Competitive mothers

The fire tetrahedron, chromatography and other things a 7 year-old should know all about

I have a child who’s currently in Year 5, which means it’s that time of year when I have to start trawling around prospective high schools for my darling offspring.

It’s been a few years since I went though this with child no. 1 and I had almost forgotten one of the most amusing/infuriating things about doing the schools open evening circuit – the competitive mother.

These women insist on making a very public point of demonstrating their child’s genius at every opportunity and they let everyone in the vicinity know that they are only looking at the highest performing schools.


We were at one of many open evenings last week and as usual, the teachers in the science labs were holding some dramatic and terribly interesting demonstrations.  The kind that draw a crowd and make you go “ooooh!”

A couple of unsupervised boys near me had accidentally put alcohol instead of water into a beaker and held it over a flame to heat up.  When it inevitably caught fire, I placed my school prospectus over the top of the beaker to put out the fire, the nearest teacher cracked a joke about sambuca and everyone tittered.

Fire tetrahedron. Who knew?

Apart from one woman who was leading a very small child of about 7 with her.  “Oh, look Justin.  What do you call the circumstances that allowed the fire to form in the beaker?” “The fire tetrahedron, mummy,” chirped little Justin.  The woman turned to a science room full of slack-jawed observers and told us he knew this because “mummy and daddy are both scientists.”

Ah, so science is genetic.  You learn something new every day. At least I hope it’s genetic, otherwise I suspect little Justin may spend his after school hours being drilled in scientific theory while my son is playing Super Mario Galaxy 2 or Beyblade Battles.

In another classroom at the open evening we saw little Justin and his mum again.  Or it may have been another child genius with a competitive mother.  In this classroom they were separating the colours in markers using some kind of chemical solution.  “Oh, look Justin – chromatography.”  “Ah, yes, mummy.  So it is.”

Chromatography For Dummies

Now I consider myself relatively intelligent, but I wouldn’t have known chromatography if it kicked me in the ass.  But Justin knew.  I herded my offspring out with my head held in shame.

I’m not passing judgement here.  Justin may go on to change the world/be a billionaire/cure cancer while my son may become a 38-year-old with an X Box.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not sure about the merits of making sure your kid can speak five languages by the time they’re in year 6.  I think I’d rather have a kid who can burp the alphabet and sing inappropriate songs about “Jessica Biel and Megan Fox, wearing nothing but their socks.”

Or maybe I no longer have a choice. Ummm……


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