A couple of days ago, the A level results came out in the UK. A couple of my friends had the thrills and spills, and took a few years off their lives due to extreme stress.

One mum’s daughter dropped two grades, from a predicted AAA to ABB. The mum wrung her hands in distress and screeched and urged the daughter to look for alternative university courses. The girl shrugged and told her mother – after letting her poor mother stew –  “Chill, mum. The university is taking me in anyway.” Good on the girl for taking the initiative to call the university directly.

Another mother I know’s son flunked completely and had to resit the three papers. My friend marched her son to the local supermarkets and made him ask for a job. He got one, as a shelf stacker. And then she dropped the bombshell on him – she expects him to pay a percentage of his salary towards their household expenses.

It reminded me of my second son Kit. He dropped a few grades. I was very annoyed. I told him that I would not be paying for him to redo his exams at his expensive international school. “Get a job, do night classes at the community college, retake your exams, whatever,” I told him. “And don’t think you’ll be living in either of your grandparents’ houses.”

Both sets of grandparents thought I was too harsh on him, but what Kit did was the making of him. He took the train to Southampton personally and met with the Admission Tutors. He must have begged hard for a second chance, for he started the course one week later than other students by the time the paperwork was sorted out. And even more of a surprise, he stayed on for his Masters degree in Mechanical & Electronics Engineering. He also received full sponsorship and a small salary from the Royal Navy for both degrees.

photo-595 copy

That was me when I was doing my A levels. I was feeling smug because my home university, Southampton, had given me an unconditional offer based on the fact that I was dedicated to my weekly work experience at St Mary’s Hospital Portsmouth. I had glowing reports from the hospital and also from my school.

But I still flirted with other universities. I did Cambridge’s entrance exam. I had offers from other universities, too. Most offers were in the AAB – ABB range.

I managed to obtain BCC. More crucially, I was pregnant with my second son when my results came out. I was in a mess. I wasn’t sure where I was going with my baby-daddy. I took a year out and went back to work at the laboratory of St Mary’s Hospital Portsmouth.  They welcomed me back with open arms. My son Kit was born here.

In September that year, one year after my peers, I went up to Manchester. It wasn’t my first choice university, but I received first class education at Manchester that enabled me to continue at Oxford three years later. I remember driving past this sign everyday that said,

Rutherford split the atom here.

Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 0.50.25.pngThe best thing about Manchester was that there were excellent childcare facilities in the student union that took care of my  babies. I used to pop in between lectures and labs to cuddle my babies.  I had two more children in Manchester in my first three years there. My children, their father and I grew up a lot – together – during our time in Manchester. Things were cheaper in the north of England and we were able to have a lovely family life, despite our relative poverty. We were very happy there.

So this is what I want to say to students and their parents who are disappointed by their exam results: don’t fret too much. It is just one step of a long journey and you’ll be surprised, your second choice may work out better than you think ❤ Cheer up.

This is how I grew, over the decades. I think my life is richer because it did not go according to plan.