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Thursday, 29 September 2011

A bear caged, a crab perling; let loose the dogs!

"You did! You nearly knocked me down"  the boss's voice is implacable,  on this warmish  grey September morning, as I mount the stairs to see what (the bloody hell) is going on. The boy stands stock still on a stair, brow lowered, eyes stormy and shakes his head.  "He pushed me, as I went up and he was coming down" , she is having satisfaction for  this.  "Did you?",  he shakes the head again,  "He did!, he's not speaking to me, so he pushed me instead".  I look  up at him,  surely he has grown upwards some more, and outwards, his shoulders bulking up, his schoolbag perched incongrously on his back. It seems  as though planes of skeletal growth, spurts of hormonal driven energy project   out  of him in jagged fashion,  his growing frame  simply unable to contain it all. The wonder was that he didnt take the walls down with him, never mind the boss, as he made his driven gloomy way downstairs. "Ah, I 'm sure it was an accident, and he will be more careful....eh wont you?".  The boss is outraged.  I ignore a forensic examination by her of how IT COULD NOT HAVE BEEN  an accident. "Are you, in fact not speaking to her"?  I  feel compelled to ask,  "I am not, as, if I do I will probably  say something she will not  like" he finally speaks. "And then...yet more ....trouble".

The boy was dispatched in isolation to his room the evening before for saying something I did not like, in a tone I liked even less. He had presented me with a very poor maths test to sign, which was inscribed by his teacher with the very reasonable request that he pay attention and work harder on maths homework. The boy and I have a rapprochement regarding homework. He has moved from the position that fifteen minutes was more than adequate,  to an hour or so after which we run through what was  allegedly revised. I have moved from a rosy vision of the boy putting in three hours (as suggested brightly by the school), in the face of his cold horror at "WHAT! THREE HOURS...IMPOSSIBLE . It  ocourred to me then  that maths was not a subject included  by him  in the  said revision.. "I uh dont actually need to revise maths, |I listen, in class, I always get it, except for this test, but hey its not a a problem because I got it afterwards..I ah know it now. .. He is an expert re assembler of the facts, where his comfort zone might be in danger, I have consistantly found. I presented the test paper to our resident mathematician,  fresh from her  A in honours  maths. "Hmm ,algebra (who knew ,with the boys scrawl), basic stuff,  these are basic mistakes" and she offered to help him with the revision.  The boy fought hard against this prospect of" WHAT?  MORE homework," and that culminated in  the aforementioned  period in isolation : Not because of his resistance but because of his raw dismissive tone, his impatient barely  surpressed fury. towards myself.  I tell him that I will not tolerate disrespect or indeed agression verbal from him, although , in fact I do tolerate a certain level of contrary sniping  from  (the front) him, because I know he literally cannot help it and it is necessary to him.  Its a matter of crossing a line , beween us. His sisters fail to see the nuanced  line I have with him, though , and the boss is voluble in her criticism of how HE ALWAYS GETS AWAY WITH IT,as I put the dog in the garden  and sheperd all three into the car, for school.  The boy trudges, rawboned and ackward to the car. Its clear that he would rather be nibbled to death by ducks than apologise to his sister, or acknowledge her in any other way .

I am aware of him sitting behind me in the car, crouched like a caged bear, his knees jutting ackwardly, his face a study in unyielding male stoicism.  I can hear the  dog too, barking mournfuly as we exit the driveway. He has an oscar deserving collection of wistful, mournful  and tragic barks in his armoury  , depending on circumstances. Sometimes, with the boy,    I wish I could just stop. Bring to a dead  halt  the programme of homework, routine, lectures and tellings off, directions to be...civil to you sisters...in control of your temper...accepting of correction.....unresisting of discipline...to take in food as though your body was a temple and not an old junkyard....and  on  and on  and on.  I wish I might just let him be, to fish all day with his monosyllalbic fisher boy friends, and when not,  to devour large quantities of carbohydrates with no trace of green stuff or most  of the fruit family;  to watch tv shows about aliens, wildlife, haunted houses, crimecall, family guy,and all  the fast moving ridculously violent chase movies, until he falls exhausted into his bed.  A crab in comfortable retreat in his shell, without irritant of clever knowing sisters and HOMEWORK.   But.... but ....he is a proud one, and an ambitious boy and so we must poke at him till he delivers up his pearl. Yes we must  persevere.

The dog and I have  companionably co existed for the weekend past, the children being away for rest and recreation  with their dad (the other half of the parenting team). He becomes a sort of surrogate child, or children even, a  silent though faithful shadow, at these times,  in contrast to  his usual role of yougest family member cum guard dog, cum slightly irritating younger  brother of the boy.  When the children return  he finds the re adjustment  difficult. He is a smart one, a wheaten terrior of slightly nervous and entirely benign disposition. A slavering lover of meat, who tracks down and sleeps with the boy's smelly socks at night (his bed in the house) and  a raucous lover of company.  He is to be found sitting in the middle of  childrens noise, his element giddy activity.  Like the rest of them, he has his own agenda to pursue,  the hunt for red meat or any of the other food groups, hanging with the boy, cozying up to the girls and .....walks,  no, not walks, but glorious crazy dashes through the front door opened by the unwary.  He lies in wait, and he is off! a blur of light brown doggy fur, galloping, a racehorse,  across the green and home free  to  the nearby fields.  No leash  required  thank  you all the same.  He comes back spent. I have often glimpsed him through the glass panel on the front door, lying like an abandoned fur coat, prone on the doorstep, many many hours later.

I felt  nudged , whispered to, about  his real job,  over the weekend, when he went missing for one night, and I was home alone.  I would not have expected to mind this, apart from a slight concern about his whereabouts, ( I knew he would be back, its has happened before) but I slept poorly, often waking with a sense of unease, the house seeming strange,  empty, with an unsettling feeling of absense. As I lay awake,   I found my self thinking of another evening  when a man from the gas company , or maybe the ESB , was outside our house reading the meter, and the  dog, who was shut inside with us, transmogrified into a hound  (or four) of the Baskervilles, menacing and powerful. The scene in the bedroom where the dogs guarded the child in the movie the Omen come to mind.  I looked out to see who or what had disturbed our ridulously friendly mutt, and there was an  unthreatening  looking man, though  a stranger, at the side  of our house. It was  odd  when you consider that the  dog welcomes all sorts of folk, adult and child,  known and unknown,  with madly swishing tale and grin.  Why this man.? And then there was the times when the low menacing growl would begin at someone or something approaching the  front gate, a long way back from the house, when you would again find yourself , unsettled,  uneasy, hissing  at him to shush! shush! for  the love of God!", before you checked to see if you  had locked the door.....closed the windows....gather the children in.

He retured  in the morning, and my normal sleep pattern, the  descend into exhausted oblivion,  resumed.  Sometimes I think we get a  fleeting glimpse of a common  invisable network , of pivotol roles and presences designated  unspoken  in each human household , the actual glue keeping body and soul together, making life  safe, bearable, possible even.


                                                 GATEKEEPER

                      The dog's cocked eye awaits
                                     the spillings  of crumbs
                                               the shavings of beef,
                       in the silence at my back as I prepare the meal.
                       each  dog muscle poised to leap on the intruder,
                                      whose footfall
                                                has disturbed
                                                       the air at the end of the lane.

                       His bark weaves in and out through  fallen night
                       as I lie in my bed adrift between this place and another.
                                         Guardian,
                                               of this house, and all here.
                                                   Gatekeeper.
                             

Friday, 23 September 2011

Psychosis shopping aliens and Jane Eyre

On the weekend we went shopping with  a movie to follow in order to properly celebrate my genius  girl's exam results.  Jane Eyre was her movie  choice, and mine.  The boy came along, having reluctantly agreed to this movie choice, "Is there any battle scenes, fr'instance" he wanted to know, although  he knew quite well not.  I considered this. "Lets see, there is arson, insanity, child abuse, bloodletting, disfigurement, abandonment, bereavement. and last but not least a compelling love story (compelling to me anyway) but eh   no actual battle scenes.  As I said, he lent himself reluctantly to the expedition.

Shopping done;  clothes for the genius, a cunning book on drawing your own clothes designs for the boss, and books and a cd for the boy, we headed off down the motor way to the cinema.  The car for once smelling sweetly, of violets,  the boss having tried a sample bottle in the shop, and when she was told there was none left, bargained with the hapless assistant. to sell her the  sample bottle for one euro.

The boy's voice intruded on my casual road observance  "whats weed. ...I mean is weed the same as cannabis...hash...i mean".  "Why do you ask" was my cautious enquiry.  "Oh I heard someone mention it,  people  I know smoke it you know"  (ingeniously). ..people my age.  I told him that I did know, it was hash and people his age were in the greatest danger of developing psychosis, and a life long diagnosis of psychiatric illness, where they used this drug.  " oh  but  more likely if you use speed" Mum.  "No! I mean hash, dope, cannabis".  We have had this discussion before as I am particularly aware of these dangers from the work I do, and I am always curious as to what children  take on board , from the many many warnings, and serious talks one gives. "What s psychosis" the boss wants to know.  Now I 'm always hopeing for the appropriate interval, the  space in which to have these little discussions, and I am usually finding myself addressing them in the car,  or in company, or running late etc etc (watch the road!). "Yeah , well thats when you are out of touch with reality, like, um ' you might hear voices, or see thing that are not  there".  There is a short silence.  "Then the doctor will medicate you, and you will be diagniosed with an illness that may be permant.  Another silence.  "But, but what about Jesus, and the bible  hearing voices, god. and also spirits, ghosts" says the boss sternly.  "Well umm, the psychiatrist will very likely say thats all a departure from reality, as I 've said.  "Well thats justWRONG  to say hearing voices and seeing things cant be real just because THEY  cant hear it. How can they get away with that.  I hear things all the time.  "WHAT? YOU WHAT"?.  "Sure,  when I'm thinking, its like I can hear myself, the different voices thinking",  "Ah well" I say with relief, " you know this is you, you are doing this in your mind".    "Yeah, unless, like you, you are OUT  of your mind" the boy tells her.  "Muuum, Im trying to have a  SERIOUS CONVERSATION" , muuum".  I reprimand the boy, and switch lanes, as I have been behind a slow moving lorry for the past while,  sucked in to all this.  "Hah  IT WASNT ME, IT WAS THE VOICES" says the boy.  And suddenly the car is rocking gently with  hilarity as each child gives a rendition of  THE VOICES .  "But nonetheless I add firmly, this is a very good reason never to touch the stuff.  The damage might never be fixable. There is a lull and then "But Hey, thats .... what about the aliens" the boy is not laughing now.  He is a devoted fan of all theories  extra terrestrial, and lives to see a fully manifested alien one of the days. "What if you, I mean they (the mad people) saw an alien? " .  "I m afraid an alien is a complete no no for your average docter darling "  I say.  " Best keep that one to yoirself ....when the day comes,  " adds the dreaming genius.  And on the conversation meanders until we reach town and cinema.

"Not my cup of tea" the boy offered on the way home, "But it was quite good and if I couldnt have my preferred option, ie a day spent fishing, I'm not sorry you made me go!".  And that  vote of confidence is as good as it gets from the boy jury folks.   Truely  my cup it overfloweth. ."She wasnt plain enough though, ...the actress" our super girl  opined. I agreed and we talked about the fundamental inability of the movie industry to cast a plain, or even an ordinary looking actress, where it is required.  "But" I got in " she was plainly adorned and she managed to convey the essence of the idea that Jane was unburdened by the tryanny of appearance and , the slavery of  identification with the female peer group, she valued SPIRIT and hers was mighty,  a triumph of survival against great odds.  "And "I finish, on a roll, "her skill as an artist, her ability to create, was highly valued by herself and Mr. Rochester, and came from her unquenchable spirit."   Jane Eyer and me go a long way back.  She  was  the poster girl  for plain girls, intelligent girls,  girls who coundn't be doing with all that claustrophobic female fuss and clutter,  when I was a young woman.   That was a different era of course, and now the concentration on the outer, the preocupation with appearance, the  hair strighteners, make up, perma tan, designer garments, the  industry of diets,  and consequent eating distorders, self harming ; a deluge    overwhelming every female from tween to crone,  which  may be far more corrosive of the spirit, heart and soul than the horrors of Lowood,  the neglect and poverty experienced by Jane.

 And she and Mr Rochester were fine and satisfying lovers, spirit to spirit," we agree (mistily).   Yeah, butreut how coud they get away with paying Jane £15 a year?" dermanded the Boss,  "How could she be expected to live?  I mentioned faintly that it was "all Found". "Pardon?"  "All found, ie. she had bed and board, and only needed funds for dress and other personal items.  "Hmm said the boss unimpressed, that means she had NO CHOICE  about what she ate, or WHERE HER ROOM WAS , and she continued to ruminate about how much exactly £15 would be nowadays and what she herself would have insisted on in the situation., as I drove.  And I found myself thinking with  some  degree of wistfulness of having bed and board in Mr Rochesters house, and wandering through the grounds with my drawing pad, to commit  what ever took my fancy to canvas, including his dark and thrilling   face.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Well then WHEN CAN I have a drink, mum?

"Put  on your coat"....."put on your coat"......."YOUR COAT",  I find myself addressing my daughters back on the way to the car,  this grey and rainy morning. "Dont need it" "s not really raining",  I hear this as I take in   her long freshly shampooed hair, whipped this way and that in the wind and  the long pale legs (dotted  pink with goose pimples). "Yes, IT IS , its raining, what do you mean not really, Yes, it is,  its raining. ITS EITHER RAINING OR IT ISNT!"  Oh dear, oh dear, we had the Junior certificate results on Wednesday and I hav'nt quite . .  recovered . Nerves still a tad frayed.  "She thinks the school coat makes her look fat,"  the boss explains, warmly wrapped herself.  The goosepimpled one beats a retreat to the house  for the coat, as I splutter confounded "fat"? She thinks what!". "she thinks.....what?"

I deliver myself of a short lecture on the idocy and skewed judgement of people. who WILL NOT KEEP THEMSELVES WARM  and do not understand the proper function of an appropriate leval of body fat.  There is a fair bit of eye rolling in the back, but I know she' s listening.  And   far from an idiot she is. Her exams results were very good. Even she, her most exacting critic, is pleased. She got an A in honours maths and this was greatly wished for.

She was always a  good maths student, but  found herself struggling at the beginning of this exam year. "Mum, could I  uh  maybe do a few private tutorials in maths, " a tentative request, in October.  I have to admit I brushed her off then, on the basis that she is a very bright student.  And it was early on in the year. And its a good school with a good reputation.   I told her to tell the maths teacher when she didnt get it, that it would come.  Frankly I felt that this was a reputable school , and it was yet another expense I didnt need.  I  mentioned this to the teacher at the parent teacher meeting some time after, and was blandly assured  " oh well they will find themselves challenged this exam year" and "she SHOULD  have no problem". However, she achieved a very poor mark in  the mock exams, so I did what  she had asked me to do in the first place. She recieved a tutorial from a retired maths teacher, who gave her three hours and after wards told me that all  my daughter  needed was to have some vital concepts explained to her,  that she had no problem grasping same, and that she needed no further tution. My daughter told me that  it was an intensive three hours, most areas were   covered, and she was confident  now that she "got it."
I was not aware, then,  that there is a major  issue with  maths teachers' qualifications in our schools. Was anyone else? Should I have known?  I so regret the fact that my anxious daughter had to look for this herself, because , despite the knock taken to her self esteem, "I know I SHOULD  be able to get it" she was determined to do herself justice in this subject. And you find yourself wondering what abut the other subects ?  How rigorous and thorough are standards set, and required, before taking on teachers to teach specific subjects? And are  we  to know know, before demanding standards of performance from the hapless schlars?

The exams results were released two days ago now. Though outwardly calm, " oh well its done now" my girl seethed with expectation and fear from the night before. They assembled at the school  at ten am, and a sort of mass hysteria embraced all, for the rest of the day, and evening, when there would be OMG a DANCE.  As it turned out my calm was outward also. She phoned me from school to tell me her results, and my hand, suddenly nerveless,  struggled  to hold the reciever. Its a rite of pasaage, this I know, and I suspect that the fevered worry and expectation  of the  entire  examined student body leaks quietly into  each childs household. 

Anyway, we had THE DANCE". And who knows with parenting, when you will be confronted with major  if not actually   life altering issues. . "Mum, can I have a drink, with my friends, tonight". "No",! "God no". But she comes prepared and tells me that her brother, my oldest child, now happily launched. told her he had his first drink on the night of his  junior cert results.(thank you for that  son) " but he was a year older" I say firmly. "Well then how old were YOU when you had your first drink.  I mean if not now when?.  When can I?".  "uh, I was  uh surely  nineteen  maybe twenty"?.  "Oh, right, ok" she says and I think there is some relief on her part,  she can let that particular one lie for the moment. And I know, I know, she asked me, and thats good. I also know she may do it anyway, but I dont think so. My own parents found  an irish parenting solution to an irish parenting question, on this one, ie, if you do it  dont let me know anything about it.  And I certainly was not nineteen or twenty when I first tasted alcohol. There was an adventure with a bottle of poitin at 12 or 13, which my father had been given and  shoved into the back of the drinks cabinet , where it lay untouched  awaiting my curiousity. One glass of tortured sipping and I was adrift at sea in a leaky  vessel without a paddle. It was weird and wonderful and very very scary. And that did put me off for a time.
So when can she.?  I struggle with this one.  I realise my preferred answer is never. I want for her to experience all the rights of passage,  the  exams results, the  birthdays, the  first love, sober, lucid with all the neurons firing straight and true, all the memories clear and stored where she will later find them.  I sometimes  wish I could  go back and do that for myself in this drinking culture, and I know its even less likely for somone of her generation, that one could might travel  seemlessly,  soberly and above all safely  to adulthood, but hey  I' m on the case, or  should I say, I m holding this line for as long as I possibly can.

And then there was the trip into our nearest town at 11pm to collect her from the dance. (its all over now).  And driving past  the line of bare   legged glamour  girls, be killer heeled and beautiful, sitting on the  wall at the supermarket waiting for their mothers and fathers to come and get them, to take them home.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Laryngitis as a mothering tool

I  can not  speak above a strangled hissing whisper this morning. My flu is taking its course, as I explained to my enquiring children, when the youngest asked me if I shouldnt stay at home, take the day off work. Also we have Mr. Lemsip.

In the car, on the fifteen minute drive to secondarty and primary schools I am unable to  adjudicate  for  the  usual heated arguments and I can see  the terrible threesome  are at a  bit of a loss.

My eldest looks dreamily out  of the car window, beside me. Hmm, I wonder is this a sulk? or not.  She  does have a lot on her mind  after all. She has started  transition year  and clearly can 't decide whether this is a good thing or a tragic mistake. . She is doing this transition  year ast my insistance, "I dont want to waste my time" "I want to get on with things, do my Leaving Certificate, go to Harvard". Harvard???   why not Trinity, or UCD which , as I said pompously, was good enough for me. Anyway, it may be sulks after all, as she was ordered to "pull down that skirt"  , " pull down that skirt I said" in the driveway, by her   hissing whispering mother.  I got the supercilious look, "oh come on, everybody wears their  skirts at this length. "Not midthigh, they dont" I hiss some more, and she  looks at me in puzzled enquiry  before  giving in and pulling it down. Now I would have expected more argument there.

There is a low key argument between my 14 year old son and the elevan year old in the back. "today is the ten year anniversey of nine elevan" he says. "oh no,  oh no,  you re wrong, its on sunday,  actually your confusing nine and elevan". "shut up! what do you know?".  "mum tell him!" . "yes" I whisper, "  "yes, its an easy mistake to make but its sunday" . And I hear some nervous murmering from the back "oh," " ok".  I think they just want me to stop croaking. Its astonishing how often I have to re learn the simple fact that, if you shout you raise the sound barrier all round, and if you speak quietly (not to mention whisper), they seem complelled to lower the noise levels,  to actually strain to hear what you say.  Speak softly and carry a big stick  I say ( now the stick is metaphor).

The dreaming one has poured herself out of the car, the boy has clamoured over the youngest one's knees and strode off towards the christian brothers and my baby is climbing in over the seat to sit with me and chat. ( "dont do that" I hiss), now that the boy is gone, on our way to her primary school. He is formally referred to  as  "the boy " by her, because ,she says , he gets to do the fun outdoorsey things like cutting the grass and walking the dog, while she and her   sister are asked to wash dishes and the like, on account of the fact that HE IS A BOY. This I deny, though he does get asked to do some heavy lifting, on account of the fact that he has morphed into a tall  and lumbering male person over the past year or so. And its his policy never to obey an instruction unless under a firm order, where you find yourself saying BECAUSE I SAID SO. Anyway the verbals between himself and the tween are legendary and they usually like to have a warm up in the car on the way to school. She brings devastating logic and implacable staying power to the table, he ,lightening darts of wit coupled with quite  quite brutal insults.

My baby is the boss. she has an opinion on all matters practical, and esoteric. She departs from the car in a lesiurely fashion, talking all the while. She plants a firm kiss on my fevered cheek, as she goes and tells me to "take it easy mum, you're not well , you know"!