Family guy: We made a teen who asks for nothing. How utterly baffling
Our second eldest suddenly appears in the kitchen, like a ghost.
One minute, there's no one there, the next minute I turn around from my habitual hourly stock check of the refrigerator to find him standing at the kettle, which scares me badly.
While I recover, I take in the sight of him as he makes tea. He's now almost as tall as I am, six foot if he's an inch, stick skinny and focusing intently on the task of squeezing every last drop from a teabag.
He does this while peering through crooked spectacles that look as if he's fallen asleep while wearing them one too many times.
We've offered to replace them. "They're fine," is what he always says.
In two days from now, I think as I watch him, he'll be eighteen, a fact I feel compelled to announce.
"Eighteen in two days," I blurt in fact.
"Great," he says without looking up. "Finally, I can stop being the only 17-year-old on the entire campus."
It's never really occurred to me that this might have been an issue to him. He has almost completed his first year of college. When he took up his degree course, he had only stopped being 16 six months before. This sounds younger than 17-and-a-half, I think, which is how it seemed at the time.
He did his mock Leaving Cert at 16. He was forced to make life choices about what path to take through college, all at 16. While it never occurred to me that, once he made it to college, his age might be an issue to him, it did bother me that he seemed to be forced to grow up a little too soon.
"You had to skip a year in school," I tell him. Yeah, like he doesn't remember. "It was so unfair that they wouldn't let you do fourth year."
Fourth year in his school is designated Transition Year, but unlike many other schools, his insists that students apply for a place on the course. Transition Year, it seems, is only open to a little over half the students. He didn't get in. Most of his friends did.
"Sure," he says, stirring in sugar now. "Not so great for them, though, when they're still having to slog through the Leaving two years later while the rest of their friends are all having a great time in college."
"You are having a great time in college then?" I say, brightening.
"It's all right," he mutters darkly. In fact, I'm pretty sure he likes it a lot.
"And you do actually see other people from your school around the campus then?"
He turns to examine me through his crooked spectacles. "There are 30,000 students at my college," he says. "No one from my school is doing any of my classes. So, uh, no."
I'm suddenly not sure whether it's the fact that he's rarely, if ever, seen someone he knows at college since he started going, or that his father is haranguing him with stupid questions that is irritating him so much, probably the latter, and so I change tack. "What do you want for your birthday?" I try instead.
He sighs. "I really don't care," he says, taking his tea and heading for the door. And I believe him too.
Somehow, and I'm not sure how or I'd patent the formula and doubtless make a fortune, we've created a teenager who never asks for anything, not money, clothes or treats; who doesn't crave attention or the next party; who's cool as ice. And just wants to be left to get on with things by himself.
I feel bad about driving him from the kitchen and slip out the door after him, overtaking him in the hallway.
"I'm finished in there," I tell him, trying to seem nonchalant, adding: "If you want. . ."
I head in to the family computer in the playroom, which is clearly where he was going. He sighs again, turns heel and heads back to the kitchen, closing the door behind him with a clatter. A moment later I hear music come on. The smell of toast drifts under the door.
Part of me feels a little sad that he doesn't want his dad in there in the kitchen with him. I have to stop myself from poking my head in one last time to tell him that I've been shopping and there's jam, or chocolate spread.
Clearly, what he wants most of all is the space to sip his tea and munch his toast without interference.
His younger brother appears, hooked around the bottom banister, still wearing a wireless headset from his PlayStation game. Not nearly as quiet as his brother, his arrival is heralded by the sound of a skip full of bricks being emptied down stairs.
"If he doesn't know what he wants for his birthday," he grins, "there are some PlayStation games I could suggest that I'm sure he'd like just as much as I would. . ."
"Nice try, chancer," I tell him and, though I try my hardest not to, find myself grinning right back at him.