Our boy is an angel in the nursery, a little devil at home

Séamas O’Reilly
·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Alamy</span>
Photograph: Alamy

In nursery, my son is a different boy altogether. We know this because they send us pictures via a little website which is fast becoming our favourite internet destination. It collects images, and occasionally videos, of his time in nursery, usually paired with behavioural advances or feast days.

For St Patrick’s Day we saw him in full Ireland rugby kit making shamrocks out of Play-Doh. At Easter, he painted eggs. On World Book Day, he was kitted out like a fox because it was the only vaguely book-related outfit we had to hand. You may remember it also served as his outfit for two Halloween gatherings and an animal-themed playdate. We keep meaning to get him something else because its fur is so thick he’s reduced to a sweaty mess within 10 minutes of use, but we always forget At this rate, he’ll be getting married in it.

He puts up with our provincial ways at home, only to recast himself as a renaissance man in nursery

In nursery, he leads the life of a boarder at a Swiss governing school for the children of Bond villains. At home he turns his nose up at any but his favourite dinners. There, he eats baba ghanoush and real grains and tuna. Tuna! We can’t even get him to eat fish fingers. His interest in crafts goes beyond painting dinosaurs, or his own hands, and extends to constructing byzantine structures from clingfilm and acrylic paints.

Perhaps he thinks of us as the peasant guardians of some tortured sophisticate. He puts up with our provincial ways at home, only to recast himself as a renaissance man in nursery. There, he speaks Latin, studies architecture and I’m fairly sure he smokes a pipe.

There’s something very touching about seeing him interact with his little friends, without the self-consciousness that seeps in when we’re around. And it’s weirdly affecting to see him so independent and attentive. Affecting and, occasionally, alarming. Going through the website is sometimes like perusing a catalogue of different, better behaviours for our son. ‘Such good manners,’ we say, slightly annoyed.

My son is, in short, what my father might have termed a ‘street angel, home divil’ – a term he used for us when we acted nice as pie in public, but turned stroppy, and possibly even criminal, at home. I’d have thought the term fairly common in the Ireland of my youth, but realise now I only ever heard my dad say it. Googling it only shows its use in American writing on narcissistic personality disorder, which perhaps suggests my father’s opinion of us back then.

He never had the luxury of weekly photo updates of the goings-on in my infant life. I’m not sure he would have cherished it, to be honest. We, on the other hand, can’t live without our glimpse at his daily life, even if it does reveal the first heart-stabs of his burgeoning independence. For the time being, we’ll take each dappled artwork, and every painted egg. Father’s Day is coming soon. We must wash that fox outfit.

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