A while ago I got handed a book of Greek verb declensions. Alex had had it. Fed up. Isolde had to learn this stuff and she didn't. Two years in and she just hadn't learned it. Now it was crunch time and all that Greek had to be applied to translating passages of Homer or something. I thought, "Why?!" But in order to pass the third year of classics, Isolde had to get past this as well as a similar hurdle in Latin (translating Dante, I think, or is that just old Italian?). Isolde loves all things mythological, especially Greek. She knew the differences and similarities between the Roman gods and the Greek ones. She knew the family trees and all the mischief. She taught herself all that stuff when she just started reading. And she wanted to go to the Liceo Classico because in third year the class went on a voyage across the Aegean Sea to the Greek peninsula and toured the important archaeological sites.
So I got handed a book of Greek verb declensions. Isolde had to memorize this stuff. She had to memorize this stuff last year and this was the last stand. Failure was staring us all in the face. Alex and Isolde together couldn't do it because of too much tension, too many frustrated sessions, too much nagging, too many temper tantrums. So the time came when the hands went up, the book thrown down, the kid went to bed, and the executioner was called in. Of course, I couldn't do it either. We had our evening drills and I tried to keep it upbeat. Isolde could memorize anything and she was remarkable; but it was too little, too late. She failed the year and faced a repeat of third year Classico.
Thomasina had already made the jump to IB, escaping the Italian high school force field. One year of Scientifico and she broke out to Dane Court International Baccalaureate diploma program in Kent, UK. No picnic, but so much more encouraging than the eroding torture of Italian secondary, not to mention the misogynist, cliqueish fast lane of teenage Italy. Thomasina paved the way, establishing a secure place to live during the year and work in the summer. She achieved a great record at school. She even earned an interview at Oxford!
It was obvious Isolde had an escape route. A runaway truck ramp for those with no brakes. A soft landing in UK. Somewhere to put that failure under the covers and wake up the next morning. But first we held a meeting with her favourite teacher, the one who led the Greek archaeology trip. He eloquently argued that the Classico instruction was unique in the world, but finished with an admission that if she decided to go, then she must take his son with her. Which she didn't.
Now, both girls are away from home. Our house with seven bedrooms is empty. The empty house with no heating is that much colder in winter. The evenings are quiet. The long phone calls are too short. The girls have a life. The supper table is seldom laid. The leftover, retired ex-pats ask polite questions; but that doesn't replace the life that has left the house. Sorta sad, but we found some abstract justification in the fact that our girls had moved on into adulthood.
And then! And Then! Isolde got her invitation to interview at Oxford. Wow! Two in a row. When Thomasina interviewed, Alex lost it, bought a ticket to UK, drove her up to Oxford and promptly got a speeding ticket. Embarrassingly. I'm sure she jinxed it because Thomasina didn't get in despite enjoying every minute of the whole procedure and loving her interview mates (the guy who did get accepted came down to Italy where he was judged totally inadequate).
This time Alex let Isolde get on with it alone, and at first it seemed that was a big mistake. In her application Isolde did not flinch. She shot for the moon. She scanned the joint and selected the finest architecture, the most beautiful deer park, and the most prestigious. Magdalen. Wow! Really? Yes, and the invitation came back. And on the first day she slept through her interview, got a call, arrived an hour or so late, sweated through the episode. Then, in the interview they found they both shared the same favorite author and in fact Isolde could quote the guy. Later, she received a cryptic note saying she could go home. In time she received a letter of acceptance, conditioned on her passing grades from Dane Court.
The condition was that she achieve a minimum final grade in her IB program at Dane Court. Based on her work, that seemed doable; but suddenly things got serious. Alex kicked in long days of research on History papers. I don't think Isolde was sleeping too well. This was a sprint to the finish and I began to think that this girl didn't share the same sense of limits that I did. She was going to flunk out of classics in an Italian high school and work her way into Oxford.
Then, a little reproductive molecule morphed its way into a rich, new environment; and within a few months, Isolde's school shut its doors. And the global IB program suspended final exams. And I remembered that feeling of catching my trouser leg with a crampon on Mount Baker and heading out into free space. This is unanticipated. I don't know if I can do this.
...to be continued. When the bits and pieces of our world reorganize and the girls can resume their story.