Monthly Archives: September 2014

Fear of injury


How fast are they bowling?

I’m frightened.

What if I get hit?

I don’t want to bat.

Questions and assertions, hushed and rushed. No.1 son and I are playing our second senior cricket match together. A well-built, ginger haired bowler has got me out caught and, following me, our middle order batting collapses. No.1 son has to pad-up in the changing room amidst angry, disappointed teammates who’ve been caught, bowled and generally humbled far too quickly.

I take him outside for some warm-up hits. “I’m frightened,” he insists. I side-step the statement and coax, reassure, boost, set him little targets but offer him no way out.

What sort of a father shepherds his 13 year old son on to face something the boy fears will hurt him? It’s just a game. Am I, like so many dads of sporty sons, projecting my hopes onto him? Is his fear an embarrassment to me at my cricket club? What entitles me, without using these words to him, to call on his bravery?

Thirteen years into the world of parenting, an environment I find perplexingly confusing, uncertainty abounding, I finally find myself in a place of clarity; where I possess deep knowledge. I know three things directly pertinent to this moment:
1) I know club cricket, particularly at this lowly third eleven level. It exists to blood (figuratively, of course) youngsters and allow the old or barely competent adult players a chance to live a few dreams. And this match is now so far out of our team’s reach that the opposition have time to ease up when a sub-five foot tall 13 year old comes in to bat.
2) I know no.1 son’s cricket. I coach his club team and I’ve seen him bat courageously against fast bowlers of his age. And I’ve seen his technique refined during a stint with the county coaches, so am confident he has the wherewithal to counter today’s bowling.
3) I know no.1 son’s attitude to risk. He has a very understandable aversion to challenges. He likes familiarity and control. Last autumn, we drove to a different town for his first practice session with the county coaches. By the time we parked in the school, he was begging me not to make him go. Gradually, I nudged him towards the sports hall and then he was gone. Two hours later and he was back, his pre-session wobble wiped from memory, happy and daring to be critical of the other boys’ cricket ability.

I also know that fear of injury, in fact the very real risk of being harmed, is part of the deal we strike when we play sport. We seek the exhilaration of performance, success or simply movement. We risk disappointment, defeat and physical damage. I doubt I have ever walked out to bat, hopeful of experiencing that commanding feeling of scoring runs, without the thought nagging away that the ball could hurt me. But with cricket, the sport I know well, I can rationalise it. With football, too. That’s not the case for me, though, with all sports.

For no.1 son’s eleventh birthday, Mother in the Middle decided that the prudent financial constraints of party planning should be loosened. It was no.1 son’s last with his junior school friends. We took eight boys to a factory basement that had been converted into a go-karting track.

With a brief induction and donning of safety gear, the boys began driving around the tight subterranean circuit. After a few practice laps, they began racing. I found the spectating experience excruciating. There were bumps and shunts that sent their bodies jerking. On and on they drove, finding tighter lines and pushing themselves closer to the tyre walls and each others’ cars. No.1 son was as enthralled as his pals. Long before the session ended, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to cope with a child pursuing motorsport.

Pen PitstopA few weeks ago, this thought recurred when no.2 son and the 1&onlyD went quad-biking with friends. I empathised with the couple of kids, too cautious to open up the bike’s throttle, who needed pushing up the steeper slopes. Those weren’t my kids. Mine became Penelope Pitstop and Mutley for that afternoon.

Back at the cricket ground, my warm-up with no.1 son is going well. He’s striking the ball crisply, while moaning that I don’t throw the ball as fast as the bowling. I leave him when my stint as umpire arrives. It’s not long before he, too, is in the middle. The opposition are cruising to an easy victory. The ginger haired quick bowler is rested and two slow bowlers are in action.

The fielders crowd around our shortest batsman. They’re cocky, expecting little from one so small. Second ball, he clips the ball past square leg, leaving a fielder sprawling and gathering a run. The field adjusts, players taking a few steps back, the banter drops. No.1 son defends well. I can see he’s enjoying himself. Two batting partners, older but not wiser, give their wickets away. The last pair are batting. No.1 son tries an ambitious shot, is bowled and the match is over.

The opposition shake hands or tap him on the helmet. Condescending, it looks, but that’s not how it’s meant. He’s unscathed, doesn’t mention being frightened now. But I know it will be there next time, and probably every time he plays, whether he chooses to mention it to me or not.


As a treat, in between two days of secondary school entrance exams for the 1&onlyD, we take the kids to Jump Nation. Mother in the Middle has been there before and explains that she found it hard to watch: kids bouncing on trampolines in all directions – accidents waiting to happen.

Forty-five minutes into their hour long session and we look up from the cafe to see a Jump Nation steward carrying the 1&onlyD to the side. Mother in the Middle’s fear of her kids getting injured has been realised. The 1&onlyD has sprained her ankle. The swift and expert 1st aid minimise the damage, but still Mother has to carry daughter piggy-back to her exam table the next morning.



Filed under parenting, young shoulders

‘Are ye Hearts or Hibs?’

englandscotlandfootballAll the debate about the referendum on Scottish Independence recently has made me think about my early childhood in Scotland, in the early 1970s.

One of my first memories is coming down the slide at my nursery school in Edinburgh. I was maybe three or four and I was definitely wearing an orange pinafore and matching hairband, of which I was very proud. I was confronted at the bottom of the slide by a small knot of scary boys who pulled me to one side, encircled me and demanded menacingly ‘are ye Hearts or Hibs?’. It was as if they were speaking a foreign language, I had not the slightest inkling of what they were talking. I remember trying to say I didn’t know, I couldn’t choose. I was scared and nervous as instinctively I must have registered the importance of the question to the questioners. Eventually I think I half-heartedly plumped for ‘Hearts’, it being the only word I recognised, whereupon several of the small inquisitors threw up their hands in despair and walked off in a huff. It was not for another thirty years or so, when I recounted the tale to my husband, that it was explained to me that this was about football and the intensity with which (some) small boys (and girls) approach it. Perhaps the boys in my nursery school thought I had shown some slight promise as someone who could be recruited into the ranks of the Heart of Midlothian or Hibernian supporters, but my evident lack of partisanship made me a disappointing potential ally and I was thereafter left to my own devices by them.

Forty years on, I am living in Manchester, with two devoted football fans of my own in the shape of my sons and one daughter who also anchors memories by remembering not always what happened, or where, but by what she was wearing at the time. ‘Was that the time I wore my yellow summer dress?’ she asked recently, as I reminded her about a wedding we attended when she was four. ‘Ah yes, the butterfly leggings…’ she mused, when discussing a trip to London.

Being in Manchester, of course, means that many of the local children are either avowed Manchester City fans, or Manchester United fans and the rivalry appears to start young and hold fast. My younger son, now aged eight, plumped for City at a very young age to follow his older brother with the helpful coincidence of it being a bit of a purple patch for the Club, so that ‘his’ team were amongst the most successful. He identifies so strongly with the team that he is genuinely and wholeheartedly distraught when they do not perform to his exacting standards and roams around the house randomly kicking sofas and sulking at a draw, let alone a loss. It is not enough, either, that his team succeeds – his enemy must fail and United’s losses are greeted with dances of delight.

A recent school trip to visit the local Old Trafford ground was met with jutting jaw and disgusted silence. Unprecedentedly, the school trip spending money I had pressed into his warm palm in the playground in the morning was returned to me, unspent, in the afternoon. He just couldn’t bring himself to buy anything with United on it, he explained. Not even the sweets. Even a few of the parents appeared to feel the same, with ill-tempered mutterings in the playground about the kids being ‘indoctrinated’ into United, how it wasn’t fair to make City fans go to the home of their fiercest rivals.

I can’t help feeling, in this week of pondering what it means to be British, that the business of football supporting is all, well, a bit un-British. Aren’t we supposed to be famous for supporting the underdog? For coping manfully with defeat after defeat, supportively cheering on our hapless, hopeless teams in the rain and wind and snow, with nothing but a pie and a pint to look forward to? Or does that only apply to our most local teams, or our national team, or our children’s teams? What I see, as someone on the periphery of football fandom in Manchester, is a state of the art stadium, shiny, expensive, mostly foreign players and vastly overpriced shirts and accessories without which a small fan’s life simply isn’t worth living. The live City games – yes, I have been to two now – are undeniably exciting, gladiatorial affairs which I have enjoyed immensely, not least because City won and I did not have to contend with the profound disappointment of my sons on the way home. When I talk to my sons about those matches, they can recall in great detail who scored, from which end and in what minute, who assisted the goals, who was substituted for whom. I remember the chanting and cheering, the feeling of being part of something huge and exciting and watching my children’s flushed, excited cheeks. My daughter remembers that she wore her black wool coat, her fluffy white scarf and the earmuffs she got for Christmas. And that it was fun.

I have really not intentionally encouraged or facilitated my children into such stereotypical roles, but I cannot deny that they fall into them pretty neatly. On the subject of supporting a team, my daughter certainly does appear to feel a degree of disappointment if, say, someone she wants to win on a TV programme is not triumphant. There is, however, a world of difference between her temporary, mild upset expostulating some unfair bias amongst the judging panel of Strictly or Tumble and the existential despair which comes over my younger son when City lose. My older son does not appear to feel quite the depth of despair of his younger brother, so maybe it is something which can be grown out of (although when I see the obligatory Match of the Day shot of men crying in the stands when their team gets relegated at the end of a season, I somehow doubt it.)

I wonder if those small Edinburgh boys are still in their separate Hearts and Hibs camps now that they must be, like me, in their mid-forties? I feel sure that they are: a true fan stays true after all. What I don’t know, though, is whether they will be in the Yes or No camp for the Referendum. Are they going to vote to make me a foreigner in the country I was born in, where my mother was born and died, where my father and sister live, just as they once ignored me for my lack of allegiance to Hibs? I hope not. All I know is that I feel fifty per cent English, fifty per cent Scottish, one hundred per cent British and zero per cent Hearts, Hibs, City or United.


Filed under Competition, individual development, winning and losing