Opinion: Matthew Munson – Quizzed on times tables and how babies are made

Life of Bryan

Do you ever feel something of a fraud? I do, usually involving topics where my son thinks he’s talking to an equal or wants my advice on something and I haven’t really got a clue.

Anything mathematical for one; times tables are high on the agenda, and I never progressed very far on them 30 years ago. He asks me to test him on his 12 times tables, and I am entirely reliant on my calculator to get it right. Perhaps it’s a sign of the times – or that, as I age, I have to prioritise the remaining space in my memory.

I had a note in my son’s bag the other day that the school were planning to discuss puberty this week and wanted to make adults aware in case it raised questions. I wasn’t worried if it did, but I heard that a couple of people were concerned; I can’t imagine why, for the life of me; it happens to all of us, whether we talk about it or not, and so I go in with the attitude that to be informed is to be prepared.

I was quite surprised when I mentioned the school’s plans to Bryan, as he didn’t bat an eyelid; I had half-forgotten that we’d discussed back in the autumn, with questions being thrown at me every day for a solid week or so about how babies are made, what a “good” relationship looks like, why our bodies change, and so on. I was measured in my responses, but I was also honest. Bryan needed to know what was going to happen to him, and also deserved to not feel embarrassed about it. I hope I found the balance, and I applaud the school for being so willing to just get on with the subject – the sooner we dispel the playground myths and just deal with it normally, some of the mystique disappears, and that can only be a good thing.

Choosing the right school is a privilege you have as a parent, and I was fortunate to have a broad range of schools to pick from; but I was looking without my son being home. At that point, he was living elsewhere in the country and I didn’t know him that well in terms of the day-to-day – I had read all the reports and spoke to people who did know him well – but the responsibility of finding a school that completed his personality was something I took very seriously.

I knew I’d made the right call when he was invited in for two taster days before he officially started; the first session was meant to be a couple of hours, including part of a PE lesson. I dutifully turned up to collect him at the appointed hour, and the PE teacher popped her head out of the hall to introduce herself (I am loathe to say how highly I rate her, because she might read this and then realise I respect her), then said that as Bryan was enjoying himself, would I mind if he stayed until the end of the lesson? Not at all, I said, and gleefully dived into my bag for my book; he was clearly happy, and his nerves had been allayed – and I got to read an entire chapter and a half.

Enduring the complexities of subjects that I’ve not had to consider for the past three decades seems a small price to pay for a good education, wouldn’t you say?