The boys’ school reports arrived this week. Their teachers said nice things about them and used words like “mannerly” and “polite”. We checked that we’d been sent the right kids’ reports, then smiled smugly at one another that something had sunk in and patted one another on the back for being an amazing parent. As you do. Then we wondered why the kids chose to be mannerly and polite in school but not at home. You win some, you lose some.
We mentioned the reports to each of them in the morning, the older one reading his word for word, the smaller one being given headlines of words he understood. Then, we told that to show them how proud we were that they were both getting on so well and their teachers being so happy with them that they could have a treat the next evening.
Cathal suggested that really we should have a party, it’s his first school report, he might think that it’s a more momentous occasion than it really is. We tried to explain that it wasn’t really party material and then he said that he just meant an “our family party”, so at 6.30am we agreed, in the interests of getting out the door to work and school without an argument.
I brought them to the petrol station after work and let them pick two treats each from the shop that they’re never let out of the car to see. We ate them at home with popcorn and buns. “Is this our party?” Cathal asked. When I confirmed that it was he smiled and said that it was a great party. Then he wondered whether there were any more treats.
We chatted, the five of us sat around the kitchen table. The boys shared tales of ipad games (I tried to pretend that I understood what they were talking about) and school, their sister tried to copy things that they said to make them laugh, and they did. Everyone was in good humour. The small girl asked her daddy to watch bedtime TV with her, they snuggled on the couch. I ironed and the boys took their 15 minutes’ ipad each, the older helping the younger out with a new game when his turn came. Without bickering. Unheard of.
We did bedtime stories without incident, and while there was a bit of bed jumping they settled pretty well.
We have this thing where when the smallest is asleep on non-school nights the boys are allowed to tiptoe back down the stairs for “deich nóiméad” (ten minutes) of extra up time. the “deich” is invariably half an hour, but we still talk about getting “a deich”.
As soon as she was (with a couple of false starts, she’s a bit of a faker) the boys arrivedback down the stairs and each zoned in on one parent. Cathal sought Daddy out and listened to music with him on his headphones shouting a commentary over the pop tunes (his choice), while Ciarán and I played a drawing game that we found on Where Wishes Come From and made some plans for the summer.
They were lovely. For many hours in a row, after some dreadful weeks of tantrums and tears, they were truly lovely. It was so refreshing. We chatted and laughed, they took turns speaking and apologised to each other. These were the boys of the school reports, not the boys of fraught Friday evenings.
This is the family of my instagram feed. This is the family that people tell me is picture perfect. I love this family. They don’t show their faces too often.
I love the other one too, the real life, most of the time one with the tantrums, bickering, shouting and squealing. That’s the one I spend the most time with, but the glimpse of the other one, the happy, harmonious almost-perfect one every now and then is enough to get me through the rest of the time.