My firstborn has reached that awkward and uncomfortable age of 14. Do you remember 14? Pimples, strange growth spurts, a voice that's neither a child's nor a man's, torrents of conflicting hormones coursing through your body, intense emotional outbursts, insecurity about your appearance, your behaviour, your lack of innate coolness...fun stuff like that.
He has just finished junior high (or the equivalent of 8th grade in the US) and the unknown mysteries of high school loom ahead for him in the fall. He has chosen the Classical Studies high school - yes, Italian high schools have a theme. An orientation which you have to choose at the tender age of 14 and which can determine the course of your later life. Examples of different types of high schools range from an emphasis in science, technology, industrial arts, languages or business studies to specialization in hotel and restaurant studies, fashion design, maritime studies, graphic arts, social work or drafting.
My son has chosen classical studies, considered by many to be the most difficult type of high school. Less rigorous in math and sciences perhaps, but they do five years of Latin and Italian, three years of ancient Greek, and a whole lot of philosophy. I think he made a good choice, considering his strengths and interests, and it's a choice he made all by himself. He doesn't even have any friends who will be going with him, so he must be convinced...but still, it's a big change ahead.
In the here and now, he has another challenge coming up in the next couple of weeks. Italian kids have to take a battery of both oral and written exams at the conclusion of junior high, plus a nationwide standardised exam that is worth 50% of their grade. So, everything they have done in class all semester, plus two weeks of first written and then oral exams in which they can be asked about anything they have studied in any subject all this past year...equals half of their final grade. The other half depends completely on how well they perform on a standardized multiple-choice test.
So the guys got a few reasons to be stressed out. You can't blame him. To top it all off it was his birthday the other day and he didn't want to do anything to celebrate. No party, no cake, no taking some friends out for a pizza, or inviting the guys over to play basketball...nothing. Last year he said the same thing, but we surprised him with a cake in the changing room after his basketball team had just been eliminated from the provincial semi-finals. This year I was torn, respect his wishes? go ahead and get the cake even if he says he doesn't want it? We couldn't decide, so in the end we took him to McDonald's for lunch (his choice) and he went to the beach with a friend in the afternoon and that was that.
Or maybe it wasn't...that evening he had a total meltdown. First a case of the nasties, then the angries, then the denial of wrongdoing...ending up with total remorse and despair and him hiding under his desk miserable about life in general. So, yes, I spent my evening under the desk with him, and yes, we got it all worked out, kinda sorta, the best that you can do at that crappy age of 14 when your emotions have you on a wild seesaw ride and you yourself don't really know what you want or how to please yourself or anyone else.
Hence, the next day we had a surprise "14 + 1 Day" celebration...and, wouldn't you know it, for all he had protested the cake and party idea...he loved it!