I heard from Myslexia yesterday.
I entered their short story competition months ago and tried to forget all about it, but somewhere in the back of my mind I couldn't let go of the knowledge that the winners would be notified by post mid-May. And it was this same knowledge that leapt to the forefront of my mind in one almighty bound when an envelope from Myslexia arrived yesterday. In mid-May! Hurrah!
I opened the envelope with trembling fingers...my heart was in my mouth...I was hot and cold all over...yes, I was a giant mass of cliches...
It was a form letter suggesting I might like to take out a subscription to Myslexia. I had to stare at it for some minutes before I realised this - and even then I sifted through the accompanying adverts and pre-paid envelopes, in the hope of finding my cheque for two thousand pounds.
The disappointment was far worse than it would've been had I not received this piece of advertising.
Isn't the timing alone pretty bad PR? This letter could've been sent to me months ago. Or in another month from now. Or any time other than mid-May!
Along with the six lucky winners - who read their letters and whooped, there must've been thousands of unlucky entrants who (like me) thought that they'd won...before it was snatched away again. Surely this is the one exact moment at which they (and I) are all least likely to buy a subscription to Myslexia.
What? You're asking us to donate more money to the magazine that has just played this cruel trick upon us? You want us to buy the same magazine that does not consider our stories good enough to win actual prizes? Why? Why on earth would we want that? Were our thousands of ten pound entry fees not enough for you?
I didn't really have time to dwell on it, as I'd opened the post on my way out the door. We were all heading off to a nearby church hall where my nine year old was due to take part in a prose reading competition for the Cheltenham Festival of Performing Arts.
This is a boy for whom the term 'selective mute' was used in pre-school.
This is a boy who stood alone in the playground - too shy to make friends with anyone - during his reception year. I'd pass by the railings and see him standing there while a hundred others played around him. One day I got upset and told him how sad it made me. The next time I passed by the playground, he was no longer standing still. He was walking around in a small circle with his eyes on the ground and his hands behind his back - like Prince Charles inspecting some sort of production plant. For some reason, this attempt to blend in did not make me any happier.
Underneath his invisibility cloak of shyness, he was actually very bright and funny, kind-hearted - occasionally charming - an excellent mimic, a talented artist with an infectious delight in the ridiculous (I could go on, but I'm biased.) And nobody else ever got to see any of this.
He did eventually make friends, although he continued to be known as the shyest boy in the year - and there were always problems due to his reluctance to tell the teacher when he didn't understand the lesson, or when he needed the toilet - yikes!
At the start of his third year, his official teacher went on maternity leave and was replaced by a supply teacher (Hello, Miss Ford!) who managed to write off almost an entire academic year of his education. On Parents Evening, I asked her why his grades had all dropped so dramatically and she seemed to panic. She said she was unable to teach him because of his shyness - she even suggested he needed Special Needs teaching or perhaps psychotherapy. And she told us this IN FRONT OF HIM!
So we were all pretty upset.
The headmaster came as close as he ever does to apologising for his fuckwitted member of staff, and my son was assessed by two SEN teachers who said that they couldn't help him, because he didn't have any Special Needs. He was just shy - which is not a Special Needs problem.
In the end, it was not the headmaster or the SEN teachers who suggested that drama might help, but the school secretary. She took me aside and told me her own son (now grown up) had suffered from dyslexia, which had made him painfully introverted and drama had really helped him. She even gave me the number of his drama teacher, Jodie Underhill.
Jodie has been coaching my son for just over a year now. Yesterday - although he was shaking with nerves - he went up to the front of a crowded church hall and read an extract from 'Horrid Henry and the TV Remote'. As the adjudicator noted afterwards in his remarks, he read firmly and clearly and with great expressiveness. He made regular eye contact with the audience and was wonderfully comic during the amusing bits.
His face was glowing red as he made his way back down to us - and he couldn't stop grinning for ages. Neither could I. My hands are still sore I clapped so hard!
He didn't win, but he came fourth out of twenty-two children - and I think it probably cost him a lot more to go up there than it cost many of them. He has a certificate that reads 'With Honours'.
But after the highs, come the lows...
Today, he was entered into an acting class at the Town Hall. It was a grand marble-pillared room - and a higher age category than yesterday's class. My son was clearly the littlest boy there. His eyes got huge and he sank down in his seat as if he was hoping to disappear. Uh-oh.
The standard of acting was staggeringly high. These were obviously children who were aspiring actors rather than children hoping to overcome their shyness.
The first entrant withdrew and the second went on stage with tears pouring down his face. Despite this, he was brilliant. I think I would've given him the cup there and then.
Next a girl (who was as tall as an adult) acted a long and provocative scene from 'The Bad Seed' which ended with her confessing to the murder of a classmate - and all with an unfaltering American accent. I saw my son's eyes go to the cardboard box we'd transformed into 'Horrid Henry's Time Machine' and brought along as a prop - with extreme doubtfulness. Oh dear.
Another girl went up on stage and began to act out something long and complicated. Halfway through, she forgot her lines and dissolved into tears. Her parents did not go up and rescue her. She continued to cry in front of us all - and pleaded with the adjudicator to let her get down. It was horrendous.
The tension - or possibly terror - seemed to expand and fill the room. There was another withdrawal and then it was my son's turn. He did not want to go on.
And we didn't make him.
Neither husband nor myself could've asked him to do something which we would've been too afraid to do ourselves. I was worried that my dad, sister and nephew, who'd all come along to watch him, would tell me I ought to've made him go on stage. But as soon as I went up to them, they all exclaimed "Thank God you didn't make him go up and do that - we were all terrified for him!"
Not only am I not cut out to be a pushy stage-school mum - I'm from a family of non-pushies!
Instead of waiting to hear the results, Jodie led us all off to an unused conference room, where my son performed his 'Horrid Henry' monologue to all the friends and family members who'd turned up to see him. He was given tumultuous applause and ended the morning on a high (having played the Town Hall after all!)
Then we went to the Cafe Rouge for those traditional French dishes - fries and ice cream sundaes!
So it's been an exhausting weekend full of emotional ups and downs. This afternoon, when my son's lack of sleep started to kick in, he was a bit sad and insisted he'd let us all down. He said he felt like a loser. I disagreed and told him (for the hundredth time) how proud he'd made us all. But in my head, I thought of my form letter from Myslexia - which told me (in between the text) that they hadn't liked my story. And I thought of the interview my husband had on Friday - he said he thought he'd fucked it up...then he'd gone out for a long run.
I couldn't help wishing life didn't require us to keep on trying so damn hard all the time. In the words of Homer Simpson: "Trying is the first step towards failure."
Or, if you prefer: "Weasling out of things is important to learn. It's what separates us from the animals. Except the weasels."
It is now 7pm and I just heard my husband shouting, "Time to come and get in the bath, boys!"
Naturally they shouted back a long list of objections, including all the much-more-important things they were right in the middle of doing (rolling around on the carpet - to the untrained eye.)
Then he shouted, "Well, it's nearly time for The Voice. Don't blame me if you miss the start."
The Voice? The sodding Voice?
I was dismayed.
What has happened to my boys' childhood? What has happened to "Hurry up and get in the bath so we can all tuck up and read stories?" What has happened to hot buttered toast, warm milk, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the Faraway Tree stories?
Apparently the Voice has happened. Urgh!
(The other day my dad bought the boys some 3D paper to draw on. Although my five year old followed the traditionally approved children's theme of merpeople, my oldest went with 'Famos People' including everyone from The Voice - along with Katy Perry and Mark Ronson.)