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Seán Moncrieff: It’s fun to speculate but we haven’t a clue what our kids will become

Daughter Number Three is still herself, the person she always was. Just a slightly different version

It’s the end-of-term freneticism for Daughter Number Four: the song and dance class put on a show. A school tour. Irish dancing and swimming exams. Herself is big on encouraging the swimming, but not because she’s a big sports fan. Rather the opposite.

There’s always a tacit assumption that our children will be similar to ourselves. With parents who both work in the media, the interest in song and dance is no surprise. But that a potential sporting ability could emerge in the offspring of two decidedly non-sporty people threatens to be a miracle.

Of course, it’s far too soon to say if this interest will result in anything other than the ability to swim. Daughter Number Four hasn’t expressed any great ambition and is unaware that Herself has already Googled the locations of the Olympic Games in the 2030s.

But she is aware – and I suspect most children are – of the weight of genetics. She knows, because she hears it all the time, that she’s the spit of me; apart from the massive plume of curly hair. I was brushing that hair the other day (or, more accurately, trying to get the knots out of it), when she told me that she thinks she’s like me in looks, but like Mammy in talking: which is objectively true, though I’m not sure if there is a gene for constant yakking. That might be more in the nurture column.


And as I was brushing, she noticed that I was humming a song; one that I’d heard for only the first time about an hour before. When she asked, I told her it was written by her sister, Daughter Number Three. For the first time, she’d recorded a song in a proper studio.

I’ve heard all sorts of theories as to where Daughter Number Three gets the musical ability from – none of them too convincing – but for the last year or so she’s been slowly developing what might be a music career. (Though she’d baulk at the word “career”.) She’s played gigs in Dublin, Cork and London. She’s recruited musicians to play with her, and in that time she’s developed her own style. There’s a dreamy quality to her music, which chimes with her personality and her onstage presence.

On stage, she gives the impression of someone who just happened to be passing and decided to get up and play. She chats to the audience in between songs, and if she makes a mistake, she shrugs and moves on, unfazed. She’s utterly relaxed.

Those who loved her feared that it might always be like this for her. A constrained, tormented life

And I’m not telling you this (just) so I can brag about my daughter: the point is that three years ago I never would have predicted that she would be able to do this. No one would have. Three years ago, and for many years before that, she was so crippled with anxiety she could barely go into school: until, eventually, she couldn’t. She did the soul-destroying rounds of counsellors, psychologists, psychiatrists, Cahms and A&E; all of whom came up with their own variation of what the problem might be, none of whom could present a clear path out of it. Those who loved her feared that it might always be like this for her. A constrained, tormented life.

But something happened. Perhaps all that therapy finally had an effect, or her brain chemistry changed. Perhaps it was music. Or willpower. Or all of the above. No one knows, including Daughter Number Three. She turned 21 last week, and she’s still herself, the person she always was. Just a slightly different version.

Which is what happens to all of us, as we move through life. Minor alterations are happening all the time, largely unnoticed. Daughter Number Four could indeed be developing Olympic-standard swimming skills. Or an interest in becoming a swimming pool engineer. It’s fun to speculate on what our kids might become. But really, we haven’t a clue.