KITCHEN SINK DRAMA
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.