When even muffins fail – disappointment at the school gate

Last Friday I took a bag of chocolate chip muffins with me to the school gate when I wouldn’t normally. But it wasn’t a normal day – not in my daughters eyes anyhow.

During assembly house captains (and deputies) and other accolades were being announced. Titles that still don’t make sense to me having not gone through the UK education system. But I do understand Hope and Disappointment and the speedy slide between the two. As the children spilt out of the hall I spotted my daughter. Her cheeks were red and as she caught my eye she shook her head and ran towards  me. ” I didn’t get anything “she said -” I’d set my expectations too high”. And then she had a little weep. She’d been holding it together until school was out.  In the morning she’d said to me “I won’t cry if I don’t get it mum – I’ll save my tears for home”. What could I say to that?  Why should she not hope for a title when she’s more than worthy. So I didn’t “prepare” her. Instead I bought the muffins.

I wished it didn’t mean so much to her. The day before when my mam rang I  heard my dad shout from his seat at the kitchen table, “ did she hear if she got house captain”. It was funny to hear the words trip off his tongue so effortlessly like discussing house captains was something he did all the time. But he had spent a week with his granddaughter last month and they must have talked about it. I’d overheard her have the conversation with her 6 year old Irish cousin who listened intently but wouldn’t have understood the concept at all.

Not every child wants these positions but my daughter clearly does. She’s been craving responsibility in that school ever since reception putting herself forward for student council (one boy and one girl chosen from a class of 30)each year. She hasn’t cracked it yet. Those that want to stand get to write and deliver an impassioned speech though I very much doubt if the votes hinge on their paper promises and not on friendships.

 Later at home we spoke about being gracious in defeat and the learning we can get from this. Life isn’t always fair. I disagreed that she’d set her expectations too high. She had every right to expect an honour. After six years in the school I too thought her day had come. She’s never been involved in playground dramas.  She couldn’t get better school reports if she was to write them herself. I float out of parent teacher meetings where she’s highly commended on her academic performance and behaviour. This year she managed to achieve full attendance despite breaking her arm on a school residential and causing no fuss.

A week on and she’s over the disappointment but the whole matter has stayed with me.  The selection process is far from transparent. Did I contribute to the outcome?  Sometimes she goes to school with scuffed shoes. I was late with payment to the Governor’s fund. Maybe I’m not visible enough. I don’t have a hotline to the school nor a path beaten to the headmistress’s office. I’m disappointed mostly for her but there’s something bugging me too. It could be around my own frustrations in making my mark in life. But even  acknowledging that and putting aside my bias towards my daughter, a niggle remains.

A system that exalts some children but leaves many feeling that they haven’t made the grade is failing in some way. A practice that leaves so many children in tears can’t be right. With parents left to patch up and justify their non-inclusion. The teachers tell us the Head chooses but no-one knows on what grounds.Rubbing salt in wounds the chosen ones get issued with labels to be sewn to their uniform sporting their new titles. So a blank jumper speaks volumes. It talks of disappointment and perceived failure.

One of my daughter’s friends on seeing a purse she’d made from loom bands said they should give her a captainship for loom bands. She’d scrupulously followed a YouTube tutorial and it took her a whole day.  And my sweet girl even offered to make one for the compliment-giver. There isn’t a badge that can encapsulate that. We’re just lucky to have her and I need to let her know that more.






In that half way house between sleeping and waking,  an old slide projector played in my head. I saw seascape, pastures, an orchard before the picture formed of my bedroom here and with some reluctance I opened my eyes to check that it was true.  The holiday is over. I’ll have another few mornings like that until reality sinks. The disorientation in part from 18 days away with nights spent in 6 different homes.

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Made up of moments like these…

 Joining my parents as they farm sat for my uncle. We  counted cows, podded peas, and fed sweet meadow to his 3 horses resurrecting the names we’d given them last year.

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Watching my nieces play their fiddles in a music extravaganza.  Though it featured Irish dance  and Spanish flamingo, the harps and fiddles, the accordions and flutes stole the show.

Trying on the shoes my niece planned on wearing to her debs ball.


Being a passenger in a car driven by my 18 year old niece – the first of that generation to drive. Check out her window sticker – no gimmick – her brother, my nephew,  has landed himself a dream job.


Two Mackerel “acquired” off the pier at New Quay in Clare – one died of natural causes and the other was a gift from a benevolent fisherman. The next night my brother-in-law went fishing without the girls he caught 11.


Passing down the joys of mud pie making. The kids were so enthused , opening up two “mud bakeries” – boys v girls- to start with.  Later came pillage and sabotage before a merger was suggested and peace restored.  An afternoon of foraging and reclaiming. Discarded oyster shells, leaves for sandwiches, wild flowers to decorate. Crab apples chopped and floating in water as cordial. Blackberries squashed as red wine. The makings of a feast.

mud pie


Sitting by an open turf fire with one of my oldest and dearest pals, putting our worlds to right. It took us until 3.30am.

My boy asking what he had to do to become 100% Irish – the better half no longer being enough.


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A stopover at Knock shrine (Ireland’s Lourdes) and thinking in a weird way how it’s not dissimilar to Disney world – land of make believe there,  land of belief here.  Thrills for the devout.  Multi-armed sign posts, the shuttle, the statues and colourful crystal beads in the souvenir shop, the holy water fonts by the entrance/exits, the marriage bureau, the information centre, the scale – 100 acre landscaped gardens and the visitor figures (1.6m came last year).


The Irish love to visit. Calling in and paying respects. And it doesn’t stop just because someone has died.  I visited the final resting place of three literary greats this holiday.

I’d often take people to see WB Yeats grave at Drumcliff  (and now to the newly drawn portrait on this gable wall).


Further up the road lies the recently deceased Irish writer (playwright, poet, novelist) Dermot Healy.  I felt a little uncomfortable searching out his grave. The clay still in a heap, like a person sleeping on their side beneath an earthen blanket.

I paid last respects to John O’Donohue (Irish poet, author, priest, and Hegelian philosopher), author of Anam Cara, the bestseller on celtic wisdom.  He was native of the Burren, Co Clare. We spent a week in the Burren. I knew we were staying near the village of his birth so I figured it would be here where he was buried too.  One day after we’d spent an afternoon swimming on a beach nearby I sought it out.  The weather had turned.  My dad and I were the two to leave the car and face the wind and rain to find the simple grave. He died suddenly in his sleep aged 52.  The inscription on his headstone (head-bark) reads “1956 -2008 and beyond…” His words and teachings live on.

Ice creams and beaches.





Mountains and music





And precious time spent with my parents and other family.