KITCHEN SINK DRAMA
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.