This Man's Life
Monday was a momentous day in our house. Sort of, anyway. My baby son has outgrown his car seat and is into a new one. There is a certain sadness in seeing the old baby car seat under the stairs in the hall.
It is not just an old car seat any more. It is a metaphor that that part of his life, and mine, is over. There is a sense of something being lost forever. Or maybe it is just a car seat under the stairs in the hall.
In any event, I drove my young son (in his new car seat) and his big sister and mother out to Greystones last Tuesday evening. We blasted music (Bob Dylan's Desire album for a song-and-a-half and then kids' songs for the rest of the time) as we drove along in the summer sunshine in the direction of Wicklow.
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There is nothing in the world like the warm summer sunshine. "O, Sunlight!" as someone once cried. "The most precious gold to be found on Earth."
We had packed buckets and spades. We were going on an adventure. The roads seemed packed with people going on similar adventures of their own in the sunshine.
Our journey took us to the beach at Greystones where we put a blanket on the sand and had ham sandwiches and fizzy drinks.
I recalled an old photograph of my mother and father on the beach somewhere in Ireland in the mid 1970s, doling out ham sambos to me and my baby sister Marina and our older siblings, Paul, Jackie and Karen. Eating a sandwich in Greystones on Tuesday I was wistful for the fact that my parents are no longer with us; and how they would have loved to have been on the beach with their grandkids, who they never got to meet - nor even watch their grandson outgrow his car seat. Life is full of such cruelty, isn't it?
The young son and his big sister made sandcastles for an hour and attempted to bury their daddy up to his neck in the sand.
There were wet dogs running in and out of the sea. There were boats bobbing about and planes above us, flying possibly to warmer climates than ours, but last Tuesday night in Greystones, there was no more sunshiny place in the world that myself and the kids would rather have been.
My daughter and her mother played hop-scotch on a path by the beach while my son played in the sand with his daddy who was lying on his back, looking up at the azure skies. It was a moment best encapsulated by American author Regina Brett when she said: "Summer is the annual permission slip to be lazy. To do nothing and have it count for something. To lie in the grass and count the stars. To sit on a branch and study the clouds."
It was all a touch cinematic, too, this idyllic scene by the sea. The paradisal state of being was kept going 10 minutes later with the summer sunshine streaming in the through the open windows, as we sat in front of Mooch eating frozen yoghurt to beat the band. It was after 9.30pm before we got home. And it being still very much bright out, it was difficult enough to get the kids to go to their beds.
To get them, or at least the four-year-old, to go to bed last Tuesday night, we had to offer the inducement of bringing them back to the beach the next evening, albeit this time in Killiney.
So it was that on Tuesday night, our daughter went to sleep without too much drama. She fell asleep safe in dreamy childhood knowledge that she and her brother would soon be enjoying an ice-cream running along Killiney strand.
And so it proved. Indeed, on Friday evening too. I don't want you to think my life is a complete bore but it does follow a particular pattern of ice-creams and ham sandwiches and fizzy drinks on various beaches when the sun is shining - and playgrounds and playcentres when the sun is not shining. It is in a effort to keep the kids entertained and happy.
Again, my mind gets drawn back to the efforts my late parents went to keep me and my siblings entertained. They brought us on holidays when money would have been scarce.
I will never forget seeing my dad crying in the late 1970s when he lost his job when Ireland hit a recession. He had five little mouths to feed and a roof to keep over our heads.
They brought us to places like Butlin's and Benidorm. We drove to the latter, I remember, after getting the ferry to somewhere in Spain before driving for what seemed like weeks in a smelly stuffy car, five kids in the heat, doubtless without safety belts either; with a giant container of water tied to the roof. My father felt the water in Spain wasn't safe to drink. You couldn't make it up. You couldn't make up my dad. There were very few characters like him.
I remember being in a bar with him in the 1990s - he didn't drink - and someone came up and, unannounced, started verbally abusing me.
"I have known two bastards in my life and you sir are both of them," he told the culprit who soon vanished back under a nearby rock.
I'd like to think I'd do the same for my own son one day should the need arise.