Tipping point

It is the eve of marque 3’s10th birthday and we, the parents, are pinching ourselves for different reasons. Now that the balance is about to be tipped in favour of the double digits amongst the kids, that is. I throw it out there, wistfully, and he picks it up, blissfully, and we are singing various hymns from the one sheet.

‘I can’t believe it. Three in double digits. How can that be?’

‘I know, phew’ he says laughing. ‘It’s great, isn’t it?’

‘Great? How can it be great? It’s going too fast. Flying along. I’d just like a little pause button you know? Freeze them all for a bit and just be here, all together, now, enjoying this time. Sure before we know it they’ll…’

‘But the really tricky years are behind us…’

‘They weren’t so tricky though, were they?’

‘Well compared to now they were. Broken sleep. Nappies. Buggies’.

Ah god, the buggies. Aren’t they great though, for stringing the old shopping on? Passing rice crackers (I swear) to the outstretched little hands. Climbing Killiney Hill recently marque 2 reminded me about the summer days when I’d take them for a walk there, and they’d have to help me to carry the buggy, baby an’ all up the steep steps. Ah god, those were the days. There were many, many buggies but some stand out more than others. The double buggy, a long heavy train of a thing. Two in it. Two holding on to the sides. You could get in through shop doors with it, slimness being the attraction, but then you might just have to reverse back out, turning it being the flaw. It was a sociable yoke though, inviting stares and comments and even friendship with others afflicted with the same type of a thing. Later on there was the red throne of a buggy – an indulgent purchase for the last baby – that we reversed over at Powerscourt Waterfall. Without him in it, thankfully, but unnerving nonetheless (you see, you see how stressed and stretched we were?) It was replaced by a not so regal sage green thing, which – possibly unimpressed – he mastered climbing out of within a week, and that was it. The last of the buggies. It took me a while to work out what to do with my arms at the end of the buggy days. Leave them to swing uselessly at my sides or fold them defensively across my chest? Ten odd years of buggy pushing will do that to a person.

I have a selective memory all the same. It weeds out that which will not serve me. Leaves me with the most perfect version of events. I pinch myself now to jog it along, to throw me some flash backs of the horror of sleep deprived nappy filled days. They will not come though. I can’t even remember any of them crying as babies. That’s how bad it is. Oh well.

‘We’re over the hump’ he continues triumphantly, which is just as well. Two wistful parents would be too much for any child to take.

Marque 5 is busy massaging the shoulders of the relieved parent while his brothers line up fighting for their turn. He has strong knot-sourcing thumbs and offers a variety of massage types – karate chops, piano fingers, the elbow speciality and the spider.
‘Hey, I could open a massage shop when I’m older and you guys can all come along’ marque 5 announces.
‘Yes, and I could open an art shop next door to it’ marque 2 adds.
‘And I’ll open a technology fix it shop on the other side’ marque 3 offers.
‘And I’ll design and build all the shops’ marque 4 throws in, and they all laugh as that’s exactly what he’ll be up to.

I look on at them, huddled together, being massaged by ‘the baby’ and projecting excitedly about their adult lives. The assumption that they will all still be huddled somehow, somewhere, is firm within them. Knowing that this will not be the case tears at my insides. On this, the eve of the tipping, I say nothing. Nothing at all. I hold the image close, take a deep breath and ready myself to embrace being over the hump. Whatever that is.

Happy birthday baby boy.


Birthday Secret

I’ve found the secret to successful adult birthday celebrations in early January. I’m prepared to let you in on it. Maybe. If you promise not to tell anyone else. I’ve been years searching and trying different places, eager to jizz it up. The collective ennui that follows the Christmas season makes this tricky. Not to mention all the empty pockets. As decorations are stripped down and the national mood seems to match this affair, anyone hoping to celebrate with more than a smile is, well, frowned upon. Until last night that is.

My sister’s birthday falls two days after the Epiphany. Elvis’s too which I always thought was pretty cool, a saving grace from Graceland. He would’ve been 80 this year which has me feeling old and young all at once. Old enough to remember enjoying some of the songs, young enough to be shocked that he would’ve been that old. As birthdays go though – and there’s nothing scientific about this – it must be one of bleakest dates. And I’ve been on a mission for years now to change this. To make it seem just as jolly and full of potential as, say, a birthday in June. Fooled she has not been though, as we sit in empty restaurants saying
‘Isn’t this great, all to ourselves, great service, sooo much attention, look at that picture, marvellous colours matching the wallpaper. Skedaddle for a pint anyone?’ Each year I feel personally responsible. Each year I feel I’ve failed her.

So last night as I set off in the gale force winds to meet her and my parents, at a destination chosen by me, again, I was feeling a little queasy. Queasy and also heavy hearted about the brutal murders in Paris. Humorists, cartoonists, journalists. Cultural producers, helping us to understand the world and its follies better. Police helping us to stay safe. Blown away. It’s all I was able to think about. I’d have to pinch myself under the table not to bring it up.

I decided to bring marque 1, her Godson, to twinkle at us and distract us from ourselves. Nothing like a kid to keep the adults behaving themselves. So when we entered our destination to the roaring hum of a thousand voices a disorientating pang embraced me. Something was wrong. We climbed to the second floor, a vast expanse looking out across the Irish Sea, and it too was jam packed. Not a place to sit down in sight, ginormous though it was. What the hell? Something’s on. Some big event I hadn’t heard about. I must’ve messed up again. I hovered by a table of nearly finished punters while marque 1 scouted around. He came back beaming having found them, already seated, at some long medieval style table with a gang of others. Students. We like students. We’ve never quite accepted the fact that our own student days are behind us. Maybe because we’ve been involved in third level teaching. That and the fact that we grew up in UCD with Dad at the helm of one of the Departments. We were all supremely comfortable sharing our table with these lovely male students, and if they were grimacing in return they hid it well. Oldies, those past the first flush of youth and a kid. They hid it well indeed. Mentally I’m catapulting marque 1 amongst them, ’tis only a short few years. That and asking them how their courses are going. Do they need any help with anything at all? Essays. Exams. Dinners. Clothes washing. We’re all in this together, after all.


Objection, your Honour


I object. I have reasonable grounds. I object to the expectation of them being catapulted back into school when Christmas is not yet over. When everyone knows there are 12 days of Christmas and I think you’ll find we have reached day eleven, your Honour. We still have hibernating to do so that we can attack this new year with our full life force. In Spain the kids haven’t opened their presents yet, as they do so on the twelfth day. The Epiphany, January 6. School should not be returned to before January 7. When we all understand well enough that it is over, me Lord.

All this drums through my head as I search, on day ten, for lost beaker lids. As I crawl around hoping to seize upon a stash of ties that some organised person has squirrelled away for a day such as this. It cannot be over. We are in a sublime state of under the duvet hibernation. We peep out before midday to the glorious realisation that we can close those eyes again. The kids have taken to hauling their duvets down to the sitting room where they curl them around themselves, little heads just about visible, smiling in the bliss of having to be nowhere else at all. They seem to have stopped expecting food too in true hibernation style.


Occasionally we suggest a walk before the dim light fades altogether and sometimes we make it. Other times we don’t. We don’t much care either way, relishing as we are in our newly re-found teenage slob around days. Endless cups of coffee and tea are produced by marque 1 for his ailing parents as they lounge on their bed reading and snoozing and chatting. He also produces excellent toasted sambos for us in front of the fire at night – when we’ve forgotten our dinner and the red wine has the taste buds nagging.

So when marque 4 runs to the loo and bellows out that he has the runs, a little smile crosses my mouth. That’s one unfit for the big return. And when marque 5 wakes up before midnight on day ten, coughing his loaf off, another little smile happens. That’s two unfit. I assess the others for signs of ‘unfit to return’. They are hale and hearty though.

My dreams in the early hours of the eleventh day wake me. In them an Irish teacher has been trying to communicate with me since September. She has been writing an array of notes in the front of a copy-book – which I have never laid eyes on – arranging meetings which I have failed to turn up at. Her notes have been hopeful to start with, she signs off with smiley faces, blue and then highlighted in pink. Then the faces become neutral. By the time the dream wakes me she is drawing big frowney faces with ‘did not attend’ written underneath them.

I catch my breath and set about the daunting task of luring the fit from their slumber. Marque 3’s voice pipes out of the blackness of his room.
‘How many days ’til mid-term break?’
Ah god. Then I remember, too late, how some excellent mother was supposed to repair the sleeves of marque 1’s well worn jumper. That or buy him a new one.


I find myself on this eleventh Christmas morning ludicrously reaching for the sewing kit. Trying to thread a needle and realising that something has changed dramatically about my eyesight since I last did it. There is no way in hell that the big fat thread is going to fit into the tiny hole, if indeed I could actually see the hole. I hand the deed over to the young eyes of marque 2. And somehow I manage to repair one sleeve which is just going to have to do.

They dress and we leave – this half crew – in the darkness. It feels like evening time. As if we ought to be heading out on one of our late leisurely walks. This is cruel and unfair in a civilised society, your Honour. I plead for two more days. Just the two more days that are due to us all.