Hug a GSAT Achiever Today

There’s a lot of pressure on our ten, eleven and twelve year olds at this time of the year. The Grade Six Achievement Test was supposed to relieve the enormous psychological burden that was the Common Entrance but it only added more subjects to the curriculum, keeping the strict “90s or nothing” mindset.

Backbreaking bookbags, sleep-deprived homework schedules and thousands of dollars (hundreds of hours) worth of extra classes are the reality of every child in Grade Six. Like coal, our twelve year olds are compressed into diamonds (the ones that make it, anyway) by unrelenting pressure from parents, teachers and peers. These children put in a lot of effort, but (like most people in our society) they are rushing into a bottleneck situation of too many students and nowhere to put them.

GSAT results are set to be released in schools today (according to the Observer). But with the 70% placement in “schools of choice” there is going to be 30% disappointment. Tears. Depression. Attempted suicide. (Too often we push our children too far).

So hug someone who did GSAT. They need to know that, good or bad, their grades do not define them. Their high school, traditional or not, does not define them.  Tell them this isn’t the end of the road. Tell them the only thing that matters is doing their best and that you will love them no matter what.

You can wait til they’re older to tell them it only gets harder after here. 10414498_743779015679246_9100852974564465432_n


You can also read this sweetly nostalgic article about our rural primary schools and what they have to offer written by Head of Surgery at UHWI Prof Duncan. I’m completely surprised and delighted at this side of him.

So You Want to Be a Doctor?

When I was a child, I wanted to be a paediatrician. Then I wanted to be a journalist. Then I realized that journalists didn’t really make any money and the job had less reading that I liked, so I decided to go ahead with the previously shelved paediatrician dream. Little did I know.

While I was in St. Mary, our team of medical students was invited to give talks at two primary school career days – one in rural Marlborough (Marlborough Primary) and the other in the slightly more urban Highgate (St. Cyprian Prep). At Marlborough, most children wanted to be policemen and soldiers with a few nurses and teachers scattered throughout. There were about three kids who wanted to be doctors.

(Compared to St. Cyprian where almost half the school wanted to be doctors. I kid you not. When we arrived, a crowd of them descended on us like ants on milk. But the socioeconomic merits of that dichotomy are a story for another day.)

When it was my turn to talk, I told them that medical school was hard and they should start studying from now. I told them that medicine was exciting and you had so many different kinds of doctors that they would never be bored. I told them it was the coolest job ever.

I was lying through my teeth. I had skimmed off all the ugly parts to give them the foam off the top of a (insert favourite foamy drink here). Because leaving all the ugly bits in would probably have terrified the poor things.

Because what I really wanted to tell them was that they were SOL, that being a doctor was nothing like they thought it was, that medicine like every other profession (except politics) was seeing its own time of sic transit gloria. I wanted to tell them that the University is unfair and completely impractical in its decisions; that the annual tuition is probably more than their parents make in a year; that good grades were few and far between, yet horrible people just seem to multiply like fruit flies.

I wanted to tell them that medical school would suck the joie de vivre right out of them, what with dying patients, miserable working conditions and the ever depleting stack of resources; that they would be left cynical and bitter with a mountain of bills behind them and a few decades worth of working their butts off for minimal pay up ahead. I probably should have told them that the government appreciates its doctors less with every election, and that no one cares about whether you’re okay in your job as long as you keep on doing it; that I have met more miserable doctors than happy ones in my brief time among the white-coated.

But then I would also have to tell them that there is a special kind of thrill in being able to help someone who is ill; that even though most people are ungrateful it makes the thank-you’s all the more touching; and the first time you assist a successful resuscitation it feels like all your years of struggle have led up to this moment. (Of course it all goes downhill after that).

I would have to tell them that the mantle of Medical Doctor settles rather heavily around the shoulders – great power, great responsibility and all that – but that the pressure tends to produce a certain strength of character, a certain kind of fortitude. If you’ve got what it takes, that is. Not every molecule of carbon gets to be a diamond.

Maybe I should have scared them.

the issue of sexuality

It seems like the universe has conspired to have me write this entry. On the same morning I stumbled across Raising My Rainbow, a blog about a gender non-conforming 5 year old, I had an enthusiastic seminar on sexuality and HIV.

Raising My Rainbow really struck a chord in my mind because it was the first time I was ever confronted with the reality of such a young child being allowed to opt out of his predetermined gender roles. If you haven’t before, take a moment to consider what this means and check out the blog in the meantime. This five year old boy gets pedicures done with Mummy, dresses up as girls for Halloween and generally spends a lot more time in skirts than most other boys his age.

I am hard pressed to put my finger on what exactly weirds me out about the situation, but I definitely had a moment of “WTF?”. Generally speaking, I encourage people not to let themselves be tied down by the constraints of society and not to let themselves be pigeon-holed into a role they’re uncomfortable with. But I’ve only ever given a thought to adults in this situation. Because grown-ups are assumed to know what they want. But a child?

So I guess my real issue is his age: is a child that young capable of making these kinds of decisions? And should we trust the decisions they make? The family is the earliest institution of socialization we’re exposed to, and that gives parents the enormous responsibility of turning out functional members of society. In effect, parents are expected to guide the child on the path to becoming an appropriate adult.

But how can I fault this boy’s parents for letting him express himself, especially when the alternative would be to force him into society’s idea of the ‘real man’? Too often in Jamaican society, we toughen up our boys too much, robbing them of much-needed emotional expression. The concepts are diametrically opposed. Is one approach the right one, or does the issue fall into the shady grey zone of human experience?

I will not deny that hearing about this little boy’s first pedicure didn’t sit comfortably with me, but that reaction is largely a product of my environment. I believe in advocating the right of a person to be whatever gender he/she wants to be without judgement. That should include little girls and boys too.

Shouldn’t it?


How would you react if your 3 year old son decided he wanted to dress up as Snow White for Halloween? 

{28} I know I’m getting Older when…

..when I start actually thinking about getting older.

Just last Saturday when I was on break at dance class, I happened across the group of younger dancers hiding out in a spare room. They were occupied with play-doh and their own innocent world of magic, and when I entered everybody stopped talking. It was like a grown-up had walked in. When I asked them if I could see what they were up to, I got a resounding NO.

I remember the days when kids that age would have loved me. Would have loved playing with me and making up silly stories, and making me plaster on play-doh fingernails, too. Not so any more. It’s like I’ve crossed an invisible line into grown-up land. Like I’ve lost that aura of youth which is so obvious to little children. I am not one of ‘us’ anymore, I’m one of ‘them’.

But strangely, growing up isn’t as dramatically devastating as I expected it to be. Without fanfare, without recognition, I’ve passed quietly from the world of playmate into the realm of caretaker. Not a friend, but a mentor.

It’s a sobering thought, that I can’t stop this getting older business, that it’s happening even if I don’t want it to. But, even stranger, I’m not sure I want it to stop.