The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - CONTENTS -

One by one, we are mark­ing all the mile­stones for the last time. We have had the last cake sale, the last art ex­hi­bi­tion, the last har­vest of daf­fodils, grown in the school grounds for Daf­fodil Day. I was sorry to miss the last par­ents’ as­so­ci­a­tion AGM, be­cause we al­ways get free and ex­tremely poor qual­ity wine at the end – though since my friend Máire’s twins moved on to sec­ondary school, the wine drink­ing hasn’t been nearly as much fun. They don’t do wine at the sec­ondary school’s AGM; they do tea and cof­fee and bis­cuits that you didn’t re­alise still ex­isted.

It is al­most 13 years since I let go of the then Small Girl’s hand and watched her dis­ap­pear into Bishop Shana­han Na­tional School. Now, my­self and The Youngest walk down to­gether ev­ery Thurs­day, she to dis­ap­pear into Shana­han’s big­ger brother, Bishop Galvin, and me to share some of my bawdy show­biz sto­ries with the ju­nior in­fants next door. We are count­ing the days now: there are, I reckon, only six more of these morn­ings ahead of us. I have walked my chil­dren down to these schools thou­sands of times. I can barely re­mem­ber the time be­fore the Bish­ops; I can scarcely imag­ine what life will be like af­ter them.

It was down there that I first no­ticed the mu­tual sus­pi­cion be­tween the moth­ers who work out­side the home and the track­suit bri­gade – a fas­ci­na­tion that grew roots and be­came Dan­de­lions, my first play. It was down there that a ju­nior in­fants teacher once handed me a lit­tle plas­tic bag con­tain­ing a pair of wet knick­ers. Down there that I watched The Boy play on the only ju­nior school foot­ball team that didn’t beat the se­niors in the an­nual in­ter- school tour­na­ment. Twelve Na­tiv­ity plays, 12 sports days. Four mu­si­cals, two of which had my chil­dren in lead roles. Two talent shows that, strictly speak­ing, par­ents weren’t sup­posed to at­tend, but that I went to any­way, be­cause again, my chil­dren were up there on stage. The last talent show is com­ing up soon: I can hear The Youngest re­hearse even as I write. I baked for ev­ery sin­gle cake sale. I bought books at ev­ery book fair. I reckon I have per­son­ally in­spected hun­dreds of minia­ture bed­rooms fash­ioned from shoe

It was there I first no­ticed the mu­tual sus­pi­cion be­tween the moth­ers who work out­side the home and the track­suit bri­gade

boxes across eight art ex­hi­bi­tions. Don’t get me started on the motte and bai­leys that lined the back wall of the hall, year in, year out.

I no­ticed stuff as well. That while a lot of the ju­nior in­fants’ moth­ers are preg­nant, it’s rare to spot a bump out­side the se­nior school. That even af­ter 13 years, there are very, very few non-white chil­dren in ei­ther school. That if you were to weigh the en­tire school pop­u­la­tion now, it would be con­sid­er­ably heav­ier than it was 13 years ago. They tried to do some­thing about that not so long ago: Drop Ev­ery­thing And Run was, I reck­oned, an in­spired ini­tia­tive which had the whole school run­ning laps around the build­ing daily – un­til, The Youngest ex­plained, some­body fell badly and that was the end of that. Drop Ev­ery­thing And Read, my sec­ond favourite ini­tia­tive, is safer and still goes on.

I went into sixth class down there a few days af­ter 9/11, to ask the chil­dren how they felt about the tragedy for a news­pa­per ar­ti­cle. A few weeks later, her ju­nior in­fants teacher let The Small Girl sit on her knee for most of the day be­cause her Mammy was hav­ing a baby. I have just asked that baby to try not to get her uni­form skirt dirty again be­cause I hate hav­ing to iron the pleats back in.

My best friend used to iron those pleats in, back when her own daugh­ter owned that skirt. In a cou­ple of months, I will go to that baby’s 21st birth­day party. By then, my own baby will be wear­ing a dif­fer­ent coloured pleated skirt in a school that I never stand out­side. By then, I will no longer make a packed lunch ev­ery morn­ing and my vast collection of lunch boxes will be re­dun­dant.

I never re­alised, back when the Small Girl started, that my own as­so­ci­a­tion with this pri­mary school would last longer and run deeper than my chil­dren’s. It didn’t oc­cur to me that chil­dren at­tend pri­mary school for just eight years, but their par­ents are con­nected for as long as it takes their en­tire fam­ily to pass through its gates. Maybe that’s why, come the end of June, The Youngest will barely glance back over her shoul­der. If she did, she would prob­a­bly see her mother, rooted to the spot, by no means ready to move on.

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