Seeing my child miss out on school rites of passage is heartbreaking

I watch in admiration as my sixth-class daughter rises to this strange new reality

The nine o’clock news, Wednesday, March 11th: the first mention of confirmations being cancelled at short notice. My daughter sits beside me on the sofa, tears rolling down her face.

Don’t worry, I say, your confirmation is this Friday, we’ll make it, we’ll get in there before things stop. But we don’t.

At 1pm the following day the country closes down and we get word that her confirmation is a cancelled casualty of the crisis. I collect her from school, – she’s devastated by the cancellation.

Easter Saturday, April 11th, the warmest day of the year so far. I drop shopping to my cocooning parents, stopping en route to put bottles in the bottle bank.



The bottle bank is beside my daughter's school and I get a sudden pang of loneliness for all the coming months had held for her: the confirmation; camogie training and matches for the Cumann na mBunscol games; the Junior Entrepreneur Programme; slán le rang a sé; and, most of all, for the joy and fun her lovely class would have as they counted down their final days in primary school.

There is no mention in the news of primary schools returning and we understand why.

My teenager helps me offload the bottles – the remnants of a Zoom party the previous night – and she asks me what I miss most during lockdown. I shrug. I have it easy, I know.

Our household is working from home, I’m grateful we still have jobs. Our grandparents and extended family are all well and safe. I’m quarantined with the people who matter most to me and in this strange new world order I have my kids to myself again – I’m not competing for their attention. “You chose to marry Dad and have four kids. I’m stuck with you guys,” my teenager states honestly and frankly. She’s right, as teenagers always are.

But what do I miss most?

I continue pushing the empty bottles into the well-fed containers – everyone was Zooming last night! The sun beats down on me, I look over my shoulder at the empty pitch across from the school and the thing I want most at this blue skied, sunlit, warm moment is to be a sideline spectator at those Cumann na mBunscol matches that lay ahead of us in the months of  May and June.

Rang-a-sé girls had worked tirelessly as a class to prepare for these games: meeting on Saturdays for extra practice (and fun), planning their positions, discussing strategies. Each girl in the class was key to the team. They couldn’t do it without each other. I wanted to listen to her post-match rants about referees, to the advice her younger brother might give her about her defending or attacking tactics.

Her team would win some matches and lose some others but maybe they'd win just enough to bring us all to Croke Park on another sunny, cloudless day in June. Her grandparents might come, her aunt and cousins. The school community united in supporting the green, white and pink jerseys that have dreamed all year of their chance as a class to win the Corn for their school.

That won’t happen now; a few weeks ago it was confirmed that the matches were cancelled. I notice the idle hurl in the hall. It’s hard to stay motivated when there’s no training to turn up to, no match to practice for, no friends to hurl with.

We, she and I, realise we are lucky.

Happy at home

There are real problems out there for people, things that will have a life-changing impact on people. Our regrets will pass, and we’ll get over our few missed matches. We’re grateful for what we have. She’s happy at home and, like any pre-teen, she’s missing her friends. Now and again she has a rant about “stupid corona” but then reverts to her happy self, helping me with minding her little sister while her dad and I work.

She pulled out a photo of her class on their senior infants school tour the other day. Thirty-one small, tiny kids, all kooky and gorgeous. It made me smile.

The weeks pass and we remember those rang-a-sé milestones that she’d looked forward to as she moved through her final years in primary school. I’d hoped they might get a couple of weeks in June, just some time to be the lovely class they always were again before they move into the wider world of secondary school. That, now, won’t happen either.

In the meantime, her diverted journey through sixth class is calling on virtues she has nurtured within herself: patience, hope, acceptance, respect and consideration of others. I watch in admiration as she stoically accepts and rises to this strange and new reality, remembering the bigger picture of this virus. I’m so proud of you, Isobel!