Staycation

With L unable to travel, the kids have settled into a summer holiday at home.

Gabe got off to an early start, with his exams finishing in mid-June. He has occupied himself with reading, watching cricket (World Cup and Ashes), pub quiz trips with friends and organising book collections. He started with our own and the floor was strewn with paperbacks for a couple of weeks while he laboriously logged our library on a spreadsheet, before returning it to the shelves, categorised and neater than before. J, our friend’s retired mother, has engaged Gabe to do the same for her.

Since the end of school term, Gabe has also been socialising with Robin, reforging a fraternal relationship that had been distant. They have played table tennis, tennis, indoor and outdoor cricket, X-box and watched sports together on TV.

Eliza, of course, is the most active and industrious. She has worked ten of the first twelve days of the holiday, running gymnastics holiday club and parties. On the way there or back, she has met up with Joe, or visited other friends. “Where’s Eliza?” I ask when back from work. “Out,” I’m told with conviction but not precision.

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Minor no more

Gabe

Gabe’s 18th birthday passed quietly. L and I had talked about having a party – for his friends, family and those of our friends who have known him well. Gabe could not be convinced and was short-tempered when finally dismissing the idea.

And so we had pizza at home. ‘How about going out for a pint?’ I suggested. ‘No thanks. There’ll be plenty of time for that after exams,’ replied the responsible adult.

Robin

Amongst Robin’s dislikes is wearing socks in the house. The need to jettison them happens fairly randomly, but if there is a pattern it focuses on the living room, where odd socks can often be found pushed down the sides of the armchair.

Eliza

A full social life, regular weekend work, gym twice weekly – these are the things I associate with Eliza. I was surprised then how glowing her teachers’ comments were at parents evening. The competition for her to take their subjects at A Level is already hotting up.

When, I asked her, are you doing your school work? In her bedroom, she replied, in the evening – presumably quite late.

Travel man

Robin

Apart from school and football, Robin doesn’t go out much. ‘Why,’ he asks me, ‘would he want to hang around town centres?’ which is what he believes his peers do. But Robin is always talking about going places. He’ll be visiting four new countries in the next few months, which he finds highly satisfying. Although he stays at home a lot, he’s widening his frontiers, watching videos of travel shows, working out where he would like to go, learning about other countries.

Gabe

Gabe’s hoovering up of knowledge has found a new focus: literature. He is becoming widely read, picking books from the canon or quizzing L and me on what he should pick up next. Typically, he is forthright in his assessment of whatever he has read: Pride and Prejudice – very good; The Leopard – boring; and he’ll support those views with a well argued case. Each book read and each book planned to be read is logged on the Good Reads app.

Eliza

Eliza challenged herself to a phone de-tox. For two whole days she claimed to use it just for listening to music on her walk to and from school. She was pleased that she had completed her period of self-denial, but found it inconvenient as she missed important communications from her friends. She reverted straight back to the phone being her constant, closest companion, having to be reminded to put it away at meal-time.

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.

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.