Twenty Nine years ago, I left with a dozen or so girls from my high school to have a week away in Dunsborough - the school leavers 'capital' in the west - at the conclusion of our final secondary school exams. Back then we did six exams that where three hours long and counted for everything. They were the only measure of your senior high school studies and bad luck if you were having an off day.
None of could drive so we all caught the train to Bunbury (south of Perth), as far as we could go south on the train, then one of the girls’ older sister who lived down that way, ferried us to Dunsborough, where we stayed in a house by the beach for a week. I have no idea how we talked our parents into letting us go but somehow most, but not all, of us got it over the line.
In my mid-40s now, I remember that being a week of freedom. Not to be abused but just enjoyed. We didn’t want any mischief or trouble, just some space to chill. Exams and school were over, just a waiting game for results and not a thing we could do about it. There were no pre-offers for university or other pathways. We just had to sit the waiting period out and cross our fingers. Many of us had aspirations of attending university the following year and keen to know our fate.
We lazed around in the day just chatting about how nice it was to be finished, what courses we hoped to be accepted into, how lovely the beach was and would there be any summer romances! We had a handful of Dolly magazines and novels that we shared around when we needed some quiet time. There were no smart phones for selfies, or iPads to download books or update on Facebook. In fact, I don’t have one photo of this week.
The girls and I had a few drinks in the late afternoon, West Coast Cooler and Fluffy Duck cocktails. I have no idea how we got hold of this or even know how to make it. I am sure there was more cream and lemonade than anything too potent, but we were happy just doing our own thing and thinking we were pretty grown up to be having a holiday on our own and sipping Fluffy Ducks at sunset.
There were no boys or drugs. This was a time well before HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C, a carefree time. Maybe with age the harshness of that first summer after school has faded, but I don’t remember it ever being there. I just remember, the delicious feeling of relief, freedom, sunshine warming your bones, optimism and good friends to share it all with you. I was lucky for sure.
Now that I am older, busy running my company, managing children, a husband, a household, sporting commitments, friends and family I long wistfully for those days of youthful freedom. Not to go back in time, but just the stress free days that were bountiful.
This week my eldest son did just the same as me all those years ago. He finished his high school exams and headed down to Dunsborough. I had to give my permission for him to go, not only to my son but for his accommodation, scanning his passport for photo ID, spending big bucks to secure a place to stay.
He chose to go with just one friend and stay in a motel that shuts down for Schoolies. At this place he can’t be found with alcohol in his room and, after 10pm only motel guests are allowed to be there. When I asked him why he decided to go this way, he told me that he didn’t want to be responsible for those who could not be responsible for themselves. Tick.
He is sensible and focused, but also young and impressionable. Will the freedom and headiness of the moment sweep him up and the irresponsibility of youth overcome him? He has taken his smart phone so, unlike my own parents who would have to sit by their one telephone in the kitchen hoping that I might walk one kilometre with a 10 cent piece to call and tell them I was ok, I know he can communicate easily with me. But unlike me, my teen son will be able to hide behind his Facebook messenger and send messages that give very little clues of how he is - that is if I get a message at all. The only reason I want a message each morning is to know that he is safe and well.
I recently watched a documentary on the long-term use of Ecstasy - of course my mother brain thinking the worst. I want to send him the link to this program and watch it this very instant, but I know he won’t. It’s a powerful story that all teenagers and young people should see; how anxiety, depression and memory loss are the long-term legacy of some fun nights out.
I wish for him a week of freedom and relaxation and a total break from the life he knows at home. He has worked hard to have a successful year and has already been accepted into the university course he wanted. But it is not just him that I fear for, it is those around him; those who have gone too far with drinking, experimenting with drugs and being around peers, trying to be someone that perhaps they are not.
My younger son is quite different and it would not surprise me if he does not attend Schoolies celebrations when it is his turn. He is much quieter and not tolerant of drinking and drunkenness. A lot can change in three years so I guess I will have to wait and see. I hope that he stays true to himself and comfortable in his own skin to make the choice that suits him best.
I have learned that I can’t wrap my sons in cotton wool. I have also learned that the harder I push them to do something, the more they push back. So I have learned to set the rules with fairness for safety and gently pull them along with me rather than push them away.
Know your own child, their capabilities and expectations and do the best you can together. I call these growing pains. My sons grow - and I pain.
I look forward to him being back safe and well so I can hug him again.