FIONA LOONEY

KITCHEN SINK DRAMA

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

The last par­ent teacher meet­ing. We’ve had 14 years of th­ese dis­cus­sions about the erst­while Small Girl, later Teenager, dur­ing which, I reckon, we’ve met any­thing up to 60 teach­ers. I say ‘we’, but ob­vi­ously, where th­ese meet­ing are con­cerned, I have done most of the heavy lifting. The only pri­mary school PT meet­ing that The Hus­band at­tended was in the year in which – as the chil­dren and I in­sisted – he fan­cied the teacher. Half­way through that en­counter, for sheer devil­ment, I started talk­ing in Ir­ish, purely to make The English Hus­band think that I was telling the teacher that he fan­cied her. That is how se­ri­ously we came to take our el­dest’s par­ent teacher meet­ings.

And now we are at the last one – both of us, be­cause sec­ondary school meet­ings (es­sen­tially speed dat­ing but with­out the tan­ta­lis­ing prospect of sex at the end) are a two-per­son job and one of the few oc­ca­sions in which mass bul­ly­ing of men is ac­cept­able (‘Don’t speak to any­one! Just queue up! Al­right, you can take CSPE!’ etc). Our task would be a lit­tle eas­ier if The Teenager had given us a list of her teach­ers to match the piece of pa­per that ev­ery other par­ent is clutch­ing, but when I’d asked for it, she’d looked at me as if this was the first she’d ever heard of school, let alone par­ent teacher meet­ings. Luck­ily, we know the drill.

And be­cause we know the drill, part of me feels like start­ing each con­ver­sa­tion by shout­ing, ‘I don’t care!’, push­ing the teach­ers’ pages of notes onto the floor, and run­ning away. There was a time, back in pri­mary school, when I made bets with The Hus­band as to which eu­phemisms the teach­ers would use to de­scribe our dis­or­gan­ised, dis­tracted daugh­ter. ‘For the birds’ was a popular one; ‘away with the fairies’ was a favourite. Then there were the less imag­i­na­tive ‘day dreamer’ and ‘not en­tirely with us’ style re­marks. They all added up to paint a pic­ture of a child not en­tirely liv­ing in the real world be­tween the hours of nine and four. But since we spent the rest of the time not en­tirely with her, we al­ready knew that. She was never dis­rup­tive, never rude, never lazy. When she fin­ished pri­mary school

It’s one of the few oc­ca­sions where mass bul­ly­ing of men is ac­cept­able (Just queue up! Al­right, you can take CSPE now!)

she re­ceived a spe­cial prize for hav­ing never missed a sin­gle day in eight years. That is our girl: in body at least, she will al­ways show up.

I had won­dered if I would hear one last eu­phemism; if one more teacher would rum­mage through their diplo­matic dic­tio­nary. But since tran­si­tion year, we have heard very lit­tle in the school to sug­gest other-world­li­ness. I know I won’t get it from her mu­sic teacher, with whom I start pro­ceed­ings and from whom our tal­ented young mu­si­cian al­ways gets a rave re­view. But re­mark­ably, the thumbs ups con­tinue. On the third meet­ing, I be­gin to sus­pect an ad­min­is­tra­tive er­ror. ‘This is a young woman go­ing places,’ says the Ir­ish teacher, and like a sur­geon in dan­ger of am­pu­tat­ing the wrong limb, I stop her to con­firm that we are def­i­nitely talk­ing about the same girl. But we are. ‘At­ten­tive’ and ‘en­gaged’ come into that meet­ing as well – by its con­clu­sion, I sud­denly want to turn, face the room and roar at all the other teach­ers to bring it on. In my head, I am al­ready giv­ing my at­ten­tive, en­gaged daugh­ter fifty euros. Feck it, a hun­dred.

Of course, what I re­ally should have done at that point was go home.

It un­rav­els slowly enough: we start with poor time-keep­ing and lack of fo­cus and pretty soon we’re back with a gen­eral deficit of con­cen­tra­tion. There is men­tion of her pre­sent­ing work up­side down. Then fi­nally, we come to the very last one. ‘A bit harum scarum,’ ven­tures the ed­u­ca­tor, after some gen­eral re­marks, and then looks askance when I start to laugh, prop­erly laugh. I tell her about the pri­mary years and the eu­phemisms, and suit­ably em­bold­ened, she tells me that just the other day, at the end of a class as­sign­ment in which ev­ery other stu­dent had writ­ten two and a half pages, our ex­hibit had man­aged a half a para­graph. What was the prob­lem the teacher had asked, to be told by our apolo­getic 17 year old: ‘I did start out con­cen­trat­ing, but then I be­gan day- dream­ing. That’s just what I do.’ It has been ever thus. And seven months be­fore the most im­por­tant exam of her life, quite hon­estly, we wouldn’t have her any other way.

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