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Why does he need a calculator for French?


Exams can be tough on all of the family. Photo: Tom Burke

Exams can be tough on all of the family. Photo: Tom Burke

Exams can be tough on all of the family. Photo: Tom Burke

WE'RE in the midst of end of year exams but it's me who feels a bit like I'm the one revising for a test on a class I've been skipping all year.

"How's your French?" I say to the middle teen as, in my defence, I wait for the first cup of coffee of the day to work its magic.

The heap of hair swivels sideways from across the kitchen where it's been rifling through sheaves of dog-eared notes. "I don't do French," it mutters witheringly.

"That's not the sort of attitude that will get you into college," I manage, between slurps, but I suspect this attempt at dry humour is probably a little too early in the day for anyone.

Instead, I hear a sort of resigned sigh, not dissimilar to the one the dog emits at the front window when the postman fails to show and I can't help but think for a second that I'm a terrible disappointment.

He's picking up the same books and papers and throwing them down again in a heap when my wife steams cheerily into the kitchen.

"I need a calculator," he announces.

"I could have found you a calculator," I harrumph, like it's the one question on the test I could have got right had it been on the paper to start with.

My wife rolls her eyes my way, but – thankfully, I can't help thinking – not because of me for once.

"You have to leave the house for your exam," she tells him, motioning to her wrist where, for the life of me, I don't think she's worn a watch in years, "in 15 minutes, and NOW you tell me you need a calculator."


"He could have told ME," I mumble into my coffee.

"I had one," he says accusingly. "It was right here." And we all look at the huge mess of books at one end of the room, with the piles of discarded school shoes and coats on the floor in front of it.

"Oh, well then . . ." I say.

The youngest teen trundles in. "Can we go in the car?" he says.

"You can if you ask in French," I say. He pulls his fringe aside to glare at me as if peeking through curtains. "You . . . do do French, don't you?" I add.

"You can all walk," yells my wife from halfway up the stairs now. "It'll help clear your head before your exams," she adds.

She appears moments later with a desk calculator the size of a phone directory, one of those ones with a prong sticking up where you're supposed to put a receipt roll.

"You'll have to plug it in," she says handing it to the bewildered adolescent who's given up rummaging in the corner and is now standing with his mouth hanging open.

"Can anyone spell 'incredulous'?" I pipe.

"It's this or the little bank calculator in my purse," my wife tells him. "Take it or leave it."

"I need a SCIENTIFIC calculator," he whimpers.

"PLEASE can we just go in the car," says the hairstyle beside him. "I have an exam in, like, 10 minutes."

"You've both completely failed in getting up in time and being ready," says my wife, as they both stand there looking helpless.

"Come on then," she capitulates. "We'll see if the stationery shop is open."

They take off in the car and arrive back seconds later in reverse, hairstyle number one skittering in to begin rummaging in the corner again.

"Now what have you lost," I say.

"My jacket," he says impatiently, "it was here, on the floor with the rest."

"Have you tried the coat rack," I tell him, to which, I think, I get another withering look.

When my wife arrives back some time later, she joins me at the kitchen island from where I haven't budged through all the fuss.

"The shop was closed," she says, "so he had to make do with the calculator from my handbag."

"There's only so much one can do," I commiserate, swirling the last few coffee grounds in my mug.

"I've bought three scientific calculators in as many months," she says.

"Like I say . . ." I tell her.

"Does not really caring, make us bad parents?" she asks.

"Monsters," I say.

"It's just," she says, shaking sugar from a dispenser into a cup.

"I think I used up all my worry last year."


"You're preaching to the converted," I mutter, nodding.

Last year, the eldest, who's now just finished his first year in college and doesn't emerge from his bedroom for breakfast until three in the afternoon, was immersed in the Leaving Cert. His brother, 'Bewildered Hairstyle A' , was doing the Junior Cert.

"Just for this one year," she says, "before all the hell starts again, I feel they can bloody well organise themselves for a change. I'm on a year out."

"It's good practice for them," I tell her.

"We can start worrying about the REAL exams again in September," she says, adding in a serious tone, "you know that means we'll have one doing the Leaving Cert AND one doing the Junior Cert, AGAIN."

"Heaven help us," I say and we both sit staring at the crumbs on the counter top in reverential silence for a few moments.

"What I want to know," I tell her, "is why he needs a scientific calculator for French."

"You," says my wife, poking the air at me with a spoon, "will be out on your ear."