Monthly Archives: September 2013

Conkers

conkerI saw my first conker of the autumn on our walk to school last week. It reminded me of something I wrote two years ago:

Walking together to school, the 1&onlyD found a late season conker on the pavement amongst leaves and horse chestnut shells. I asked if the kids had ever played conkers and, when I began to explain it, found escalating interest. That evening, I punched holes in four conkers with a hammer and drill bit. In the garden, after a quick demonstration, we began a mini-competition. No.1 son and No.2 son’s match progressed quickly with the younger boy’s conker cracking, exposing the off-white kernel and later ricocheting into his face.

The matches continued the next morning. The 1&onlyD stood poised to receive my conker swing, with eyes closed and face pinched. In both matches, each successful hit was followed by close examination of the conker and commentary on bruising, cracking and denting – much of it imagined and all enjoyed.

And this, in turn, reminded me of my post on Out-sourced Parenting. The conker fights were a rare, albeit trivial, example of my children learning from me something tangible, if of no practical utility. I was proud at the time. Silly, I know, but it was a fleeting taste of active, interventionist fatherhood.

I’m taking the little two to school tomorrow. I wonder if they can be excited again to hunt for and choose conkers with which they will do battle.

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Filed under parenting, play time

Out-sourced parenting

fishingThere is an ideal amongst fathers and budding fathers. The ideal is that, as fathers, they will teach their children the ways of the world. They will apply their experience to guiding their off-spring in how to cope with the challenges of life. They will share adventures and achievements.

In days gone by when an agricultural or craft economy predominated that was probably the reality of life in many families. Children would learn their family’s trade; knowledge and technique passed down the generations.

Industrialisation and urbanisation interrupted the pattern and that’s maybe when the idea of the father as primary guide became less of a reality and more of an ideal. It was no longer strictly necessary to the family’s subsistence or prosperity, but was the distinctive contribution of the Dad. And the skills subject to this idealised transfer were anachronistic: hunting, camping, fishing, building, making. Leisure was devoted to one generation helping the other come of age.

Meanwhile, the role of specialists from outside the family expanded. School education became a societal requirement for children up the the age of 10..14..15..16.

And now we’re in the condition of outsourced parenting. As I survey the impressive range of skills my children possess, I see a battery of professionals paid directly, or indirectly through my taxes, who have been their guide, teacher, example. Numeracy, literacy, modern languages and critical thinking at school. Football, tennis and gymnastics at clubs, holiday clubs and development centres staffed by paid and volunteer coaches. Piano, recorder and choir at school and private tuition. Drawing, painting and collage at school and art class. If they had wanted to camp, trek or build bridges across rivers there were cubs, scouts and guides.

I am left as the commissioning agent – sourcing tutors and coaches, checking their performance, paying the subs (or taxes). I do have a crucial role as chauffeur; and a very enjoyable part to play as spectator. But this is far from the ideal of interventionist, child-shaping fatherhood.

I anticipate a challenge from readers: values – I’m ignoring the contribution I make to my children’s upbringing with the values I support and encourage them to adopt.  Maybe – but don’t underestimate the impact of peers on how children view the world. Anyway, that’s not what the ideal of fatherhood is about. It’s practical stuff.

I’ve been mulling over this experience of parenthood as a blog topic for some months, but not really known where it leads me. Then, a couple of weeks ago no.1 son asked if I could show him how to set up a website. I did and we worked together on the appearance and name. He has written his first blog post and we’ve talked about the sort of topics he might cover.

One of the things I’ll be trying to get across to him is that while a blog post needs a beginning and a middle, it sometimes takes a little bit longer to find the right ending.

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Menorca Holiday Games

307The games started almost as soon as we hit Menorcan soil. Carousel surfing, demonstrated here by the 1&onlyD and no.2 son, is dangerous and should not be practised. It tends only to be sanctioned at the end of a long day’s travelling when the adults in the party haven’t the energy to create distractions or impose authority.

The resort pool was a hoot. The inflatables were the vehicle for getting all three playing together.

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Next to the resort was a water park. No.2 son led the charge down the slides and flumes, but his sister and brother followed. By the final day, no.1 son had risen to the challenge and was the sole family member to do the ‘plug-hole’ – a slide into a giant basin around which one spun until dropping out of the hole at the bottom.

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We played some tennis. The limp state of the net is a good metaphor for the quality of our play in the heat of the early afternoon. 312

To the boys’ delight, the court became a football pitch, where they took part in several resort tournaments. One involved mixed age teams – what could go wrong with that?

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On day 1 at the water park, watching no.2 son tear away and up steps to a slide, Mrs TL said “I just know we’re going to end up in hospital this holiday.” What prescience. But it turned out to be the 1&onlyD. Sitting on a bar beside the table tennis (see left of image below), she was failed by her gymnastically trained balance and slipped off and around the bar, bumping the back of her head. 323

She seemed fine through the evening, but shortly after going to bed felt ill. I called a doctor, who examined her and very calmly explained she was calling an ambulance to take her across the island to hospital for an emergency brain scan. Mrs TL accompanied her on a blue-light midnight flit. The scan was all clear and they were discharged the next morning.

They arrived just too late to see no.1 son win the resort table-tennis tournament. Here he is in action in the final, out-foxing some poor old fellow in a hat, good for nothing more active than finger exercise at a keyboard.

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Skipping a year

photo(4)As a boy, I was good at school and good at school work. Age 7, my family left South London for semi-rural Buckinghamshire. My teacher wished me well and gave me one piece of advice: “Don’t skip a year at school; stay in your own school year.”

This advice, that I never had to act on, came to mind this week.

On Friday night, I was watching no.2 son at the pro-club development centre, talking with a Dad whose son is also at our club about the under 8s season starting the next day.

Mid conversation, I received a text from the under 9s (not under 8s) head coach. He asked me what I thought about no.2 son “occasionally playing a year up in league fixtures” this season, starting as soon as the next morning. I replied that I was fine with that and sure no.2 son would enjoy it. Instructions to the next day’s game followed.

Little was familiar to no.2 son the next day: teammates, coach, format (7-a-side) were all unknown. But a ball is a ball, goals and fields vary but not in their essentials. No.2 son put in a forceful display, scoring a goal, marauding, tackling, passing and showing up well alongside the older kids. He enjoyed himself. And so did I.

Later that day, text from head coach, “Heard he did well!!!” and an invitation to no.2 son to “keep coming along”. I said I would think about it.

And that’s where I am still at. I discussed it with Mrs TL who was cautious. I asked for no.1 son’s views. He was adamant that his brother should stay with his year group. I am probably the most amenable to the idea.

In favour of joining the under 9s is the certainty of weekly 7-a-side matches against other teams. On Saturday, he showed himself ready, physically and emotionally, for that challenge, which would develop his football faster and further than the alternative. With his year group, until Easter, most of the games will be 4 or 5-a-side, within the squad.

I am also conscious that he is in his eleventh month at the development centre. It’s a benefit that could be brought to an end soon, which will upset no.2 son. The status of playing with older boys may be a timely boost to him.

The strongest argument against is that he won’t be playing with his mates. Having his friends as teammates was what restored no.1 son’s enjoyment of football and probably informed his opposition to his brother skipping a year.

I am candid in this blog that I seek and find pleasure following my kids’ sport. So, what’s in it for me? Watching matches, particularly when no.2 son’s game is developing so fast, is more appealing than Saturday practice sessions. But I have a social life, and running with my Touchline Pal, attached to those sessions. I think, therefore, either outcome will meet my self-interest.

We haven’t heard yet from no.2 son. That’s deliberate. I am only prepared to let him know he has options if Mrs TL and I are ready to accede to whichever route he chooses. I strongly suspect it would be to join the under 9s as that would sate his competitive appetite – but might not be in his wider interest.

How have you resolved the question of whether your child should ‘skip a year’ at football, another sport, school or other activity?

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Filed under coach says.., Competition, individual development