Cat in the Hat

Marque 5 emerges from the line beaming. He is carrying a foreign bag as well as his school bag. A glittery sticker sparkles on his jumper in the Friday afternoon sun.
‘Look’ he says, pulling a cuddly toy from the bag.
‘What is that?’
‘It’s Cat in the Hat. I have him for the whole weekend’ he says, hugging the thing. Drat. I know now what this is. A memory from two years ago, when marque 4 was in senior infants, emerges and rattles in my brain – a puppy dog, complete with coat. I pull out a heavy journal from the bag to confirm my suspicions. Yep. He’s boy of the week and has been given Cat to take on adventures for the weekend. Which would be fine – ish. But then there’s the journal. A record of said adventures. Photographs. Written words. Details of the adventures. Hang on a second. As boy of the week shouldn’t he be let off homework for, say, a week? As they don’t get homework on a Friday, why are we lumbered with this? I try to muster up a little enthusiasm. A smile to greet his joy. But it isn’t happening. Then some kind other mothers weigh in and do it all for me.
‘You got Cat! Well done. What adventures are you going to have with him?’ He’s proud as punch, chatting away, while I think about the implausibility of printing pictures by Sunday night. We’re no good at printing. Somewhere in a drawer lurks reels from our honeymoon. Undeveloped. 17 years old. Gone off for sure.
I flick through the journal. Cat goes to football matches. Cat goes to the Aviva stadium. Hell, I just want to chill for the weekend. The other competent parents are able to record and print. Lucky kids.
He embraces it wholesale. At this rate we could have the thing done and dusted by tonight. Cat at the shops getting his Friday treat. Cat on a log waiting for brothers. Cat driving the car home. Cat in the garden in a makeshift den. Cat watching the Late Late Show. Surely that’s enough for any Cat of a weekend. There’s thirty odd photos on my i phone. Perhaps I’ve peaked too soon.

Swinging along side his joy is fear. Parental fear. Deep seated. What if something happens to Cat while adventuring with us. What if he falls down the loo or loses his tail? What if we just can’t manage to find him? Hell, we can’t find plenty of things most of the time. Perhaps there’s a find your keys style alarm yoke I could string onto him. What about all the other boys in the class, waiting patiently to be boy of the week? How will it be for them when Cat fails to return, or returns without his Hat?

Saturday is stunning. I’m sure we’ll have great adventures. I’d love to just stay in the garden, but hey, the Cat is in charge. I’m up in our bedroom discussing with himself what is in store for the afternoon. There’s a knock on the door. Marque 3’s cheerful lilt penetrates the room.
‘Eh Mum, it’s just that marque 5 was throwing Cat in the air and he accidentally went over the wall into next door’. There it is. The nightmare delivered. I knew it.
‘They’re not there Mum’.f
Of course they’re not.
‘I think they’ve gone away for the weekend, to a wedding’ marque 4 shouts in.
Of course they have.
‘I saw chairs and balloons in the back of their car’.
I look at himself, pleadingly, hoping he’ll throw me something calming and wise. His pulse does not appear to be racing and he does not seem to be engaging at all in the unfolding drama. In fact I think he’s mid-snooze. I’ll have to take matters into my own hands. Now, firstly, who can I blame?

Cat in the Hat
‘I told you to be careful with him, what were you thinking, throwing him up into the air?’ Marque 5 has crawled under a table. This boy of the week lark is traumatic stuff.
‘But he likes to be thrown, it’s fun and I just wanted to see if he could reach the upstairs window’ he says. That’s the trouble with kids. Always wanting to have fun. Not taking their responsibilities seriously enough.
‘I don’t think your teacher would count throwing him over the wall as an adventure’ marque 3 says, laughing.
‘Could we just sneak into their garden and get him?’ marque 2 asks.
I have a recurrent nightmare about being on someone else’s property when they’re not in and then I hear them come home. Wakes me every time.
‘No we cannot, that would be trespassing’. Think brain, think.
‘What if they don’t come back?’ Marque 5 asks. Well you should have bloody well thought of that before throwing him over the wall.
‘What if it starts to rain?’ Marque 3 asks. All the questions that are in my head are being spouted for me. Except one. What if a wild cat mistakes Cat for one of it’s own and takes him by the scruff of the neck off into the wilderness? Now only I could think that one up. Then I have an idea. I go to the upstairs window where marque 5 was attempting to throw him. I look down into next door’s garden to a heavenly sight. Washing buffeting on the line. They’ll be back. They’d never leave washing on the line for days on end unlike some others I know intimately. Cat will live to tell the tale.

It’s getting late and there’s no sign of the neighbours so we decide we’ll have to adventure today without Cat. But first I write a note for next door signalling our predicament, lest they opt to toss him into some other random garden. It’s with a heaviness
that we drive up the road without him. He’ll be missing out and I think I’ve  begun to take a bit of a shine to him.

‘STOP’ I screech. It’s the second most beautiful sight of the day. Our neighbours driving down the road. Going home. Home to our Cat.
‘Run down and nab them quick, before they leave again’ I instruct the sensible marque 2 who is looking suddenly terribly shy.
‘RUN’ I say.
‘I’ll go with you’ marque 3 says, reading the situation better than a parent. Or than this parent at any rate. Off they toddle and the relief at the idea of holding Cat again, of seeing his little face, floods my veins. In fact we are all pretty hyper with relief. We resolve to give Cat the best Saturday evening of his life. He rolls down hills. Climbs trees. Does the monkey bars and basket swing in the playground. Comes home for a BBQ.

On Sunday we treat him to a picnic on a windswept beach in Wicklow. He is revelling in it all. We have about a thousand pictures on our i phones. Clicking maniacally for the time that is left to us. Making up for the near death experience.

Now to the printing and writing up of adventures. A pleasure for sure.

‘It is fun to have fun
But you have to know how’.

Cheers Cat.


Reversals and resveratrol


Nobody told us about the reversals. About how you think you’re keeping a vigilant wise eye on them. But it is the other way around. They are checking us for signs. Checking and quizzing and monitoring. Silently. Then confronting with all the evidence to hand. Wham. 

‘Can you do his reading with him while I go downstairs and get a couple of things done?’ I ask marque 2, an unusual request but hey, he’s here and he can read and marque 5 might just like the variety. He mutters something which seems to have ‘wine’ in the middle of it. Blah blah wine blah. 

‘What are you talking about wine for?’ It’s only 5.30. That’s four hours off our tipple. Although now that he mentions it…

‘We’re doing a course in school and I’ve been asking my friends and their parents do not have a glass of wine most days’. 

Yes they do. They just wait until their little blighters are asleep, that’s all. As you insist on dragging your homework out in the sitting room with us until all hours, until we can stand it no longer…

‘They told us on the course that it’s bad for you. Wine is bad for you’.

‘What course? Who is running it?’

‘I think they’re parents’.

‘What parents? Where are they from?’

‘Dunno. They’re not from our school. Just parents making children aware or something’.

Making children aware of what exactly?

‘Wine in moderation is not bad for you. Especially red wine. In fact there are health benefits to having a little red wine most days’.

‘What health benefits?’

‘There’s a thing in red wine called resveratrol.’ The word trips dutifully off the tip of my tongue. It has been waiting there for this very moment. 

‘It’s found in some plants and the skin of grapes. It can help prevent heart problems and even some cancers. Google it if you like to find out more’.

He seems happy with the health benefit analysis visited upon him. It niggles away at me though. I go back to my no wine Monday to Thursday occasional stance and sip camomile tea instead. Which does nothing whatsoever to relax me as maths sums and Irish verbs are thrown at me from the corner by a vigilant marque 2.

The following week he emerges from another bout of ‘the course’. He sits beside me in the passenger seat and drops his news. Before we’ve made good our escape from the school gate.

‘I asked if there are any health benefits to drinking red wine. They said no. There are none. None whatsoever, Mum’.

Jesus. The blood begins to simmer. Making a liar out of me to my own son. It’s time to take a deep breath and count to ten. To give my head time to come up with something wise, calm, non-defensive. Unfortunately my mouth opens before I can get to one.

‘Who are these people? What qualifications do they have?’ 


‘Because they should have their facts straight. I worked in that area for many, many years, you know, in preventative drugs and alcohol education for young people. There are a lot of people who set themselves up as experts but they are not. No qualifications, no training, nothing’.

‘What qualifications do you have Mum?’ marque 3 pipes up, sunnily. Don’t answer that. It would be childish to answer. You don’t have to prove yourself to your kids. Even if others are casting doubt on your veracity. 

‘A masters degree in the area for a start’.


‘So I know what they are trying to do but it is the wrong approach. Scaremongering is not the way to go about informing young people about alcohol. In fact it can have a backfiring effect’. 

Unperturbed marque 2 produces a sheet with units of alcohol. Points out that my healthy glass of red wine has 2 units. My own sheet would say 1 unit. 1.5 with a shaky generous hand. Oh well. He multiplies it out expertly. Concludes that one glass a day brings me to the maximum weekly recommended for a woman. But we all know that come Saturday evening, when their grandmother babysits and the desperate parents escape to the pub, the units balance is tipped. Q.E.D. The course people have kindly pointed this out to the poor worried boy who keeps throwing his hand up. He is raking me over the coals for it. 

‘But Mum only has half a glass of wine, and it’s not every night’ marque 3 chimes in. Nice one. Cheers. 

‘She has half a glass, sometimes, with her food’. Now that does seem moderate. 

‘Then she waits three hours for her liver to deal with it and has the other half’. Great. We all see that which we wish. Marque 3 is a glass half full kind of kid. He interprets the world with great optimism, logic and little worry. He’s a good one to have on your team.

Marque 2 continues with pearls from the course. Something about a piece of string and parents of adolescents loosening the string, lengthening it, offering more scope for negotiation. Perhaps they should consider it the other way around too. What about the poor old quizzed, boxed off, stressed out parents. Who, pray tell, is lengthening their string? He’s loving the course, clearly. I’m still wondering who these people are. I’d like to have a word with them. 

Instead I google resveratrol for myself. I’ve read many recent encouraging newspaper articles about it. But I want to be sure, to be sure. Google obliges. Red wine, in moderation, has many more medically researched benefits than I could have imagined. Amongst the already mentioned ones there are benefits to the mind. Reduced levels of depression. Reduced levels of dementia. We could all do with a bit of that. Ageing. Moderate red wine drinkers age better, physically and mentally. The cancers – which our families have battled with – are reduced too. Bowel and prostate. Even breast, which most alcohol intake is supposed to increase the risk of. Moderate red wine drinking reduces the risk of breast cancer. It feels medicinal too. I think your body just knows what is right. What is good. So thank-you unknown course providers. Your scaremongering has me all buoyed up. We shall continue with moderate red wine drinking. Just not in front of the children, now that you’ve set them upon us.

The course coincides purposefully with marque 2’s Ceremony of Light. At which he is asked to make a promise to God – a pledge – that he will not touch alcohol until he is a certain age. Hence the scaremongering. He seeks his conflicted mother’s counsel. She who would very much like him not to touch alcohol until a certain age. But make a promise to God? I think not.

‘I don’t want to take the pledge’ he says wisely. I bat not an eyelid. ‘But my teacher says I have to come up with an age and put it on his desk by Monday’. Wow. Things are worse than when I was a kid. We had the choice whether to take it or not. Marque 1 informs us he wasn’t even given the choice of age. Everyone was told to take the pledge to 18. Which he did. Which he’s disgruntled about now. He feels hoodwinked. He feels he should’ve been given a choice. Making a promise is no small deal. Making a promise to God can weigh heavily indeed. He will feel bad if he breaks it. He even struggled with having Bailey’s whipped cream on his pudding at Christmas. The guys in his year who are drinking now have all become atheists, he tells me with amusement. I’d say there are a few more to come. Another nice little reversal. Force the kids to promise to God and they back out of their faith altogether. 

‘Sixteen’ I say to him. ‘You should write down sixteen for your teacher. You wouldn’t be allowed a drink before then anyway.’ The logic of this pleases him. It’s more of a promise to self than anything. That he can do.

‘I’ll look forward to having a drink some day’ marque 3 pipes up from the seat behind, ‘seeing as you say it’s good for you and all Mum’. Drat. Just when I was making a little headway through the morass of moral codes that lies before me. Winging it, but headway nonetheless.

‘I didn’t say that all drinks are good for you. I said red wine is good for you, in moderation’.

‘What’s moderation?’ Hell. I’m with the course people. It’s much simpler just to demonise the whole thing.

‘Kids in Mediterranean countries are given a little red wine with their food though’ marque 2 continues.

‘Which I think is a really good idea because then they don’t go nuts when they are suddenly allowed to drink’. Good point. Maybe he’ll throw up his hand and offer that little gem at the course next week. We were a Mediterranean style family ourselves courtesy of my parents being serious linguists (Spanish and French). The smallest dribble with a special meal. An inoculation against alcoholism. But we haven’t done the same with our own. Somewhere along the way I lost my nerve. Didn’t think it would go down too well in ‘news time’ in their classrooms. Somewhere along the way I’ve bought into an austere approach. Which will come back to bite me if marque 2 is right about it. Oh well.

‘I’m just really looking forward to having my first pint, with Dad, in Connemara on my 18th birthday’ marque 2 finishes off and I’m crossing my fingers on the steering wheel, to stave off who knows what, with that lovely picture in mind. 

‘Me too’ echoes around the car.

Pledge night arrives and the priest – oh how I love this new priest – sings the praises of alcohol intake in moderation. You may see your parents enjoying a drink, he suggests, twinkling. As a celebration. As a relaxant. As a little accompaniment to an enjoyable evening. That’s just fine, I get it, he says. I’m doing all in my power not to nudge marque 2 in the ribs. You see? Listen well now, my boy. It only becomes a problem, he says, if overused or misused. Then it can cause true misery. To the person. To the people surrounding him/her. Violence. Poverty. Illness. Tonight, though, is not about stealing the fun from the young people, he says. It is about assisting them to make good choices for themselves. Abstaining from alcohol until such a time as the body is mature enough to take it is one such choice. Assisted by a promise, to yourselves really. Hear, hear. Why wasn’t he giving the damn course? If ever I am to become less of a lapsed Catholic it will be due to him. A little nudge slips marque 2’s way. His eyes widen in mock mortification. The priest smiles down at us. He is, it seems, even in on our joke.