KITCHEN SINK DRAMA
There is a sentence on the children’s back to school information sheet which, I have reason to believe, was put there to mock me. All summer, every time I shuffled the papers in my expanding in-tray, it caught my eye. In fact, it caught my eye three times, in three different colours because – lest I have not shouted it from the rooftops enough already – I now have three children in the same secondary school.
But apparently, that’s not enough. Under the heading Facilities and Equipment Fund, parents are advised by this perfidious sheet that families with one child in the school need to pay €150, families with two should shell out €160, and families with three need to find €180. So far, you might think, so reasonable. And then they deliver it, the punch in the face: “families with four children or more, €200.”
Who? Who? Who are these families? When the kids returned to school last week, I wanted to tag along with them, and loiter outside in the hope of spotting a parent depositing four siblings from a car – not to congratulate them for their efficient saving on the Facilities Fund, of course, but to reprimand them for their Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe approach to family planning.
For years, I have anticipated the time when I would have three children in one school (their primary school was divided into separate junior and senior divisions, so I only ever had two at any given time in the same building), and I have imagined how I would be regarded by other parents and teachers as some sort of latter- day Mrs Walton. “But how does she do it?”, they would all say in awe and admiration; “how DOES she do it?”
Instead of which, if the three mocking letters in my in-tray are to be believed, they will be saying, “could you please stand back, inspiring mother of four or more coming through.” Well, I want to shake that woman’s hand. I want to shake it so tight that she needs some sort of obscure orthopaedic surgery that will involve her moving to Donegal and taking at least half her children with her.
The truth is there have been days when the four of us, in a riot of soup and sandwiches, have laughed till
In the absence of being shouldered around the school hall and hailed as a sort of studentmanufacturing machine, there so far seems to be hardly any advantage to having all the children in the same school. For openers, they have yet to walk to school together (a picture I conjured up years ago, imagining some gentle joshing between affectionate siblings on a path made soft with fallen, russet leaves). I was on the radio on the day they returned to school, and Sean O’Rourke asked if I’d taken lots of photos. I hadn’t, I admitted. I hadn’t the heart to tell him that The Teenager had missed the first day because of a long-standing modelling job; the Boy had left the house in a shouting match over the importance of breakfast (not important, apparently, when you’re 15) and The Youngest had left without telling us when she spotted her best friend at the garden gate.
Short of running after them and snapping them from behind – tricky since The Model had been collected by car an hour earlier – there wouldn’t have been much point. At some point before the new uniforms take on that odd shape of disillusionment, we’ll get them to stand together outside the front door and smile.
But there’s always lunchtime. For the past couple of years, I’ve kept quiet about just how much craic goes on in this kitchen at lunchtime on school days, for fear The Youngest would feel left out. But the truth is that there have been days when the four of us, in a riot of soup and sandwiches, have laughed till we cried. Now, at last, for half an hour each day, there are five of us; obliged through hunger and tight timetables to sit around the same table, with only the gentle drone of the radio for distraction. When school finishes, they wander in at different times and then off into the bigger worlds that absorb them and make them late – or even absent – for dinner. And after that, there is television and music and Facebook and Snapchat; five people leading independent lives under the same roof.
But for half an hour each week day, like Sister Sledge, we are family. Four or more children? Frankly, they wouldn’t fit in.