Nora is still running but the finish line is in sight. The boys have not yet noticed they’ve been outplayed, but they’re about to witness the kind of soaring moral fable that any parent dreams of.
We’re minding my niblings, Ardal and Nora, while my sister Maeve and her husband Jimmy are enjoying a boujie weekend in Margate. Since we moved close to them last year, our son has become enraptured with his cousins, who are only slightly older than him. Owing partly to their proximity in age, and partly to Maeve and Jimmy’s foolhardy habit of inviting us over for dinner most Sundays, he’s come to think of them as cousin-siblings, and their friendship has been a delight.
Maeve and I grew up in a family of 11, so our own childhood was a bustling metropolis of infant interaction, filled with noise and games and the kinds of fights children can only really have with siblings; the kind where you can draw blood by throwing the pointy end of a VHS tape at your sister’s head (sorry, Caoimhe), but seconds later conspire to keep it a secret from your dad so you can sit happily together and watch said tape itself (Grease 2).
There are many reasons why someone might not want to have a stupidly large amount of children – both Maeve and I have a rather sensible two apiece – but Big Family dynamics do provide a speedrun of socialisation that I sometimes regret my own two kids won’t have, so I’m delighted they can approximate it now.
And I do mean now, since we are currently spending an entire weekend with four kids. It’s intense, but thankfully they manage to keep each other occupied, for the most part. After a morning in the park, we go to the indoor trampoline centre, and thence to the running track out back to see who can get to the end quickest and, hopefully, most tired.
Ardal begins in earnest, faster than the younger two by a country mile. My son, whose stiff robotic gait is an eternal delight to us, if not to the selection committee for the Irish Athletics Federation, decides his best bet is to cheat, and bisects the central concourse in the hopes of halving his journey, drawing the eternally competitive Ardal to overtake him while doing the same. Only Nora stays the legal course, refusing to compromise the integrity of the sport while her two sibling-cousins squabble over their tactics. They’ve already made up, and are playing another game, entirely red-faced, some minutes later, as Nora’s tiny form reappears near the finish, and the boys realise she, and only she, is in place to win. As she crosses the line, we chant her name, delighted that our rakish Hares have been defeated by a smart little Nor-toise.
We get home, sweaty but ennobled by our efforts and prep all four kids for dinner, pyjamas and bed. It’s been a tiring day, but we’ve stayed the course, and the finish line is in sight.
Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Séamas O’Reilly is out now (Little, Brown, £16.99). Buy a copy from guardianbookshop at £14.78
Follow Séamas on Twitter @shockproofbeats