We set ourselves up for it, I suppose. Quite early on along the parenting road we decided to create our very own family traditions. We thought of it as a sort of identity quilting. Stitching and layering us colourfully together. Creating bonds and memories. This is our particular quilt. Look at how it wraps us up, keeps us warm. 

The kids have taken over now though. Remembering how we always do certain things on certain days. How we are never allowed to break these traditions, even if we beg. 

It’s a scorcher. It’s Father’s Day, but it is also my mother’s birthday. I have been sweating away trying to work out how to juggle the two things. When marque 4 pipes up with the suggestion of a barbecue. The idea marinates for a while. It is perfect. Everyone agrees. Just the shopping to be done so. Until marque 3 pipes up.

‘What time are we going into town?’


‘Yeah, you know the way we always go into town for Father’s Day?’

‘We do?’

‘Yes Mum, every single year for as long as I can remember. It’s a tradition. We go in and get brunch and we go to Stephen’s Green, you know, for the photograph we always take in the bandstand’.

‘We do?’

Crap. We do. Every year. 

‘But it’s too hot today for that and it’s my mother’s birthday, we have to get ready for that, you know, shopping, tidying…’

‘We have to do it Mum’ he says. I look at the time. Midday. We’ve been having a lovely leisurely present giving morning. No-one is dressed. I run it by the Father. He agrees with marque 3. There’s simply no choice in the matter. 

They are right, of course. Town is a soft mellow buzz of celebratory delight. We get pizzas and sit on the grass in Stephen’s Green to eat them. We ask a tourist to take a snap of us. Then we hot tail it around to the bandstand for the compulsory annual pic. Although today the Green is so full of people lolling about in the sun that there are some self conscious grunts of dissent coming from the teenage department. One does not wish to be seen actively posing for a picture with one’s family. The smile is not quite forming. This tradition may fracture yet. 

‘Ah go on’ his Dad says.

‘Do it for me. Sure I’ll be dead someday’ – a better guilt trip than even I could muster – and he laughs as he takes the picture. We finish off with ice creams on Grafton Street and then we are done. For another year. 

We scoot out to the suburban shops to get the barbecue food and discover that everyone is a lot more organised that we are. Of course they are.

‘Sold out’ we are told repeatedly. Four shops later and we burst into the house with some bits and pieces. All the tidying and prepping still to be done. But hey, it was worth it. Kind of. 

Now a little tradition curve ball hits marque 3. He is sailing his way towards graduation day from primary school. There’s a talent show on the final evening after the Mass. I overhear his older brothers talking to him.

‘You’ll have to do something’ marque 1 says.

‘It’s a family tradition’. 

I’m laughing behind the door. Sure enough both of his brothers did something for their talent shows, despite us trying gently to dissuade them. Marque 1 played a solo guitar piece and marque 2 sang. Terrifying and beautiful all at once, for us parents at least. 

‘It’s your turn, you can’t break the tradition’ one of them says.

He comes to us parents about it and we listen. He does not want to sing. He has a treat of a voice but he’s clear that that won’t be happening. He has taught himself a piano piece from YouTube. He loves it and could do that. Our gentle dissuasion works on him. There will be people who go for lessons who might play. Maybe something else? His passions lie in technology and also tricks. His teacher has suggested, jokingly, that he performs a hacking trick. He considers it. He could ask for a phone from the audience and hack into it without the password. Nah. Not really how he would wish to be remembered. Another trick comes to mind also, some sort of a physics illusion. He’d love to do it. It involves foam and an arm and blood as far as I understand. But it could go wrong. It’s a bit too risky. Nah. His teacher suggests something else that he has a flair for – a call my bluff word game. He’s super at the bluff (a little worrying perhaps for the teenage years yet to greet us). He did that with class pals for another celebratory evening earlier in the year. It went down a storm. All the boys were great. He doesn’t want to detract from that high, as it were. Also, he argues, it’s not really a talent. It’s a game. Someone else can take his spot. So he’s making a great play to break the tradition created by his brothers. Maybe we’ll be let off the hook with some of the compulsory traditions we’ve created over the years too. 

‘Eh Mum, it’s the summer solstice. We have to go for our night-time sun going down swim’.

‘We do?’

Yeah, we do. 

Leo and Myles High Five at Seapoint


img_0253It’s time to elicit a pep talk from someone. I shall choose my victim carefully. Tell them exactly what I need to hear. Ask them to drum it into me any which way they can. Tie me up and blind fold me and loud speaker it in. For a fee, naturally. 

There are swings to be contended with in this whole parenting a big brood thing. Great swathes of feelings of achievement having navigated them narrowly through a hectic, demanding May. Then the foot comes off the pedal in June just a tad and with it all the niggly doubts swarm in. What if I’m just not doing a good enough job? They seem happy though, don’t they, but should they seem happier? Any free moment I get, shouldn’t I be trying to improve things for them, hoovering a little more, pairing up a few more socks, baking something, blending a smoothie? Instead of hiding somewhere trying to scratch out some writing. Am I, in fact, quite absent from them as in my mind I’m off with the characters I’m eking out and carving into existence? Is there something perverse about this, creating people and worlds, while the real people in your real world might be crying out for you? 

These thoughts are cyclical and can be prompted by any little random thing. Like marque 3 asking me to sign a piece of paper about ‘the talk’.

‘What talk?’

‘You know, the talk Mum, in school, about, you know, well you have to sign it otherwise I’ll have to do science all day instead’.

One of us is blushing. Not the one that should be though.

‘Did we do that with you?’


‘Tell me that we already had a little chat with you about, you know, that your Dad took you out for breakfast and you know…’

‘No Mum, that never happened’.

You see, I tell myself, just not bloody good enough.

‘But I googled the one for a ten year old’.

‘The what for a ten year old?’

‘The talk’.

Hell, can they do that? 

‘Is there one for a twelve year old? We can do it together. Look it up. We’ll do a crash course before the one in school so as you’re up to speed’.

‘I’m up to speed Mum, don’t worry about it. Just sign here’. 


‘Any questions, sweetheart, just shoot, we’re always here, kind of, you know, and your Dad owes you a breakfast out for anything you might want to chat with him about, instead. Okay?’

‘Okay. I’ll definitely go for the breakfast. Can I go to Sweet Moments afterwards too?’ Sweets. Yes. Give the children lots of sweets and forget to cover the basics with them. Well done you. 

‘When can I have my breakfast chat?’ marque 4 pipes up.

‘What age are you?’

‘Ten, nearly eleven’.


‘Soon. Very soon. Maybe Dad will do a bumper pack chat. Take the two of you out. Or maybe even three…’

There are ways to make up for areas of neglect in big broods after all. A three-way Christening in 2010 comes to mind – yes we got three of our sons Christened on the same day, only the greatly disorganised can manage a feat like that – with marque 3 and marque 4 standing together as water is dripped down onto their copiously coated blonde heads and only marque 5 is small enough to actually wear the robes. It was a magical day remembered far too well by all.

On an up swing, such as it was on the last day of May, I can be heard calling out things that seem a little surreal.

‘You’ll have to all get your homework done super quick this afternoon. I won’t be able to supervise it later. I’m meeting my agent’.

‘Your what?’ Marque 5 asks.

‘My agent, you know, for my writing’.

‘Oh yeah, your agent. What?’


‘Can I come too?’

‘No you cannot’. 

‘Awww, please?’

I sail off with no one in tow, thrilling enough in itself, briefcase swaying in hand – a little uncalled for, but hey, it makes it seem a little more real – and talk about the book and the characters in the making as if it’s all perfectly normal, everyday work. Then I go back to the unfinished homework. Which doesn’t seem to bother me at all anymore.

So my own pep talk person, when selected, will boom out that parenthood is full of swings, it always will be, and accepting them, going with them, ignoring the niggly doubts, is the trick to surviving. Maybe even thriving. In the meantime, this luckily chosen person will be asked to pin me down and tell me to keep carving and scratching away. I will do my best to listen. There is someone in my corner now, after all.