Picture credit: Ed Maker/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Going the full Munch

A traumatising letter from St Paul’s arrives

Hot House

This article is taken from the February 2022 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issue for just £10.

The waiting, the not knowing, was the worst part. It always is, I suppose. We have closure now, at last. And now that the worst has happened, I actually feel a strange kind of peace in my own powerlessness. My daughter didn’t get into St Paul’s. 

I can’t believe I’m writing those words. I never thought this would happen. This is like something that happens to other people. But there it is. My Alma Mater has betrayed me, in the most brutal way possible.

I did have to take myself to The Heath and do some weird, whole body sobbing

Not even on the waiting list! Not even, “your child is exceptional, and therefore not right for our shamefully narrow-minded school because we only cater to a very specific type of ordinary child etc etc.” 

Just the standard, one size fits all, rejection letter. I’d have thought, as an alumna, we’d at least get slightly more feedback. Something to work with, going forward.

I’ll admit, I did have to take myself to The Heath and do some weird, whole body sobbing. There may have been some primal keening noises. But it’s a loss, right? I’m grieving a future I assumed was mine. Hers. All of ours. 

I thought I was going to walk those halls again. I thought we were one step closer to Oxford. Or Cambridge, if she wanted to rebel. Or fucking Harvard. Whatever, just, not red-brick-bloody-mediocrity.

And grief is a process, right? I definitely went through denial to start with. Like, I was convinced we’d been sent some other child’s letter by mistake. Then anger. That was the screaming on the Heath. 

Guilt — had we shelled out enough on tutoring? Or given Lyra the impression she was a shoo-in, and didn’t need to try? Should we have warned her not to mention me at the interview? Bought the school a new theatre? Yesterday I seemed to move beyond anger, and into depression. 

I called in sick so I could lie in bed watching the whole of series three of Succession. It was meant to make me feel better about my own children, but it just made me feel poor.

The thing is, of our kids, Lyra’s the one I count on. The one everyone has always said was a dead cert for St Paul’s. And now, I’m trying not to blame her, but — like — WTF? All those hours of interview coaching, for the same rejection letter every other dickhead in St John’s Wood got. 

At least we won’t have to deal with the hell of no uniform for seven years

So here we are. According to my therapist the next stage in grief is “reconstruction”. AKA finding another school, and moving on. Well, sorry, but I’m absolutely not there yet. 

The prospect of eating humble pie and sending her off to South Hampstead or Francis Holland after I slagged them off so thoroughly to Will last year — I mean, I don’t know if I can do it. Just the word “Channing” makes me feel this bleak, soul crushing disappointment.

At the moment we’re looking at this new school in Marylebone for gifted and talented kids, or possibly going off-piste with The Lycée. Will is horrified, and says it makes no sense to jump into the French system now. 

Deep down, I know he’s right. It’ll look exactly like the sour grapes it is. I mean, what’s she going to do with a Baccalaureate, anyway? And how would we even explain it to anyone? 

Better to keep telling them: “We decided commuting to Hammersmith was unfair on a tween.” Life throws you these curveballs. At least we won’t have to deal with the hell of no uniform for seven years. But still. Brutal.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover