I saw my nephew Ned for the first time in a while yesterday. He normally turns up regularly after school but he's been taking his Standard Grade exams the last couple weeks and I think he might actually have been staying home doing revision. After much discussion with his mum and dad, he acquired some last minute motivation to knuckle down. Provided he achieves results which aren't entirely disastrous in his 'proper' subjects, he's going to be allowed to drop them next year and concentrate on art and design, which are where his real talents lie.
Bearing this in mind, I was surprised to find him at my door rather than away somewhere practicing simultaneous equations.
"Done," he said in answer to my unspoken question and slouched in. He dumped his bag on the floor and pulled off his shoes without unlacing them.
"All your exams?"
Before I could reply, Fraser bounded down the stairs to the bottom step. "Did you bring me a birthday present?" he said excitedly to Ned.
"Why not? It's my birthday tomorrow."
I intervened. "Did you get Ned a birthday present on his last birthday?"
"No," said Fraser, taken aback by this barmy suggestion. "That's your job. I thought you got him one."
"I did... and he still didn't give me a present on my birthday. Quite why you're expecting one, I don't know."
Fraser clung onto the banister and leaned over, bringing his face close to mine. He spoke in a low, drawn-out voice, like an audio tape that had been stretched. "Because it's MYYYY BIIIIRTH-day TOOOO-mor-ROOOOOOW."
I got a good view down his throat. "Is it? Drat. I should have bought you a present."
"Ha, ha. Very funny, Daddy," he said and then hurried back upstairs before his wiimote got cold.
I shook my head and waited until he was out of earshot. "I can't believe he's going to be nine."
"I thought he was nine already," said Ned, shrugging, and he started to slouch away in the direction of the cupboard I use as an office.
"Don't you understand what that means?" I said, unwilling to let him shut himself away with my Xbox before I'd got a little more of a response from him. "I'm halfway to getting him out of the house! It seems like only a few weeks ago I was sitting in an operating theatre, holding a startled bundle in my arms. After nine months of waiting, he was finally out and we both stared at each other, wondering what to do next. Now he's playing Pokémon cards and being carefully to refer to me as 'Dad' rather than 'Daddy' when talking to his friends. Another nine years and I can wave a tearful goodbye as he heads off to university, then shove his stuff in the loft and put a pool table in his room."
"A pool table!?"
"Er, yeah, but don't tell him that. Or your Aunt Sarah for that matter..."
Ned's eyes lit up. "You going to have a mini-fridge in there too, with beer and stuff?"
"Of course. Come and look at the plans. I've got them hidden where no one will find them."
I took him through to the kitchen and opened the cupboard under the sink where I keep all my cleaning supplies. A big sheet of graph paper with a scale drawing of Fraser's room on it was stuck to the back of the door. Card cut-outs of pieces of furniture were pinned in position. "It's a bit of a squeeze but if the telly goes on the side wall at one end, the gaming chair with built in surround-sound can go next to the bookshelves when the table's not in use. That should be about perfect distance for a forty inch screen."
"You'd have to get up to get to the fridge."
"That is a point." I swiftly moved some of the cut-outs and pinned them back into place. "How's that?"
"Dunno. S'not much room round the arcade cabinet."
I chewed my lip. "Yeah, that seems to happen whatever I do. It may have to wait until Lewis leaves home. Then it can go in his room next to the jacuzzi."
I gave the problem one more wistful ponder, shook my head and closed the cupboard with a sigh.
It's not a plan I think about often. It's perhaps rather too far in the future still. I've got a great deal of parenting to do before it's even worth measuring windows to decide which one's going to have to come out to get the pool table in. There's plenty to look forward to in the meantime, nonetheless. Getting my youngest off to school will signal the end of another phase of my housedad years. It won't bring space for gadgets, and it's already brought me angst and insecurity, but there will be many fresh opportunities. Just imagine - six hours a day without being pestered, argued with, complained at or forced to wear pink, plastic jewellery. Who knows what I could achieve?
I decided not to share any of this with Ned. I figured he'd just look blank and grunt.
"How did the exams go?" I asked.
"Think so," he said, half a smile fighting its way through his usual teenage frown.
I grinned back. "Excellent."
There was a pause.
Then he shrugged and sloped off to play Tomb Raider...
All the best to you and the family,
Yours in a changing world,