Monthly Archives: June 2014

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.



Filed under social animals, sport gives us..

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.


Filed under parenting

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’.


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.



Filed under social animals, sport gives us.., young shoulders