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.

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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.

The wrong essay

Gabe

Gabe worked hard throughout the half-term break, particularly on a history course essay that he intended to submit as part of his Oxford entrance bid. I read it and thought it thorough, well-written and mature. Unfortunately, the teacher was less impressed, and gave it a B grade. There followed several days of Gabe agonising over whether to send this essay, which he felt was his best, or one from February, given an A*, but which he felt (and I agreed) was less well-written. L & I encouraged him to speak to other history teachers, but the line was that they wouldn’t challenge the mark given by his teacher and to send the A* piece of work. Time was running out. One of his English teachers broke ranks: yes, the B grade is better written.

Gabe called me as he walked towards the post office, still undecided which to post.  But he seemed to settle on sending the one that he felt would give the best account of his ability. Half-an-hour later, I got a text, ‘Made wrong choice..’. He was back at home, upset and asking if the post office would let him replace it. Back he went to the post office, and to their credit, they let him take the A* essay out of the envelope and replace it with the B grade piece.

Eliza

L had Robin call Eliza downstairs for tea, while she hid behind the fridge. As Eliza stepped into the kitchen, L swung a paper plate piled with whipped cream into her face.

L explained that ever since seeing a video of a custard pie party, some years ago, Eliza had asked if L would custard pie her. And so, the time had come.

Eliza was shocked and amused. Her wish had come true.

Robin

Evidence that Robin has rediscovered his ‘joie de foot’. He played three games in two days last weekend. In the first, there was a foul on the edge of the area. He picked up the ball and walked to where the kick was to be taken. A short run-up and the ball went over the wall and into the top corner.

Game two, after a quiet start, Rob received the ball on the half-way line. He played a one-two, then accelerated away from an opponent, around another and reached the left-hand side of the penalty area. He changed direction, nut-megged a defender and whipped a shot off the inside of the near post into the goal.

Half-term holiday

Gabe

With Oxford entrance exam looming, and the teachers piling the work on to their A level students, Gabe had almost an essay a day to write. He didn’t manage that, but at home and then later in the week in Scotland, he dedicated a lot of time to preparing for the Oxford History Aptitude Test and completing a US Civil War essay that he could submit to Oxford if he gets invited to interview.

Robin

Robin longed for the quiet release of the half-term holiday. But once there, he was out and about with school friends old and new. Some of these visits probably amounted to playing Fortnite alongside the same friends he would have sat in his room and played Fortnite with remotely. In Scotland, he was happiest seeing his aunt and cousin. He was the shock winner of not just a mini-golf tournament, but a card game, too.

Eliza

Eliza – non-stop socialising at home – slowed down and flopped around at Grandpa’s in Scotland. Hurried out of the door by my poor timekeeping, she arrived at North Queensferry in a bad mood for our boat-trip on the Forth. Seeing seals and being on the water on a calm, bright autumn day cheered her up. That evening she led the (younger) cousins in the pumpkin carving, then had a protracted sock wrestle with cousin F.

I like coffee, I like tea

Gabe

For years, Gabe would only drink water. As a young teen, he began to drink coke – initially in the same manner that I would drink brandy – with little sips because of its overwhelming flavour. Now, at 17, he is venturing into caffeine-rich hot drinks. He wants to drink them as much because it’s time he did so, as because he wants the hit of caffeine, and certainly not because he likes the flavour. He had to be shown how to make cups of tea and coffee (GCSE Food Tech presumably passed over this essential kitchen knowledge). Each morning he blows and sips impatiently at his too hot, hot drink.

Robin

Robin has regained his appetite for playing football. Last season tailed off, with him frustrated and visibly lacking in the fitness to make an impact on matches. Since September, he has been playing two matches most weekends – one for his main team and one for the club’s second team. His stamina has recovered and he has scored and set-up goals. He is running and working hard and receiving rewards for his efforts.

Eliza

Much of the time, Eliza is impatient and tending towards rude in the company of the rest of us. The days of indulging Robin’s presence are long gone. She and Gabe may only occasionally suspend low level hostilities to exchange a word about a band. But there remain some times when the teen armour comes off. Several nights each week, Eliza and L lie in bed together watching a programme on L’s lap-top: Strictly, Doctors, Call the Midwife. And twice a week, one of us collects her from gymnastics and she bubbles, chats and jokes in the car home.