Archive for the ‘kindness’ Category

Half-term holiday


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 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 – 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.



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.

Pass mark missed 


The postman arrived minutes before Robin and I were due to leave for his football match. L gathered the letters and took them into the study. She opened them, “He’s not passed. Shall we tell him now?” We did. He nodded, seemed to expect and accept it. 

He was quiet in the car. From across the pitch he looked preoccupied as the team warmed up. With the match underway, he had a distraction. “He seems ok,” I whispered back at home. 

But that afternoon, he sobbed and sobbed with L. Upset, embarrassed not to be following in his brother and sister’s wake to the Grammar school. 

Monday, back to school and facing his classmates, some who had achieved the pass mark, most hadn’t. He stayed close to L in the playground. Vulnerable, as he hasn’t been seen for years. Late in the afternoon, his teacher called. He had been crying at lunchtime: Gabe & Eliza said he was stupid (what he imagined or feared, rather than what was actually said, I believe). 

Within a few days, he’s steadier. We’re thinking about which school to opt for. His priorities are existing friends, ease of getting to school, the layout of the dinner hall and the look of the uniform. L & I are looking more at which school will engage and stretch him, but not discounting travel to school. We decide this week. 

Gabe & Eliza

Both are on notice to treat Robin gently; not to make off-hand remarks about the schools we must consider, which could easily sway him. They seem to be managing this. “I gave him a hug when the programme got scarey for him,” Eliza explained when I made my case to her for being kind to him. 

Sleepless in Sale

A strict 7am curfew was in place for Christmas morning. That interdiction applied only to waking L and me, and to opening their stockings. The kids had their own plans.

Eliza says she woke at 1am, shortly after Santa’s visit, and barring a 3o minute doze, didn’t sleep again until morning. Robin woke just after 3am and went into Gabe’s room to wake him up. Gabe shooed him away. I was awake around 5am and heard voices in Eliza’s room. But despite their wakefulness, they kept to the terms of the curfew.

Eliza had floated the idea that presents shouldn’t be opened in a rush on Christmas morning, but gradually during the day. Gabe was non-committal; Robin speechless. Eliza had dropped the notion by the time Christmas Day came.

Favoured presents for the boys included football boots, tickets for a City match and a new, bigger goal for the garden. Eliza had a hair-styling device, winter boots and Cluedo.

This year, more than in the past, the kids were intent on giving presents to L & I – and our reactions. With their time and money, I received a calendar and model for my office as well as snacks I’ll treat myself with this holiday.


Faced with Gabe having his ‘worst birthday ever’, L took Baejae to our local vet, a second such visit in three days. Similar outcome, barring some good advice on adminstering medicine and a numerical prognosis – 50:50. The certain uncertainty assuaged Gabe and he returned to birthday mood.

Gabe was very pleased with his camera, European Championships replica football (a ball-a-birthday, but this time he hasn’t asserted that it’s a “real replica”), cricket bag and chocolate cake.

Bank Holiday Monday was spent as Gabe’s day of family celebration. He directed us on a walk to the Mersey where he goes cross-country running with school. We ran along the river and then around the Water Park. Later we went ten-pin bowling. Oddly, the birthday boy was off-form. Eliza’s zig-zagging bowls kept producing spares. Robin was very serious, putting competition ahead of enjoyment . L sprung from the pack to win the tournament.

Gabe’s party awaits at the end of the week, by which time we’ll know whether Baejae is in the surviving or declining cohort of gerbils with infected sebaceous glands.

Good elf

Gabe and Eliza

It’s a school tradition for year three pupils to write letters to Santa, which get intercepted on their route to Lapland, and are read and responded to by year six. Eliza’s letter was passed to Gabe. He told me he had it and that she hadn’t been honest, claiming as evidence that she had been good that she made a cup of tea for Mummy every morning, always helped Daddy in the garden, etc.

Gabe drafted a response in the guise of one of Santa’s elves. He swallowed his indignation at Eliza’s exaggerated claims of virtue, limiting himself to replying that Santa found it hard to believe everything she wrote. To further the deception he had a girl in his class handwrite the letter that was returned to Eliza.


Nan and Grandad spent a weekend of Christmas preparations with us: buying and decorating a fir tree, Halle carol concert and a day of child-minding involving wii games and chip shop lunch. When they left, Robin fought back tears. He had been anticipating their stay – perhaps as a sign of Christmas approaching – and was so sad when it was time for them to go.



On a warm, sunny day at school, Robin began a massage service. Starting with a massage for one of Eliza’s friends, the customers began to roll-up. They were positioned on benches on the field, and given the choice of karate or smooth. Most opted for karate. Eliza confirmed the popularity of Robin’s venture, claiming unreliably that maybe 100 pupils received the treatment.


Eliza likes to French kiss. It’s not the tongue tickling adult version, but either a lingering lip kiss or the continental embrace of friendship, with kisses exchanged on cheeks.


Gabe held L to a promise to play tennis last weekend, despite the wet weather. Gabe took an early 3-0 lead in the first set. At his insistence they played on through heavy rain, declining L’s offer to break while the worst of the weather passed. L fought back and had a 2 sets to love lead when she brought the match to an end. Gabe was angry at the result and that the match had not gone to five sets. Afterwards, he concluded that his weakness had been hitting too many shots that hit the white tape at the top of the net. His opponent didn’t recognise this analysis of the match.

Miss Green’s reading club

Eliza and Robin

As one of the class’s stronger readers, Eliza is part of her teacher’s reading club. On Friday, club members were asked to read to children in nursery or reception. Eliza chose reception class. It was arranged for her to read to Robin and two of his closest friends; H and A. Eliza read a story about a dog and a basket. The boys listened well and when the story was over, Robin clung to his big sister and wouldn’t let go.


It is SATS week. Seemingly unhindered by his tiring weekend, Gabe has been performing well at his year five tests: maths x 3, reading comprehension, short and long writing and science. Yet, he had not been satisfied, up until Friday, when he finally got what he sought in the last maths test: full marks.

Lamb in the van and Coco


Two workmen came to size up some work in the garden for a quote. While we spoke, a lamb cried from inside their van. They brought her into the garden, apologising that they had run out of nappies. Eliza and Robin tore out to see the orphan lamb, jabbing their hands forward in a nervous effort at stroking, following her around and shrieking with laughter when she weed on the step outside the living room.


Coco is Eliza’s new hamster. She is every bit as excited as she was with Sandy and Crystal. It’s an excitement that can quickly become upset, as it did when Coco nearly knawed her way out of the travel box in the car on the way back from the shop. Gabe’s reaction, while calmer, is more touching. He dearly wants Coco to survive longer than her two predecessors, saying he couldn’t bear another hamster to die quickly.

Mummy’s birthday


Gabe decided to buy L a birthday present and that it would be a ring. He endured my advice/protests that Mummy would really like something that he made for her. He searched on Amazon (“cheap ring”) and selected a silver ring with three jewels. It arrived in time, was handed over to L on her birthday morning and won a look of genuine surprise.


Eliza too wanted to mark L’s birthday with a present. She was in and then out of Gabe’s plan. She settled with home-made cards full of affectionate wishes and also a baby gorilla. L had seen one on tv and said how much she would like one. So Eliza made her a finger sized, pale paper baby gorilla.


“Rubbish” is Robin’s exclamation of disapproval. School, tea that varies from his narrow range of preferences, unfavoured clothing and L’s redecoration of his room all earn the cry. So insistent was his rubbishing of L’s painting of his bedroom walls that she responded to her critic and painted the second coat in the dark blue he wanted. “Rubbish” is also his (unwarranted) self-criticism of his reading, football, drawing, etc.