Over three decades ago, I held an envelope in my hand. Inside that envelope was a rejection or offer letter from Oxford University. I opened the letter. It was a rejection.
This was not a devastating blow to me. I treated it all a bit like a game, enjoying the special treatment I got at school during the application process. I wore a borrowed pencil skirt and gold high heels to my interview. I didn't even know that the prime minister at the time had studied the same subject at the same college I applied for. I cringe now to think how flippant I was about an amazing opportunity.
I could never accuse my daughter Charis of being flippant. She fell in love with Oxford when we visited recently and despite knowing how tough the competition would be for a place to study medicine in the city of dreaming spires, she felt she owed it to herself to try.
Yesterday, we sat waiting anxiously for the postman to arrive with the letter that would direct her one way or another in a critical fork in the road of her life journey. It had already been an excruciatingly difficult wait from her interview in December until this moment I'm sure Charis won't mind me saying that she was not always easy to live with while the weight of not knowing if her Oxford dream would become a reality sat so heavily on her shoulders. Now that the 'knowing' was one postal delivery away, the pressure was intense.
Adding to the pressure was the fact that she needed to be in Leicester for another University interview by midday. I was driving her there and we needed to leave by 10am to give us plenty of time to find the right building. Ten o'clock came and still no sign of the postman. We waited another 15 minutes before
accepting that this was not going to work out. We needed to leave and no amount of wishing and praying was going to make a postman materialise at our front door.
We agreed that we needed to put it out of our minds, give the Leicester interview 100% and as I would be returning home without her, I would open the letter and let her know if it was a yes or a no after five o'clock when she would be finished with the interview and on a train back to her boarding school. Simple.
Simple, that is, if it were possible to put such an important thing out of your mind. She really did have a face like thunder. I felt pity for the poor, unsuspecting person tasked with interviewing her!
Simple, that is, until I started my return journey and had time to think about the enormous responsibility of opening the letter, knowing the fate of my daughter and having to find a way to tell her if the news was bad.
I arrived home. As I opened the door I had a moment of doubt that the postman may not have called at all but there it was. The letter. The white envelope with the college crest printed in the top left hand corner. My heartbeat quickened. I felt sick. I bent to pick it up.
It did not take a genius to work out that a letter as thick as this one was not going to be a rejection. Dear so and so, you have not been offered a place at Oxford but here is a load of information to show you how good it would have been if we had wanted you. I remembered my letter thirty odd years ago. A single sheet of paper with an apology. I was relaxed and happy as I opened my daughter's letter and confirmed what I already knew.
I did not wait until 5 o'clock to text my daughter with the good news. I didn't even care if her phone buzzed and lit up in her pocket in the middle of an interview. She didn't care that I had deviated from the plan.
She was one delighted young lady with a very bright future ahead of her.