Late last week one of the children said, “I hope you haven’t forgotten Saint Nicolas on December 6.” An impressive degree of attachment given that we left Belgium for good 11 years ago.
We had the boys’ parent-teacher meetings last week. The only teachers they have an overlap for are maths and science. We had to see 18 teachers and we slowly lost the will to live as did the boys who had to accompany us under the new principal’s regime. They seem to be doing fine but by the time we finished none of us had the energy to do any further analysis on the detail.
Michael (sarcastically): Oh yes, no one in this family is known for ped-ant-ry.
Herself and myself in unison (immediately and unthinkingly): Pedant-ry
Michael was 14 on September 27. As always, his birthday post is a bit late. He wouldn’t have it any other way, I’m sure.
He still loves to read. The other night, having finished “1984”, he was looking for “Animal Farm” (unfindable, truly our book shelving leaves a great deal to be desired) and I said, “I can see the cover in my mind’s eye, it’s an old edition, one of those penguin orange ones.” Michael started pulling out old editions and found a copy of “Faust”. “This will do,” he said. I urged caution but the next morning there he was sitting up in bed finishing volume 1. We haven’t got volume 2 and I am a bit unclear as to where volume 1 came from as neither his father nor I have ever read it. Michael pronounced it to be alright – a bit slow to start apparently – and he has no particular desire to continue on to volume two. I think he might enjoy Dickens beyond “A Christmas Carol” (perennial favourite) – now to see if any can be found.
He loves to watch youtube videos on his phone and he loves board games. Some of his friends share his enthusiasm but not as many as he would like and as these games often involve weeks of your life, he can find it hard to get takers. He is still doing drama although the older he gets the more the gender balance skews female. He is indifferent.
He is growing still and is now quite a bit taller than me and his sister but still a little shorter than his brother. He is very thin and, perhaps in consequence, feels the cold terribly. He still wears his coat around the house in winter and, although the house could be warmer, it’s not that cold. Triumphantly, the Aga in the kitchen means that he now takes off his coat at dinner. I am fighting an entirely unavailing battle to get him to hang up his coat under the stairs rather than slinging it over the banister. The rest of the family have yielded to what they regard as sheer lunacy on my part but Michael remains…resistant.
His diet is still far from perfect and quite limited but slowly it does seem to be expanding. I am delighted he is back on cornflakes and milk having abandoned them for some time in favour of bread and honey.
He still cycles in and out to school. This is pretty much his only form of exercise as he has, sadly, abandoned hockey and not taken up anything else instead – a very brief flirtation with golf having led nowhere. I discovered the other day that he is the only one of his siblings still cycling the approved (slightly longer but safer) route to school. He came off his bike the other day and wounded his knee and his dignity. I do worry about him on his bike but, at least he is on the quieter roads.
He and Daniel get on really well although occasionally they annoy each other. Michael is indifferent to public opinion but his brother is not. This makes singing in public something of a flashpoint; Michael will sing to himself walking down the street, Daniel does not love this. Michael and his sister interact relatively little as she has a full social life and a bedroom she likes to stay in but when they are together, they get on fine.
His favourite thing to do is stay at home in his pyjamas. My friend R called around unexpectedly while Mr. Waffle and I were out. Michael let him in and showed him the new kitchen. Upon our return, Michael said, “One of your friends called, I’m not sure which one, he had a bike.” On inquiry, R confirmed that it was he. “How,” I enquired “did you enjoy Michael’s dressing gown and pyjama look at 3 in the afternoon?” R replied, “It is the younger son of a German princeling vibe.” This filled Michael’s heart with joy as it is exactly the look he was going for.
He loves a romantic comedy and he and I sometimes sit down together and watch a Richard Curtis number on Netflix. He is a big Hugh Grant fan. What can I say?
He is doing fine at school – he is particularly good at English which he really enjoys. He’s good at memorising poetry which is handy. He continues to be terrified of his Irish teacher which is a bit of a problem. For a child who often appears absolutely indifferent to outer expectations and the views of others, he can get quite stressed and worried about school work and whether he has properly understood the teachers’ instructions. But generally, he seems on top of things. I would like him to do the academic course his brother and sister have done in the summer which they both say he would really enjoy. The entrance exam was on recently and I tried to encourage him to give it a go. “Are you crazy Mum, do an exam to spend three weeks of my summer holidays in school?” he said. I did not persuade him to give it a go. If it’s not this, it will have to be Irish college.
He is a wonderfully engaging public speaker and, even in domestic circles, when offering his opinion speaks in clear and authoritative tones. He is convincing even if he is wrong. I regard this as a great gift which will stand him in good stead but perhaps needs to be carefully deployed.
He no longer runs out to greet me when I get home from work; alas, I do miss that but I suppose it is inevitable. He continues, however, to be very good at charming me to get his way. To the chagrin of his siblings who declare it all an act, I find him utterly delightful and endlessly entertaining.
The principal of our children’s primary school retired at the beginning of September. There was a big party for him and parents of past pupils were invited to attend so we went along. It was a lovely evening and I was impressed by how all the teachers remembered us and asked after the children. We said to the principal how happy the children had been in primary school and what a great operation he ran and he said, “Oh yes, even herself though she was in one of the most difficult classes we ever had in the school.” This was news to us but she got on fine anyhow, I suppose.
The former principal is from the Kerry Gaeltacht (his mother was a great friend of Peig Sayer’s – of course she was) and he went to secondary in St Brendan’s in Killarney. The principal of the children’s secondary school was at the retirement gig also having retired himself this summer. He went to St. Brendan’s as well, in fact the primary principal was a prefect when he started there. All of the clever boys in the Gaeltacht got scholarships to go to secondary school in St. Brendan’s (this was before free second level education was introduced in 1967). A former colleague of mine went there also and he described to me how, the boys from the Gaeltacht never spoke Irish to each other in school (even though the school taught Irish and was very supportive of Irish) but only started speaking Irish to each other again on the bus home at the end of term. There is something very poignant about this.
The new principals of the primary and the secondary school are both fluent Irish speakers but both of them learnt their Irish in school. There are fewer and fewer native speakers and it’s not quite the same, is it?
Daniel was 14 on 27 September. As ever, his birthday post is a little late.
He still enjoys listening to music a lot and he is by far the best dancer in the family (not as impressive an achievement as it might be). He still sings in the church choir. I thought he might want to give it up but he really likes it. There are a couple of them who are about the same age as him and quite a lot of younger children. He towers over them all like a young Viking (he is still very fair) but it doesn’t seem to bother him.
He is far taller than me now and, I imagine, it’s only a question of time before he’s taller than his father. I think he is quite pleased to be second tallest member of the family.
He is still my sportiest child. He supports Arsenal and my sister took him to London earlier in the year and he had a stadium tour which he very much enjoyed.
On a more personal level, this year he had an absolute triumph when he moved from the B team to the A team in Gaelic football (an unusual trajectory) and he seems to be solidly in with them now. He is extremely pleased. He is very serious about Gaelic and so are they, something which he feels was lacking in the B team. As he said himself, “Let me put it this way, the A team have 3 players in the Dublin development squad and the B team lost almost every game this season.” Harsh but true. If he ends up dropping back to the Bs he will be devastated but, so far so good. His never-give-up nature has come to the attention of the coaches and they like it. He didn’t wear his gum shield for one kick around and, inevitably, managed to get a kick in the mouth, so it seems probable that he will sacrifice a front tooth for his love of GAA. This is a price he is more than willing to pay but his parents are less sure. His team were very close to winning their league but lost their final match and he was devastated.
He’s also playing a bit of tennis on and off and some basketball with the school. He still cycles in and out to school every day. Frankly, I have no concerns about his exercise levels.
He likes playing board games and over the past year, he and his brother have had some friends (all male) back to the house on Friday afternoons to play long elaborate Dungeons and Dragons type things.
Sadly, he’s gone off reading – he reads the odd book and quite likes manga cartoons but I haven’t seen him really absorbed in a book all year despite my best efforts to find things that will catch his interest.
He loves his x-box. He is allowed to play on Saturday and Sunday mornings only to which he is resigned. He loves watching videos on youtube as well; in fairness, many of them quite worthy Ted talks but plenty of gamers as well.
At school, he is doing pretty well and is popular with the teachers. He seems to have plenty of friends and does seem to be reasonably well settled in. This is quite a relief to me as he is the second youngest child in the year [his brother being the youngest] and he is quite a young 14 in some ways.
He’s a good public speaker with a lovely clear, deep reading voice. He never sounds at all nervous or breathless, even with big crowds, although he assures me he sometimes feels nervous. This will doubtless stand him in good stead in life. Mostly I hear him at mass on Sundays where he does the occasional reading and a regular prayer of the faithful. He is still in the church choir and though not quite the oldest, is definitely the tallest.
His French comprehension is still pretty good but his spoken French is only alright and his written French is not great. We have a French woman who comes once a week and talks to the three of them but this may not be sufficient to save his French. I have suggested that he might spend a couple of months in France in the next academic year, like his sister did last year but this has not been received by him with any degree of enthusiasm. In fairness, he did go to Paris and stay with my French friend’s family for a week and we had her son, N, back here. Both boys are pretty sporty and it worked well and was good for Dan’s French but it needs to be pretty constant. I might send him back to Paris for a bit next year anyhow, even if he can’t quite face a longer stay.
During the summer he did an academic course for children. His sister has done the same course for a number of years. We never heard anything about it from her but he gave us a blow by blow account. She had always studied things like “Law and Politics” and I was a bit surprised when Dan decided, very firmly, to go for engineering. The first couple of days, he found it a bit hard going but then he took to it like a duck to water and had a wonderful time and made some good friends.
Obviously spending three weeks studying engineering over the summer has been useful to his school work this year. He brought home a maths test the other day where he had got 96%. The test itself wasn’t particularly hard but I was struck by the neatness and economy of his answers. Every question was answered with the minimum number of steps and the responses were clearly and succinctly set out. He lost the 4% for failing to tot 16 and 9 correctly – what, you think I didn’t ask?
Notwithstanding his academic genius, he can be a bit disorganised. He has to bring home economics ingredients to school every second Wednesday and this always comes as a surprise to him, and to us, on Wednesday morning. I was awoken at 7.30 the other week by a nervous Daniel who said, “Mum, Mum, wake up, I’m too scared to tell Dad but I need to bring, lardons, butter and Pecorino to school for home ec.” I pulled some bacon out of the freezer and told him that Parmesan would have to do as cheese. “But E [his cookery partner] is bringing the Parmesan, I was supposed to bring another cheese,” he protested. I sent him off with Parmesan and cheddar and said that that would have to do. That evening, I asked him how it went, “Fine,” he said, “except we couldn’t thaw the bacon.” Terrifying. It’s far from Pecorino we were reared etc.
He gets on really well with his brother. He is regularly slightly mortified by his brother’s blithe disregard for convention but he has learnt to live with it. He often gives Michael a hug, if he is feeling sad. He and his sister continue to have a more difficult relationship; they drive each other crazy. She told me though, that she put up on her instagram a question, “Who do you admire most?” and he said her. She was quite touched. And he does admire her but he also finds her very annoying.
He is very fond of his little cousin S – 2 – and pretty patient with her. He is also fond of his cousins who are about the same age as him – 13 and 11 – and I do like to see them all together. When we went skiing earlier this year, one of the big things that made it a success for us is that we were there with the cousins.
He has also grown very fond of the cat this year. He used to regard her with, at best, indifference but they seem to have bonded this year.
He has put a lot of effort into trying new foods over the past 12 months. I wouldn’t say that he eats a lot of different things, but he is trying and he has added some elements to his groups of permitted foods.
He used to get really annoyed and not be able to control his temper but he has got much, much better at this and now, he is pretty exemplary. He does get annoyed very occasionally and storm off to his room but really rarely. I have to say, I admire how hard he’s worked on this and how much he has improved.
Although, in general, he is not keen on my outings, he does like the theatre and although we only go a couple of times a year as a family, he seems to really enjoy those trips. Art galleries, not so much.
He’s good at doing things around the house and, if asked, will set to, if not with enthusiasm, at least with efficiency.
He can be very kind and obliging. On Friday night, I had to walk down to the supermarket to pick up some things and I wanted company. He volunteered to accompany me for what, let’s face it, was not the most exciting expedition, his siblings having quickly turned down the opportunity. We had a lovely chat and he carried the shopping home to boot.
He’s a delight.