When Seraphina was around five, she returned one day from school in a state of complete devastation. Her chest heaved with the most terrible, heart-wrenching sobs. We assumed there had been some altercation with a friend or classmate. It took quite some time to be able to make any sense of her half-words. Mostly they were disrupted by snot and tears. This was early in our days of understanding high sensitivity. While we had known for a while that we had an HSC we still hadn’t grasped the coping mechanisms.
After a while we learned that this breakdown was the response to something incredibly simple. Yet, to her, it was also incredibly profound. She had been criticised for the neatness (or lack of) her handwriting. Even worse, one of her best friends had been lauded for exactly the same work. She summized that regardless of how hard she worked she would always be less capable than her friend. If she and her friend continued to progress at the same rate she would ALWAYS be worse at handwriting. For all eternity. Thanks to the pressures of homework Seraphina was not only contemplating the end of her life, but the end of time!
I said to her, as she hid under her pillow, quite possibly the worst thing I could say in the situation. It’s a skill I have, my superpower. I told her that it really wasn’t that important. Which is a terrible thing to say to an HSC. Because everything is important. Everything. Especially criticism, which weighs like a ten ton boulder and pierces like a poison arrow. I know that now. In fact, there was an element of schadenfreude just lurking round the corner. Indeed, I have very recently received my due punishment.
I spent most of my school years, like a lot of children, wondering about the value of schoolwork. Things like trigonometry and longshore drift. At no point in my life has either of those been particularly valuable to me. The file of ‘useful school lessons’ seems very small. Especially when compared to the bulky file marked ‘when am I ever going to use that?’
That said, one long-forgotten trial during my youth has come back to haunt me. Just like it haunted my daughter: handwriting. When I was a child, despite teachers’ best efforts, I couldn’t create anything more legible than a spider scrawl. I tried everything. Changing my writing style. Using my left instead of my right hand. The result was always the same: I was the only person who could read it. Eventually, the teachers gave up. They told me that I should, temporarily, forego joined up writing and form each letter individually. Initially they told me to write everything in capital letters just to make it easier. This temporary solution evolved into forever. And the teachers completely forgot (or gave up) trying to teach me joined up handwriting. So much for coping mechanisms in my day!
Now, more years later than I’d care to remember, my instinct is still to write everything in upper case. It takes considerable effort to write anything by hand (albeit I now have the typing speeds of Barry Allen). The only time it has really proven a problem has been during exams. I always struggled, because it took me twice as long to write an essay. So during a timed test I was always on a hiding to nothing.
Now, having muddled through life unable to combine two letters, my laziness has come back to bite me. During the crowdfunding campaign for George the (Almost) Fearless Mouse, we offered personally signed copies of the books as perks. This seemed a simple, non onerous reward. It probably would have been for most adults. But not this one. Thanks to my inability to write properly, each personalised message was like a marathon for my hand. You can imagine that signing book after book (many of which had long, delightful and very heartfelt messages which I was genuinely honoured to convey) I felt like I’d been arm wrestling Arnie. What would probably have taken someone else half an hour, took me an entire day of grunting and straining!
My daughter, meanwhile, having escaped her initial despair was driven by that burning criticism of her writing. It’s something which is a clear strength of her high sensitivity. I can now say, without hyperbole or shame, that my six year old has better handwriting than me and better coping mechanisms. So, for the next book, I think we know who will be doing the signings!