Ross O’Carroll-Kelly

‘You can’t unspoil children, just like you can’t unspoil milk. It’s too late if it’s already bad’

Sat, Mar 8, 2014, 01:00

Sorcha summons me and Honor to the kitchen, telling us that she has something to, like, show us. When we get there, she’s standing in front of a collapsible white board, with a black Shorpie in her hand and a look of resolve on her face that tells me this has something to do with her ongoing efforts to – I’m not shitting you here – unspoil our daughter?

It’s that book she read.

“Now, you can both stop rolling your eyes,” she goes, “and shaking your heads from side to side. This is what’s known as, well, appropriately enough, an Honour Board. We’re going to use it to keep a record of your good behaviour, Honor, and also those times when your behaviour has fallen below the standard that your father and I would consider acceptable.”

Honor turns to me and goes, “I think your wife is menopausal.”

I don’t get a chance to even comment on that – Sorcha just continues banging on in her teachery voice. “We’re going to reward incidences of good behaviour with two points,” she goes. “But each episode of – again – unacceptable behaviour will result in the deduction of two points. At the end of each week, we’ll calculate the points on the board and that will determine the level of pocket money you get.”

Honor’s like, “Okay, this is like being in focking prison.” I know it’s possibly wrong for an eight-year-old girl to speak to her mother like that, but I’m kind of on her side. You can’t unspoil children, just like you can’t unspoil milk. It’s too late if it’s already bad. Honor’s been a wrong ’un since before they cut the cord and I’m saying that in her defence. We just have to accept that there’s nothing we can do, except pray that she emigrates to Australia one day and pick up the bill for any damage she does in the meantime.

“So, to begin on a positive note,” Sorcha goes, scribbling on the board, “you put your breakfast dishes into the dishwasher three mornings this week . . . ”

She didn’t, by the way. I did it for her.

“So that’s six points. But against that, I’m sorry to say, I had a phone call from the school to say that you ripped little Speranza Kennedy’s One Direction folder to pieces.”

“She’s a sap,” Honor goes.

“And you also accused Miss Crowley, your music teacher, of having a moustache.”

“Well, she does. She looks like Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club .”

I burst out laughing. She reminds me so much of myself sometimes – that’s the miracle of kids, of course. Sorcha shoots me a look that, roughly translated, means, er, yeah, no, you’re not exactly helping here, Ross?

I put my serious face back on.

“So you’re left with two points,” Sorcha goes. “You folded and put away your school uniform on Tuesday . . . ” Again, that was me. “So that’s another two points, which means you have four. But then you told me this morning that I had an arse like David Blaine trying to get out of a sack . . . ”

“I just can’t believe you thought those yoga pants fitted you,” Honor goes.

“So I’m taking two points for that. And then I’m taking two points off because you didn’t eat your dinner last night. You scraped it into the bin – don’t think I didn’t see you – the very second my back was turned.”

“Well, I’d rather eat what’s coming out of the dishwasher outflow than that muck you tried to serve me.”

“It was Penne Arrabiata, Honor. You’ve been eating it since you were three.”

“Maybe I haven’t. Maybe Dad always eats it for me.”

I make a shush face at her, which doesn’t escape Sorcha’s attention. Very little does.

“So,” she goes, “that gives us . . . ” and she draws a big zero on the board.

I’m presuming that translates to fock-all pocket money. Honor comes to the same conclusion, because her mouth is suddenly open wide enough for a lion tamer to stick his head in it.

“So it hasn’t been an ideal first week,” Sorcha goes. “There’s a lot of room for improvement and I’m hoping to see that improvement over the next seven days.”

“Zero,” I go, trying to put a positive spin on things. “It could be worse. It could be, like, minus-something.” That’s what my old man used to say when my exam results arrived. I think that’s why I ended up with such unshakable self-belief.

Honor suddenly explodes. She goes, “I focking need money to live!”

Sorcha goes, “No, you don’t, Honor. You’re eight years old. We put a roof over your head and provide all the food and phone credit you need. And if you swear at me again like that, you’re going to be storting week two with two points to make up.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Honor goes, “can I just get this straight, just in case I decide to ring social services and report you – you’re saying I’m getting no money at all this week?”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying, Honor. We would be doing you a disservice – as your parents – if we let you grow up thinking that rewards were something you were automatically entitled to. If you watched the news, Honor, you’d know that that’s where this country went wrong. Everything we get, we must earn.”

Sorcha puts down the Shorpie and walks out of the kitchen. Honor turns to me – her loving father – obviously for answers.

“Look,” I go, “she didn’t mean what she said, you know, about having to earn things. She’s upset,” and, at the same time, I whip my roll and peel her off a 20. She takes it from me with a big, surly face on her. “I want 50,” she goes.

She’s funny. I’m there, “I’m not giving you 50, Honor.”

“If you don’t give me 50, I’ll tell Mom that you gave me 20 against her wishes the second she left the room.”

Like I said, she reminds me so much of me, it’s genuinely terrifying. I peel off a 50 and give it to her. Again, she doesn’t say thank you.

I’m like, “I’m, er, not getting the original 20 back either, am I?” And she goes, “Yeah, you catch on rull fast.”

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