Still Life

We’re novices in the whole secondary school subject choices arena. Marque 1 is forging the way, educating us. We will be more adept for lucky marque 2. There were six subjects from which he could choose two as options for the Junior Cert. He loved them all to begin with when the trial runs were on. We could imagine him doing and enjoying each one of them. We were unable to attend the night of the subject choice discussion. Where teachers meet and discuss the options with unenlightened parents such as ourselves. Then in our ignorance we tried to help him decide. He whittled away a couple for himself – the Latin and technical graphics – and then made a play for home economics. In our infinite wisdom we said ‘sure you do all that stuff anyway, you’ve a natural flair for it, the cooking and the shopping and the economising.’
He is a child who makes real chocolate sauce from scratch without measuring a thing. He just seems to know. Someone who shops for food bargains in the German stores and whips up a steak and crème fraîche mushroom dish for a certain parent’s birthday lunch. Crème brûlée without the aid of a blow-torch. When one night we dropped the tray of freshly made rice crispie buns for the school’s annual cake sale – I stood staring hopelessly at the smithereens – he said ‘don’t worry’ and whipped up some fresh cookies instead.

‘But I really love it’ he implored.
‘Yes but maybe it’d be a waste to do it as a subject seeing as you do it all already’ these wise folk spouted.
He chose business studies and music in the end. A fitting choice steered by the elders. Until not too long into the old business thing he began to complain of boredom.
‘I can’t believe it’s so boring, all budgets and stuff. I don’t want to waste an option on this – not when I don’t have to do it’.
The elders paused for a moment and then advised. Wise counsel again.
‘Stick with it a while longer. It won’t be all boring. Sure you’ve been thinking up business ideas since you were tiny. It’ll be good to get some knowledge of how business works.’

Some weeks later he produces a change of subject form.
‘I just can’t do it any longer. I really want to change. I’ve asked about home economics but it’s too late. There weren’t enough people for the second class and now if I was to do it it’d clash with music. So I’m going to change to art. Will you sign the form?’
A whole plethora of feelings rise and fall in me. All intricately related to guilt. We didn’t listen well enough to him, or at least we didn’t hear him. We didn’t attend a vital meeting which could’ve staved off this unfortunate situation. We thought we knew what would suit him best when in truth we hadn’t a clue. He knows himself well enough to be able to tell us. We’d have served him better if we’d stayed out of it altogether.
‘Of course I’ll sign the form, here hand it over’ I say eager to make up for the deafness. ‘Will you enjoy art do you think?’
‘Well the art teacher has to see if I can draw first. I have to do a still life tonight’.
‘Of course you can draw’ I say, fingers crossed, otherwise he’ll be consigned to three years of business and it’ll be all our fault.

I press him and probe him about the still life all afternoon. ‘Have you done it yet, when are you going to do it?’ He is ultra relaxed about it, especially considering he is so desperate to change. ‘Not yet, I’ll do it later’.
At 11.00 that night he rocks into the sitting room and nabs the bowl of fruit from the dinner table, plonks it on the coffee table in front of him and using his legs as a prop he sets to work. I pretend to continue reading the newspaper and not to be peeping at the unfolding still life. He doesn’t appear to notice anything else, the concentration is deeply relaxed. He waves it at me on completion and to my non-artist’s eye it’s pretty good. He waves it at the other parent, the one with the discerning eye, who nods and smiles.
‘Here’ I say excitedly now, offering my half empty glass of red wine to be included in the artistry. ‘Put that in too, fill the page’.
He draws the wine glass and the bottle of wine. Then he meanders over to the book shelves and selects a book to plonk the fruit bowl on to finish off the effect. The Art of Thinking Clearly he selects, seemingly randomly, but I’d guess he’s trying to tell us something, fair play to him.
I knock back the rest of my glass of wine. We are saved. He will do art and enjoy it. Better than home economics any day surely?! We will not be made to pay for steering by watching years of miserable toil because we did not listen.


I’m ready to pounce on him as he gets in from school.
‘Well what?’
‘What do you mean well what, what did he say?”
‘Oh the art, good yeah’.
‘Did he say it was good?’
‘He did yeah’.
‘So you’re allowed to do it?’
‘I think so yeah’.
God give me patience…

Today is the day of his summer art exam. He has to select something from home to draw as a still life. He wasn’t worried enough to choose something last night. He knocks around the kitchen this morning with a list of possibilities.
‘Sure I could just pick a flower or something on the way to school’ he says and I simultaneously love how relaxed he is about it while being utterly perplexed by his laid back approach. I try to keep my ‘be prepared’ girl guide anxious motto to myself. He finds an old head of garlic, complete with green shoots sprouting.
‘This will do’ he says wrapping it in tin foil, happy out. What about all those other choices on the list I think to myself. What if there’s something easier to draw, what if he’s setting himself up for a fall? I manage to remain silent and watch him saunter off with the ease of someone who knows and trusts himself well enough. Thank goodness for that.
I’ll have to think of a new motto (‘listen, don’t steer’?) which chimes in more readily with this diverse crew.


photoMarque 5, on the verge of turning 5, pipes up with a special request.
‘Can you buy me my own bed that I can sleep in by myself and you can come and check on me every few minutes?’
‘Yes of course I can sweetheart’ I say a tiny bit pleased and more than a little gutted.
‘But will it cost too many hundred euros?’
Ah, god.
He’s clearly had enough of this attachment parenting lark. He’s making his bid for freedom. He would’ve made it long ago if he wasn’t so worried about the cost.
‘No it won’t be too many hundred euros . Now where would you like your bed to go?’

He announces the plan to a mother at the school gate.
‘My Mum is going to buy me my OWN bed and she’s going to come and check on me in the night’.
I was lucky with the person he chose to share his great news with. Not a raised eyebrow or a hint, if she was thinking it, of ‘poor angel, your mum should’ve done that for you long ago’. I begin to gibber on, flush faced, about thwarted plans to execute this phase in the past. In truth I think about it and wait, patiently – attachment parenting style – for a sign of readiness.
The wham bang sign arrives today.
He sketches his new bed for me. It floats seamlessly on air. His teddies join him up there. He is more than a little bit ready.

The theory is that the more securely attached they are to their parents the more confidently independent they’ll be later on. Co-sleeping, prolonged breastfeeding and trusting your instincts are some of main facets of this approach. Easy peasy. Delightful. Natural. A privilege.

What about the parents though, when the little traitors decide to move on?! Absconding and leaving them all by themselves to resume normal marital relations. These people who are used to sneaking around, nabbing their moments opportunistically like young ones with nowhere to go. What about the separation anxiety the poor mother could (theoretically) feel when her snugly warm love-bug ups and flees. It remains to be seen as I’ve yet to source that new bed. He’s phasing me into the reality of it, in fairness to him. After dropping the bombshell he saunters into his brothers’ bedroom and sleeps in with marque 4, swapping for marque 3 half way through the night, and then tosses me the couple of hours of sweet slumber after dawn. Slim pickings. I think it’s about time to unearth the downside of attachment parenting – for the parents. The poor separation-anxiety struck mums and dads, bereft in the absence of their co-sleeper, hurtled together again, blinking into the half-light of life without a chick in the nest. Marque 5 picks up on this, telepathically (all that attachment!) and pipes up.

Leo a sleeping Felix‘I thought you might want to have another one of us now that I’m getting my own bed’.
‘What, another baby?’ I say laughing.
Nope. No sir-re. In fact when he puts it like that I might even begin to value the freedoms that are coming my way now that we are well and truly out of the baby stage.

Cheers and happy birthday to you marque 5.

Ellen Kelly


Easter 3 (1)Somehow, somewhere along the way, we bought into the concept of the Easter Bunny. As this was not a feature of our own childhoods, we should’ve had more sense. Blindly, unquestioningly, we let the Easter Bunny in. We let him take over. We failed to distinguish between the bunny and ourselves, so each year the bunny does it all. The surprise eggs that await them, carefully selected and laid out. One large, one medium, one bunny, a hen and a few mini eggs are laid. As we celebrate Easter in the Wild West each year, the bunny has to conceal these for the journey. No mean feat with seven of us cramped into a jeep. Then he has to stash them – paws crossed that they remain intact and unmelted after the long journey – until the day. Then sneak around undetected laying the magic out. The kids wait for one another in the morning and go downstairs together to see if he has been. I wait in the sidelines for an appreciative glance. A little thank-you. But as the bloody Easter bunny has done all this they don’t have to remember their manners.

The industrious Easter Bunny has also set up another annual tradition. The highlight of the day. All they talk about when they talk about Easter. All they remember. Come rain, hail or shine, the Easter Bunny sets up an egg hunt on the glorious Mannin Bay. This is where some real magic takes a hold. Where it is possible to believe in anything you choose. Rollicking grassland, white sand and dunes, rocky outcrops, the magnificent bay in the shadow of the Twelve Pins. Rabbits, hares, sheep, cows and ponies. Wild rustic magic.

Easter 2 (1)The kids are keen to get to the bay early lest some other family beat us to it. Marque 1 is co-opted to go ahead with the father to ‘check’ if the bunny has left a hunt for us this year. The rest of us de-camp at the first beach and meander the half mile across the headland. We reach the jeep to be told that he has indeed been. Multi-coloured foils glint and wink at us in the sun. They hide in rocks, grass and sand. The clever bunny has managed to hang some from twigs in the dunes. My heart beats a little faster as I spot one and I have to stop myself from leaping on it and claiming it. Whoops of joy come from all of us when marque 5 spots one. The father has to restrain himself from pointing out where the bunny might have left some more. We are child-like again with our children for this special part of the day. Hats off to the Easter Bunny. Where the hell was he in the 70s?

Easter 6

Ellen Kelly