Matthew Munson: Looking at life beyond GCSEs

Bryan and Matthew

We’ve had something of a tiring week at Casa de Munson; do you ever have those weeks that are just plain exhausting, and you can’t necessarily put your finger on what you’ve done differently or extra to be so knackered?

Well, we’re knackered, and so we’re being kind to us this weekend; we’re hoping to spend a bit of time with friends, and then doing some gentle pottering at home. Not every weekend has to be full of manic energy and wall-to-wall organised activities; slow and calm is the order of this weekend, to help us recharge our batteries.

I sometimes wonder what traditions and routines Bryan will remember when he’s an adult with a family of his own. When I was a child, I spent a significant part of the summer holidays with my nan and granddad, as my parents – like many others – had to work. I remember the feel of my nan and granddad’s carpet in the front room, the smell of my nan’s suet pudding coming from the slow cooker, and how my nan would hold my hand as we crossed the road to the shops (even when I was 13 or 14, and I never once objected).

Bryan asked me this week about life beyond GCSEs, and I gulped; as he is in Year 7, I’d not considered the possibility that we would be having that conversation quite yet. Silly me. We had a good chat about it, and I made it clear that he has different options (as well as my utter support). When I was 16 and preparing for my GCSEs, I knew that I wanted to go onto further education and study A-Levels. The school I went to (Holy Cross in Broadstairs, now knocked down) didn’t have a Sixth Form at the time, so I moved to another school where I struggled socially but loved the academic side – the subjects I studied helped me open my mind, think critically, and be interested in the world around me. I’m very grateful for that.

I was determined to go to university after that; looking back, I’m not entirely sure why, as I didn’t have a specific goal in mind at the end of the three years. It’s not compulsory to have such a focus, I accept that, but I picked a course that – on reflection – was totally not a good fit. I ended up leaving after a very short period of time because I realised that I’d made a mistake, and I always try to own my mistakes when I make them (I still make mistakes at 41!). I told Bryan about this, and his eyes widened; “Didn’t you get into trouble?” he asked. No, I replied; I’d made a mistake about my career path and did something to correct it. It was a bit scary, making such a big change, but I found myself a job I enjoyed, met some lovely people, and learnt a lot.

That’s one thing I really want to share with my son; that education comes in many forms. From the first job I ever had right through to today, I’ve always learnt – from jobs, from friends, from social occasions, and from mistakes I’ve made. I love being in a situation where I can try something new and push my comfort zone from time to time; I want to set a good example to my son as much as expand my own knowledge.

If you had asked me at 11 what I would be at 41, I don’t honestly know what I would have said; the internet wasn’t a thing people used back then, and the world has changed so very much in the intervening thirty years. I doubt I would have imagined myself being a father, a writer, and so many other things; but the fact I am all of these different things makes me happy, and if my son can continue to be happy as an adult, then I’ll be happy too.