Archive for the ‘courage’ Category

The wrong essay


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.


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.


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.



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 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.


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.



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 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 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.

100 great goals


Every night, for months, Robin has chosen, before sleep and after L or I have read to him, to read from a book that describes 100 great goals. A short description of the action is leavened with some information about the scorer or the occasion. There’s also a diagram of the movement of players and ball on its way into the net.

When sleep is about to smother him, Robin tosses the book from his bed. In the morning, it lies on the floor, crumpled. Its hardback cover fell off weeks ago. Its binding can’t hold for long. But even if it does disintegrate it has lodged itself in Robin’s memory. He knows the goals and scorers by number (1 to 100). He can even recite some of the reports if given a scorer’s name or goal number. 


‘My palm has five layers of skin left,’ Eliza explained on the way home from gymnastics. Intensive work on the bars in recent weeks has worn a tear in the skin of her hand. She has been practising a manoeuvre that involves a complete rotation on the higher bar. To achieve this safely while in the learning phase, her hands are bound to the bar. It’s from that friction that the skin on her palms is torn away.


The election result has been welcomed by Gabe. At school, Corbyn is a hero. Gabe is dissatisfied by my position that neither major party leader is a fit PM. ‘What have I got against Corbyn?’ I was asked often during the campaign, as well as, who are you going to vote for and why? On election night, he sat with Lou and I as the TV guests and presenters toyed with the unlikely exit poll. Around midnight, with four GCSE exams the next day, he conceded that is was time for bed. 

Resurrection guinea pig

Eliza and Robin

The story of Easter was of Mr Skittles, the one-eyed guinea pig, and his grave illness. On Good Friday, he was found immobile in the hutch. No better after a couple of hours, Eliza, Robin and I took him to a Bank Holiday vets in Cheadle. A vet pulled his limbs, stretched him and scrutinised him. Trauma or brain injury, she suggested before injecting him with antibiotic and muscle relaxant. This set Mr Skittles gasping and he was rushed away to be given oxygen. ‘We should think about his future,’ the vet cautioned. Eliza and Robin understood.

With nothing pressing and the weather wet, we decided to give it an hour and we went to a cafe. The kids were subdued, but realistic. An hour later, prepared to say our farewells to a chronically sick guinea pig, we were back at the vets. ‘He seems a lot better’, we were told. Back home, we kept him in a box in the hall, fed him some red pepper and tried to give him water. Eliza took on the task of administering his antibiotic course.

I woke first the next morning and lifted the cover of the box to find him looking up at me. Back to the vets where they discharged him. By Easter Sunday he was back in the hutch with Dandelion – risen again.


Gabe has joined the local gym. He has completed the induction, which has warned him against using the weights. He has been there twice – he rides the bike, runs, uses the rowing machine and the upper body exercise machines.



100 sit-ups


Starting early in the month, Gabe began doing nightly sit-ups, increasing by five each time. He reached his target of 100 sit-ups, without a break, showing a determination in the face of pain. His overall goal is to develop a six-pack.


With his target in sight, Gabe decided that he would complement his daily dose of sit-ups with a timed plank. On the evening he reached his century, all five of us gathered in the living room for a family plank. L & I were the first to break, around the one minute mark. Gabe followed, his core already thoroughly exercised by sit-ups. Eliza reached three minutes and Robin went on and on. He seemed in such little discomfort I was suspicious his knees were touching the floor – they weren’t. Finally, at seven minutes he buckled.


Eliza’s two most recent milk teeth to come out have done so in halves. The adult teeth underneath have pushed the milk teeth up and fractured them, leaving Eliza with a sharp half-tooth stuck to her gum. It’s taken up to a week for the second half to fall out.



Over the last year, Gabe’s consciousness of his appearance has altered from concern with not looking a certain way (not wearing a coat, not wearing certain clothes) to a more positive interest in how he looks and what he wears.

At the beginning of the year he opted to go to a barber instead of having his hair clipped at home. He wanted frequent reassurance over which of the numbered grades of the clippers he should choose. From that episodic interest in his hair has developed, not a daily, but minute-by-minute focus. On school mornings, he will stand next to Eliza in L & my room in front of the mirrored cupboards. Eliza is styling, plaiting. Gabe is patting and pushing his hair. After a few minutes he’ll head downstairs where he stands in front of the hall mirror, performing the same minor adjustments to his hair. L reports that when he gets home from school he comes in the front door and stands at the hall mirror repeating the morning patting and coaxing of his hair.


Halfway through his second term of piano lessons, Robin has played his first performance to an audience. Two short pieces played to his classmates and parents at the junior school’s soiree afternoon. He said his hands were trembling with anxiety. L said she could see how nervous he was waiting his turn. He played both pieces well.


Eliza’s after school violin lesson was moved back to accommodate her violin playing partner joining the school netball practice. Eliza decided to do the same and has been going to netball for the last few weeks. They practice passing, she says, as well as those things to stop passing.. ‘Interceptions?’ I suggest. ‘Yes, them’.

Activity holiday

Our Easter holiday featured over a dozen activities in four days at the PGL Adventure Holiday site in Shropshire, topped off with my annual birthday walk. What Eliza and Robin approached with relish and gusto, Gabe faced with hesitancy and clearly declared fear.

The most startling of the activities, the Big Swing, took place on day 2. Gabe opted out and was making similar noises about other activities. This was where the young, upbeat instructors stepped in, reassuring, coaxing him to participate. In the case of the wall-climb, they rebuffed his request to come down from half-way up the wall and convinced him, in a way I could not have done, to carry on climbing. He showed his determined side by crouching in the woods trying to light cotton wool with a spark long after anyone else would have conceded. And he managed it.

Eliza thrived – her balance and physical confidence unimpaired by the apparent (though not real) peril of the activities. She went furthest of the whole group in the kayak challenge – moving from sitting, to lying to standing to walking along the kayak.

Robin matched her, when away from the water. The swings, climbs, abseil and zip-wire were devoured. Our final challenge, the high ropes, did cause a wobble as he went out on the circuit then returned. But he went back for a second go and managed to complete the course.

Given Robin’s reticence on the high ropes, Gabe’s achievement of finally screwing up his courage and giving it a go, was even more impressive – though he didn’t like the congratulations it earned him. Meanwhile, Eliza swung around high ropes, trusting to her harness and unaffected by the height.

BMX party

One week after his birthday, so commandeering a two week celebration, Robin’s party took place at the National Cycling Centre. Arriving early, we went to view the indoor BMX track. The kids were struck by its size and nerves jangled.

Ten friends, Eliza and friend and Gabe got kitted up with elbow and leg pads, helmet, gloves and bike. They began with a short practice on the flat before being led onto the track. There were crashes and collisions, sweat and fatigue, but above all, they scared and thrilled themselves.

Foot-long hot-dogs and plate-wide burgers in the centre’s cafe completed a very satisfying party. Robin’s cake, made by L while suffering a migraine, was a football pitch, with rather wobbly touchline and off-centre goals.

Test match


Gabe’s interest in cricket has grown this year: playing for club and school; going to the nets with friends; an obsession with kit; learning to score (and being paid to do so for the senior teams); helping me with some statistics; and now he’s been to his first match.

We saw the fourth day of the third test at Old Trafford. He was very nervous about getting there. He changed seats a couple of times to get a clear view. He made a few enquiries about what I might buy for him, but otherwise was content to watch and exchange comments on the game. The Barmy Army set about their chanting in the afternoon, which bothered us both. But once that died down, other him having a nagging concern about getting on the tram home, we both could have sat there until the evening. The weather closed in, though, and we left in the rain shortly after tea. Gabe put down a marker, he would like to go back and go to Lord’s.

Eliza and Robin

L took Eliza and Robin to the Manchester Climbing Centre, which is sited in an old church. Both scaled 20m high walls, before pushing off and floating back to the ground.

At home, Eliza scripted a play based around a female Harry Potter type character – Harriet. Robin played Dudley, with a football up his shirt and a midget Hagrid. When I saw the performance, Robin carried his script with him, Eliza memorised her words, directed the show and was chief stagehand.