When I was a kid growing up in Baltimore, Maryland, there were two big events on hot summer days: the arrival of the ice cream man at dusk and then about an hour later, the trapping of fireflies in glass jars. When I was sixteen, I started working in the summers and haven’t stopped since. My children have a rather different life.
“How did it go?” I ask. “It was OK.” My 14-year-old daughter replies, just back from her fitting at Ardmore Studios and leaving me gagging for information.
“What’s your costume like?” – “It’s like a brownish-blackish bin bag with buttons,” she says, totally deadpan.
“So, what were the people like? Did you meet anyone famous?” – My daughter thinks this is a sad question. – “They’re all just normal people, Mom.” “I suppose they are,” I say. I quite like the notion of Jonathan Rhys Meyers being just normal people. I also wouldn’t be averse to running in to him at Ardmore Studios while he was having a costume fitting.
“So did you meet King Henry?” – “Who?” She is blasé. She is so comfortable in her role as a glorified extra that I fear she may have inherited the theater gene from certain members of the family. – “You know, Jonathan Rhys Meyers.” The name trips odd my tongue.
My daughter and her fellow choir singers at the Kingston Academy in Dún Laoghaire have been hired to sing religious music by Thomas Tallis for King Henry in what I gather is an extravagant court scene. – “Jonathan who?” she asks. – The really hot guy that’s the star of the show, I want to say, but I don’t. Hearing your mother call a younger man “hot” wouldn’t go down well.
“I was just wondering if you happened to meet Jonathan Rhys Meyers, that’s all.” – “Oh, him. He’s old, Mom.” – Too young for me, too old for her. What a tragedy. Aside from the chance of meeting the fabulous JRM, the real advantage to having your daughter in The Tudors is that it’s like free summer camp. She’s been in rehearsals for the past couple of weeks and tomorrow’s shooting of her scene has been on a deadline to aim for. Since school ended, I haven’t once heard her say “I’m bored.”
“I get paid,” she tells me. – “How much?” – “€18. Do we need it for the bills or can I keep it?” – “You can keep it,” I answer, I want her to buy herself something pretty. My eldest has been a brilliant unofficial au pair for the other two. When I come home in the evenings I find that she and her younger siblings have cleaned the kitchen and done laundry.
Apart from the younger daughter’s near-misses with JRM, the children’s daily highlights are walking the dogs and because the weather has been amazing, going for a swim down at Sandycove. Maybe if I could afford language courses and summer camps and sailing lessons they’d be more enriched, but I have a notion that being left to their own devices doesn’t hold them back at all. They’re lucky to live in such a lovely place in such beautiful weather.
But at the end of the week my eldest is going to France with a friend’s family. People who bring your kids on holiday are generous and it gives your teenager yet another experience of relative independence in a safe environment. She’s going to have a chance to speak French with locals, which will be great preparation for next year’s Leaving Cert, but we will all miss her. Every time she goes away, it’s like another little tendon of connection is being torn away. It has to happen. She has to grow up and she’s very good at growing up, but part of me still wants her to be a little girl in a flowery dress looking for bugs in the garden.
My son, meanwhile, is quite happy knocking a tennis ball around, with him as Roddick and me as Williams. Problem is, the balls keep flying out of the garden and into the neighbors, never to be found again. He’s also entertained by his iPod touch (given to him by his father who got it for free due to his 02 upgrade but he couldn’t figure out how to use it) and his Play Station.
I feel guilty for not indulging him with one enriching experience after the next but I can’t help thinking that the B-word (as in bored) is a good thing if it makes him pick up a book. Dad, meanwhile, is at his own summer camp this week in Bantry, teacher a screenwriting course. The only one without a summer camp is me. The Irish Times office is definitely not a summer camp these days, with the sun streaming through the windows that we can’t open. With kids at home that I would really rather be with than here, I feel like a trapped firefly.