I have no regrets in life. Well, maybe the odd pair of bargain shoes that never really fitted or one too many drinks at a dull dinner party. But overall, given another chance, I would do the same all over again.
But there is one bit of my life that didn’t quite match up to expectations, one that, with the benefit of hindsight, was not all it might have been. I wasn’t aware of this at the time but twenty five years on it stands out as the least satisfactory period so far. This was my decision to read law and the subsequent three years that I spent at Manchester University.
It’s not that I made the wrong decision. I didn’t. I wanted to be a solicitor. I wanted to get there as quickly as I could and I did what was necessary. Had it not been for my legal aspirations, I might have studied English and perhaps gone slightly further from home to do it. Who knows? I was happy enough in Manchester. I never thought about dropping out or changing course. But I always had the slightly unsettling feeling that that exciting student thing was happening to everyone else and not me. I wasn’t great at Law. It was dull and dry. I only made a couple of friends on my course. My peers were dull and dry too. I had almost nothing in common with the girls that I lived with either, nice though they were. I wasn’t interested in drinking or partying having done plenty of both before I got there. All in all, I was a rubbish under graduate.
And now I have four children who may all wish to go to University. It’s such an enormous decision for them to make at such a tender age. At 17, they will be choosing what to study and where, decisions that will impact on the rest of their lives. And yet, like me, they will make those decisions based on almost no personal experience.
So, what is my role as a parent? My eldest, at the end of year 8, is already coming under gentle pressure from various teachers at school who want her on their books. I can steer and guide based on my own limited life experience. Keep your options open has to be the best advice at this and indeed any stage of life. But should I discourage her from courses of action that I believe to be unrealistic or inappropriate? My parents never did but perhaps it would have been different if I had chosen Sociology rather than Law.
I know it’s early to be thinking about these things but I’m trying to keep one step ahead of the game so that nothing catches me off guard. I can’t do that part of my life again. I wouldn’t want to. It was fine, just not quite what people expect of university life. But I can try to encourage my children to make the most of every moment rather than treading water waiting for the next stage to begin, to be brave and yet practical in their decision making and above all enjoy what they choose to do so they never look back wistfully and say “I wonder…”