Archive for September, 2011

The benefits of having an older sister

Sunday afternoon, Robin, Eliza and I headed to a new park. For almost an hour, Robin and Eliza played in the warm September sunshine. Seamlessly, their games evolved from total wipe out to pirate ship to daredevil jumps to potion making to tickle monster as they roved from stepping stones, to climbing frame, to grassy knoll and to tree stumps. The games had imaginative elements that needed to be spoken to come to life, led by Eliza and keenly joined by Robin. With the space, the sun and the goodwill of the occasion, they negotiated each other and each other’s suggestions, keeping the games moving forward, without dissension.

As I watched, and played an occasional part, I saw clearly the socialising inflence of the seven year old sister on the five year old brother – playing active games without the jostling and competing for prominence that characterises young boys’ games.

We left the park to pick up L and Gabe from a shopping chore, but one that made Gabe happy, too, as he had bought himself the new Man City kit.


Walking together to school, Eliza found a late season conker on the pavement amongst leaves and horse chestnut shells. I asked if the kids had ever played conkers and, when I began to explain it, found escalating interest. That evening, I punched holes in four conkers with a hammer and drill bit. In the garden, after a quick demonstration, we began a mini-competition. Gabe and Robin’s match progressed quickly with Robin’s conker cracking, exposing the off-white kernel and later ricocheting into his face.

The matches continued the next morning. Eliza stood poised to receive my conker swing, with eyes closed and face pinched. In both matches, each successful hit was followed by close examination of the conker and commentary on bruising, cracking and denting – much of it imagined and all enjoyed.


Entrance exam


Two eleven plus entrance exams to local grammar schools down, one (or two) to go. Gabe’s month of proving his intellect through extreme multiple choice testing is in full flow. He began at grammar school west. There the streets were throttled with cars parked on pavements. L walked with Gabe up the road to the school. He walked quickly with fixed expression and was swept away from L into the school with around 1,000 other ten year olds. Three and one-half hours later, L picked him up. His sincere wish was that we didn’t ask him how it went and so, when we met at pizza hut for a celebratory lunch, we talked around the subject.

Then yesterday at grammar school south: the roads were choked and L and Gabe had to get out of the car and walk to arrive on time. All week, he has shown no sign of stress, only for the journey there to tense him, just as it certainly did L and me. Again, no clear line on how he has done, but he has appeared self-possessed. L treated him on Saturday to an afternoon of emotion and peril at the latest Harry Potter movie.


While Robin has eschewed crying for straightforward pain, he can be moved and scared to tears.  He fidgeted through most of a Lassie DVD, then became gripped when the dog disappeared, possibly dead. Two tears escaped and inched down his cheeks. L had to switch off an episode of Dr Who, which frightened him into sobs.


Eliza harnessed Robin, with a long-scarf around his mid-riff. Holding the two ends, she sets him running, pulling her along on her roller blades, like a pony and trap.


Morning has broken


Throughout the summer holidays, Eliza’s reedy voice has been singing the opening verse of Morning Has Broken. Gabe has told her that it is the audition tune for the choir at the junior school she joins this month. And if Gabe is in earshot of her singing, he sharply interrupts her to criticise her singing. She kept practising all summer and the day of the audition looms.


Gabe has become interested in swearing. Fortunately not doing the swearing himself, at least in my earshot, but his interest is in knowing the outlawed words. He has asked me what the f-word means. ‘Sex’, I said. Gabe tells me that his friend K has told him the worst word of all. He won’t say it, but it’s spelt ‘c-o-n-t’. ‘Nearly’, I conceded.


Robin came out of his first day of school in year 1 looking upset. L asked him what was the matter. His response: he was missing Eliza as he can’t see her now she’s moved up to the other school.


First came their home, the gerbilarium, a three storey wire and plastic cage. Gabe, Eliza and Robin sat around it, imagining how it would be inhabited. Over a week later, the gerbils came. Three eight week old brothers, bought from a different store of the Pets at Home chain that had supplied the unlucky Sandy. Gabe was particulary conflicted about this: he so wanted a gerbil, but so distrusted any store that had sold us Eliza’s short-lived hamsters.

Romano (light gold, with a white patch on his back), Bayjay (darker gold) and Silver, belonging respectively to Gabe, Eliza and Robin. Better than telly, said Eliza, about watching them skitter about the cage. After three days they were judged to be settled enough to be handled. We took the gerbilarium to the bathroom and placed it in the empty bath. First to emerge was Bayjay, who slithered and slid around Eliza and my hands before running circuits around the bath. Silver came next, nipping at fingers, too agitated for Robin to hold comfortably, driving him to tears. Romano stayed buried in the wood shavings. He debuted two days later, giving Gabe, the most nervous of pet owners, the thrill of a hold and stroke. Silver, still apt to lead with the teeth, made up a little with Robin. Eliza, with an air of experience, had a play with Bayjay.