‘No’ my son says when I ask if he had lunch today. ‘No’ when I ask him if he did any drawing. ‘No’ when I ask him if he’s made any friends, ‘no’ if he’s at least learned a single classmate’s name and ‘no’ if he’s even once all day sat down at a desk. We were warned about this during his induction, the self-same session where roughly 20% of the presentation we received seemed to be about making sure we didn’t follow our kids into the classroom, weeping, ourselves.
There, his incoming teachers said that shock to the system of so many new faces and activities could create a sort of logjam in their heads, leaving them reluctant to brief you on the ins and outs of their day. Which is fair enough, I guess, but I hadn’t expected the total omertà to which we’ve been subjected.
He alternates between being playfully coy, and outright dismissive. Sometimes, as I pepper him lightly with questions while we plod the short walk from his school to our door, he simply looks ahead and says nothing at all, in the manner of a senior civil servant being followed down the street by reporters, refusing to acknowledge the fact that they’re all asking why he diverted funds from the social care budget to his mistress’s private yacht.
I pepper him lightly with questions while we plod the short walk from his school to our door
It started out frustrating but quickly turned maddening. I’m this close to shining a desk lamp in his face and bribing him with cigarettes. I’ve tried treats, reverse psychology and was about to try some reverse-reverse-psychology before I worked out that would just be psychology and I’m underqualified. My son is, after all, one of the most verbose men to ever put his leg through a trouser. If he sees a bird, he won’t shut up about it for weeks. He’s told me stories about cheese sandwiches that are longer than The Brothers Karamazov. I know the lore of his cuddly toys – their rank, station and attack damage – better than I know the story of my own life. And now, when I finally want him to wear my ear down to a nobbled pulp, he’s gone silent.
Then comes the competitive element, since my wife thinks she’d be better placed to get the goods than I. She did have an early victory, which still stings, when he broke for two seconds and admitted they’d done a lesson about numbers, and that this is called ‘math-a-matics’. We surrounded him like he’d just confessed to a double murder, asking follow-up questions which he stonewalled once again.
The following day he told me he’d asked his teacher why sharks swim, and I kept my cool. ‘Oh,’ I said, inspecting my fingernails absent-mindedly, the way soap opera actors do when they’re pretending not to care about something, which I reckon is fine because the warning signs of bad acting might be lost on someone who watches so much Power Rangers.
‘And what did she say?’ I offer, tentatively.
‘It’s because they have fins,’ he replied, which didn’t strike me as a particularly likely, or satisfying, answer, but as it was the first revelation I’ve ever dragged from this recalcitrant perp, delighted me beyond words.
‘Really?’ I said, hoping my insouciant interest wouldn’t break the fragile spell.
‘No’ he said, and kept on walking.
Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Séamas O’Reilly is out now (Little, Brown, £16.99). Buy a copy from guardianbookshop at £14.78
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