty good and we did everything to encourage him.

   He got better at it. Now hold that thought.

   When he left school he had one overriding problem. He had no idea what he wanted to do as a career. All he knew was what he didn't want. Learning to fly only proved to him that it wasn't a career choice after all.

   There was no point in pushing him into something.

   And this is where Gap Year came in. What I feared might be a colossal waste of time turned into something hugely productive. In that period he turned his life around. The physical aspect was just the start of it.

The scientist
Mother and son featuring orthodontist's joy.

gap year 1 | gap year 2


  1. Oh Denis, how can you stop just there? He looks such a wonderful & handsome boy - surely there is something that can be done about the goons of the schoolyard? They do so much damage to the best and brightest.

    1. I think one answer in the later years of school lies embedded in what happens next. I don't believe much can be done about bullying except by the effort of the one being bullied, and they have to be given a technique or find it for themselves.

      Watch this space, sort of.

  2. GET ON WITH IT DENIS!!! :-) You have got to the bit I don't know...... well, sort of! (A wonderful and moving account so far.)

    1. Thanks, Tracey's mother. You have known this kid for quite a while. :) Sadly, in between writing a quick response to Zoƫ and now, I managed to fit one seizure in. Therein lies one of the immediate writing problems. Now I better rest a while....

  3. Aggh!!! You are driving your lurkers insane with this "to be continued", it's forcing us to actually communicate to express our desire for part 2 - rest well and return quickly please :)

    Jeni from Northern Rivers Dreaming

    1. Your FaceBook page is fascinating, Jeni. Hope you enjoyed Pt 2.

  4. I've known that handsome young man now for several years and always knew he was an Einstein. What I didn't know was that he was also an Action Man. Very soon, some young woman will whisk him away.


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