KITCHEN SINK DRAMA
S omehow, The Small Gi rl is 17. And while each passing year of my children’s lives brings fresh outrage over the despicable speed at which their lives are unfolding, there is something particularly outrageous about this milestone. This time, I demand a steward’s enquiry. She can’t be 17; she just can’t.
I know that democracy and drink (legally) begin at 18, but for me, that has always seemed a mere technicality. I am no longer shocked when my friend’s children turn 18, as I am still reeling from the monstrosity of their being 17 a year earlier. Because the thing is, I can remember being 17 and fully formed.
My politics, for example, haven’t changed very much at all since I was 17. I still describe myself as liberal and left — which I realise makes me, some 30 years later, what Margaret Thatcher once described as a ‘failed person’ (a failure compounded by my continuing insistence on using public transport) — and if I am no longer as incensed by nuclear power as I was at 17 (when I proudly sported a ‘nein danke’ button badge), then it’s only because the rest of the world has more or less moved on as well.
I had a boyfriend, too, at 17 — a proper, grown- up thing with a 19 year old who had a job. It lasted the best part of a year, that relationship, and didn’t involve either of our friends ‘asking if we wanted to go with them’. We went to the cinema and pubs and gigs and nightclubs together, and we spent New Year’s Eve at a dinner dance in the Green Isle Hotel (which I hated, in much the same way as I would hate such an event now). My best friend then is my best friend now, and the kind of gigs that we went to together, we still go to now. I used to go to Croke Park and the theatre with my Dad at that age, and although that is sadly no longer possible, I still spend a ridiculous amount of time in both places. And for all that I was a bit of a flibbertigibbet at 17, I am a flibbertigibbet now. In fact, when I look back — with enormous clarity — at the person I was then, there is no part of me that wonders what the hell that was about.
I told him I was hearing voices in my head telling me to split up with him. We stayed split up for all of a fortnight
And so I look at the 17-year-old Small Girl now, and I think, this is it. This is her, the woman she will always be. And I see so much of myself in her that it’s sometimes scary. She will always be bad at managing time and surprisingly good at managing money. She will always be self-motivated and stubborn and just a little bit nutty. She will always fall breathlessly in love with boys with guitars and she will deliver passionate, but not exactly bril- liantly thought- out lectures about injustice where and when she encounters it.
Some of you might know her now. Not from me, from all these years of my chronicling her path through life — but because she is fully formed; because being my daughter is now the least important thing about her. You might know her music, from her Facebook or her Soundcloud — and if you don’t, then you should check out her band, Spines, on both. You might have seen her modelling shots, or caught one of her live performances.
You won’t have seen the school report that arrived this week, which confirmed that in spite of her outside passions and her green hair, she is somehow facing into her final year in school roughly pointing in the right direction. The point is that she is no longer an abstract idea on a page, nor is she an occasionally maddening but adorable child who pronounces ‘cinema’ as ‘cimena’. At a couple of inches shorter than I, she will always be a Small Girl, but she is a woman, my daughter.
And I’m telling all of this to a friend recently, and she asks me how my own 17 year old grown-up relationship ended. And without thinking twice, I tell her that I grew bored with the boyfriend, so I told him I was hearing voices in my head telling me to split up with him. And how we stayed split up for all of a fortnight, until I saw him kissing somebody else and even though I was bored witless with him, I made a point of winning him back. ‘Very mature,’ she confirms, ‘very fully formed.’ And if that wasn’t the kind of crazy carry- on that I would still be perfectly capable of today, I might even agree.