THE youngest arrives home from school in high dudgeon.
'Do you know what Christmas means, Mum?' he asks. I pause. The boy is 12 and a half now, so I got the distinct impression that it was a rhetorical question.
'Christmas exams!' He glares at me, as if I were at fault.
'Yeah, well, that's normal sure,' I start to say, at the same time noticing the subtle shift. He just started in secondary (high school) this year and up until now, any exam was a 'test'. Somehow, the word 'test' is a lot less scary than 'exam'.
'Normal?' he repeats. 'I have eleven subjects! That's eleven exams. How am I going to shove all that information into my head?'
I am about to say that he's doing all right at that last bit. He seems to enjoy information; it's the way study is presented that's the problem.
'You probably know a lot of it already,' I say, watching for his reaction. He brightens.
'I probably do,' he agrees. Ah, the wonderful self-belief of children. But I'm not out of the woods yet.
'So, if you're learning something, test yourself on the questions in the book.'
'I'm not writing anything down,' he says. I shake my head, as if the very idea were shocking.
'Of course not. Just say it out.'
He seems satisfied with that.
'I miss nativity plays,' I say, throwing that out for what it's worth. 'When you were all little, you always had your school nativity plays.' I smile at the boy. 'I remember your first one. You were the donkey.'
'That meant I spent the whole play crawling along on the ground wearing a donkey suit. Embarrassing!'
Could have been worse, I remember. It was a toss up between that and the cow.
'How long do you plan to study each day?' the eldest asks.
'About ten minutes, I suppose,' he says. We all look at him. Yep, he seems to be serious.
The eldest barely resists rolling her eyes.
'He's delusional,' she says, later.
'He's 12,' I remind her.
'All the same, I think you should be encouraging him to work for these exams. I mean, it's fine when he's in Montessori, telling him that he's the best donkey you'd ever seen. That sort of Irish mammy belief isn't going to cut it now.'
'He was the best donkey I'd ever seen.' I hold up my hand before she could say anything else. 'Do you know why he was such a good donkey?'
'He was the right size for the costume?'
'He did exactly as he was supposed to do. The previous year, the donkey told Mary to hurry up. Donkeys don't talk.'
She stares at me.
'What does that prove?'
'It means he'll figure this out too.'
Another disbelieving stare. I sigh.
Roll on Christmas.
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