Archive for the ‘routines’ 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.

I like coffee, I like tea


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 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.


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.



Flying to Portugal (or not)

Fear of flying (Gabe’s and Robin’s) meant that the holiday was put out for consultation with the kids at the turn of the year. “We will go somewhere we can reach by train, if you prefer,” they were reassured. Portugal got the go ahead.

In the weeks running up to our departure (the first day after schools broke up for summer), Gabe began to raise objections, in an ‘on and off’ fashion. L and I had a ‘final’ discussion with him on Thursday evening, two days before departure: “tell us now, or never.” He reluctantly agreed. But the agonised discussion recurred the following evening and eventually Gabe opted not to come – if he could stay with his Grandpa, which kindly, at barely two days’ notice, he agreed.

Four of us left on Saturday afternoon for the airport, with Gabe at home awaiting the return from holiday of Auntie S and family, who then took him back to Scotland with them on Monday.

Robin coped with the flight, but was highly anxious before the plane took off, settling once we were airborne and needing to grip L’s hand throughout.

Up in Scotland, Gabe studied and seemed to find a daily rhythm that complemented his Grandpa’s routine. He also had time with Auntie S and family as well as Alistair and Emily. He returned home a day before us, travelling from Scotland alone. The fraught decision to forego his holiday seemed to deliver a timely experience of independence.



Eliza’s final week of the school year is ‘activity week’. On Monday, she went to Chester Zoo. Her choice of clothes – very short shorts and bare-shouldered top – unsettled me, perhaps causing me to forget to insist she wore suncream. She came home with sunburnt shoulders.

On Tuesday, Eliza went on another trip. The weather was again set fair. Eliza was wearing the same outfit and asked that I put some suncream on her shoulders. I refused, requiring her to wear something that covered her shoulders. She objected, I insisted, we compromised on her wearing something over the top of her skimpy top. I wandered away, she left the house, I wondered whether she had really taken another top with her. Anyway, her shoulders didn’t seem to get burnt again.


We gave Gabe one week of indulgence and laziness after his exams before insisting that he use his long summer break productively. Having rejected any suggestions that would mean getting outside the house – finding a job, volunteering, getting fit – he was faced with doing chores around the house.

Each day, he is given a short list of chores (e.g. cleaning up the kitchen, vacuuming rooms). Invariably, he has not done them when L or I get back from work. Any that he does do are completed hurriedly. Having received his allowance for July, it is his August allowance that is under threat. This, though, isn’t having any notable motivating effect on him, as he continues to spend his days lying about, listening to music and watching YouTube videos.


Robin’s end of year report was very complimentary. His SATs results were all well above the standard set for his age. He took a lot of pride in these results, which we hope will set him up for the new school in September.

His induction day at the High School had not gone very well. He was quiet and surly that evening. The problem was that the boy who had joined his football team last season and whose behaviour had caused problems for the rest of the team and the coaches was there as well and was in Robin’s group throughout the induction day. With Robin’s blessing, I spoke to the school. I have been assured that Robin will be kept apart from the boy in form group and lessons.

Broken toe


Before school one morning, Robin attempted a Rabona kick of a small, polystyrene ball next to his bed. He misjudged and the outside of his right foot kicked the sharp corner of his bed. Badly bruised around his little toe and too sore to walk on I drove him to school, following some NHS direct advice on treatment of fractured toes. 

The last 10 days have been a trial of his patience. Staying in his classroom at break, missing out on football practice (although both matches have been cancelled), straining for other exercise but pulled back by a sore toe and a patch of discoloured skin on his foot. We’ve done workouts together, played twisty-twosty. When I took him ten-pin bowling with a friend, he slid and spun on the slick floor, burning off stocks of energy – but avoided dropping a ball on his foot. He wants to know when he can restart football, but he’s the one who will know when his foot is better. 

L asked him after school on the day of his injury if it had hurt and if he had cried. “Yes,” he confirmed it had hurt. “No” he hadn’t cried. Why not? Because he wanted to be brave like Daddy. 

Eliza and Gabe

Eliza and Gabe walk to school together – unwillingly on his part. They meet his friends at the end of our road and I imagine her buzzing around, trilling at them, who try to ignore, but getting annoyed. She reports they only talk about football and how tall they are. Gabe, so often late to leave, now uses her not being ready as an excuse to go without her. She’s often brushing her hair, humming to herself, when he shouts from downstairs that he’s leaving. We’ve had to institute an 8am deadline, before which he can’t leave without her, after which he doesn’t have to wait. Yesterday, I watched them head down the road: Gabe striding in front eyes forward, Eliza five metres behind, putting her bag on her back, trying to catch up. 

Big school


Eliza has started at secondary school. She has settled quickly, showing no particular anxiety, other than one: getting lost. She walks to school with Gabe, less for safety and company, than just to make sure she knew the way in her early weeks. She was concerned about finding her way around the school with its oddment of buildings and long corridors. Gabe says he has seen her looking lost, studying the map given to new girls and boys. He has even helped her find the classroom she sought. 

On a day L was working late, Eliza gladly accepted the task of meeting Robin out of school. “Ok” we said, “describe your route from your new school to your old school.”

“Well, to start with, I’d turn right.”

“No! It’s the other way!”


Gabe has started his GCSE courses and with that has come a novelty: homework. This staple of schools is referred to at the grammar school as ‘extension studies’, as it doesn’t have to be done at home. And Gabe has always taken advantage of this, finishing extension studies in class or in breaks so his home time remains free of schoolwork. But something has changed this year and now we see him regularly at the computer with his books out. 


Robin has chosen to move from packed lunch to school dinners. From the security of ham sandwich nearly every school day for three or four years, he has put himself at the mercy of the lunch menu. So far, two days into this trial, he has eaten a baked potato with cheese and chicken in a sauce. They sound like modest choices but actually represent dramatic broadening of his dietary palette. 

Battle lines


Battle lines between older son and parents exist on these territories: food (diversity thereof), tidying room, doing homework, getting things ready for the next day, use of digital devices, putting dirty clothes in washing basket, general courtesy in conversation with family. There’s also a struggle over the timing of washing. It’s not that Gabe won’t wash, he’s increasingly self-conscious about his appearance and his use of deodorant is a threat to the ozone layer. He wants to shower in the morning. Most days this is fine and sensible. There are days, however, like this Tuesday, when he went from school football match to club football practice, when washing before bed is imperative. At least, that’s what I think. Battle line. Maybe I should retreat.


Parents evening with a new teacher. The discussion begins at a low key, with the teacher explaining levels and targets. Suddenly she leaves the educational jargon: “Eliza is a dream to have in class.” She tells us how Eliza will be challenged to do a high level writing paper, how she leads her mixed ability table, helping them with maths and how she keeps out of all the trouble and name-calling in the playground.


Robin has tended and harvested a grievance since the start of term. He’s reading books at a lower level than he believes he was last year. He has to be persuaded to read from his allotted book and mumbles the words to indicate his annoyance. At parents evening, L raised this with his teacher who said she would move him straight on to the higher level books. At bedtime, I gave him this news. “What? You told her? No.” I wonder if the grievance was more important to him than reading books at the right level?

School by car

Gabe walks to school, but often begs a lift. I usually dismiss the request. But the day after he came home with three PE bags I acceded. The extra luggage came from kit borrowed from friends when he found out he had a football match that day.

So Eliza, Robin and I accelerated our morning preparations and left 20 minutes earlier than normal. Gabe chatted in the front seat until I turned onto the road of his school, when he entered his bubble of focus and family denial. I parked the car and he let himself out, loaded up with bags, offering maybe a murmur of farewell, but eyes fixed ahead, intent on a clean separation from us.

On we drove, early for Eliza and Robin’s school. The car was dirty from the flock of waxwings that ate berries in the tree over the drive. So we became the car-wash’s first customers of the day. First the manual pressure hose that elicited shrieks when it rose to the windows. Then we entered the wash tunnel with its whirling brushes. Eliza and Robin squealed and chuckled in the backseat. “Again”, they implored as we came out into the light.

Still early for school, we parked and Eliza began reading a Harry Potter novel. Robin clambered into the front seat and lay on the dashboard. We had time for a few rounds of a word definition game, with Eliza pointing out words in the book for one of us to define for the other to guess, then out of the car and into school. Routine restored.

Bedtime superstition and ritual


Bedtime is an occasion of superstition and habit. Gabe will resist climbing into his cabin bed unless L or I am in the room with him. He’s very reluctant to go upstairs to get ready for bed unless there’s a parent with him.

Once in bed, we have developed a ritual. Following a countdown and synchronised nodding of heads, we try to switch off the ceiling light at the same instant as his bedside lamp is switched on – he controls the latter, I the former. If synchronicity is lacking, we repeat as many times as necessary, but not ever more than ten times, until the movement of light from ceiling to bed is seamless.


“You lied to me,” said Robin. He supported this accusation by explaining how there isn’t a Father Christmas, but that mummies and daddies go out to buy the presents and put them into stockings while the children are looked after by babysitters. “But you didn’t have a babysitter before Christmas,” I pointed out in an effective distraction tactic. “It’s a magical time of year,” I reminded him.


Eliza was struck with insomnia one night this week. Reading, being read to, making lists in her head, me/L sitting on the end of her bed all failed to send her to sleep. An espresso cup of warm milk was the last thing tried and so may itself become a ritual.

Outward Bound


Gabe has returned safely and excited from two nights away with school at an outdoor activity centre in Wales. He climbed, crossed obstacle courses, fenced, told ghost stories at night and didn’t wash at all. Stories bubble out of him on his first evening back at home.


On the mornings I take Eliza and Robin to school, we all get distracted and have to leave home in a rush. I try to set a brisk pace to make sure we don’t arrive late. Last week Eliza hobbled with a sore foot from gymnastics and this week she was simply tired. “Daddy, you pull me like a suitcase,” she said, not annoyed, just commenting.


Robin seems to have inherited my ability to fall asleep readily. He usually sleeps within minutes of being bade good night. Sometimes he’ll have his request for L or I to stay in bed with him for a little while acceded to. Tonight was typical. He took my hand and within 10 breaths was unconscious.