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Michael at 13

November 17th, 2018

Michael was 13 on September 27. This birthday post is a bit late. There’s been a lot on.

Michael loves to read. He continues to enjoy the Economist when other offerings are not available but, as a rule, he prefers fiction to non-fiction. He has a slightly annoying habit of picking up a book and launching in to it just as you are about to start in on it yourself but his parents are sustained by the smugness that comes from having a child who likes to read the same kinds of books as they do.

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Other hobbies include playing games on his phone which he definitely regards as a hobby but I wouldn’t call that a hobby as such. He’s still playing hockey which he really enjoys (being Michael he wouldn’t go to training, if he didn’t) and he was quite excited when they were due to play hockey during PE one day at school. Sadly, his schoolmates, who play more hurling and camogie than hockey, did not fully grasp the rules and he returned home outraged because they had been kicking the ball around the field and raising sticks above their shoulders. He is still doing drama which he likes as well. He has games club after school on Tuesday where he plays Dungeons and Dragons type games with other enthusiasts and a saintly teacher who will surely get his reward in heaven. He also still likes playing cards and board games if he can persuade the rest of us to play with him.

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Despite eating almost nothing he has shot up over the past six months (shout out to toast and honey which appears to be all a growing boy needs) and is now almost as tall as me. It’s only a question of time before he passes me out. He is still very skinny so it is hard to find trousers that are both long enough to not flap around the ankles and tight enough at the waist to not fall down. He basically has the figure of a super model.

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He’s still losing teeth (how is this possible?) but I think he may, at last, have lost the final baby teeth.

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He cycles in and out to school and is still alive. I have to say, although I am getting less nervous, he still has to go an approved route which is longer than his preferred route. He does not love this.

He and his brother are great friends. Although they can really annoy each other, they have lots and lots in common and mostly they are having slightly incomprehensible conversations about video games and dungeons and dragons. He gets on reasonably well with his sister but he has managed fine in her absence for the past couple of months occasionally forgetting that she is in another country rather than holed up in her room.

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Unlike his brother and sister he is not particularly competitive and is inclined to let things go. These characteristics (which do not come from me, I fear) make for a charming companion but not for someone who is particularly driven. He is never happier than when he is left at home to do nothing. These are categorically the best kinds of days for Michael.

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In general, he loathes outings but he is resigned regarding them as part of the rain that must fall in every life. He did comment to me once, in a moment of bitterness, that in his view there is no such thing as fun for all the family.

He seems to be well settled in school. Academically he seems to be grand and his dyslexia (which happily doesn’t affect his reading but manifests itself in spelling problems) seems to have improved enormously which is great. He’s learnt to touch type and his fingers seem better at knowing what to spell when typing. Spell check doesn’t hurt either. Socially, he knows the drill and what is expected of him and he seems to be popular with teachers and fellow students without caring even slightly what they think of him so long as they do not impinge on his comfort. He ploughs his own furrow our Michael.

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He is the world’s most sentimental 13 year old. “A Muppet Christmas Carol” is his favourite film and he and I are looking forward to sitting down together and watching it on Christmas Eve. I recently made the very significant mistake of giving some of his old toys to his one year old cousin. Poor decision. He is bitter. In my defence I would point out that he has not played with these toys in many years. I won’t be doing that again. He was utterly unimpressed by his aunt telling him that his 10 year old cousin had looked out some toys for the one year old. “If that’s what she wants, that’s fine,” he said shooting me a venomous glance. As I say, he is not one to modify his behaviour to meet societal expectations.

He continues to be endlessly charming and obliging. I find him delightful and although his siblings believe he is a shameless manipulator (“weasel” is the word I think I hear his siblings hiss at him) even they have to acknowledge that he is generally a peacemaker who tries to intervene when other family members go to war. When he is annoyed though, he is utterly terrifying and, as it is very rare, we take it seriously. When he doesn’t want to do something, it is far easier to stop doing it than to insist. He doesn’t use this power often but it is almost invariably effective. Currently I am persevering in sending him to a French class on Friday evenings which, crucially, I have paid for already for a term. He will finish at Christmas and it is hard to know who will be more pleased, him or me.

Overall though, things are good, I think. He seems happy and, better, in general, he is good at knowing what makes him happy which is a gift I would quite like to have for myself. He is the only person who rushes out to greet me when I come home from work and my heart does leap as he rushes out to the door, arms outstretched shouting, “Mama, Mama, you’re home!” I’m not sure that will last forever, so I suppose I should enjoy it while it does.

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#Notallcyclists

November 14th, 2018

Regular readers will be aware that I commute to work by bicycle and I am, basically, the much-maligned cyclist’s friend. However, I have to say, my affection was severely tested one lunchtime when a cyclist came flying around the corner on the pavement at speed. Myself and another man who were walking along jumped smartly out of his way. The other pedestrian shouted at him, aggressively, I grant but the cyclist had nearly run us both over. The cyclist then yelled right back at this man, who was black and called out a nasty racial slur. I have to say, I was really shaken. I’m sure there is plenty of racism in Ireland but I have never been so up close and personal with it and it was horrible. I wish I’d said something but I just scurried away out of trouble. I want to do better next time while hoping there will never be a next time at all.

Well-Connected

November 13th, 2018

Our French childminder who came to us on Fridays to give the children French lessons had a fascinating range of relations. He was related to famous actors, philosophers, a concentration camp survivor and all round heroine and he has a distant ancestor who as a baby had all her relatives killed in a slave uprising and was only saved by her black nanny hiding her and keeping her safe. All verified on the internet so it must be true. So it wasn’t a complete surprise when we discovered that he was a descendant of the Dukes of Leinster – a long line of younger sons marrying poorly leaving him and his family in relatively modest circumstances but with a really spectacular array of connections. The children were entirely underwhelmed when I pointed out that a direct(ish) relation of Edward Fitzgerald, the hero of 1798 had been turning up in our house once a week.

The boys miss him now though as they have to go out to French classes on Friday evenings: a source of endless bitterness.

Not a Comparison You Hear Often

November 12th, 2018

Herself: Can I have €37.50 to go to Paris and back on the train?
Me: You were in Paris only a couple of weeks ago – are they going again?
Her: No, I’m going with my friend for the day.
Me: Which friend? How old is she?
Her: My friend from Vermont [probably not a Francophone], she’s the same age as me.
Me: Paris, Paris, two fifteen year olds, I don’t know.
Her: Honestly Mum, it’s only 45 minutes on the train, it’s like going to Bray.

100 Years

November 11th, 2018

So, I have never celebrated Armistice Day in my life. I have wandered gloomily around Belgium in the rain on the day – it’s a public holiday there – desperately trying to find something for small children to do when everything is closed but I wouldn’t exactly say I was reflecting on the war.

Armistice is funny in Ireland. Obviously during the first world war, from 1914-1918, Ireland was still part of the United Kingdom though many people including three of my four grandparents, were putting in significant efforts to change that situation. Post-independence, there seems to have been a feeling that to celebrate the Armistice was in some way, anti-Irish and against this State. I grew up in the 70s and 80s and I certainly never thought about the Armistice or celebrated it in any way. In fact, I think my first real awareness of it was after the Enniskillen bombing on Armistice Day 1987.

But Ireland has been making its way through what we’re calling “the decade of centenaries” remembering the turbulent times between 1912 and 1922 (the worst is yet to come – dealing with the civil war legacy) and in relation to this, there has been a great deal of talk of World War I and all those forgotten Irish men who went to the front and died. When I was in Cork at the Protestant Cathedral last weekend, I noticed lots of Armistice Day wreaths and memorials and I found myself thinking that it was odd that we never see that in Catholic churches when the overwhelming majority of those killed must have been Catholics.

However, today there was, to my great surprise, a big crowd at mass and the priest made it clear that it was a memorial mass for all the parishioners who had died in what he called “The Great War” – definitely sounded very odd from the pulpit. But they read the names of the parishioners who died in the war and the choir sang and we remembered the dead of the last year (November is the month of the dead for Catholics anyway so it was in keeping) and processed down the church with our candles. It was still surprising to see a woman in the congregation wearing a poppy. I suppose it’s a strand of Irish history that we haven’t really acknowledged very much. That seems changed for good now. It’s taken a while.

Daniel at 13

November 10th, 2018

Daniel was 13 on 27 September. This blog post is perhaps a little late. Better late than never, I hear you say.

He is a musical child. He loves to listen to music. He has a sense of rhythm and he can hear when he is off key. He is a great dancer – as he says to us while dancing to the intro music on TV shows, “Look at my gyrating hips”. To be honest, we are a bit baffled as to where his dancing ability came from. Not me anyhow, that’s for sure.

He is taller than me now – a matter for great rejoicing. He likes being bigger and taller and can’t wait to be grown-up. He lost another baby tooth recently so not as old as all that. Still, he now has a deep, deep voice and a square jaw. When we went to Cork recently, all the relatives marvelled at how big he had got, even some who had seen him quite recently.

He is very conscientious which I think is a trial to him. He is often disconsolate after team events as the other members of the team just did not try hard enough. Nobody tries as hard as him which might be part of it. He has finally given up hurling and is now doing tennis on Saturdays when he doesn’t have a football match. He seems to like it much better than hurling. He is a dogged and determined player of all sports: coaches love him because he never gives up.

He cycles in and out to school every day. I have to say that I am a bit afraid as I see him off every day but he is getting more and more confident and, I suppose, after 18 months of cycling in and out on his own, he’s pretty competent even though he doesn’t do wheelies like some of his school mates. At least, I hope he doesn’t.

He has newish glasses which are very cool. He doesn’t care much but he would like to wear contact lenses so that he can play more and different sports. He has sports goggles but that is only the beginning. The optician says he needs to wait another little while to get lenses. During the year, the ophthalmologist said, basically, that he never needed to see us again, patching had worked for Dan’s astigmatism and as he was longsighted his underlying condition would only improve from now on. He also said to Daniel’s great delight, that it was one of the few eye conditions that was actually improved by watching the TV and playing on the iPad. I mean really.

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He loves playing board games – long elaborate Dungeons and Dragons type things. He gets very caught up in the lives of the characters. He used to love to read all the time but now, it’s much harder to find things he likes. He still re-reads books he read when he was younger but it is hard to find new books that he gets really absorbed in. He absolutely loved “Ender’s Game” but since that success, quite a while ago, we seem to have had more misses than hits. Suggested books for a very sporty 13 year old welcome.

He loves his x-box. He is only allowed to play on Saturday and Sunday mornings, an unfairness to which he is largely resigned. He is fascinated by American Youtube videos which he finds hilarious – College Humour, I’m looking at you (I know, unsuitable, true of so much material on the internet). I find to my horror that I have turned into my father who, when I was young, used to constantly interrupt me to tell me to stop using Americanisms. I now visit the same torture on Daniel as he recounts things from the internet to me. In my defence, I didn’t have the same ear for accents that he has and my Americanisms were, at least, delivered in a Cork accent.

At school, he seems popular with the teachers – he’s quite academic and a bit of a perfectionist so I imagine that helps. There are aspects of school that he finds tedious – they are going through Romeo and Juliet at a rate of two pages per lesson and I think he may kill someone before the process concludes – but he does enjoy a number of other classes so it is not all bad.

I’d like to see him arranging to meet friends outside school more often but I think that I overestimate his organisational skills (and those of his friends) a bit sometimes and things just don’t come off for him due to a lack of appreciation that time is finite and if you’re doing a, b and c on Saturday then d may not be possible. I sometimes wonder whether this is because he is as much as a year younger than some of the other children in his year in school. On the other hand, it is not as though I am struck by the organisational skills of his friends.

He gets on like a house on fire with his brother. They still bicker a bit but it seems to me, less and less. They have loads in common. He and his sister have a more challenging relationship; it reminds me a bit of my own relationship with my brother. They can drive each other up the wall. He finds his parents and his family generally a bit of a trial – you never know when they might burst into song on the street startling other pedestrians like in an American musical. At least, this seems to be how he feels many family interactions in public look. I may have hummed as I walked is how I would characterise the same event. Still, all this is normal, your family are mortifying when you’re a teenager.

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He is still a very picky eater but, in fairness to him, he is willing to try more things but the almost invariable response to a new savoury food sensation is, “No thank you, not for me.” Obviously, a big improvement of the “yuck” of younger years but still not exactly heartening. He has expanded his range of approved foods but not massively, sadly.

He quite likes getting dressed up in a shirt and trousers for an occasion but most of the time his wardrobe consists of nylon sports gear. I do not love this but he is not alone in this obsession.

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He does not like my outings but he is often more inclined than his siblings to give things a go, even though he strongly suspects that any outings are doomed to disappointment. Not exactly an outing, but he and Michael attend a much loathed French class on Friday evenings and he is really reasonable about giving it a chance and not giving up and I think he even quite likes it now. Well, that may be a little optimistic but I think I can say he doesn’t hate it.

Enjoying an outing:
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He and I share a liking for fantasy and science fiction so sometimes we go to the cinema together to watch things that the others can’t face which I quite enjoy.

He is polite and obliging. If asked to do work around the house he’ll do it, if not happily, then at least readily and, crucially, efficiently. When he gets annoyed he can find it hard to stop being annoyed but I’ve noticed that over the past year, he has got much, much better at getting over it when he gets annoyed. So I face into the teenage years with a certain amount of optimism.

Overall, he is, as our American friends say, “a great kid.” He’s kind and generous, hardworking and obliging and interested in all kinds of things, even, on occasion, dull outings.

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The Christmas Kitchen

November 8th, 2018

So about January this year, we thought that we would do some work on the kitchen and the utility room. We got drawings, we got costings, we scaled back our ambition a bit. We went backwards and forwards for months. Work was due to start in September, it did not. Nor did it start in October. It was definitely to start this Friday. The builder promised it would be finished for Christmas. Is it starting this Friday? It is not. Will it be finished for Christmas? I don’t think so, woe and alas.


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