Physics, black holes , and being a Mum to nerdy large boy!

What is one supposed to do when large teen wants to do theoretical physics and this may consider an application to Oxbridge?   I was a bit surprised to be honest. I mean he has always had leanings towards science but I do not do science. I like education so always have supported my children in learning. But in no way have I ever forced children to cram for good marks, grades etc.  it has always been gentle persuasion and bit of harassment on homework front! Don’t get me wrong there have been firm words but as a single Mum at times it has been challenging to be the perfect parental supporter of education whilst working, running the house and life stuff.

Large boy was never considered to be one of “gifted and talented brigade”. He was written off pretty much at primary school for being over emotional and a bit of a lazy whinger. Early years at big school involved disorganisation, forgetting to do homework, me getting exasperated and okay grades in Maths and science. Science as options was a given I suppose as boy found these relatively easy. To be honest I couldn’t see him working too hard so thought he was best off with subjects he could do with art and drama the ones for pleasure!

Life is a blur really of work coming home, doing tea, asking large boy to babysit small boy, work and worries about money. As a single Mum having a teen boy who just got on with it was good enough for me. Then when he was fifteen I noticed something. Large boy started to talk passionately about science and seems to love Maths! Yes from my perspective weirdly he liked doing all those tricky sums!

To put this in context this is a big messy house of art, colour, belly dance music and disorderly stuff. I have an arts degree and social sciences post grad. I make pictures and write stuff not sums. Sums are done on fingers and thumbs. We cut things out, sew and stick stuff, make things and paint things but don’t do experiments. My son was in rebellion and succeeded with his clutch of A/A*s in all those sciency subjects!  X Y formula Cosines trigonometry, Nobel Prize winner’s theories, stuff like refraction and big holes he does it all. Sometimes I have a look at his pages of squiggly formula and odd graph but it means nothing to me. Except there he is – my big boy is at sixth form happily swimming in formula and theory!

So next thing is we are having to look at universities. Not any old universities like in my day but posh ones now called the Russell group, the ones where very brainy people went and the rest of us went to polytechnics did we not? Well except I want to a polytechnic that had leanings back to its old art school history! So working class mother made good do ends up on a tour of posh open days. Balsamic vinegar in your cupboard or not when I visited some of our higher  educational establishments   of learning in the UK my working class roots were back in flash. Anger about the unfairness of our education system mixed with awe at history left me  disconcerted and mixed up emotionally .I really want my son to get onto top university but do I want him to be mixing with all these over indulged over privileged snobs?

A classless society and education system that is equal to all? You are having a laugh aren’t you?  Getting “over myself” I adopted a “we are bohemian” approach, wore ethnic clothing and had messy hair and interesting shoes!   That coupled with best non accent voice with the odd big word thrown in I think I might have got by when I sat in a room full of parents in oxford blue shirts, fancy expensive brogues and women in overly ironed designer suits or real liberty prints . I was so proud of myself to not snort at questions about whether entrance exams could be undertaken in Shanghai or whether fancy internships could be included on application.


   Blokes talking about physics at these days were a bit tricky though. I attempted an interested intellectual face expression in the hope no questions would be asked in a lecture about nano somethings. I am now very proud that I now know where two fellas who invented grapheen now teach but as to what grapheen actually does or indeed whether I have spelt it right I am still lost.

My boy has fantastic offers from top universities and I am so proud. This week I made the final trip around a physics department. The format of the day is like most of the others to the point I could probably write my own PowerPoint of why your nerdy boy/ girls should come to this university and give us all their money.

For us parents these open/ interview days have had some interesting side benefits. It has sort of turned into the support day for parents with nerdy children day out. Open conversations with where else have you been quickly move to establishing complete ignorance of physics and general astonishment that you have a child that does! One parent this week explained “it is not normal is it? To be involved and excited at all these experiments and stuff?”

The nerdy parents support group smile nicely at physics professors and ask about pastoral support and how will they ensure assignments are done feign interest and mild intelligence at pictures of nano thingies and black holes. “Oh you have some pretty pictures up of stars” expressed one parent whilst I was admiring patterns of a picture of a galaxy of stars.

Large nerdy children passionately show us around their university giving us facts and figures of hockey teams and professional squash courts. Parent support group mutter to each other “mine doesn’t leave his bedroom does yours?…. only for food and drink”. Supporting each other we all express to each other how nice it would be if our nerdy off spring took up sporting activity in daylight hours rather than nocturnal game playing on Xboxes and the like.

We rather relish the prospect of them attempting to fend for themselves in halls. There is assumption that our maternal instincts would want catered clean halls when in reality we are rather gleeful and laugh at our lovely nerdy kids fending for themselves.

Boredom sets in once at physics labs. We are shown an experiment. I feel the need to tell one mother off for fiddling with some kind of physics experiment knob whilst another Mum texts a friend to say she is bored. I try my intellectual thoughtful face but giggles set in at an inappropriate graph! Resigned to be an ignorant fool I end up admiring the parquet flooring with another parent.

Well darling “ the library seemed nice and it’s very friendly what did you think?” I say to big boy.

“I really liked  it here Mum this is my number one I just hope I get the grades.”

I smile happily relieved that I do not need another PowerPoint  or indeed pie graph about careers for physics graduates. I am so happy that the children of the lovely parents I have spent time with today will make fantastic course mates and flat mates for nerdy big boy. I am so proud of all he has achieved and then insist that we go have a quick peak at Birmingham Library on the way home as an amazing bit of public architecture!

Go get ‘em large wonderful brainy nerdy boy! Now to not cry at application forms for halls of residence and finance…..           








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