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Communication breakdown sets tongues wagging

WHEN the school secretary telephones to arrange the appoint-ment, your mouth goes dry. Yet you'd requested the state-of-the-nation chat about your daugh-ter hoping you'd be told she was doing fine.

Your husband thinks you're a bit OTT. He didn't exactly knock himself out in fifth year, he recalls -- in fact, he was probably even lazier than Wolverine -- and look at him now!

You look. It is not a reassuring sight.

Que sera sera, your mother counsels. Wolverine will do or not do, but it will be as Wolverine chooses, says sage granny, who knows her beloved grand-daughter well and speaks with wisdom borne of seven decades.

However, the fifth-year head is unsurprised by your request and worryingly enthusiastic about meeting you.

When you arrive, she thoughtfully gives you the good news first. Your daughter is polite, cheerful, well-mannered and popular at school. The teachers report that they enjoy chatting with her.

The softener out of the way, the year head gets briskly down to business.

In the school's eyes at least, you are not worrying unnecessarily. Far from it. Wolverine is sliding with some speed down the slippery academic slope.

In fact, the year head quips with a grim smile, they can't recall the last time she broke a sweat.

Wolverine's teachers say that she regularly slackens off on both classwork and homework. Written work is not being submitted on time. She's falling behind badly in maths and has dropped to a C-plus in honours Irish, French and History.

Even the English teacher, who was one of her biggest fans, reports that she has become a tad unfocused.

Christ, you think.

Have a word with her, the year head advises. You've had several, you say hopelessly.

The year head promises to talk to Wolverine herself. She might even get the principal in on it. Such a clever girl, she sighs.

What a waste!

That night you attempt to get through to the Wolverine. She is surprisingly receptive. The two of you have a long, intense talk full of warnings on your behalf and heartfelt, well-intentioned pledges on Wolverine's part. You part on good terms.

Later that night you find two pages of very closely written foolscap on your pillow. It begins: "Dear Mum, I am writing about something that's really important . . ."

A maths grind? Those textbooks she never got around to sorting out? She wants to join the after-school sessions of supervised study?

The missive continues: "I'd like to get my tongue pierced for my birthday. I'm really more mature now . . ."

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