Boyhood

boyhood-posterTwo weeks after my mother’s death, I went to see Richard Linklater’s film ‘Boyhood’ with two close friends. The kind of friends who don’t mind me not talking but slumping down in a cinema with tears periodically streaming down my face, the inevitability of the passage of time playing out in front of us, as the boy in the title grows from a six year old to an eighteen year old.

As the mother of two sons, the film initially made me think about my boys and identify strongly with the protagonist and his mother, as she also ages. Yes, my boy(s) would do or feel that I thought countless times as Mason Junior was by turns shy, charming or reckless. And my heart bled for the character of the mother, especially at the end of the film as her son drove off to college and she was left exhausted in the kitchen, after years of having to cope with managing the day to day, crying ‘I thought there would be more’.

However, when I thought about the film later, I wondered why I hadn’t really considered my daughter during the film. Was it just because the film was mainly about Mason – the others, including his sister, being bit players in his story? Yes, that was probably part of it. But I also wonder if I have also bought into the received wisdom that sons grow up and leave you, but daughters stay with you – as the saying goes, ‘a son is yours until he marries, a daughter’s yours for life’. Was I more affected by the scene of Mason driving happily away in the sunshine to his new life, because I anticipate my sons doing just that, without a backward glance, in a way that my daughter will not? Perhaps it is because I have a teenage son, who I can see engineering his own separation from me already, a developmental stage which my daughter has not yet reached?

Just this week, there was another headline in the newspapers, asserting that you need to have daughters if you expect anybody to look after you in old age. Sons just aren’t going to cut it. I have been asked many times by elderly people in the course of my work whether I have any daughters and when I say yes, one daughter and two sons, they pat my hand and say ‘you needn’t worry then, love, your girl will see you right’.

I sincerely hope that all my children will want to be in close contact with me as they grow up and when they are adults and not merely consider me as a duty to be contacted. I also hope that my daughter in particular seizes every opportunity that comes her way and does not fall prey to any stereotypes about being the ‘caring’ one. Yet, as the mother now to one teenager, with one pre-teen waiting hotly in the wings, I can acknowledge that hoping for enthusiastic continued contact with all my children during the next couple of decades may be unrealistic.

I talked to my teenage son about the film, trying to use it as a device to keep the lines of communication open with him. I explained how the boy in the film grows up and away from his family and how it makes clear that at times he found them embarrassing. Trying to enforce a meaningful conversation on my reluctant son as he sat texting and avoiding eye contact, I stressed that I wanted him to know that I hoped he would always talk to me in private, even if I understood he may start to find it embarrassing to do so in front of others (we have had recent conversations about him only grunting to me when I ask him a question in front of one of his friends). ‘In the future?’ he said, somewhat incredulous – ‘mum, you’ve been overwhelmingly embarrassing for ages already’. Taken aback, I asked for more details. How long had I been embarrassing? ‘As long as I have been aware of the concept of embarrassment’, he answered adding, rather unnecessarily ‘and I think I learned that quite young’. He found me the most embarrassing person in the world, he said. And then, with a flash of the future heart breaker, he stopped texting just long enough to put his hand on mine and say ‘but I love you the best of everyone in the world too’.

After this conversation, I asked my ten year old daughter whether she found me embarrassing. ‘Not really’ she said. ‘Maybe sometimes when you sing, but I don’t really mind’. Undaunted, I asked the same of my eight year old son. ‘Never’ he stated loyally, jumping onto my knee, adding that he loves me so much that he wants to live with me forever. A sliding scale of embarrassment, neatly correlating with the age of the potential embarrassee, it would seem.

I feel confident that my eight year old will not be sitting on my knee asking to live with me forever in five years’ time, but he will still be the same person in five years’ time, just him in his thirteen year old form. One thing I found very moving about ‘Boyhood’ was that it was impossible at the end of the film not to see the face of the six year old boy in the face of the eighteen year old young man – the making manifest in front of our eyes that our experiences and emotions stay with us, even if we choose to put them on the back burner for a while. My older son may tell me that I am overwhelmingly embarrassing now, but when I look at his face, I shall choose to see the toddler who would not leave my side and the nine year old who clutched my hand on the way to school and kissed me goodbye in the playground (in front of his friends). The fact that he would not allow this to happen now as he grows towards independence must not be allowed to negate the fact that it happened and it is part of the fabric of his makeup. It is a part, too, of my experience of mothering him, a bank of goodwill which I sometimes need to draw on to compensate for teenage apathy and antagonism. When my younger son chooses to hurl himself at me and demand kisses and cuddles, I will accept them gladly, because I see that they may not last much longer.

I recall feeling when my children were very small that they were part of me, quite literally part of my flesh. With that visceral sense of belonging, came a sense of ownership. As they grow up, it is a painful realisation that they are not mine at all. Quite obviously, they are their own people and I would be failing as a mother if I could not accept and celebrate that. Whilst I feel so close to them at times that I feel I do know what they are thinking and how they are feeling, I cannot know that for sure and this is increasingly the case. Secrets are starting, doors are shutting, friends are being made without my control or knowledge, texts are being exchanged about my unreasonableness. All as it should be, no doubt. So do I even have the right to write about them? Is it in any way appropriate to appropriate our exchanges for my writing? It is a fine line and one which I am keen not to overstep. I hope I can reflect upon my relationship with them only in so far as I can see the relevance to me as a parent, to inform and validate my own experiences as a mother. Whilst I would have had few qualms about writing about my baby’s first steps, or infant dancing lesson, for example, it is quite another to dare to plunder their lives as they grow up for my own purposes and I am struggling to tread the line sensitively and meaningfully.

There is a scene in Boyhood where Mason’s High School teacher tells him that he is special, that he’s ‘got something’. Then he points out that he has a classroom of students who may also be special and who are definitely more focussed on success. When my mother died recently, it made me feel special, for all the wrong reasons. I feel illuminated by grief, special in my sadness and trauma and alone in the world, as though nobody could be feeling as I did. But then I look around and see many people I know who have also lost a parent and who must therefore also have been through that emotional maelstrom. Each time I gave birth, I felt singled out by the amazing thing that had happened to me – I had done something extraordinary, and survived! Then I looked around at all the other people who have done exactly the same or, heroically, taken the amazing step of adopting a child. The fact that my experiences are not unique should not negate my feelings of uniqueness, in being a mother or in being bereaved, but I hope will allow me to show compassion and understanding to others who are going through the business of living, growing up and dying.

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by | August 25, 2014 · 7:27 pm

Summer tournaments

summer tournament

The school summer holidays are almost completely free of organised junior football (1).  The tradition that keeps the holidays only almost completely free is the summer tournament.

No.2 son took part in one such event on the first Saturday of the holidays. We drove 30 minutes to another town in the county, where a primary school was hosting eight under eight teams.

The logistics of exiting the cars of eight under seven teams’ families, whose tournament had just ended, and welcoming no.2 son’s age group was exercising a team of hi-vis toting stewards. I confused the parking situation by dropping no.2 son there and leaving before his matches were underway. I had the 1&onlyD with me and had decided an afternoon at her younger brother’s football tournament was a cruel and unnatural way of spending her first day of holiday.

It’s not the first time I have given short-measure to one of these events. And the experience of that occasion has coloured my view of all of these tournaments.

It was six years ago and no.1 son was the competitor. I had spent the previous night at a friend’s stag party and so was forgiven the 8am start (registration by 9am) to get to a park overlooked by a professional football stadium in the Pennines. Mother in the Middle took that shift, accompanied by two pre-schoolers. I was to join later.

As I lay in bed that morning, drifting in and out of a hung-over doze, I was faintly aware of the rain being blown against the bedroom windows. If I had thought about it, I would have remembered that my party shoes were by the front door, soaked from my staggering home in the wet early hours.

Waking around midday, I listened to a voicemail from Mother in the Middle: ‘When was I coming? It was impossible to be there much longer with the kids.’

I set off. Wet and blowy in our suburb became gales and downpours as I headed up into the Pennines. I found the car park by the stadium and headed towards the field. Kids being returned to cars were crying – sore losers, I thought. The walk from the car park’s edge to the playing area took in three terraces separated by steep grassed slopes. On each slope, heading downward, were people falling and sliding to the bottom. The same was happening to those people trying to scale the slopes. Families with pushchairs found them bogged in mud or were dragging them like sledges up hill.

The teams that take these events seriously, pitch gazebos – optimistically, as shelter from the sun. On this summer’s day, adults were clinging to gazebos to stop them from being blown somersaulting across the field. The crying I had heard in the car park wasn’t the response of kids to an unfavourable result, but the entirely reasonable reaction to being drenched and blown around. Few were dressed for the weather and those that came better prepared had already changed in, then out, of a succession of tops that were quickly soaked.

And still the football went on. The PA system had been abandoned and so the organisers sent runners around the field to announce fixtures. One of the curious aspects of this day was that there was hardly a single pushy Dad urging his progeny to the Final. Most parents were working out, given a few tactical defeats, how quickly they could leave.

I remember helping Mother in the Middle back up the treacherous terraces to the car park with the 1&onlyD and no.2 son. Back at the field, I hunkered down to watch the last action of no.1 son’s tournament. This consisted mostly of one team kicking the ball into the wind and finding it blown back past them and the other team hoisting the ball for wind-assisted goal kicks.

This year’s tournament was different in many ways but, again, I arrived back in time for the final matches of the tournament. No.2 son’s team were boasting an unbeaten record which they secured across all seven matches. He was expecting a trophy to mark this achievement. There was a trophy, but it was awarded imaginatively to the ‘most helpful’ team. Bags of sweets were handed out to all the players and no.2 son was content with that as his reward. I was just relieved that no.2 son had remained protected, not from hail and gale, but from the conventional climactic threats of the summer tournament: sunburn and dehydration.

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Footnote 1: I’ve argued elsewhere why summer without football is a good thing for other junior sports to thrive and would be even better if extended a month or two before the holidays start.

 

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Scared stiff

American-Staffordshire-Terrier-2We were about to race from the edge of the woods back to the grandparents’ house when no.2 son paused to tie his shoe laces. A characteristic time wasting trick of a footballer, but unlike him to want to either delay a race or address his untied trainers without being instructed. He stayed crouched down until he could see a man with two dogs move out of sight to the left of some houses at the foot of the field we were going to run down. Unnerved by the dogs’ presence, even in the distance, no.2 son asked not to race.

We walked down the field, with his hand holding mine, until we reached the track that ran around the cluster of houses, with our destination at the end. We headed to the right and no.2 son sped ahead. Suddenly, from a gap between two properties the dogs reappeared and bounded, barking towards the boy. He squealed and froze, trapped for an instant by two large dogs against a hawthorn hedge. The owner called the dogs away leaving no.2 son unharmed, but shaken.

“I’m scared stiff,” he offered in unnecessary explanation.

No.2 son is the boldest, most physically forward of my children. In football, he’ll tackle adults many times his size. He relishes thrills at funfairs that his older brother shrinks from. He rough-houses with more vigour than his siblings. On our adventure holiday, he was the one stepping forward to try the new challenge.

But dogs are different. So total is his aversion to them that they influence his attitude to any trip from the house. Despite his size, strength and the number of balls that disappear over the fence, he only wants to play football in the garden. On the occasions that I have lured him to the park, he’s on edge. When he spots a dog, he veers away from it, stops playing and nags to go home. The initial source of this phobia is not clear; nor is the cure.

When we pass dogs in the park, or the street and he turns rigid with anxiety, I make a point of demonstrating that the dog’s not interested in him. Any chase or toothy attention is focused on a squirrel, its owner’s tennis ball, or another dog’s bottom. Over time, I have hoped that the sheer number of dogs that come close but ultimately ignore, and certainly don’t harm him, would erode the fear. But he’s not listening to me. He turns his head to keep an eye on the dog, making sure it doesn’t approach him from behind.  And my tactic was dealt a blow this summer.

His older brother was making his senior cricket debut and the two younger children and I turned up to catch some of this occasion. No.2 son and I were kicking a ball about on the boundary when there was the sound of a doggy altercation on the road behind the pavilion. A few minutes later, a bull terrier ran though the gate and onto the ground. It ran in a wide arc across the playing area and back towards the players and spectators in front of the pavilion. I helped catch it and bundle it out of the gate.

No.2 son had retreated to join the small crowd and was still there when the dog reappeared, pushing itself under the gate. Again it bothered the players before zooming in on the knot of people by the pavilion. No.2 son backed away from the speeding dog but somehow collided with it. For a second time I grabbed it by the collar and dragged it out of the gate. The dog wanted to stay, but wasn’t aggressive as I pulled it off the ground. An owner, had one been in sight, would probably have apologised: “He just wants to play.”

In front of the pavilion, no.2 son was being consoled. I explained to those concerned that I thought he was just shaken because of his fear of dogs. Inside the pavilion, the lad complained his knee hurt. There was no bite mark, not even a scratch or a bruise.

He limped about for the rest of the day and again the next. When a second full day went by without him even asking to play football, Mother in the Middle took him to the GP. The injury – a tendon strain – was relatively minor, but the incident has firmly cemented in his brain the conviction that dogs are out to harm him.

Postscript: when telling this story at a family gathering, I was told that a professional goalkeeper’s career had been ended when a stray dog ran onto the pitch, clattered into him and shattered his knee. Click here for the video of the incident.

I had viewed no.2 son’s experience as a freak – such extreme bad fortune that a dog running around the wide expanse of a cricket field should collide with the leg of the child with the most engrained fear of the animal. Perhaps, though, what is worthy of note is no.2 son’s good fortune not to have been more seriously injured.

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Taking the field together

cricket gameAs I stand in the garden, goalkeeper and guardian to two football mad boys, I often think forward to a time when the brothers can play alongside each other. I imagine a one-two that cuts through a defence, or some other combination of their different strengths.

They have, of course, played together in ad hoc, occasional matches. There was the Euro-holiday game that could have ended grimly for no.2 son. And, three years ago, at home for once for New Year, we were invited to play a dads v lads game in our local park. We left home with no.2 son sobbing – his brother had told him he was too young and couldn’t play. Good sense – or not – prevailed and both boys lined up. The ground was frosty and the cold felt by all. No.2 son had cheered up. One of the dads, forced into defence, unsteady on the slippery ground, took a swing and sliced a ball hard straight into no.2 son’s face. He was knocked off his feet, but the tears that flowed when told earlier that he couldn’t play didn’t reappear. With jutting chin and stinging face, he played on.

Junior football operates strict age group delineation. So my two boys, five school years apart, won’t get to play together in competitive fixtures for maybe ten years. I can wait and will continue to imagine how they may play together – exchanging passes, creating chances, celebrating each other’s success.

Then, all of a sudden, this summer, it has happened. Two of my children have taken the field together, in partnership. It wasn’t the game I had so often watched two of my children compete and combine at. The pairing wasn’t even the one I had often conjured with.

It was no.2 son and his sister (the 1&onlyD), representing our cricket club’s under 9 team – the Squirrels.

Several weeks before the cricket season started, the club ran indoor practice sessions for its girls squad. Knowing that numbers would be low, I mentioned to the 1&onlyD that she might want to try out cricket. She surprised me and agreed. She surprised me again and enjoyed herself and continued to go to practices when they moved outside.

Junior cricket has hit on an excellent way of encouraging girl cricketers, which doesn’t rely on clubs finding a whole team of players in the same age group (which continues to be tricky). Girls are allowed to play for boys teams two age groups younger than their own. It was through that dispensation that the 1&onlyD made her competitive cricket debut alongside her younger brother.

The Squirrels Coach was alert to the importance of the situation. He invited the 1&onlyD to captain the side – taking part in the ceremonial coin toss – and when the Squirrels were invited to bat first, he selected the siblings as the opening pair. And that’s them in the middle distance in the photo at the top of the page (my daughter’s leggings and pink Converse are easier to admire below).

E bowlerThey returned to the boundary, smiling, having run some singles hard and shown solid batting technique. Later, in the field, they took their turn at bowling. No.2 son, more self-confident, bustled about and completed four run outs. The 1&onlyD stuck to her fielding position, stopping and returning the ball, and when the action dulled, turned a few cartwheels.

That this minor milestone in my children’s sporting lives (and my spectating existence) should have been shared by the younger two of the three, now feels fitting. They have been playmates and conspirators since infancy, inventing games and immersed in each other’s company. Neither has put age and gender difference up as a barrier, at home or, more notably, at school. It’s a very special relationship, albeit one that I’m reconciled to seeing change and maybe become less intense, as their interests diverge. On this evening, brother-sister, teammates, opening partners, continued their happy kinship, taking the field together.

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Why I am a Mother in the Middle

girl knightsI wanted to call myself ‘mother in the middle’ as it seemed an appropriate summary of my life now, in my mid forties. I hope I am central to my children’s lives at the moment and for some years to come and integral to the chaos that our family life brings. But beyond that, I am at a mid point in other important ways. I am the middle of three sisters, I live in the middle of the country between the family bases of Scotland and London and I am middle aged. And looming larger than anything else at the moment, I am in the middle of the generations, between children that could not be more full of life and energy and a mother who is dying.

When I was growing up and into my twenties and thirties, she was always the kind of mother who prided herself on being mistaken for ‘one of the girls’, the three daughters all born when she was in her twenties. She was always incredibly youthful looking, small and slim. She railed quietly against being one of the grown-ups and possessed instead a child-like air. Even her mannerisms suggested childhood and a wish to escape the boredom of life as an adult. Chairs always seemed slightly too big so she would either sit with her legs curled under her, or swing them like a little girl sitting on a swing. I recall family car journeys where she would race to the car to get into the back seat before me, forcing me into the role of grown up in the front seat sitting next to my father, listening to his inevitable diatribe about whatever was wrong with whichever classical music programme he had chosen to put on the radio, as she gazed out the window in the back, refusing to participate.

She was the kind of mother who got a second wind when her children grew up a bit. Having gone straight from her parents’ home to a marital home in her early twenties and, like many of her generation, been immersed almost immediately into homemaking and motherhood, she shook off the shackles at forty and blossomed as she went to university as a mature student. As a serious minded and introverted teenager, I think I was a challenge to my mother’s reinvention as she embraced a second go at teenage life herself, determined to do it right this time. Years before Ab Fab got there, she was the mother dressed in trendy outfits, urging me to ditch my embarrassing baggy clothes, get my nose out of a book and talk to the boys.

She was the kind of woman who found it challenging to accept that she was going to be a grandmother whilst still in her forties. Not for her the cosiness of ‘Nana’ or ‘Granny’ – that was for old women. Her first batch of grandchildren would call her by her first name.

Even after breast cancer first came to her in her early fifties, she came through it, apparently back to her youthful self in no time. She was not a ‘survivor’ or a ‘battler’, she just simply refused to talk about it and almost pretended it had never happened. When it came back after twelve years or so and began its slow, inexorable march through her bones, she displayed a dignity, bravery and stoicism that I would never have thought her capable of.

And most of all, there has been her trademark denial, her child like ability to refuse to acknowledge that anything bad could happen. Her refusal to ask any questions to which she may get an unpleasant answer. Her implicit faith that the doctors know what they are doing and that she will keep on taking the tablets, having the chemotherapy and doing what she is directed to do and that way she will keep on going until she’s ‘at least eighty’. Her pronouncements , whilst wincing and downing great swigs of liquid morphine, that a spot of shiatsu massage should sort out the back pain. Her tragi-comic assertions that perhaps it’s just that her bra is a bit tight that is making her breathless and in pain.

Now, at 71, she is finally and suddenly an old woman, a broken woman. She appears to have gone straight from seeming sometimes decades younger than her age, to seeming far far older. Cancer has finally taken her straight from middle youth to the physical trials of extreme old age. The destruction of her bones has given her a centegenarian’s stoop and the inability to shuffle more than a few steps. Her child like frame and short stature has become a grotesque shrunken tininess, as her vertebrae collapse to make her as small as my very small ten year old daughter. Something wrong in her head, no one knows quite what, means that one of her eyes will no longer open. The hair that she experimented with so often – no one had more hair styles in her time than my mother – is now an odd texture, tufty in its post chemotherapy regrowth. Her body is contorted with pain and her body labours to breathe properly, as cancer creeps through her lungs too. My father feeds her liquid morphine on a spoon, carefully tucking a tea towel under her chin to catch any drips and she opens her mouth like a baby sparrow to take it. I go to see if she is sleeping and I do not see my mother lying in the bed; there is instead a (mis)shape under the duvet, still on her side as she is unable any more to lie on her deformed back.

The doctors that she has put so much faith in have finally told her what others have seen for many months – that they have nothing left to offer her. The miracles of modern medicine have given her many extra years but they have reached the end of the line. We are told by my tearful father when visiting to mark my mother’s seventy first birthday this month. I talk to her later that day and she looks me straight in the eye and says that she was shocked, she had expected some new treatment to try to give her years not months or weeks, but that the truth is a relief, that she does not want to go on like this. With one eye in its permanently shut position and with her frame reduced to skin and bone, her one good eye shines enormous and blue, unflinching as she stares into my eyes and talks to me honestly, adult to adult.

I ask my parents, uselessly, what I can do to make this easier for them. They tell me that what I must do is nurture my family and bring up ‘the replacements’ for their generation. So this is what I will try to do.

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Going Dutch

departureNo.1 son has had a taste of European football. And it wasn’t the usual first round elimination on away goals suffered by so many English teams on their initial venture onto the Continent. He has spent six nights with his club side in Utrecht, playing four matches against local junior sides.

The club has run this trip for its under 13 cohort for a decade. It was with that experience behind it that us parents were told in December to get fund raising. Thirteen boys signed up and (sort of) got busy packing bags in local supermarkets, helping the car parking at the club on Saturday mornings, while the parents ran some other money-making ventures – always conscious that our kids having a trip to Holland was not a cause for charity.

No.1 son had initially said he wasn’t interested. A fear of flying was the deterrent. On being asked a second time, with most of his close friends on board, he expressed a desire to go. The dislike of travel by plane jabbed away at him – and therefore, at us – all the way until the departure. The only thing to deflect him from this obsession – by irritating him – came the week before leaving when the team gathered to be fitted for the tour tracksuit. His had been ordered two sizes too big, which he took as some form of conspiracy to make him look daft.

Sunday morning, a minibus came to take the team and its four adult coaches/support staff to the airport. Some mums cried. Dads were shaking their heads at failing to use this as an excuse for their own trip to Holland. And then there was, apart from a couple of Facebook updates each day, silence.

The story of the tour, told to us by no.1 son, is still quite fragmentary. The first game was won. No.1 son was awarded man of the match. He conceded he could barely keep his eyes open by the end of that game, due to some high jinks that kept most of the team awake through the first night in their hostel.

As news reached us on the evening of day 2 that the second match had also been won, I quickly made the equation that if no.1 son’s team could beat two Dutch teams on their own soil, Roy Hodgson’s task in Brazil would be far from impossible. More down to earth, I also realised how much I missed not seeing my older boy play in this new environment.

Games three and four went more like an England appearance at an international tournament, as they were lost to two “good footballing” sides. But, Won 2 – Lost 2, was a decent return from the trip.

What we find worthy of remark about another country says as much about ourselves as it does about where we have visited. I treasured most no.1 son’s surprise in finding that Dutch children all have showers after their games. What this really pointed to wasn’t so much our poor hygiene but that Dutch junior clubs have facilities that include changing rooms, club houses with kitchens (they all ate together after the games) and 3G pitches. Think about the changing rooms, if any, at your local junior football club and you get a sense of the investment the Dutch make in their youngsters’ sport. A hot shower at the ground is quite a good image to hold and compare with the muddy knees and sweaty heads that return home from games in England.

Four games in five days left the team just enough time for trips to FC Utrecht’s stadium, a theme park and an indoor water park. These events were the source of as many stories as the football matches and were important to the success of the trip.

Mother in the Middle and I asked no.1 son cautiously about how he had got on with the team-mates. We were intrigued (and pleased) to hear that one lad whom he has played alongside for three years, but never really considered a close friend, was his favourite company away. That sort of recognition is one of the fringe benefits of spending so much time away from family. Another spin-off, he tells me, is that he can now identify the smell of marijuana being smoked – “it was everywhere”.

I kept my Dad up to date with the trip. Not for the first time, his grandson’s sporting activities sparked a memory of his own youth. Shortly after the second world war, my Dad was part of a school group who went on a cycling holiday in Holland. While the country’s flat landscape made it the perfect location for cycle-touring, my Dad remembers most strongly cycling up a hill that due to an optical illusion appeared to be downhill. Known as ‘magnetic’ or ‘gravity hills’ there are records of hundreds of them across the world. Unfortunately, none of the lists on the web mentions one in Holland.

The Dutch welcome was as warm in 1947 as it was for my son’s team this year. My Dad remembers, wherever they stayed, being filled up on real dairy milk and eggs – products that England’s post-war austerity meant remained scarce and never something to gorge on.

No.1 son also crowned his account of the trip with a story of eating. It shows how much has changed in 67 years. This story didn’t concern the unexpected abundance of basic agricultural products, but of vegimite, KP sauce, cinnamon, and the other oddments which made up the team’s ‘Bush-tucker trial’.

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I cannot finish without an (anonymous) acknowledgement and thank you to the two Dads/Coaches who chose to end their eight month season by taking the rest of our kids with them, as well as to the two club officials who also subjected themselves to our boys for a week. You are very kind, patient and brave.

 

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Advice to children aged 13

cake 13One of the pleasures of being a child is seeing your parents adapt and change. From silly games when you are young to full-blown sporting competition as you get older. From cuddles to a respectful decorum.

However, many children notice dramatic changes in their parents around 12-14 years after their own birth. What follows is a short guide to interpreting and managing those changes in your parents.

One of the surest signs that an adult has been a parent for around 13 years are flare ups of erratic, moody and dictatorial behaviour. They tend to occur in one of three circumstances:

  • you are enjoying yourself – this apparently becomes difficult for parents of this vintage to bear
  • you are settled comfortably watching TV or playing a game
  • you have been out of the house with friends.

You may also notice parents becoming awkwardly talkative, particularly at times when you’ve a lot on your mind and don’t want to be discussing your day at school or what you would like to do in the Christmas holidays.

You are likely to experience them being picky and very repetitive about trivial matters such as where in your room clothes are kept, or that you should talk to your siblings. It’s evidence of a wider loss of perspective on their part. Pressing issues such as our world becoming polluted; and which group of friends you should walk to school with, frankly, they just wouldn’t understand, let alone be able to engage with.

There’s also a resentfulness creeping into their behaviour. Accompanying you in the car (but not getting out with you) to the cinema, friend’s house and then shopping centre are somehow inconvenient. Your financial entitlement comes with strings attached. This aspect of parents’ behaviour is often most acutely felt when you put some of their possessions – jewelry, make-up, mobile phone – to good use; certainly much better than anything they would have done with those objects.

It’s not easy, but you should try to understand your parent, who is experiencing major life changes. At its root may be their sudden realisation that they are turning into someone they despised 25-30 years ago (their own parents). They may be trying to ‘spread their wings’ – having had a negligible social life for the last decade or more, squashed by their insistence on following you around since you were young. Many parents have simply lost the social skills to make new friends. Physically, they’re having to cope with changes, too. Hair is thinning or greying, or both. Joints are grinding and muscles becoming inelastic.

All of this is normal and you should take none of it personally. Although, that may be difficult if your parents exhibit the following extreme behaviour.

The very worst of it, which some of you will face, is that around this time some parents begin writing – blogging. And they choose to write about you; well that’s their pretext, but of course they’re just projecting the difficult changes in their life onto you. This is a tricky situation for everyone, particularly as they will be going through a pretence of not wanting you to know what they are doing, when really it’s a cry for help. Opinion is divided over the best response, but there are broadly two options:

  1. troll them into silence; or
  2. crank things up a little so they have a good selection of ‘episodes’ about which they can write.

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