Ireland

Robin

Robin and I joined his football team and their Dads on a weekend trip to central Ireland, via Dublin airport, where they took part in a competition.

Robin was anxious before and during the flight, grasping my hand. After some raucous play in our mid-refurbishment hotel annex, I persuaded him to bed. The next day, his team played four 40 minute matches, winning two (Robin scored and set up the goals in the first game), losing the final. Back at the hotel the boys and I went swimming. A loud face-off with some American boys ended peacefully. Later I again managed to persuade him to bed while some lads and dads continued partying.

Sunday started slowly: we arrived an hour late for the football match but still had time to burn before returning to the airport, where our flight was delayed three hours, intensifying Robin’s anxiety about flying. We were back in Manchester after 11pm.

Eliza

After several weeks of volunteering at gymnastics (ref: Duke of Edinburgh award) with a group of younger girls, Eliza was offered the chance for some paid employment. She has started helping out at the parties hosted by the gymnasium. The first few sessions were unpaid ‘try-outs’, which she passed and now earns c£4/hr (£8 per party). Last Sunday, she assisted at three back-to-back parties. She works with a shifting crew of gym people, meaning roles change and a fair amount of improvisation is needed to keep the party beneficiaries happy.

Gabe

We bought Gabe insurance to drive L’s car on his provisional licence. L was the first to take him out – to the local tram park and ride car park. He stalled the car and got frustrated with it not being the same as the car in which he has his lessons. By the third trip he had managed to start without stalling and seemed to be progressing. I asked him to pull into a parking bay. Slowly, he turned the car so it was between the lines, but kept going, up the kerb, over the shrub that borders one part of the car park from the next then down the kerb an into the next section. He was shaken, “not good, not good” he kept saying. We deduced he had forgotten to depress the clutch when trying to stop.

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Two ticks

Robin

Two ticks – but not a mark of approval. L noticed a black speck on Robin’s upper arm as he lay in bed at his Grandpa’s house. She brushed it gently, but it didn’t come off. It was a tick – one of two that had half-buried themselves in his skin. Robin refused to eat breakfast before the ticks were removed as he didn’t want to feed the creatures. NHS Direct recommended a visit to A&E; the local pharmacy offered nothing. Auntie S suggested the vet, where her cat had been de-ticked. Robin was increasingly upset, walking around town bare-chested. The vet’s receptionist sold a pet tick removal device, which Auntie S successfully used to extract the parasitic insects.

Gabe

The half-term holiday visit to Scotland allowed Gabe to visit two universities that he is considering: Edinburgh and St Andrews. The former, which we wandered around, he found reasons to dislike. St Andrews, around which he was taken on a tour, was much more positively received: old buildings, a university town (rather than a town with a university). He also likes the idea of the four year degree, with the first two years studying three subjects.

Eliza

Eliza, setting to one side her recent indie-pop tastes, went to the Etihad Stadium to see Ed Sheeran. She was thrilled by the experience, although vague about what the concert had been like. She was a bit more specific about the taxi-driver, who had served time for manslaughter, who drove her, her friend and her family home.

Driving lesson

Gabe

Gabe’s number one desire for his 17th birthday was to learn to drive. L arranged for his first lesson to be the day after his birthday. A week ahead she checked he had his provisional licence. There ensued a home-wide hunt. Gabe’s view was that it had been thrown out when we made him tidy and clear his room. We searched every room. There was tension around the search of Gabe’s room: he wanted to find his licence; he wanted us to do the searching; he didn’t want us rooting through his room. We finally gained admittance, but the licence didn’t show up. L cancelled the driving lesson and went on-line to re-order the licence, where she found that the fact it had been issued should be sufficient proof for the instructor. The lesson was back on. Gabe enjoyed it greatly.

Eliza

We drove Eliza to Garstang early on Saturday morning. She was to complete a practice of the two day Duke of Edinburgh award expedition, with a night of camping. She was equipped with a large and very heavy rucksack. Could she cope?

We heard nothing for the next 30 hours (mobile phone use was proscribed, other than in emergency circumstances). Sunday afternoon we drove into the Trough of Bowland and waited in a car park in a small village. Eliza’s group of seven girls had been the first to leave, but were not the first to return. Thirty minutes after their target time, they did arrive, by car. They had got lost in a field – not far from their destination – and had called the emergency number. Eliza was tired, a bit embarrassed and had a blister on a big toe, caused by wet socks. While not looking forward to the real expedition, she’s not dreading it either.

Robin

Robin’s unease through the autumn was a product of his new school and also his anxiety at world events. Early in the spring, he declared he was happy: Trump and North Korea were going to be talking to each other and scientists had discovered an enzyme that breaks down plastic. Within a couple of weeks, that contentment had been chased away – this time by Trump reneging on the Iran agreement.

Birthday walk

Most years, I have insisted on the family walking in the countryside as my birthday treat. It has provoked bad temper and resentment. As this year was a special birthday, I had three days walking, at which the kids only had to join for one day.

Eliza and Robin

Amongst the 30 walkers who set out on Saturday morning were Eliza and Robin’s friends E & A, also brother and sister.  They entertained each other throughout the hilly walk to the pub and the flat, canalside return. As the adults trudged through the afternoon, weighed down by lunch and beer, in the unseasonal hot weather (which made me very grateful for the summer hat that Eliza had given me as a birthday present), Robin and A covered much more distance than was needed, by running back and forward along the canal.

In the evening, these four had a table to themselves in the room set aside for our dinner. But the walk had taken its toll, as the two boys fell asleep on the sofas in the bar area, while we dined slowly.

Gabe

Gabe has in prior years been the least reconciled to my birthday walk, but rose to this occasion. He puffed hard as we followed the hilly trail in the bright morning sunshine, asking regularly how much further to the pub for lunch. But he kept up a good pace, staying with me as I hurried to reach the pub in time for the other guests’ arrival. On the return, he walked with Malc, L and me joining in our contented chat. In the evening, he milled and mixed with my friends who stayed for dinner.

A highlight of three wonderful days’ outdoors, was Gabe’s decision to walk again with five friends and me on Sunday. We were back into the hills and there was rain as we set off. But he was at his sociable, mature best. Towards the end of the walk, he conceded that he was so tired as to feel in a daze, but he saw the trip through without complaint.

 

Dust

Gabe

Dust is Gabe’s enemy. Not the dust that L vacuums in large quantities from his bedroom floor when it is finally cleared of clothes and schoolwork. Not the dust that accumulates on his desk and shelves. It’s the dust that he sees on his records and despite diligent brushing (technique checked against a YouTube video) he can’t quite remove. It frustrates him, can make him angry with L or me for failing to show him how to remove it and even stops him playing his records.. for a while.

And then there’s the static electricity..

Eliza

Eliza returned home after seven days in hospital with appendicitis. Two days later she was back at school and then quickly into the Easter holiday. Today, ten days after leaving hospital, she did tentative, yet perfect cartwheels in the garden. She hasn’t re-started gymnastics, although she did attend her session as volunteer coach, but is beginning to test her body to decide when.

Robin

City fell three goals behind at Liverpool in the Champions League quarter-final. Robin gurned and complained, then snapped at L when she tried to offer consolation. He held on until injury time, willing a goal from City that could give them a foothold in the tie. It didn’t come and he stormed out. He sat behind the mirror in L & my room, refusing to go to bed and saying he was humiliated by City’s performance. The next morning the mood had lifted.

Appendicitis

Eliza

After several days of stomach pain, forcing herself to school so she could go to a friend’s birthday cinema trip, a mis-diagnosis of a urinary infection, Eliza was admitted to hospital and a day later had appendicitis confirmed. Her initial goal was to be out within three days to go to a concert, but that proved impossible. After the diagnosis and being told to expect seven days IV medication (but not surgery), the surgeon asked if she had any questions. “Yes, what’s the wifi code?”

Now, four nights into her stay, she exists, quietly amongst the bustle of a four bed ward. Children and infants, admitted at night, shrieking and sobbing with pain and fear. Regular IV infusions, each emitting piercing beeps with an urgency not matched by the nurses’ response. Pain relief, still needed to remain comfortable, but usually offered an hour or two behind schedule. Eliza watches TV, Friends (series 8) on her iPhone, does puzzles, and often dozes. She has L with her 18 hours each day and night and me a lot less often. Despite the pain, the discomfort, the lack of privacy and the boredom, Eliza has stayed firm and even-tempered. She has a discharge date – three more nights,

Robin

Robin has missed Eliza and L. It feels like weeks, he says, since he’s seen L. He makes hospital visits, sitting next to Eliza, talking a little and happy to be in a larger family group.

Gabe

Gabe has barely mentioned Eliza, hardly enquiringly how well she is and turning down the offer to visit her. He attended a university entrance event hosted within 1/2 mile of the hospital, but didn’t follow my suggestion to combine it with a trip to see Eliza. Finally, on her fourth day in hospital he visited. He made exaggerated attempts to clean the germs from his hands with the soap dispenser at the ward’s door and again when leaving the “nest of germs.” After barely acknowledging Eliza and not asking her how she is, he picks a crossword from her puzzle book to occupy himself. It is all, I conclude, his way of dealing with her illness and absence.

Oxford visit

Gabe

Gabe and I started the half-term holiday with a trip to Oxford. In clear, winter light we walked to and around the larger colleges – Christ Church, Magdalen, New College. Gabe was awed and, I think intimidated. We returned the next day and headed for the centre: the Bodlein, the Radcliffe Camera, and then Lincoln to meet Dr Gauci, senior fellow in his office above the porter’s lodge. Dr G chatted away, checking himself a couple of times, to ask, “But what do you want to know?” Gabe struggled to summon up a question. We toured the college and then headed to the Indoor Market. From there, to Quod for lunch with Senior Fellow Skinner, who gave us the low down on all matters relating to admissions. Again, Gabe was tongue-tied, but we obtained all the information we needed.

His response to Oxford was positive. He liked Lincoln, although said he wouldn’t want to go where I had been, perhaps another small college. We now wait to see whether the purpose of the trip will be fulfilled: to motivate him to work hard.

Eliza

Eliza received a school report – a table of numbers and letters. All was, as in with her previous reports, very positive (Her higher than expected performance in PE notable), with one exception. Her behaviour in Technology was graded as ‘requiring improvement’. She brushed it off, “Oh, he hates me. Everyone talks, but I’m the one he tells off.” But it seemed consistent with the thread of stories she has started to relate about school, which feature her being sharp-tongued, even insolent. At last, a bit of a rebel in the house.

Robin

This dates from September last year, but needs recording.

Robin accepted an invitation from his old school friend, A, to go to a Friday night youth club. It was held in a church across town. I left him and returned a couple of hours later. Robin didn’t delay leaving. He was muttering and unhappy. “Never going back.. boring.. they made us listen to them talking about religion!” He explained, affronted and almost outraged.