Archive for the ‘family events’ Category

Three teens


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 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 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.

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.

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 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.




The invitation came in contemporary style – by snapchat – and on the day before Cousin I’s wedding. Would Eliza act as ring-bearer? There was mention of the symbolism of Eliza fulfilling this role at the same location where Cousin I had been Eliza’s Mum’s bridesmaid. Eliza saw the message on the way out of school. She was thrilled and nervous.

She was handed the rings shortly before the wedding and went to leave the house without them, before being reminded. At the ceremony, she sat away from us, in the second row. She looked, I thought, a little twitchy amongst unfamiliar people and experiencing an unfamiliar rite. But she stood and delivered the rings on time – slender, angular, stylish, a girl not quite in or out of her place.


Gabe endured the wedding with a heavy cold. He barely slept the night in the hotel when we arrived in London. But he kept going through the day and long into the evening, asking gently when we might be returning to the hotel. And as we drove around Richmond in the hired van, he made his contribution to the celebrations with a jaunty playlist.


Through the early weeks of January, L and I have tried to nail down a party for Robin’s birthday. Still anxious about friends at his new school and those who have gone to other schools, this has tested him. He came up with names and an event was agreed. But he hesitated over asking anyone but his best friend, A – presumably fearing being turned down. With barely a week to go, he asked his three school friends, managed to get a parent’s contact number, and got positive responses.


Christmas at home but not alone

We were at home from the end of school to the children’s return in the New Year. Eliza made a few breaks from the house – ‘going into town’ with school or gymnastics friends. Robin met up with his friend A and even came on a walk with L and me. Gabe went to a City game. We all went to a Christmas carol concert, a friends’ party and a pub to meet friends from out of town. There were also games of badminton, squash, football in the garden and, on one dry day, tennis.

At home, but not alone. We hosted three partly overlapping waves of visitors: grandparents, uncle, aunt and cousin, and Wirral friends. Gabe, Eliza and Robin each acted splendidly as hosts. Eliza, in particular, gave up her bedroom for much of the holiday without evident complaint.

On Christmas morning, we gathered in Robin’s room to open stockings. After the children opened theirs, we produced a fourth stocking for L. Each of us had contributed (Eliza with most imagination and commitment), following the pattern of their stocking contents to the point of a favourite fruit – in this case an avocado. It symbolised for me a very happy Christmas break, with L receiving a small return from the rest of us for all the work she put into the whole occasion.

New Year’s Eve games

Spending New Year’s Eve together at home, we decided to play games. The children turned the opportunity for some family fun into a contest. Points were awarded for positions in each game and an overall tally kept.

We started with the alphabet game – naming things of different categories (boy’s name, girl’s name, shop, city, musician, etc) beginning with a selected letter. Gabe and Eliza scrapped over definitions and rules, trying to undermine the other’s efforts with unwarranted ferocity. Robin kept up a running commentary of the categories for which he couldn’t think of anything – which was most. L won this round.

We moved to kitchen table table-tennis. Robin battled to second place behind Gabe, who was unbeaten, despite being taken into extra-time by Robin and L.

Round three was pairs (a memory game, involving picking pairs of cards from a pack spread face-down). Gabe bailed out and Robin played half-heartedly. Eliza was thwarted in the first game as she, L and I drew, but could not be resisted as her fierce concentration brought victory in the second game. It was now well past eleven o’clock.

As midnight neared, Eliza went into the garden to watch the local fireworks. L and Gabe watched the coverage from London on TV. Robin asked to be taken to bed and read to. “It will be exactly the same fireworks as last year,” he reasoned.

Christmas presents

The focus was stronger than ever on the presents the kids were getting each other, and L and me. They exchanged chocolate, and delegated some decisions to L. But there was also more adventure. Robin and Gabe both bought clothes (tops) for Eliza. Gabe rushed into a shop and grabbed the top he understood Eliza to have wanted, selecting the size based on the sticker on the hanger. Presumably he nodded when the assistant confirmed he wanted age 14-15. He is now challenged with finding the receipt so an exchange for a smaller size can be effected.

We were at Grandpa’s in Scotland and did our present-opening there mid-morning. Notable, amongst the wrapping paper, by its absence was football. For the first time in many years, there were no boots, shirts or even footballs given or received. After a meal for 11, we played Bird Bingo and Headbands (iphone version)

Football did come to the fore on Boxing Day when Uncle S/R took the boys and me to see the only Scottish League match being played that day: Dunfirmline v Falkirk. There was some discussion over which was worse – the quality of football or the hot chocolate. We all wondered how the man of the match adjudicator could have come to any decision.

The following day, we had a kickabout on a basketball court with Cousin F, before walking from South Queensferry to the middle of the Forth Road Bridge and back.

Quiet birthday


All of the children’s birthdays are recorded here, with a note of the theme of the party or event. Gabe’s 15th was the quiet birthday. He had refused the option of a party, a meal out with friends, or a cinema trip. L had the idea of a visit to the Beatles Museum in Liverpool. “No, thanks. Don’t want to spend my birthday in the car.” He was, he said, happy to have a quiet day. A meal at a pizza restaurant? No, pizza at home. 

And he was happy. A football match, the last of the season, in the morning. Then a quiet afternoon, cheerful and sociable with us all, pizza and presents. L and I briefly worried about some sort of social anxiety, but it’s more like a preference for no fuss and self-possession. 


Eliza’s desire to have pets surfaced again. ‘Yes,’ we said to a question about gerbils and knowing how she stores and accumulates riches like a rodent, ‘you can buy them’. Bumble and Bianco, two small brothers, live in a cage in her room. She seems satisfied and her own brothers happy to have them around without the responsibility of looking after them. 


Robin’s team qualified for the cup final to play at Trafford United’s ground against the only team they didn’t defeat during the season. On a bright, sunny day, with a loud crowd around two sides of the pitch, the opposition took an early lead. Robin had the best chance to equalise in the first half, but missed. He saw little of the ball, with the other team’s defence outstanding. The second half continued with the other team missing chances. Robin was moved into attack and deep into the second half, screened a bouncing ball from a defender and as it dropped on the corner of the area, volleyed it past the keeper. His team clung on through full, then extra time. Robin took the first penalty and scored. After 4 penalties, the score was tied 2-2. Luke made a diving save and then took the final penalty, scored to win the final and man of the match. Robin revelled in the experience, particularly enjoying playing in front of a noisy crowd. 

Long and short of Christmas

The kids longed for Christmas. Each school day they willed the term to end. Every morning they counted one fewer day until the big one. The allure and magic seems to have survived their getting older and wiser.

Gabe was the most organised about what he wanted, drawing up a long list, none of it extravagant, qualified with a note that he didn’t expect it all. Robin’s was shorter and more ambitious/ less likely to be fulfilled. Eliza the most indecisive.

Eliza also caused consternation, by repeatedly floating the idea that, after their stockings were opened on Christmas morning, no more presents should be opened until the afternoon. She gloried in her preference for deferred gratification and the pain it caused her brothers. She was out-voted.

There was a stronger onus on the presents they would buy for each other and L & me than there had been in the past. Eliza was the best organised, followed by Gabe and then Robin, who left things late. Gabe had a ruse for Robin. He made him a plain Christmas card and handed it to him as a present. He was going to wait to see Robin try to look grateful or disappointed, before handing him his real present. Humanely, on the day, he didn’t leave Robin much time to digest the plain card, before handing over the present.

On Christmas morning, we went to the local park, for a play while the rain held off. Eliza, Robin and I played frisbee across the big field. Robin tore after the disc pulling off amazing collections at full tilt. Eliza threw and caught the frisbee with new found alacrity.

Gabe led the indoor games: Apples and Apples (where he favoured sarcastic verbal connections) and cards, with contract whist a new favourite.

A couple of days after Christmas, family and friends from the Wirral, meant a happy household of 14. Robin’s trumpet playing was mentioned, a request made for a performance and without speaking he went to his trumpet case, took out the instrument, found his music and began to play. Facing away from his audience, he hit every note cleanly and clearly and left the room, again without speaking, to our applause.

Easter Sunday walk

Kids in pyjamas, watching TV: “What are we doing today, Daddy?”

“We’re going for a walk.”

Cue complaints, arguments, insubordination. Then, Robin: “I don’t mind. Where are we going?”

We arrived in Bollington in bright sun. While I orientated myself, the boys played with a tennis ball and a basketball hoop and Eliza scaled a climbing frame. We set off, up to a Viaduct and noisily along a disused railway line. The noise was chat, not carping. Gabe set the question: “Money no object, where would you go on holiday?” Then, “if you could have three second homes, where would they be?”

“One would be under the sea,” said Eliza. 

We completed our outward stretch, then headed back along a canal. Holding my hand, Eliza went through a detailed description of one of her non-sub maritime second homes. 

As we came back into Bollington, Gabe moved onto ‘your favourite three course meal’. L had two – an Indian and another meal. From that it was a straightforward step to a pub for lunch and a group of, if initially reluctant, then ultimately satisfied, walkers.