The long summer evenings of blissful light and heat have been reeking havoc with any sort of reasonable bedtime for all of us. Which would be grand if it wasn’t for the school mornings. By the time the last of the kids is asleep we feel we owe one another at least two hours of something or other. It’s often 1.30 before the contact lenses begin to be prised out. When the alarm sings and chimes merrily in the full dawn light I wonder how I’ve managed to do this to myself, again.

They lie on the couches downstairs, curled up, falling straight back to sleep even though I’ve successfully roused them. I find myself dressing all of them now as they flop and fall like rag dolls around me. The shoes are all in ones now and I’m squeezing them into too small or tightening too big old versions which nobody is happy about. We are all sick and tired of these agitating mornings. Which is why when I do an about-turn at the school gate, all four deposited almost on time – secondary guy snoozing on – I dream of something to recover with. If I were a smoker, a little congratulatory hit of a puff would be it. If I were a runner I could make good my escape from the school gate on foot, and that would be it. Something to mark the change in pace from freneticism to phew. I have yet to find out what that is.

The overall pace is set to change. Eight lovely weeks without those mornings stretch ahead. Curling up recuperating whenever, wherever.
Marque 5 wakes me. It’s blissfully 10 o’clock. ‘So summer holidays is when no-one wakes you, you don’t have to be anywhere, you have fun and you can just have a little relax’. Precisely my son.

Except we’ve set a sort of fervent pace of fun for this, the first weekend, which may trip us up down the road. We whipped them from their last school labours and catapulted them into the fun fair in Dun Laoghaire. There’s usually a week or two of begging which precedes anything like this. Delayed gratification does something useful to the child’s frontal lobe for later life skills – or so I was told at some child development talk. Don’t spoil, simply and traditionally put. As it’s marque 4’s actual birthday we ditch the begging delayed gratification phase. They can’t believe their luck.
‘Thank-you so so much for bringing us to the carnival’ marque 3 repeats over and over, throwing his arms around me happily, unselfconsciously. One minute he’s spotting the Ferris wheel from a walk along the coast and calling out ‘oh my god, there’s a carnival in Dun Laoghaire!’ and the next he’s at it and a little stunned.


Marque 5 needs an adult for the bumper cars and I nominate myself and they are wide-eyed with the excitement of their mum joining in. Until, that is, marque 2/3’s car whams so forcibly into the back of mine that our heads fling forwards and then back, and I’m thinking whip-lash as marque 2 leaps out of his car to apologise. ‘Noooo’ I call out over the thumping music, picturing him being mown down or legs crushed at this fun affair. ‘Sorry mum’ and he is handing me something. He has spotted my sunglasses on the floor which must’ve been flung from my head during my whip lash moment. Great.

The being on tenter-hooks feeling continues for the rest of the time at the fun-fair. Are they strapped in properly? What if there’s something wrong with the latch on his one? Why, oh why, does he have to do that g-force thing. Splat. The word that dances across my mind, as I smile and take pictures of them all. This queer mixture of feeling that a parent has watching their off-spring, exhilarated with the excitement of speed and height, and praying for it to be over quickly, safely. All this while remembering exactly how much I loved the thrill of the speed and the height myself. Thankfully with no memory of a hovering anxious looking parent. Oh well. Marque 4 & 5 ‘win’ prizes at hooking and netting things. This I like, rip off and all that it is. Our time is topped off by Teddy’s 99 ice-creams all round. Yeah! We did it, all intact, all happy, and the adrenalin begins to drop off again.

The tent that marque 4 got from his brothers pops up in the garden and marque 2,3 &4 decide that they will sleep out in it. We go along with it, expecting to see them return before real darkness. We eat and we chat and we sip wine and we wait. And wait. Until he slides the back door open onto the darkness and the quietness. He stands, listening. ‘They are asleep’ he announces. Which while thrilling poses a counter problem for us. Is it responsible parenting to rock on up to bed and leave them alone out there? I nominate him to sleep on the couch near the back door, just in case. He accepts his nomination gracefully and I don’t see him again until dawn when the lads have come in to him on a high.
‘We did it. We slept a night in a tent by ourselves!’ They curl up and sleep again on the couches, blissfully content with their achievement.

We take them to Seapoint for a quick dip but the fun unfurls and we stay for hours. A massive seagull circles above and then swoops down dropping something close by. It looks like a nest. We investigate and discover a huge crab, petrified, unmoving. The lads are keen to rescue it before the return of the swoop and scoop. A couple of late teenage (beautiful!) girls join in and help them. One picks the huge crab up as marque 5 cries out for her not to ‘it’ll pinch you’ and she calmly shows them all how to hold a crab by the body. They meander off down to a pool of water and set him free. He plays dead for a while, after his beaked excursion into the sky, and eventually buries himself to whoops of joy.

It is Sunday morning when marque 5 wakes me with his comment – so this is what summer holidays are all about. Yes, but there’s a disquieting feeling that we may have peaked too soon on this, the first weekend of the hols. What with the fun fair, the camping out and the seaside frolicking. Their expectations will be sky high.
‘What are we doing today then Mum?’
‘Nothing. Nothing at all my sweets’.
We need to take our foot off the pedal and pace ourselves for smatterings of fun stretching out over the next eight weeks!


We have perfect spacing until the next birthday. For four lovely weeks a year, between the end of May and the end of June, we bask in the glory of some sort of symmetry. This is when the kids go down or up in twos. 13, 11, 9, 7, 5. We are that organised. Fair play to us. We love to be asked their ages during these weeks. We trip them off smiling, not stumbling like we do the rest of the year. We tease marque 4 for the impending skewing of our pattern by his hand. We do this each year and he finds it funny (we think!). 5, 8, 9, 11, 13. Now we’re mere disorganised incompetents again. Oh well. It gets worse. By November it’s 5, 8, 9, 11, 14. By January 5, 8, 10, 11, 14. Then the competence breather again in May-June. 6, 8, 10, 12, 14. Hurray!

The party decision looms and with the disaster in mind from one year ago we are keen to get it right this time. Last year I blindly accepted an invitation to share a ‘football party’ with two of his class mates. I accepted knowing that marque 4 has little or no interest in football.


Football partyI myself would be wondering what football has got to do with a party. However marque 4 is an easy going easily pleased chap most of the time. He’ll just muck in I told myself and the other mothers. I sold him a pup. I stood on the sidelines and watched his little world crumble. The high point of a football party, it seems, is that the birthday boy gets to be captain and pick his team. Except there were three birthday boys and, well, two teams. The keen as mustard football birthday boys were selected as captains and marque 4 stood by the wall waiting to be picked, his face clouding as the captains set about choosing the best players for their respective teams. As they were getting down to the last few the tears started to roll. He was neither captain nor player at his own party.
‘Oh dear’ this compliant mum said to one of the others. ‘He is upset now. Perhaps he should’ve been vice captain of one of the teams’.
The other mum cup-handed hollers to her birthday boy to hand over the reins of captainship to marque 4 until half-time. I knew then as I do now that it wouldn’t work. Marque 4 shares a trait with his mother. Once upset he retreats and recuperates inwardly. He was not about to run with the ball and pretend that it didn’t hurt. That the team he didn’t pick was his own. He tried for a minute, in fairness to him, but the tears just got in the way.

I stood on the sidelines chastising myself for the botched party I had visited upon him. Note to self: if your child doesn’t like an activity then don’t book him a party in said activity. I stood there thinking about all the fun things he loves and how anything, absolutely anything would be better than this. He was upset and humiliated at his own party. I thought about how his father can sometimes magic him out of himself when upset. Black humour – marque 4 has the best quirky sense of humour – and vicious tickling. In the absence of said father (the mothers were running this show) I didn’t think whipping him off the pitch and whispering black humour while tickling him in front of his class was really the ticket. It was an hour and a half later during food time when he re-emerged twinkling. One of the mums started a game of Simon Says. Simple as that. A fun old-fashioned party game where everyone’s in with a chance.

This year I get to choose. I consult with the birthday boy. We both agree it is to be an outdoor ‘Survival Party’ that we share with one other (their birthdays are one day apart at the end of term). The other birthday boy is equally pleased with it. Now we don’t know exactly what it entails but we’re due to meet at a mysterious woods to be told. The car is packed. Cake, candles, party bags, drinks, four brothers. Now we just have to get there. We set off in the sweltering heat (thankful for it!) to find these woods hidden in an estate somewhere between Dundrum and Lamb’s Cross. Except google maps seems to direct us off down the M50.
‘Oh, I recognise this road’ marque 3 pipes up. ‘We’re on our way to Galway’. Cheers. The clock is ticking. We are careering on in a seemingly intractable wrong direction.
‘Just get off the motorway’ I helpfully grunt – amongst other things – and he laughs as the one way system lures us on stretching endlessly ahead with no turn off in sight. I’m sure I’ve had a few nightmares about this sort of scenario. Inviting a truck load of seven year olds to a woods and failing to turn up. Panic is setting in. I snap my head around to see if it’s reached marque 4 yet. Yep.
‘It’s going to be as big a disaster as last year’ he wails and the tears are close by. I’d hoped he had forgotten all about last year.
‘We’re never going to get there’. Sob. While I feel like joining him and having a little wail myself, I hear a calm voice of re-assurance. We will indeed make it. We have loads of time. When what I’m really thinking about is how he cried through his party last year and this year he’s not going to show up at all. He doesn’t believe me, naturally, my reassurances are missing a certain something, and I’m out of tricks when I hear the father muttering some black humour followed by a golden laugh. Phew! Then he illegally talks to his iPhone asking for audible help to get us out of this mess. I’m close to hysterical laughter when a deliciously calm obliging robot takes over. The soothing voice directs us back through twists and turns we would never have guessed. We screech up at the woods with a minute to spare and only one waiting parent and child. We emerge from the car and smile the stress off our faces. We’re all set for the adventure ahead.
The party i20140623-215231-78751550.jpgs wholesome, magical fun. The sunlight sparkles through the trees casting a mosaic on the forest floor. We watch the instructors deliver their fun messages, grateful to be outdoors, neither too hot nor too cool amongst the greenery. There is a team element for part of it. Two teams are set the challenge of building shelters to survive in. Marque 4 stands proudly and selects his three brothers first of all followed by his mates. He is delighted. As he has spent a large portion of his soon to be eight years making shelters/dens both indoors and out to play in, this is right up his street. The fun begins. They have to guard their shelters while constructing them. They can sneak out and catch people from the other team to be their slaves for two minutes. Squeals and laughter rebound about the woods. They swear blind that they can see a fox. Fingers crossed it’s not a wild rabid dog. Everyone is having a ball. The only real concern that I have is for the potential of gouged eyes. Sticks are a big feature when making and guarding a shelter. ‘Your son had a great time at the party, sorry about the missing left eye’. Nobody else seems too concerned so apart from my seizing of a couple of exceptionally dangerous looking long pointy ones, we can relax.

The party photo (1)is topped off by gathering kindling for a fire. They rummage around to find the driest tiny sticks. They are competing together now to come up with the goods for the best woodland fire. They are quizzed about what might be needed to get a good fire going. I like it, using their heads too. Sticking their hands up with an array of ideas, oxygen getting a little clap. The fire gets underway and the birthday boys are the first to toast marshmallows followed by all the others. They sit in a circle toasting and chatting and laughing. More food is dished out. The candles are lit on two birthday cakes and the singing breaks out. Only missing the beer the parents jest amongst themselves. The birthday boys are awarded survival certificates for competence in shelter building and fire making in a woodland wilderness. Nice touch.

The fire and mud clean-dirty troop of boys dance down the forest path, loot bags in hand, and are collected by exuberant parents commenting on what a great idea for a party it is and weren’t we so lucky with the weather. Everyone seems to be smiling. Even marque 5 smiles as he rubs a dock leaf on an arm full of nettle stings. Keen not to let his new older survivor friends down he stifles any urge to moan about his bristling arm.

The bright-eyed energised survivors are safely home. A bottle of chilled Prosecco glistens and glasses clink in the evening sun. Cheers, to getting it right this time and to survival!

Testing Times

photo 3 Swatting for tests isn’t something they seem prepared to do. Swatting for them ourselves and drumming it into them isn’t something we’re prepared to do. We’ve reached a natural hiatus. We’ve created it and now we’re not sure what to do about it.

There are secondary school tests which will determine levels ahead. There are primary school tests for reports which will be passed on to the secondary school. We’re raising them not to be too anxious about these things. Then in the wee small hours I pray for a bit of anxiety to be instilled in them. A little tiny drop to set the adrenalin pumping. Theirs. Mine pumps away on their behalf. If I could inject a vial of mine into them then maybe…

They’re doing exactly what we’d hoped for them. Enjoying their interests and aptitudes, having fun and being unperturbed by the competition that looms around them. And yet.

Marque 3 sails out of school today announcing he had his summer maths test.
‘Were you supposed to study for that?’
‘Ah no, you can’t study for a maths test. You can’t really study for any test in third class’.
Marque 2 has a similar attitude to his 5th class ones. I was astonished to discover that there is a revision list detailing exactly what to cover for each subject. He is unshaken. He reckons he knows all the stuff pretty well without the need to go over it. He tends to get away with it too. Last year as he approached the tests without a drop of sweat I was sure it would be reflected in his report. A little lesson that would serve him well. I hinted as much to him. Then his best report ever lands at my feet one sunny July morning. The lesson learnt was that mother does not always know best. My ‘told ya so’ moment turned out to be his. Oh well.

photo 2‘Ah, that’s because you have all boys’ I’m told when I relay my laid back approach to the studies tale. The girls just get on with it apparently. I’m averse to gender stereotyping, but it’s everywhere and we’ve been at the receiving end of plenty of it over the years. Blithely removing individuals from the conversation and casting an all inclusive sexist net. The more kids we had the more bizarre it became. The comments and the free reign blind assumptions. But they are are all so thoroughly different I’d scream silently.

‘All boys?’ strangers would ask with a subtle shake of the head, a ‘poor you’ intimation, an ‘oh well’ sigh. Or sometimes they’d come straight out with it.
‘I feel sorry for you. If that was me I think I would kill myself’ a sage mother (unknown to me) said shortly after the birth of my third. She had a son and a daughter. She said she’d love to have a third. But only if she could be guaranteed another girl. Stuff rattled in my head. Stuff that ought to be said. We consider ourselves very lucky, but thanks for the concern. Maybe you should stop at the two then. Save yourself the disappointment. You haven’t even met my children. How can you possibly comment? As luck would have it some years later her daughter ended up in play school with marque 3. She developed an acute crush on him and expressed this to her mother who dutifully informed me. ‘It is so funny, she is really very serious about it – she wants to marry him’. Not on my watch sweetheart! But then again if I kill myself like you kindly suggested, she’d be in with a chance!

The skin grew thick to the comments in the early years. At first I found myself flying the flag high for boys. Trotting out how much fun they were, how positive and zesty and affectionate and hilarious and by doing so I was really joining the polarising boys versus girls discourse which I didn’t like. By defending so much I was doing everyone a disservice, boys and girls. I found people agreeing with me, defending away, ‘yes give me boys any day, much more straight forward than girls. I know someone who had four boys and then a girl and she says the girl was all the work…’ I dropped the flag. These are all individual children, all different, no generalisations necessary, thanks.

However the consumerist polarised marketing of boys versus girls – a money spinner – has been irksome over the years. We have found ourselves purchasing a pink padded flicker scooter, a pink/purple framed blackboard and a pink kids’ camera as the boy colours were out and the birthday deadlines were up. Even some of the technology comes in thoughtful pink or blue. For heaven’s sake. When I read a newspaper article citing the compulsory removal of girl themed folders from the stationery shelves of a large supermarket chain – due to an anti-boy slogan – I was sadly unsurprised that there were such items. Complaints had been made. At last we’re waking up I thought.

photo 1There seems to be a change looming – in the form of the loom band craze – and we’re embracing it wholesale. This sees boys and girls equally industrially employed weaving bracelets, necklaces and rings from multi-coloured bands and flogging or trading them in the school yard, or giving them as presents to family and friends. The boys are wearing the products – and yes even if speckled with pink. At last and long may it continue. An accidental maturity in the marketing perhaps with great bonding benefits across a largely socially constructed gender divide. Roll on the next gender neutral craze and fingers crossed we see an end to pink versus blue.


We decide it is time for an adventure. The memories that we are creating with them and for them have been geographically located in the east and the west. Of this island, that is. We have not burst beyond the peripheries to far flung Europe. Passports and airports and waiting and sweating and sunburn are not things we do. We tell ourselves that we’re keeping them safe. Not dragging them around to encounter the dangers. And sure where else in the world would they want to be, we say, when the sun makes an appearance in Connemara. It was good enough for us as kids so it’s good enough for them, we reason.

Except there are mutinous whisperings amongst the crew. Marque 4 came home from a friend’s house grumbling.
‘We always do the same things over and over. Can’t we be more adventurous, live somewhere different with a bit of a view or something exciting like that?’ The cheek of him. Turns out the house he was in has views over the city. From upstairs windows the airport was pointed out to him. He could see the sea and asked if he could see England. He was, I’ve been told, in awe. Ah god. He has never even been to the airport. I log this with a modicum of guilt. Some day, my son. Some day. We’ve become selectively deaf over the years when the older ones enquire if they will ever, ever, like all the rest of the kids they know, venture to pastures beyond the island. Some day my sons. Some day.

We ease ourselves into this new adventurous mode. We decide to ditch the car in favour of the train to break through the border into the Northern Territory. This is a trip we’ve been promising marque 1 for years now. As an avid Titanic fan – who was interviewed on radio about his interest for the April 2012 commemoration – it is with another smidgeon of parental guilt that we’re only getting around to it now.

When we tell them that we won’t tell them where we are heading but that there is a train involved the guessing begins. We’re off to Bray for the carnival. We’re off to Howth for a picnic. Both ends of the dart line is all they can imagine we’ll stretch ourselves to. This little game makes the elders feel good. Ups the impact of the punch of excitement to come.

We nearly fall at the first hurdle. We’ve pre-booked our tickets to include dart tickets to and from town. We’re keen to avoid any diversions courtesy of the bank holiday marathon. We are smugly organised, foreseeing pitfalls, great parents that we are. We are catching the 9.35 train from Connolly to Belfast. We rock into our local dart station at 8.00. Red neon lights flash 9.20 at us.
‘What does that mean? Maybe it’s the next train is in nine minutes twenty seconds’ I say hopefully as I watch the neon sign unchanging, no diminishing seconds, and allow it to dawn on me that the first train today is actually at this tardy time.
The troop is deflated.
‘But I really wanted to go somewhere’ they are muttering and echoing around us.
‘Back in the car, we’ll drive’.
‘But I really wanted to get the train’.
‘We’ll drive to the train’.

As we stand at the rope barrier, first in line in our zealousness to embark on the Dublin to Belfast train, marque 5 bursts into song.

Sine Fianna Fáil
Ata faoi yowl ag Eireann…

Crystal clear, he tinkles on, substituting his own words here and there. We shuffle our feet and laugh raucously to drown him out. Of course he was going to sing this. He has been singing it ever since he learnt it for St Patrick’s day with his classmates. We do not cast our gaze around to pick up on any potential nervousness of the other passengers travelling with this nationalist gang.

They bask in the luxury of the standard class carriage, the plush seats with armrests, the window with a blind to be pulled if needed. Little squeals of delight escape when the train pulls out of the station, the smoothness and quietness of it taking us all by surprise.
‘Hey guys, this will be your first time to go abroad’ marque 1 booms, lording it over them as he accompanied me to England once. At seven months of age.
‘It’s not exactly abroad now is it’ I say fearing the intricacies of the debate to follow. ‘It is. It has a different currency and everything. Hey guys, we’re going to another country’.
Sine Fianna Fáil…

The food trolley lady is doing her rounds.
‘Can I use euros in Belfast?’ marque 1 enquires.
‘You can use the notes but not the shrapnel’ is the sage response, no kidding.
‘Is that a northern term for coins then?’ the father enquires, laughing. Always mention the taboo is his mode. Breaks the tension with potential for bonding laughter. She is not laughing with him. She pushes on leaving us with our ignorant southern questions. Shrapnel. Seriously though. I think I’m beginning to feel a little nervous. What if she’s trying to tell us something. Keep on your toes with your wits about you, drop the anthem, drop the inappropriate jokes. I put my head back and say a little prayer of sorts. That all seven of us return in one piece after this long awaited adventure.

The ATM in the station spits my card back at me. It is not recognised. Great. We have to make it to a bank or hope that everywhere takes euros. Lovely taxi drivers offer their services but we decide to traipse. We’ll get a great sense of the place walking. We google and find a branch of my own bank exists in the centre. We will go there and we will traipse on then to the Titanic quarter. Except by the time we have found the bank and done the exchange with all in toe we are starving. A quick lunch and then we’ll set off. There’s a great choice of places to eat with the parents hinting heavily about Wagamamas while the kids debate the relative merits of Nandos versus Pizza Hut. Nandos wins and we have an excellent feed.

The clock is ticking. Even so, we find ourselves walking again. Navigating our way to the Titanic quarter with our noses. This is the flaw of the day. We haven’t a clue really, and marque 5 is intent on dropping my hand and bursting into happy little runs, hurtling towards roads with me running and shouting and grabbing him. It’s much further than the map suggests and walking with five kids is pure folly. At a junction of the M3, which our noses tell us we should take, there’s a ‘no pedestrians’ sign. I’m wondering who’s to blame and as I’m about to decide, miraculously, a seven seater taxi appears. We are saved and delivered to our destination. We were, he tells us, very close. We are, we tell him, knackered and foolish, and we try to make him promise that he’ll reappear for our outbound journey.

The Titanic experience beats all expectations that we could’ve had. It is exceptionally busy with visitors from the south today. The staff are exceptionally patient and good humoured throughout. We wait in a long queue to be taken in a lift to the top of the Arrol Gantry to immerse ourselves in the construction of the Titanic. The guy operating the lift listens to his earpiece which tells him the state of play above.
‘Sorry for the wait. It’s choca above. It’ll be a few minutes’.
I get a real Titanic feeling washing over me. We can’t move forwards or backwards. We’re stuck waiting for the lift to rescue us. I wonder if this is deliberate.
‘No worries, as long as it’s safe’ I say laughing.
‘Yes’ he chimes in twinkling. ‘I find if you mention health and safety here, people are very understanding about the delays’ and he laughs.
We take a shipyard ride in a car that fits all seven of us. We fly through the shipyard experiencing the sights, smells and sounds of the construction. A big hit all round. The other favourite bit is when we get to sit down to a ginormous screen and experience the actual ship at the bottom of the ocean.

Our taxi driver delivers us back to the centre for some last minute shopping. The kids have ten pounds each to spend. It is the spending of this different currency which will stay with them. They hit the pound shop and emerge with bag loads of thrilling junk. They are orbital. We are leaving it tight for the train back so we flag another taxi to the station. Head count. All in. All smiles.
‘I want to be the first to say it. Thanks Mum and Dad’ with echoes of same all round.

We made it. Banter with the taxi driver about options for our next trip. The Odyssey Arena. The Transport and Folk museum. Yes, yes, we’ll do it all, our newly empowered traveller selves say. We are alighting from the taxi. ‘Careful guys’, I say,’don’t trip on the seat-belts, quick, onto the path’ and I pull the sliding door at the same time as he is closing the passenger door and somehow he is standing there with his finger retrieved, bleeding, in agony, white as a ghost. Fingers in doors. It’s one of our pet dreads.

In the blink of an eye it can change for any of us. Almost there, almost safe, wham. And that’s what we bring from our adventure above all. A thankfulness for the luck that we’ve had to date. An added vigilance for ourselves as well as the kids.

As marque 2 put it: ‘I had a feeling that something might happen to somebody today, but I didn’t expect it to be one of the parents’. Thankfully the finger will recover. And we will venture on unperturbed to other pastures. After all, marque 1 tells us it was one of the best days of his life.


20140601-141521-51321383.jpgI attempt in vain to coax marque 2 out of the bed. He’s muttering something to me, some mumbo, half asleep, jumbo. I reiterate. He mumbles. I stare at the duvet and wonder if reefing it off the bed would be considered as a sort of trauma later on. Something to be re-told to friends, partners, therapists.
I desist. Despite the fact that standing here talking to him gently about how late we already are is making not a jot of difference. A little threat perhaps.
‘If you’re not up and out of the bed in the next minute there’ll be no Friday treat’. Big guns.
‘Can I just finish my dream first’ he says, which I realise now is what he’s been mumbling all along while I’ve been considering my tactics.
‘Of course you can’ I say. Ah god. What a lovely idea. If we could all just finish our dreams first…

There is an ongoing tug-of-war in my own mind about the benefits of the school morning routine. I find myself staring at them in their cozy slumber, knowing I should be proactively waking them, and I turn on my heels to leave them for another few minutes. I busy myself downstairs with making sure everything is ready for when I have the courage to wake them. Then I try again. I hover, listening to the gentle snores, and I try to whisper them awake. I visit all the bedrooms with my whispering as a round one tactic. When no-one stirs I revisit with round two, talking now, repetitively, cajoling. Eye-lids flutter. It’s a dizzying affair with five of them. All the while as I hover not really wanting to wake them, I know that there are consequences. Every hovering moment extenuates the pressure on the dressing, breakfasting, and grooming to come. Round three tactic (how late we are getting plus a little threat, some deprivation) is where I am with marque 2 when he requests to finish his dream, which catapults me back to a pre-round one state of not wanting to wake them at all. Perhaps I could just collapse here in a heap beside him as he sees this dream out. Maybe, just maybe, we could all sneak a little day off from the dastardly routines. Knock around, free range, learning in different ways from fun and play rather than the prescribed syllabus.

I think of the first Monday morning after the Easter holidays. I have successfully herded them all downstairs. Marque 2 is putting his tie around his neck when he looks up at me and says ‘wait a minute, when’s my project due in?’ I discover that there was meant to be toil over the break. Toil that he thankfully forgot all about. While I wouldn’t have been able to forget if it was me I’m delighted that he can. A break should be a break, especially when you’re ten. It’s that tug-of-war again. I should be imposing the prescribed rules and the structures on him and I’m delighted when he frees himself from them. Maybe we should be more regimented with them, but how can they emerge as their true selves if we are. If only we could do a boot-camp control group! We’re not keen on the idea of raising robotic creatures, scared to be themselves.

The project was marked down in the end for being LATE – underlined red pen – despite my note about our broken printer which didn’t seem to wash even though it happened, coincidentally, to be true. Despite the fact that he did it all by himself – we’re averse to embroiling ourselves in projects to win best prize. Three days late which was pretty good going considering the others had two full weeks to work on it! Oh well, I say to myself while spouting the school line to him of how there has to be a consequence for not going by the rules.

The lesson fails to sink in.

Yesterday he was supposed to be neck deep in maths sheets distributed as compulsory revision aids for today’s scary fifth class summer test. The one for the report that his secondary school will request to see. I watch as he sets up his paints and canvas in the garden and gets to work. A sunny afternoon spent with his imagination and his brush. I fail to interrupt him, to say you can do that later, now get on with the maths. The truth is I feel too that it’s the maths that should wait.
He knows me well.
‘Have you finished your dream?’ I whisper, gently again.
‘Yes’ he says and he’s smiling now. ‘Can we please just be home-schooled?’ he asks and we both laugh.

There are limits to my free range ideas after all.