I spent an hour recently in a gentlemen’s outfitter’s at Bluewater with the Boywonder, choosing his first suit. It’s a sobering moment as he stands on the very window-ledge of boyhood, scanning the next few years that will, with hard work and a little luck, determine exactly what sort of productive human being he will become in his adult life.
Having now finished his GCSEs, he starts a week of work experience next Monday. Work Experience is a new rite of passage, I think, and gives teenagers a taste of the real world, some for the first time. Our Boywonder will then be away for most of the summer whilst he awaits his results: on his first weekend away with friends; then on tour in Europe with his windband, finally shipped off to Provence with his French exchange penfriend. This is all fairly normal hereabouts. I could not have imagined such a life when I was his age.
What sort of suit should we look at? Made of which fabric? How much to spend? It’s all head-rotatingly intimidating. The helpful, sales-orientated shop assistant asks me what cut we’d like. I have absolutely no idea, never having bought a man’s suit before. The Boywonder’s Dad has just moved on to custom-fit suits, most recently one made by a very local tailor in an old-fashioned shop down the road that reeks of wool and cigarette smoke. I wonder if that will be in his son’s future. I wonder if he will manage to navigate a clear, steady path through all the bleak predictions and grow up to be a productive, fulfilled person who does some good in the world. I hope so, but times look increasingly uncertain for teenagers these days.
The suit buying is in preparation for the Boywonder’s entry to the Sixth Form. The newish Headmaster has tightened up the Sixth Formers’ dress code in the last couple of years. They must wear daily what they would wear to an interview. Essentially, for boys, this means a suit. I can’t help feeling rather sad about this. The Sixth Form used to be the one time they could express their individual personalities, and did, with yellow stripy shirts, and pork-pie hats, scarlet patent DMs and holed tights. Perhaps I am nostalgic for the red corduroy dungarees I wore during my time as a Sixth Former. But this is the new reality that propels these youngsters ever faster into adulthood. It’s an aspirational new uniform, worn by men of a certain class, to which we also hope the Boywonder aspires.
How clichéd and stereotypical, you might think, for an Asian Mamma to want their offspring to choose a professional career! I thought I was clever, and rebellious when I DIDN’T become my parents’ longed-for DOCTOR in the family. I thought that my generation would have far wider career horizons but it turns out that my stereotypical Indian parents with their infinitely narrow career aspirations were right. For once you become a Doctor, a Barrister, an Accountant, a Surgeon, a Vet, you ARE someone and, unless you are totally incompetent or criminal, no-one but no-one can take that away from you through discrimination or closed shops or other unvoiced barriers. For girls, professional careers are still not too difficult to combine with having children, if, indeed they want them.
As I offer up my credit card, I can’t help but wonder if the Boywonder’s grades will justify spending so much money in one go on grown-up things. If his grades are disappointing, he’ll go to the local Sixth Form college and will wear jeans. Is he completely ready to leave his childhood behind? It has been a struggle to get him this far. When he won not only a place but an academic scholarship at his highly selective and demanding school, we were so incredibly proud of him, feeling that his future was already settled. But we reckoned without Clever Boy Syndrome, always in the background, that became a full-blown affliction at secondary school. This is not the place to violate further the Boywonder’s privacy by listing the teenage scrapes he has dragged us through, but it’s been tough and he would now probably be the first to acknowledge that he has let many golden opportunities slip through his fingers like fine sand. Never malicious, never a bully, always polite, these last few years have nonetheless been a trial for parent and teacher alike. But lately, he has grown up into a sensible, more thoughtful young man. I welcome this new attitude although a part of me mourns the daft, funny boy with a quick, razor-sharp tongue. Nowadays, it is far more likely to be him correcting my lapse in moral thinking or lax colloquial grammar.
The shop assistant jovially reminds us that we are making all this business-dress fuss for two Sixth-Form years. But of course, what about sub-fusc in the more traditional universities to which, like many a parent, I am still encouraging my offspring to aspire? What about the Black Tie eveningwear that he will need for his school prom, another rite of passage that I know only through American films? The Boywonder will borrow his father’s, bought when he was well into his 30s and now mainly used as band uniform. Blazer and school trousers are no longer enough. Welcome to adulthood, Boywonder.