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Michael at 12

10 October, 2017 at 6:46 pm by belgianwaffle

Michael was 12 on 27 September.

He started secondary school at the end of August and for the first month he found it hard. I was slightly despairing about whether we had done the right thing. I agonised. Mr. Waffle agonised. And then, almost overnight, everything was better; he got the measure of the expectations, the timetable, the school and he seemed reasonably pleased with himself. He joined the games club on Friday afternoons. He is in a different class from his brother for the first time ever. At the beginning, I realised how much we had previously relied on Daniel to tell us what the homework was or clarify difficulties. Michael was on his own now. It did not go well initially but somehow, now it’s fine and he seems to know what he has to do all by himself. He is the ultimate pragmatist and as the school operates a stringent policy of promoting the first national language he adheres to it and has started speaking Irish a bit at home, possibly to avoid the extra effort of covering two languages. In fairness, he is quite positively disposed towards Irish: he sees it has value as an Irish person to know Irish and that is half the battle. There are also a couple of children in his class who went to English medium primary schools and are really struggling with the language and this, I think, underlines to him the very practical, current benefits of Irish.

Part of Michael’s difficulty was, I think, that everything was changing. At the same time, he went from cubs to scouts and he didn’t like that much either. It was like school, it was all rules and everyone was cross but, again, after 3 weeks he got the hang of it and he seems to be perfectly happy again now.

He has also taken up hockey. He has been pushing for this for a number of years but I have resisted partly on the grounds that I wasn’t convinced that he would really like it; partly because we don’t live particularly close to a hockey club. This year, I folded and he joined a club. I’ll say this much for Michael, he knows what he’s going to like. He really enjoys it. Hockey is mostly played by girls in Ireland and of the 30 players in his group, 28 are girls. He doesn’t care. Daniel came along one Sunday and asked, “When will we get a match?” and the answer, for boys, is basically, probably never. Daniel decided against pursuing this interest; Michael continues to be perfectly happy to continue playing. The only difficulty is that training is at 11 on a Sunday, miles away. Daniel and herself sing in the choir at 11.30 mass locally and Daniel, in particular, wanted to stay involved. This means we are doing mass in two phases: Mr. Waffle and Michael at 10 and myself and the others at 11.30. It is unsatisfactory but I am quite pleased that Daniel actually wants to go to mass.

Michael still loves to read. Every break in school he spends sitting contentedly reading his book. His brother, his sister, his fellow students and his anxious teachers have all asked him whether he is ok on his own; it would appear that he is.

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[Can I just say that it is despite his parents’ best efforts that he often wears socks and sandals?]

I find him completely delightful; his brother and sister refer to him as the arch-manipulator. He knows exactly how to behave to get what he wants; I suggest that they should learn from him rather than indignantly outing his behaviour. Funnily enough, that does not seem to appease them. He and I get on like a house on fire except in relation to his homework; if I ever try to help him, we both get furious. He is so lackadaisical, I am so unreasonable. In fact, Mr. Waffle is much better at this which is a surprise to all of us.

He continues to eat almost nothing. It was a sad day for me when, over the summer, he decided that he was no longer going to eat cereal. Cornflakes and milk was his major food group and this has now been replaced by toast and honey which I have to regard as a backward step.

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He gets on very well with his brother. They have loads in common and they spend many happy hours together. He also gets on with his sister, they seem to mostly travel in parallel grooves but the odd time they interact, it’s all perfectly cheerful. Being in the same school again has allowed for much greater interaction between them which, on balance, they seem to find mildly interesting.

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He is cycling in and out to school which is a bit heart-stopping but, like his Irish, his cycling has really improved. I think it’s good for him.

He’s still a complete home bird. Unlike his brother and sister he had absolutely no interest in signing up for the school tour to Germany: “All day on a bus, looking at boring museums with teachers on my holidays.” He thought the other pair were certifiable. He is doing German at school and it is alright. We are trying to keep his French up at home by having a former childminder come and play games with them – through French – for a couple of hours a week. When I got home from work last Friday, Michael was sweeping the board in Monopoly but not bothering to say, in French, any numbers higher than 10 (numbers below 10 are not a big requirement in Monopoly), slightly to the childminder’s despair. We’ll see how it goes; it’s nice that he and his brother are so pleased to see the childminder who we had for a number of years and was a firm favourite.

He continues to like to wear exactly the same clothes he has always worn. This is a problem as he is growing and many of his trousers are approaching mid-shin length and he will not let them go. I keep trying to introduce new elements and sneak away the old but he is having none of it.

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He loves babies and small children and when we were in Tesco recently bag packing for the scouts he went up to all the babies and made them smile. He is absolutely charmed with his new baby cousin from London.

He continues to be really interested in history and is always reading books about history and regaling us with tales from the past. He loves “The Big Bang Theory” and “The Simpsons” neither of which is really appropriate for someone who turned 12 last month. He spends many happy hours glued to his phone watching people commenting on games they are playing, a form of entertainment entirely baffling to his parents.

He is obliging and even, if he wriggles out of things, which he can do, he, disarmingly, instantly goes to rectify whatever the fault might be – “Of course,” he says cheerfully when asked to tidy his room. If he is annoyed, it very rarely shows and that makes him delightfully easy to live with.

While his brother and sister are keen to be older and more independent even with the responsibilities that brings, Michael is happy just where he is, if anything, he wouldn’t at all object to being younger, particularly, if it meant less homework.

He is very sensitive to the moods of others – if people are down, he tries to cheer them up. He is a pleasure to be with: warm and funny if occasionally dogmatic.

I am curious about what the next number of years will bring but for the moment [she tempts fate] all is well.

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Cycling Gloom

1 October, 2017 at 7:48 pm by belgianwaffle

I seem to have become obsessed by cycling infrastructure. It was not always thus. I have always cycled. I cycled in and out to school from when I was 12 and I never stopped. I don’t remember being concerned about cycling infrastructure and safe cycling until my own children started cycling in Dublin. It has been regularly heart-stopping. But I persist. I want them to be able to cycle: it’s good for them, it’s good for the planet and it’s handy. It’s also scary.

Herself has been cycling in and out to school since she started secondary school a couple of years ago. I was really nervous at the start but increasingly less so. She is on top of it now, I hope. I note from the most recent census that of the approximately 250,000 girls in secondary school, about 700 cycle. This is a significant percentage increase from the last census where only some 500 girls cycled to school but it’s not exactly a sea change. This is what the census says:

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The 25 years, from 1986 to 2011, saw an 87 per cent decrease in the numbers cycling to secondary school. 2016 saw the reversal of this trend with a 10.5 per cent increase since 2011, bringing the numbers of secondary students taking to their bikes to over 7,000. Over 90 per cent of these student cyclists were male, but the number of female cyclists has grown by over 30 per cent since 2011.

Her brothers started secondary school in September (more on this anon) and have been cycling in and out together, at first with a parent and, now, alone. It is unnerving stuff. September 8 is etched on my brain as the first day they cycled in and out unaccompanied and came home alive. I enjoyed the following conversation with Daniel:

Him: If I am run over while cycling to school, whose fault will it be?
Me: I am sure that you won’t be run over. When you say “whose fault” what do you mean?
Him: Will it be mine for cycling carelessly, yours for letting us cycle to school or [my sister’s] for refusing to cycle with us?

This was a bit depressing and, honestly, it is absolutely no wonder that people don’t send their children cycling to school in the same numbers as in 1986 (when coincidentally, I finished school) because there are far more cars on the roads, they’re faster and they’re much bigger, squeezing cyclists to the edge of the road and the car seems to be king in Dublin.

I am getting increasingly annoyed about this. So far, my only action has been to follow people who share my annoyance on twitter so, more work may be needed on my part. I was deeply depressed to see that the Liffey cycle route has been shelved because of inability to reach consensus in Dublin City Council. I mean Paris, Paris, is able to put in place better cycling provision than Dublin. Every time I visit my parents in Cork, I am impressed, yet again, by what can be done by a city with far fewer cyclists and much more rain than Dublin. I’m not saying Cork is perfect but it has more segregated cycling options in the city centre than Dublin. An action group has recently been formed and they are standing in human chains trying to keep cycle lanes free for cyclists. I applaud their efforts. However, with the best will in the world, there are many cycle lanes in Dublin which are so poorly designed that even sympathetic drivers who keep an eye out for cyclists (like me when I drive in town, which I do occasionally) find themselves crossing over them and squeezing cyclists. The motoring lobby says that the City Council is anti-motorist and in the grip of the cycling lobby. If only this were true or there were some evidence that this is the case in the form of half way decent cycling provision. I despair.

In unrelated cycling news, my bicycle was nicked a couple of weeks ago from the shed. Mr. Waffle, sneaked an illicitly purchased folding table (long story which you may well hear in due course) into the shed at lunchtime on a Sunday. When we went out to the shed in the afternoon to go for a family cycle, one of the family bikes was gone. It transpired that the €700 door we purchased after someone last tried to break into our shed hadn’t worked. It turns out that, for it to be really effective, it has to be locked.

I got the bike in 2015 on the bike to work scheme and, sadly, you can only claim relief once every five years so, I was alone on the purchase of the new bike. I got a second hand one and it was grand but I was a bit disappointed by the reaction of the guards with whom I had registered my stolen bike. They didn’t hold out any hope of getting it back and suggested that I look on donedeal.ie which, um, you know, I suppose, I might. Sigh.

Mostly Cork

29 July, 2017 at 10:00 pm by belgianwaffle

My sister and I did a bit of bonding in Cork in early July. We went to Ballycotton where I found a walk I had never known before but everyone else in Cork did – it’s been there forever apparently. How fortunate my children are that I have never previously been aware of it although we stayed in our friends’ house in East Cork many, many times over the years. It’s not too late.

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In an exciting development, the boys took the train to Cork alone.

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It all passed off very smoothly, unlike when their sister took her first solo train ride and they were quite proud of their independence and ability to travel unaccompanied. In a related development, we said goodbye to our last childminder. This is the first time since 2003 that we haven’t paid childcare fees and I am enjoying the resultant boost in income which I should be putting into the mortgage but am spending on riotous living. It is the end of an era. Our last childminder wasn’t a great fit; she would have been better with younger children, I think and she was never as popular with the children as her predecessors. Also, I think the boys would have preferred to travel home from school alone like some of their friends but I wasn’t entirely happy with having them manage alone in the exciting urban environment from where they had to get the bus. Daniel once described how a man slightly the worse for unspecified intoxicants came up to him and Michael and asked where they went to school. When they answered politely, the man started to rant about their school and abused it and them in pretty unpleasant terms. “Where,” I asked, “was the childminder?” Apparently she was standing a bit further away, it’s unclear to me why he didn’t go nearer to her or she didn’t see what was going on with them but at least she was there and I suppose there was a responsible adult nearby if things turned nastier. I did feel a bit that I was paying to have someone sit in my house looking at her phone as despite my very best efforts there didn’t seem to be very much interaction between her and the children which they all seemed to enjoy very much.

I digress. While in Cork, I briefly met my friend the heart surgeon in Kinsale. She was back from America with her husband and four children for a holiday. I brought the boys to meet them. Unfortunately, all of the children are reaching an age where you cannot put them in a room and say, “play together” so they ended up sitting inside watching the TV and not bonding. It gave the adults a chance to bond outside while admiring their truly beautiful view. She says that Trump is giving middle aged men all over Vermont heart failure as they lie awake all night worrying. On the other hand, I suppose they were having heart failure already as, if they weren’t, how was she gainfully employed?

I must say the weather has been lovely this summer and Cork has been particularly delightful. The boys may not have loved the visit to the Crawford Gallery

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or the riverside walk under the trees

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but they got to have pizza at Milano’s so, you know, not all bad. And it’s always good to jump on the Shaky Bridge.

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They were strangely unimpressed by the excellent window display in Liam Russell’s on Oliver Plunkett Street.

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I took them to Blackrock Castle Observatory which they always like. They also spent an enormously happy evening at my sister’s playing Risk and eating chips.

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My sister facilitated this even though she is ill. She emerged from her house in pyjamas to greet us. “Is wearing pyjamas outside illegal?” wondered Daniel. A number of years ago there was a trend in certain parts of Dublin to venture outside wearing pyjamas. I was strongly against this. Perhaps too strongly as Daniel seems to have taken it very much to heart.

Activities (Various)

28 July, 2017 at 11:01 pm by belgianwaffle

Oh lads, it’s been ages.

Herself has returned from summer camp which she loved with the passion of 1,000 suns.  While she was away, we made feeble efforts to entertain her brothers to the best of our abilities.  We took them to the latest science gallery exhibition on sound which they pronounced to be pretty good.

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Daniel plays chopsticks:
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The science gallery is the only museum they have any affection for.  We made them do a walk-through of the newly reopened wing of the National Gallery and they were not pleased.  In particular Michael was not pleased.

We went to mass in Irish which has the merit of being short and always involves a restorative cup of tea afterwards.  We took them to Four Knocks which is the best megalithic site in Ireland.  Really.  We had been there before with all of the children when they were younger.  The boys were small on the last visit and they had forgotten but it really is an amazing spot.  Much better, I think than Newgrange or any of the more famous sites.  You have it to yourself – you pick up the key from a local farmer – and it is creepy and a bit awe inspiring.  The boys really enjoyed it which is not something you usually get to say about megalithic sites. It is na Fuarchnoic (the cold hills) in Irish which is a bit more accurate than Four Knocks.

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We went for a moderately satisfactory picnic in Ardgillan castle after the Four Knocks excitement but I made us pack up good and early as I was getting the train to Cork and I was paranoid about timing.  Unnecessary.

In other summer excitement, my sister took the boys to Tayto Park and bought them three bottles of Fanta to consume in the rain while being twirled up in the air on a variety of terrifying machines. Their lives are complete and she didn’t die of exhaustion. A win then.

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They also attended a sports camp at the bottom of the road which was very successful except that they were not allowed to leave unless collected by a grown-up which was supremely awkward. Michael missed a day due to illness but otherwise they both enjoyed it very much. Daniel won camper of the week for his supreme politeness and I was filled with pride. He didn’t seem super-delighted though.

Friday Night Fun!

7 July, 2017 at 10:45 pm by belgianwaffle

Mr. Waffle is out at a work dinner tonight. The Princess is mid way through her three week residential course which she is loving. Communication with her parents has been sparse. Typical exchange captured below.

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So the boys and I were home alone together this evening. In a triumph for parent and childminder alike, when I came home from work they were still in their pyjamas. “What is the point of holidays, if you can’t have a lazy day from time to time?” asked Michael. He and I have fundamentally different views on this matter.

Anyhow, as Mr. Waffle prepared to go out, I said to the boys, “We’ll have fun together, won’t we?” Daniel looked at me, raised an eyebrow and said, “Fun with pasta?” Yes, indeed, it was pasta for dinner again. There’s a boy who knows his mother.

Updated to add: the cat has just been sick on the rug in the hall.  Friday nights don’t get more fun than this.

Re-think

30 June, 2017 at 10:06 pm by belgianwaffle

Me: The boys will be able to cycle to school in September when they start secondary school.
Her: Are you expecting the three of us to cycle in together like high-vis ducklings?
Me: Um, yes.
Her: No.

End of the School Year – Round-up

28 June, 2017 at 9:00 pm by belgianwaffle

It seems that we have been celebrating the end of the school year for a while. As the boys are in 6th class, there’s a lot going on. We had their confirmation on June 9. I wasn’t able to move my neck but otherwise it all went well. My sister was able to join us from Cork and Mr. Waffle’s parents came and we went to Milano’s afterwards which is Daniel and Michael’s favourite restaurant in the world. Their aunt and uncle gave them mobile phones for the occasion and they were ecstatic.

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They also cleaned up on the cash front from indulgent relatives. The spiritual aspect was satisfactory also although no Irish speaking bishop was found and the priest who kindly performed the ceremony didn’t believe in rushing matters. I went up with Daniel as his sponsor and he took Patrick as his confirmation name. “Lovely,” I thought. As I stood there waiting to go up to the bishop, I reaslised that I had no idea what name Michael had taken. I had been pushing Edward but took my eye off the ball. “What did you take?” I asked anxiously afterwards. “Jack,” he said smugly. “There is no St. Jack,” I said. I suppose it’s a variation of John. My sister who was his sponsor was surprised also. He keeps us on our toes.

As part of their ongoing leaving primary school extravaganza, they had an overnight trip with their class in Wicklow. I was a little concerned about that, but I needn’t have been, they had a wonderful time. Packing was a challenge though.

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Then they went to the National Acquatic Centre for the day.

They had the feis as well where both of them sang songs in Irish; I was very proud of them – it’s hard to get up and sing in front of a crowd.

And the other day they brought home their final primary school reports where their wonderful teacher had written some really lovely things about them both.

Today was primary school graduation (insert reactionary comment re when I was young you only graduated from college etc.). There was a nice ceremony at which both boys spoke and Daniel also sang. Then all of the children went en masse to the cinema and a couple of parents shepherded them there including me. I am a shadow of my former self. I’m sad to be ending my association with the school; it was such a nice, happy place for my children.

Meanwhile, herself finished school at the end of June and has spent every waking minute since with her extended group of friends. She is so autonomous now. A bunch of them went to the beach; to town; to the cinema; they walk around the park; they go to each other’s houses; she loves Penney’s (Primark to those from outside the jurisdiction) and spends many happy hours there. When she went to the beach, I forgot to remind her not to drown. It turns out she was on top of that piece of advice. She feels very grown-up and sophisticated – much more so than I was at the same age. I am admiring and it is lovely to see her enjoying herself.

She did very well in the school awards but this information had to be dragged from her. Her school report was excellent except for science. Sadly, science teaching this year has been a struggle with the teacher taking several months off. This story is a fascinating one and involves ultimate cage fighting. Do you think I am making this up? Anyhow, I think it is understandable that the students did not excel as finding a replacement mid-year was quite the challenge. New science teacher next year, anyhow. You will be pleased to hear that she did well in her mathematics examination, well you would be, if you had been involved in the frantic hunt for missing log tables the night before involving, inter alia, approaching the neighbour’s children. As she said to me, “You say summer examinations are really only a point in time assessment, it’s much more important how you developed throughout the year; don’t make me sit this examination, stay true to your principles.” Happily the log tables turned up before my principles had to be put to the test. On Sunday she went off for a three week residential camp. She hugged us goodbye as she propelled us out the door; she seemed so capable and independent. It is strange to be at home without her. This year seems to have flown. I remember 14 being hard, but I think she’s doing alright.


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