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Opt in to time out

These mornings just suck -- driving three miserable children to places none of them want to be. It's bloody hard to keep yourself focused on the big picture when the car is chock-full of misery and the windscreen wipers are going full tilt.

First of all, I've to bring Conor, who's a year-and-a-half, to the childminder. He now recognises the route and starts whimpering as soon as we turn onto her road. When we get to her house, the whimpering turns into a full-scale wail, which continues until she prises him from my arms and I reverse out the door, promising I'll be back in a few hours.

Then I have to take the other two to school. Mike hasn't warmed to the place at all, what with the sitting still and endless colouring-in. But now even Annie, who has always loved school, burst into tears in the back of the car the other morning and said she didn't want to go. The problem is she's worried sick about her little brother.

Last night, after she had gone to bed, she called me up last night and said that every time she thought about Mike in school, it felt like a piece of her chest was missing. She's six! She shouldn't be stressed about anything. But there was this incident during the previous week.

In the yard in school, lunchtime ended and the bell rang for everyone to go back in. Annie got into her line as always, but while standing there, she noticed her brother wandering around aimlessly in the yard, looking miserable. So she was torn. You can't leave the line after the bell rings. It's like going AWOL from the army. But her brother was miserable. That night, she went into hysterics over it.

Her problem is she has an overdeveloped sense of responsibility. We've always taken great care to avoid saying stuff like: "You're the oldest, you must make sure your brothers don't stab each other," but she doesn't just take on responsibility, she seeks it out. She rats us out to each other: "Mammy, Daddy drove us in the car without putting on our seat belts." She gets a second opinion if she thinks what I've told her is a load of rubbish. Most daughters regard their fathers reverentially and take what they say as gospel. Mine thinks of me as a loveable goofball. Great fun, yeah but, I mean, you wouldn't want to be relying on him for anything serious.

If I tell her anything, like, I don't know, that a certain bird is a blackbird, she'll screw up her face and say: "How do you know?" And I reply, testily: "Because I've lived on this planet for nearly 40 years, I've learned a thing or two about it." And she'll just make a face and go "oh", but really she's just appeasing me. In her own head, she's going: "Blackbird? It is in its hole a blackbird, that's a penguin."

On top of all this, she's starting into first class and all of a sudden the work is hard. There are spellings and Irish and sums and they're not p*ss easy like they were last year. That's stressful. Surely to God six-year-olds shouldn't be stressed?


After mornings like this one I start thinking about home schooling them, like in the States. You could abandon the curriculum and teach them whatever the hell you like. We could spend a month staying up all night learning about the stars.

The other great temptation is to say: "Okay, shag it, let's all stay at home, let's skive off school, work and the childminder. Let's turn the sofa upside down and build the biggest cushion fort in the history of warfare and eat pizza and watch cartoons and pretend the rest of the world doesn't exist." I've a friend who does stuff like this every so often. Either him or his girlfriend will stand up and say "I declare a family day off", and they'll pull sickies from work and keep the kids at home and fart around as described.

I know, I know, -- what a dreadful example to set the children and if everyone did that, the economy would collapse. The banks would fail, unemployment would . . . spiral out of control . . . and . . . sounds familiar?

See you're always torn between trying to give them a sense of responsibility and wanting to give them a little fun. Actually no, not just fun, something more important than that. Letting them know that you can say screw it, I'm opting out. We all know people who are stuck in stupid jobs that they hate but can't give up because that would just be too big a risk to take. You have to be able to say no, not me, not today. I quit.