FIONA LOONEY

KITCHEN SINK DRAMA

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - FRONT PAGE - Don’t miss Fiona Looney’s bril­liant col­umn, with her unique take on mod­ern Ire­land, only in the Ir­ish Daily Mail ev­ery Wed­nes­day.

It is 11 years since The Boy first planted his chubby bot­tom on a tiny wooden chair in a Ju­nior In­fants class­room — not as an in­mate but as a nec­es­sary ac­ces­sory to the crime of send­ing his lit­tle big sis­ter to pri­mary school too young. We must have been quite the pic­ture back then. She, tiny, ter­ri­fied, just turned four and, in rue­ful ret­ro­spect, wholly un­pre­pared for the or­deal ahead; and I, con­sid­er­ably preg­nant on num­ber three, wag­ing a pitched bat­tle with a con­sid­er­able two-year- old who’d de­cided, on first sight, that what­ever about his sis­ter, school was def­i­nitely the place for him.

As the real Ju­nior In­fants made their first ten­ta­tive steps to­wards mak­ing friends and colour­ing in ap­ples on that daunt­ing Septem­ber morn­ing, The Boy sat be­side his sis­ter, as to the manor born, colour­ing in like there was no to­mor­row, grab­bing crayons from chil­dren who had al­ready learnt that it’s rude to take without ask­ing.

When it was time for us to go — the fa­thers with their video cam­eras and the moth­ers with their last-minute hugs and barely sup­pressed tears — I tried to ex­tract The Boy, only for him to wail like there was no to­mor­row. It took two lol­lipops and the prom­ise of more just to get him out of there.

I re­minded him of that the other night. He doesn’t re­mem­ber it, of course, but he’s heard the story a few times now, and ev­ery time it gets told, we take down the framed photo of the two older chil­dren at that age and laugh again at how he was lit­er­ally twice the size of his pe­tite sis­ter, all fat wrists and an­kles and a joy­ous smile that could stop strangers in their tracks.

By the time he en­listed in Bishop Shana­han Na­tional School in his own right, he had turned five (we learned that les­son the hard way), the weight was mostly gone and the joy­ous smile had been frac­tured by the loss of a front tooth in an ac­ci­dent two years ear­lier.

We didn’t take any pic­tures of him — all cute in his lit­tle uni­form — be­cause he had taken the pre­cau­tion of cy­cling into a tree a cou­ple of days be­fore he started school and his face was cut to rib­bons.

Be­sides, as the tallest child in his year, as well as one of the old­est, he didn’t look par­tic­u­larly cute at all. In fact, the com­bi­na­tion of his size, the miss­ing tooth and the cuts on his face

‘The Boy swears he’ll cher­ish the PE top signed by all his old class­mates... but he

will prob­a­bly lose it by sum­mer’s end’

meant that he ac­tu­ally looked rock hard, even though God rarely made a softer child. When he tum­bled out at the end of that very first morn­ing, his shirt was hang­ing out over his trousers and he looked as though he was al­ready con­tem­plat­ing grad­u­a­tion.

And look at him now — his dreams come true. Taller than me, lath-thin and with mus­cles that are begin­ning to form into what may, with a few more years’ train­ing, be­come an ac­tual six-pack (or al­ter­na­tively which may, with a few six-packs, never amount to anything much at all). And think­ing back on the last eight years, I can­not think of a sin­gle day when The Boy didn’t walk tall — and not just lit­er­ally — into and out of those two schools, ju­nior and se­nior.

They weren’t just the mak­ing of him but were also, in a very real way, the mak­ing of our en­tire fam­ily. When The Small Girl was there, we wor­ried con­stantly that we had de­manded too much of her too young — but The Boy, with the ben­e­fit of the ex­tra year, never seemed to doubt for a mo­ment that ev­ery les­son and ob­sta­cle that school life pre­sented him with was sur­mount­able.

With on­go­ing apolo­gies to the un­for­tu­nate erst­while Small Girl, send­ing her to school at four was the sin­gle great­est mis­take I ever made. If you’re on the verge of do­ing the same thing with your own child, then, reader, I se­ri­ously urge you to re­con­sider.

Now, though, the four-year-old is Tran­si­tion Year-bound, which will, we hope, fi­nally right the most griev­ous wrong we did her. And her brother, at long last the grad­u­ate, has the reg­u­la­tion well-worn PE top with all of his class­mates’ sig­na­tures that he swears he’ll cher­ish for ever and will most likely have lost by the end of the sum­mer.

But be­fore any of that — and in the in­ter­ests of an even sun­tan when we head off on hol­i­days next week — there is the small mat­ter of shav­ing off his mous­tache.

Dear God. From twin lol­lipops to twin ra­zor blades in the mer­est blink of an eye.

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