Passing and failing

Gabe

On consecutive days, Gabe passed his latest piano exam (grade 6? 7?) and failed his driving test. He hadn’t thought he had done particularly well in the piano exam, but was awarded a distinction. This didn’t impress him: “It means nothing,” – a reference I think to his more meaningful exams this summer.

The driving test was going well until his dreaded roundabout, with four exits, three of which are bunched together in a little more than 90 degrees of the circle. He committed a major fault: entering the roundabout while another car was on it. He plans to re-take the exam in the summer.

Robin

Robin, accompanied by L, took a fear of flying course, culminating in a flight for the course participants. His interest in visiting places, and more immediately a football tour and school trip which both involve flights, had inspired him to confront his anxiety. Robin was responsive to the reassurance offered on the course and managed the flight – even coping with the take-off without holding L’s hand. Future flights, he thinks, will be easier as the plane won’t be packed with nervous people, sobbing as they climb the steps and tapping themselves in the approved manner to distract from their fear.

Eliza

J is a friend of one of Eliza’s gym group. First they went jogging together. Now, fairly frequently, they visit each others’ houses. “Are you and J going out together?” I asked (ie boy/girlfriend). “No.. not yet,” she replied. That was a few weeks ago. It looks to us as though they are. Eliza seems happy and level-headed about it.

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The Smiths shambles

Gabe and Eliza

While their music tastes have converged, Gabe and Eliza’s differences are seen clearly in their interest in the Smiths. Gabe got there sooner. He owns their LPs. He has a fan and critic’s knowledge of the songs and the band. He listens in his room or roaming the house on his headphones.

Eliza’s passion is lively. The Smiths provide old bangers – great tunes that she adds to playlists. She sings along, but recognises she cannot remember the lyrics, or even the titles, let alone where they appear on each album.

Eliza wears a Smiths’ T-shirt. This enrages Gabe: “a shambles”, so ignorant is she of what matters to him about the band. He spits out questions that her inability to answer proves his point.

This weekend Eliza is going to a gig. There are nods and silent acknowledgement of the event between her and L. She isn’t going to mention it in Gabe’s ear-shot. She knows how superciliously he will respond. It is The Smythes, a tribute band.

Robin

At Robin’s parents evening, he racked up compliment upon compliment for his achievement, his attitude and his conduct. His feeling for school remains at best ambivalent, and often negative, but this hasn’t affected how he goes about his school-day based on the feedback we heard.

Robin was with us at each meeting, not just the subject of the discussion, but active in it. This impressed me: where Gabe and Eliza would have been non-committal or embarrassed, Robin was articulate and controlled.

Three teens

Robin

Robin turned 13. On Friday he went to a film and had a Nando’s with four school friends. This event exhausted him – at the time and in preparation as he agonised over whether and what to do. The choice of film he handed to his friends (a superhero action pic), concerned that they wouldn’t be interested in his preference (dog makes its way home) at some cost to his own enjoyment.

Saturday he spent with his primary school friend A. The following day, his birthday, the two boys and I cycled around Tatton Park, through mud and a fierce gale. In the evening, the five of us went to Pizza Hut, then home for cake and trifle, before finally opening presents.

Eliza

Eliza most closely fulfils the teenager stereotype: bedroom or out-and-about, pushing boundaries, vivacious. When the first snow of the winter fell, she opted not to cross the threshold of school, realising that if she did she would have to stay all day, despite there not being lessons. She went to the park instead.

She has been to two gigs in one week, including one without adult attendance – she and her friend were dropped and collected from the door. It was, unsurprisingly, the best concert: small venue, band within touching distance. She tried getting on stage, she reports, until a security man headed her way.

Gabe

Gabe remains bound tightly to his room, tv and his studies; cautious and serious. But there may be some loosening. He is completing essays without agonising and demanding assistance, perhaps liberated by ‘the offer‘. He went to the cinema with two school friends, has another party in his diary and reported when we discussed our family holiday that friends (whom he refused to name) had invited him to interrail in Central Europe this summer, although he has no intention of joining them – or divulging anything of interest to us about his social circle.

The offer

Gabe

The letter arrived on a Wednesday morning, L’s non-working day. She sent G a text asking if she should open it. He vacillated (of course), then said ‘yes’. The envelope was thick, which L thought was encouraging. Inside was the offer to study History at Lincoln College, Oxford on the condition of achieving three A grades.

Gabe was surprised and so pleased. We had a celebratory pizza. A few days later, he went to a schoolmate’s 18th birthday, where he celebrated in more traditional style, arriving home late and worse for wear.

No sooner has his achievement sunk in than mock A Levels remind him of the task ahead.

Robin

Before school restarted, Robin and I had time for one lengthy ride. He loved it and loves his bike. He has ridden to school every day so far, bar the morning I stopped him for fear of icy roads. One afternoon, approaching home, he realised he wasn’t ready to unseat and come home, so took off for a further lap of the neighbourhood.

Eliza

Eliza has found a second line of income earning, to supplement the hours she spends each weekend running birthday parties at the gym. She has picked up a baby-sitting gig, courtesy of L’s neighbourhood WhatsApp group. She has completed one assignment so far, which was uneventful.

Christmas – twice over

Our first Christmas, at the correct point in the calendar, was at home with Nan & Grandad. On Christmas Eve, we visited the Bridgewater Hall for the sing-along carol concert. The kids were as content as they have ever been at this annual trip, enjoying the music and finding the singing amusing not annoying or embarrassing.

Christmas Day and Boxing Day passed in a pleasant fuzz of family chat, presents, food and drink. Gabe particularly enjoyed playing Jenga, which captivated Nan. Robin was delighted with his bike, and so we rode around the neighbourhood in the dark on Christmas evening (the bike’s brakes having been made safe during daylight by Grandad). Eliza sauntered in and out, her social circle never more than a few clicks distant.

Our second Christmas, happened four days later, at Grandpa’s, with Auntie S, Uncle S and cousin F. While in Scotland, Robin accompanied me on walks across the sand at low-tide, laying out the plans he has devised for his future: living in Edinburgh or Glasgow, teaching. Gabe joined Uncle S and me at the pub one evening, keeping the conversation always lively and keeping up his end with a pint and a half. Eliza was the moving force of an attempted indoor decathlon after our Christmas dinner, until we all flaked out. Most memorably she won the ‘standing on one leg’ contest, fighting off fierce competition.

Gabe, Eliza and Robin – I hadn’t spent so much time with them in months and they were a delight, making parents and I think grandparents, very proud.

Oxford interview

Gabe

Gabe had two weeks notice that he was called for interview. He practiced at home and at school. L drove him and C – a girl in his year also applying to study history – to Oxford on Tuesday. He stayed until Friday evening, having had two interviews of about 35 minutes in total.

Gabe was in the throes of a heavy cold, which probably soured his mood. He was at his most dependent, texting regularly to ask what to do about all manner of day-to-day decisions he had to take. He stayed in his college room, shying away from meeting other candidates or students. He felt the first interview went well, with the second, which was a grilling about his chosen topic (causes of US Civil War), more demanding.

Shortly after 1pm on Friday, the list was posted of students who had interviews at other colleges, or who needed to stay in case required for further interview. His name wasn’t included. The next we will hear will be in mid-January. “The longest month,” he said, although having not enjoyed his stay, he felt that the blow of a rejection will be softened.

Robin

The cold that inconvenienced Gabe probably came from Robin. It surfaced the week after the half-term break, keeping him off school for a couple of days, and has remained in the form of a barking cough for four weeks.

Eliza

Eliza’s coaching and party-running activities at gymnastics have seen her invited to two ‘grown-up’ Christmas parties. The first was at an Indian restaurant. Eliza didn’t want the embarrassment of ordering English food, but neither did she want anything spicy. Tandoori chicken was the solution.

15th birthday party

Eliza

Eliza’s 15th birthday party was changed at short-notice from Saturday to Friday to accommodate some of her friends, meaning that L was away and I was sole adult in charge. I had made stern warnings against alcohol, invited guests only and guests coming and going. 20 guests arrived, including one lad who was far taller than me.

Eliza’s friends were very noisy and really polite. They danced and chanted along to songs in the kitchen and the garden. I kept a low profile but at one point went into the kitchen where they were all holding up phones and dancing to a rap song with rude lyrics. Soon after 10pm I reminded Eliza that she should bring things to a close. An hour and three-quarters later, the last of her friends left. Eliza glowed with the fun of hosting a party.

Robin

Robin loathes being overheated in bed. He sleeps bare-chested to keep a tolerable temperature. Before bed-time, he lies on the floor, lest his body heat up the bed before it’s time for him to sleep. One evening, Gabe lay on Robin’s bed playing FIFA on Robin’s X-box. Robin was infuriated that Gabe had warmed up his bed.

Gabe

Gabe’s school week is evenly balanced between lessons and free periods. He uses his frees to study, read and do crosswords. When Gabe reported that he had completed three quick crosswords in a single free period, I challenged him to try a cryptic crossword. I showed him how they work and then we tried to solve one together. The twisted logic of the cryptic clue appealed. He has teamed up with L to solve more puzzles and is nearly ready to fly solo.