Author Archives: chrisps

About chrisps

TouchlineDad to three sporty kids; cricket blogger and coach; and the alpha male in our pride.

D is for Dad

notepadWinter has us, and our children’s sports, in its sopping, phlegmy clutches. Football games are cancelled days ahead because of waterlogged pitches. Frosty ground encountered one Sunday provided variety, but the same outcome. “It wouldn’t take a stud,” explained the official dolefully, as if he was a horse breeder excusing the performance of his mare.

Each of the children has missed activities as their constitutions struggle to ride out the waves of respiratory viruses that ebb and flow through their classrooms and settle in our home, making stately progress from one upper bronchial tract to another. The 1&onlyD, who cannot be stopped practising gymnastics by a sodden floor or icy bars, has had to be collected mid-session, when all her spinning and tumbling had the effect on her, that it would have on any of us: an acute headache.

Confined to quarters, we take up indoor pastimes. My children (15, 13 and 10) have moved on from the games of their younger childhood when the roll of a die decided everything. No.1 son, almost ten years ago, had a phase of playing snakes and ladders with the earnestness of a grandmaster. I had to leave him mid-game once to help Mother in the Middle get his siblings ready for bed.

“I’ll play for you,” he said.

“Sure,” I replied, already on my way to the stairs.

Twenty minutes later, I heard a shout of, “Daddy, Daddy.”

I came to the top of the stairs. “Yes, what is it?”

“You’ve won,” explained no.1 son, who was punctilious in completing the game according to the rules and with fairness to his absent father. I humbly accepted his congratulations on my victory.

From games of luck they all progressed to electronic gaming: DSs, Wiis, Kindles, PS3s and X-boxes. I was and am alienated, but also complicit in my alienation. Their screen time gave (and continues to give) me time to pursue my own interests at home. But computer games, above all the ravenous FIFA, remind me powerfully of our mortality and that time is short.

This winter, we have begun to play classic indoor games of duelling: draughts, backgammon, chess and darts. With chess, we strain our minds, but tend to stumble across a checkmate, having no sense of strategy informing our play.

We play darts in no.1 son’s room, stepping carefully over school uniform and electronic accessories that layer the floor, to collect our darts from the board. 301, nearest the bull, around the clock, darts cricket. Our host plays his spotify play-list as our accompaniment. None of us has the consistency to win routinely. Big leads are built and then frittered away as the final dart to finish the game keeps missing its target.

It reminds me of when I was a teenager. Alone at home, revising for another in the wave of exams that just kept coming, I would take my study breaks at the dart board. After a game of around the clock, I would set myself challenges to stay alive – or return to my revision if unsuccessful. Each set of three darts would have to score above 30; or every dart had to be within the circle bounded by the treble band.. or back to the books.

Reassuring and familiar, yet recently I had a jarring moment of disequilibrium, of falseness. I was setting up the score-sheet on a scrap of paper, each player’s initial underlined. Both boys, G and R, then me. Hesitantly, I inscribed D. It felt like that time you call your partner’s parents by their given names for the first time. Self-conscious and awkward. D stood for Dad and Daddy. Me for over fifteen years; addressed that way by my children up to and beyond 100 times in any single day. Yet when I went to self-identify as Dad, it felt odd and artificial.

I don’t believe I am experiencing any deep-seated denial of my parenthood. It is such a prominent part of my identity in the physical world as well as here, my on-line presence. I think it is because, ‘Dad’, when vocalised by me, or written in my own hand, has to mean my Dad. Taking that title for myself felt like I was taking it from him.

Next time we play darts, I may write C, or just let my children do the writing and have their own D. I know how important that is.

 

 

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Filed under parenting, play time

Cloth ears

earI’ve been thinking about cross-country running a lot recently. Running that I did 30 years ago.

By the time I reached the sixth form, I had no interest in school sports. The school didn’t have much interest in me as a footballer, on merit, and rather than play cricket for the school I preferred having a Saturday job where I earned the money to go drinking with my Club cricket pals after Sunday matches.

Double games on Friday afternoons was a permissive business. I was allowed to jog off into the Buckinghamshire countryside, returning an hour later, changing and heading off for the weekend. Looking back, the surprise is that I did often go running. Not always.

Some weeks, two or three of us would visit a friend from the girls school, who had lost interest in school and whose Mum was happy to have her home for company. We would have tea and biscuits with them before jogging back to school.

What brings back these memories is something that happens a lot with both of my sons. With the older boy, typically we will be in the car, me driving and him in the passenger seat. The radio will be on, a window open. He’ll make a comment or ask a question. “Sorry,” I’ll say, “What was that you said?” Whole journeys will progress like this, with me straining and failing to pick up what he’s saying, asking for him to repeat himself.

The answer could lie in a trip to the doctor’s for a hearing test. I don’t think so, though. My wife, my daughter, my work colleagues, touchline pals and cricket club cronies can all be heard clearly.

With the younger son, the situation is also when we’re on the move. Walking to school, along suburban pavements, he’ll mutter something looking down into the gutter. Or, time his interjection for the moment that a car passes. Then he’ll look up at me. “Sorry. What was that? I couldn’t hear you.” He’ll look down and away and repeat his comment. “What? I couldn’t hear you.”

The temptation, and this is when the cross-country memory comes most strongly, is to nod and smile, give an affirmative indication, not let on that I’ve not a clue what he’s going on about.

On one of the surprisingly many Friday afternoons as a sixth former that I really did go running, I had taken a route with two or three others through a beech wood. We had cut back alongside the road that led up a steep hill back towards school. We made our way along an embankment a couple of meters above the road, until the path disappeared and we had to scramble down to the road. I went down ahead of Mark, reaching the road on the inside of a bend, and let my momentum carry me on up the road.

Behind me Mark shouted something that I didn’t hear. I turned and he shouted, incomprehensibly to me, again. “Yeah,” I replied to the unknown question. He pitched forward, ready to launch himself down the slope to the road when a car tore around the bend from behind him and up the hill. With a cold jolt I realised he had wanted to know if the coast was clear.

It was, in the language of health and safety, a near miss. There was no incident. I had beckoned a schoolmate into the path of a speeding car, but he had seen the danger just as he was about to charge down the slope to the road, trusting the clearance he thought I had given him.

When I strain to hear something my sons have muttered, that has floated away in the wind, I think of Mark’s near miss. I fight the temptation to nod, to let a matter of no consequence pass with a pretend acquiescence.

I don’t fear that I am going to usher them blindly into oncoming traffic. But I do worry. I worry that I might miss a sentence of import:

“Dad, there’s this girl..”

“I’m really frightened to go to school..”

“Daddy, what does.. mean..”

“Dad, I need some money..”

And if I don’t hear it and ask too bluntly for a repetition, it might be followed by, “Nothing, it doesn’t matter.” But it might matter, long after my cloth ears missed their chance.

 

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Time-keeper

refNo.1 son stood with head respectfully bowed. But I could tell he was looking at his watch, counting down the seconds before he would have to blow his whistle. His very first task as a trainee referee was to supervise two minutes silence on Remembrance Sunday. A weedy peep, betraying his anxiety, barely audible on a wind-buffeted playing field, signaled the end of the silence and that play could get under way.

The role of the time-keeper is essential to sports. From timing races to determine winners on land and water, to careful marshaling of the playing duration of rugby, hockey, netball and football matches, to clocks that limit breaks in tennis, constrain routines in gymnastics and force attacking play in basketball. Even cricket’s colonisation of whole days is prey to the clock, with lunch, tea and drinks breaks to be timed and enforced.

How well suited would my older son be to the task of time-keeper? All the evidence from home-life is that he would not be playing to a known strength.

The morning of one of his football matches typically involves him having to be woken up. He may even have to be woken a second time. “We need to leave in 45 minutes”, Mother in the Middle or I will specify. A little later, as he takes a leisurely breakfast, irritation ill-concealed, “Can you get dressed now. We’re going in 20 minutes.”

This prompts a move to the shower. The argument that he should wash after, not before, a game was made, won and ignored long ago.

“Five minute warning!” we yell, which may disturb him from his social networking activity.

When we’re kicking our heels at the front door, already swaddled in jumpers and coats, glancing at our time pieces, there will be a flurry of activity. “Where’s my socks? Which kit are we playing in? Who’s had my shin-pads?” Frantic searches, allegations, cross words enliven the house. Whatever’s lost will be found stuffed in a school bag or buried beneath clothes heading to or returning from the washing machine.

“Are we going to be late?” no.1 son will ask urgently, accusingly as he stumbles out of the front door, feet not properly in boots, coat dragging on the ground. Some days I resist the impulse to set out how any degree of organisation or time-awareness could have negated the need for this rushed, bothered exit; and some days I don’t. This, with age appropriate adjustments, has been going on for years. And my contribution truly sits among that list of futile things parents do (and should stop doing, but somehow don’t).

Once, when no.1 son was only nine or ten, I decided not to nag. Having told him the time we would be leaving the house, I left it up to him to get himself ready promptly. Half an hour after we should have left home, he was sat watching TV. We arrived barely before the match started. My stand had achieved nothing but inconvenience his coach and teammates.

Therefore, alongside the referees, umpires, scorers and judges, as time-keepers critical to junior sport, we should recognise the parents. Not equipped with high-tech chronometers, or backed by rule books, it’s mums and dads persuading, chivvying and marching their offspring out of the door that ensure junior sports fixtures start promptly. 

Watching the first half of no.1 son’s first match as referee, I started to become anxious. His nerves before the game were overt as he questioned me about various aspects of under 12 football: the duration, substitutions, off-side, identity of linesmen. With all that uncertainty in his mind, I began to worry that he might have forgotten to time the half. I tried to work out how long the game had been going. An even bigger puzzle was how I was going to gain his attention when, by my estimate, the first half would be over. I paced circuits around the pitch, trying to work out if he seemed aware of the passage of time.

Then suddenly and with impeccable timing, two loud blasts on the whistle, as no.1 son brought the first half of the first game of his refereeing career to an end.

 

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Filed under old head, parenting, sport gives us..

What a performance

tline concertThe car park is busy. The young players spilling from their parents’ vehicles and away to warm-up. It’s a big day – the grand show – a cup final, of sorts.

The parents follow their off-spring to the arena and just like the players they split into two groups: strings and pianists. Above the noise of the warm-up, snatches of the parents’ conversation are heard:

“Lovely day for it. Wouldn’t mind playing myself.”

“I’d be up there in a flash, if it wasn’t for this elbow.”

….

“Have you seen what that Nigel Kennedy is up to? It’s a disgrace.”

“It’s all about the money. And these foreign conductors coming over and running our orchestras. Can’t they find a local to wave the baton?”

….

“If I don’t hear a bit more melody from my lad this afternoon, I’ve told him it’s over. I’m not coming here just to listen to him plonking away again.”

….

The audience is asked to take their seats. The host reminds everyone that the aim is for the young musicians and their families to have some fun. A few grown-ups in the front row nod earnestly while the majority of parents take a sudden interest in the ceiling or their copy of the programme.

The show begins with a pianist, propped up on cushions to reach the instrument. There’s plenty of sighs and chuckles as the youngster completes her piece, vaults from her seat, grins at the crowd and scuttles off-stage.

Next up is the opening violinist. His first notes are shrill and dissonant. The noise of the instrument is abruptly drowned by a shout from the strings teacher, “Straighten your wrist! Keep it straight!” The boy struggles to the end of his piece. He stands, averting his eyes from those of his family and friends in the audience. His shuffle to the wings is speeded by his teacher, clasping his shoulder, pushing him out of sight.

The two sides continue alternating. Each string performance met with strong applause from one part of the audience; the piano pieces delighting the other. At the changeover, if a boy enters while another exits, they swap threatening looks and shoulder barges.

A pair of cellists take a while to set up their instruments and to get their chairs and music stands aligned. Impatience in one section of the audience escalates from mutters and tapping to a bellow of, “Gerron with it!” A man in another wing of the audience stands up, bristling and pointing, before he’s pulled back into his seat as the cellists begin their piece.

Each pianist to the stage is a new player, some are complete beginners using just a couple of fingers, others showing mastery of tempo and expression. Their teacher stands quietly, one hand on the piano lid, the other holding a stopwatch, monitoring the seconds, ensuring equal playing time, whatever the experience of the youngster or the quality of their play. One of the most talented of the group is forced to abbreviate a Beethoven concerto to keep within her allotted time.

There are fewer string musicians. The handful of newer and less adept players are given a quick run-out each. The teacher whispers each note they’re expected to play, making the sheets on the music-stand redundant. The pupils pay as much attention to the teacher as they do to their instruments. The more skilled violinists are indulged, playing longer pieces and returning to the stage to play duets. Meanwhile their teacher stands close to them, always in the audience’s eyeline, barely managing not to bow when a particularly tuneful rendition comes to an end.

The final performance of the afternoon features a cellist. A burst of loud, arresting notes subsides into a pianissimo passage. As the audience strains to pick up the nuances of the bowing, a shouted encouragement is heard, “C’mon lad, belt it out!”

The cellist stops and shouts back, “Shut it, Dad!” Then returns, brow furrowed, to his cello. Before the reverberations of the last note have reached the back of the hall, the cellist is up and stomps off the stage.

—————————-

I have seen all of the behaviours described at numerous junior football matches. I’ve seen none at the junior concerts that I have attended.

 

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Filed under coach says.., touchline zoo

What has the FA Coaching Course ever done for us?

trainingAct 1

Scene 1

I turned away from no.2 son’s football practice and headed towards the lean, grey-haired man who was erecting goalposts and nets for the afternoon’s senior matches. Our paths had crossed on Saturday mornings before.

He held the key to the gate into the running track. That’s where the posts are kept between matches and he had let, or at least not stopped, my touchline pal and me onto the track to do laps while our boys practised.

An older man, diligently performing a community function.

“Can I help?” I asked, wanting to thank him and gain his confidence so that future excursions to the running track could be assured.

“No. It’s alright,” he replied.

I stood beside the goal and tried to be sociable. “Which team is it playing here this afternoon?”

The grey-haired man told me. “Oh,” I said redundantly, “not United”, the club my boys play for and whose practice sessions were going on around us.

“No,” he confirmed, “not this rubbish,” and he swept his arm out to indicate the dozens of kids running around on mini pitches. “This isn’t football. None of these kids are going to be footballers. This is just nonsense that comes from the FA.”

“Right. Well, good luck this afternoon,” I wished him, cutting short his rant and heading back to watch no.2 son, apparently, not playing football.

Scene 2

No.1 son and I arrived at our local park for a kick-about. A school friend, also with his Dad, recognised no.1 son and we combined for an impromptu Dads v Lads match.

No.1 son was eight and had three years of junior club football behind him. Contriving defeats when we played each other was becoming easier, but still required concentration to ensure a close finish. His school friend wasn’t a member of a club and was less adroit. His Dad, a well-built, near six-footer, played close to full throttle. He challenged his own son for the ball, barging him over and then blasted the ball past no.1 son’s left ear, claiming a goal and leaving the keeper to trot fifty yards across the park to collect the ball.

On our way home, no.1 son and I speculated that his friend may have reason for being less keen to take up playing football.

Scene 3

Standing on the touch line at the pro-club development centre, I chatted to MarineDad, parent to one of no.2 son’s club team mates who had also been ‘spotted’. We discussed football and it was taking all my social skills to maintain a conversation where I disagreed with 90% of the opinions being expressed to me.

“They teach them these ball skills. Don’t know why they bother. I say to my lad in the garden, ‘take the ball past me’. He tries these fancy moves and all I have to do is stick my foot out to get the ball off him.”

Act 3

Scene 1

No.1 son is going on football tour. To Holland, aged just 12. It’s a team effort from the responsible adults at the club. A team lead by the Dad I first met in the park four years earlier, barging over his son and blasting the ball past my son. He has galvinised the parents and, importantly, the boys into fund-raising. He has consulted parents, reassured anxieties, even anticipated concerns: quietly explaining to me how he plans to ensure that no.1 son, as the sole vegetarian, is well-nourished and won’t subsist on a diet of chips.

The tour, like any adventure for 12 year old boys away from home, is not without incident. But he is instrumental in putting those incidents into perspective, and making the trip a sporting, social and developmental success. He cares about the boys he coaches.

The following year, he is hospitalised. He continues to text us, from his sick-bed, letting us know what’s happening that week for the team. He discharges himself to attend matches, to see how the boys are doing. The only difference is that he is, mercifully, a little quieter.

The team has groups of mates and some lads outside of those groups. He notices and challenges his players to recognise the value those boys bring to the team. He’s an extrovert, doing something difficult, looking out for the introverts.

The boys are now 15 and he knows that they have reached an age when many will be drawn away from playing the game. He is trying to run a team that will continue to be important to as many of these lads as possible.

Scene 2

No.2 son is thriving in his club’s first team. They are amongst the best in the district, playing a fast, passing-brand of football.

To begin with, they lost a lot of games. They kept changing goalkeeper, whereas all the successful teams had one boy in goal every game. The instruction they got from the side-line during matches was briefer, less angry and macho than that received by most of their opponents.

MarineDad is the co-coach and chief organiser. He noticed early on that the boys shook off the defeats faster than the Dads – including himself. He persevered with the style of play and by the end of the first season began to see whole matches, not just flashes, of smooth, cultured football. The keepers, three per game, are still volunteers.

When a game against a particular opponent, for a second time turns ugly, he takes measured sensible action, reassuring parents that he won’t allow a repetition. His one good knee buckles, so he runs training on crutches and even referees a match in a knee brace. When the coach for another of the club’s teams cannot attend training, he helps them out.

———————

What happened to Act 2?

A lot must have happened in the lives of these two dad-coaches between Acts 1 and 3, so much that it would be misleading to ascribe the changes I have seen to a single factor. However, I do know that both attended the FA Coaching Course and I do know that both talked differently about junior football after it. They are both good men, whose potential as coaches has been released by some timely educational input.

What about the lean, grey-haired man?

He still assembles the goals for Saturday afternoon’s senior fixtures by himself. I’ve not seen anyone help him, or try chatting to him. I think I have a solution for him. There’s a course he could attend..

 

 

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Filed under coach says.., individual development

Going through the motions

pool netThe new school year has seen us quickly hit our stride: football practice (x 2); football match (x 2); gymnastics (x 2); cricket practice; refereeing course; dance class; piano lesson. Three children and ten different weekly out-of-school activities to organise in a plan that must allow for domestic duties, as well as Mother in the Middle and my slim extracurricular interests. Among the pursuits that get too easily crowded out is anything that allows us to exercise and keep fit. Until some way of harnessing our kids’ running, bounding and cartwheeling into our own metabolism is found, we need to get out and exercise ourselves, lest we slip with elevated blood pressure, atrophying muscles and impoverished lungs over the cliff edge at the far end of our forties.

For a year or two I had this dilemma of mixing the kids’ activities with my own exercise cracked. During no.2 son’s football practice, my touchline pal and I would go running. We had the option of running along the canal, around the water park or, if the gate was left open, around the running track. There, I discovered that Mo Farah would complete a 10,000 metres in less than the time it took me to run half that distance. I would however, nudge ahead of Usain Bolt in a sprint that involved him running twice as far as me.

But last season, our sons started playing competitive fixtures on Saturday mornings. My pal and I ditched the running in favour of something far more thrilling: spectating our boys’ matches.

There is, of course, the option of playing with the kids. We kick around in the garden and sometimes in the park. I play with them just enough to know that they play more physically, at greater pace and belt the ball harder than me – and the risk of injury playing with children is well understood.

So I have looked for new opportunities to get my exercise.

A new leisure development close to work has given me the chance to swim in my lunch break or at the start of the day. Determined not to flap up and down the pool doing breaststroke, I took a short course of lessons and have worked hard on the crawl. Stringing together, first eight, then twelve and finally 20 lengths of crawl – before breaking for a few minutes of genteel breaststroke – gives me great satisfaction. Thirty minutes of swimming leaves me fulfilled and fatigued from my shoulders, all the way down my body and legs. When I’m in the pool, I’m definitely not just going through the motions.

Last week, held up in a meeting, I narrowly missed my lunchtime window for swimming. Edgy all afternoon, I agreed a late return home, so that I could swim after work instead. I arrived at the pool as the lessons were ending. Heading from the showers, I stood to one side while the school kids piled into the changing room. I was first into the pool and swam a couple of lengths before a lifeguard bent down to me and asked me to come out while his team prepared and checked the pool. Two of his colleagues wound in the lane ropes, while he patrolled the pool carrying a net on a long pole. I shivered on the side, waiting for the nod to restart.

The man with the net said it all looked clear, but then got into a discussion with a lifeguard. They pointed at the middle of the pool, then looked at me. “Could you, with your goggles, check out the middle of lane three?” net-man asked me. I stepped back in and waded across to the lane, as net-man continued, “we think one of the kids had an accident.” A sticking plaster, I began to think.. “But it’s fine as long as it’s not diarrhoea. The chemicals make it safe.” Right, a poo. “Could you check?”

I ducked under, swam a little way and there at the bottom of the pool was the accident. I surfaced, confirmed the sighting and began wading towards the side. “It’s fine, because of the chlorine”, the net-man repeated. “We don’t have to close the pool.”

The lifeguard and net-man looked at each other, then at me. They were in t-shirt, shorts and trainers and were dry. I wasn’t. Holding out the net to me, he asked, “Would you mind catching it for me?”

With all the aplomb of the sanitation engineer that I’m not, I took the net and after a couple of swipes made the catch and returned the net, receiving thanks and further reassurances of the efficacy of the chemicals. I then swam 40 lengths, eyeing the pool floor suspiciously. I showered and at home took a bath.

A few days later I told some colleagues the story of my odd job at the pool. “You didn’t really go swimming,” someone said. “Oh, yes I did.” “No,” he countered. “You were just going through the motions.”

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Filed under fitness

Bold fearful boy

FullSizeRenderObserving no.1 son grow up has, on many occasions, felt like undergoing a psycho-therapeutic exploration of my childhood. So many of his motivations and anxieties trigger memories of my own youth and the predicaments that my thoughtful but naïve younger being would self-inflict. And seeing my older son heading up cul-de-sacs of his own making would make me wish I could convey what I have learnt: making mistakes is uncomfortable but worth getting used to; doing something is almost always better than doing nothing (exceptions: sinking sand); you only look embarrassing if you are looking embarrassed.

I have never been unaware of the possibility that I am merely projecting my personality and motivations onto my older son. Approach a problem with a particular frame and you’ll see what you want to see. I believe, though, that I have indisputable evidence that this is not a solipsistic delusion. The most persuasive argument I can present is: no.2 son.

Four and three-quarters years younger than his older brother, the third and last of Mother in the Middle and my progeny, he clearly has different influences to the first born: the example of two older siblings, relatively relaxed and experienced parents, a busy household, a school and social life where for many he is so-and-so’s little bro’.

Yet, allowing for these environmental factors, there is an innate distinctiveness. When friends ask how the family is, I relate Mother in the Middle’s non-stop life and then for the children I will summarise the latest achievements of no.1 son and the 1&onlyD, then pause. “No.2 son, he’s just a [insert age] BOY.” That sounds belittling, but I know when I’m saying it, I’m shaking my head with wonder, trying but failing to encapsulate the essence of energetic, affectionate, noisy, charming infancy that he represents. Where his older brother and sister have been precocious, pushing some of the boundaries of their age, no.2 son exists comfortably within the developmental median for his calendar age. He’s a pup in no hurry to be a dog.

Mother in the Middle booked our summer holiday before last Christmas. The kids had months to speculate and build expectations of their two week stay in France in August: the pool, the tennis court, canal, river, pizzeria, beaches and French folk. One day, earlier in the summer, rain falling outside, the 1&onlyD was longing for this trip. It would be so good just to sit in the sun and read, we agreed. No.2 son heard us, expressed shock: “No. There’s a pool and a river, we’re going to be swimming, not reading.” We had, but really didn’t need, fair warning.

The first morning of the holiday, I woke early. I carried a chair, a book and a cup of tea out into the sunny garden. Minutes later, no.2 son was at my shoulder, asking for breakfast. Not many minutes after that, he was back, in swimming shorts.

Can we go to the pool?

No. It’s too early.

Will you play football?

Not yet. And can you speak quietly, there are lots of people sleeping around here

Ok. [withdraws, singing heartily]

Throughout the two weeks, no.2 son’s appetite for activity was continuous, and probably entirely consistent with that of a nine year old. In child- and adulthood, I have had a threshold where the desire for activity is submerged by a preference for comfort. Sure, I’ll play in the pool. But once I’ve dried off, getting wet and cold again has insufficient appeal. A kickabout in the garden is fun, but tea time means full-time, not half-time. No.1 son shows similar reservations and qualified commitment.

I admire and envy my younger son’s relentless pursuit of physical fulfilment. Another plunge into the pool, yet more charging after a ball in the garden, gymnastics with his sister if that’s the only action on offer. This physical boldness equips him well for sport: tackle after tackle on the football field; every time he gets the ball, a dribble past opponents or attempted defence-splitting pass; in goal, he bursts out towards attackers, diving at their feet; on the cricket field always closing in on the batsman, defying the coach’s instruction to take 10 steps backwards; sliding, sprawling to stop the ball hit in his vicinity.

Standing on the touchline, I see him play without fear. It is exhilarating, the most predictably exciting part of my week. And it’s disorientating, that a child with my genetic inheritance runs unencumbered by fear, the very impulse that has inhibited my every sporting fixture or active adventure.

He’s not tireless or immune to pain, but neither are reasons to stop. Activity is an end in itself. Comfort, reflection, quiet time are reluctantly accepted and usually attempted swinging from a chair, singing or chatting in a funny voice. A family friend once asked Mother In the Middle what it must be like for no.2 son to live in such a quiet family. It’s a good question.

Where might this boldness end? In A&E, Mother in the Middle worries, particularly when we’re on holiday. Our time in France, though, showed that it has its natural limits.

Sitting together on the flight, I tried to distract no.2 son’s anxiety of flying by reading and offering sweets. Twenty minutes after take-off, his hand still gripping my arm, Bilbo Baggins’ adventures were lost in the drone of the plane’s engines and no.2 son’s anxious inattention. A lady in the row behind tapped me on the arm. “My daughter wondered if your son would be happier with this,” handing me an iPad, headphones and a Pixar movie, which he used for the rest of the flight.

Shopping in France, there was a bouleversement in the supermarket. A known shop-lifter was being escorted out, against her will, noisily. No.2 son grabbed my arm and tried to drag me away from the till which the assistant was keeping shut while the incident was dealt with. “It’s a riot. I want to go. Take me out,” he implored.

Then there was the thunderstorm. Like flying (and dogs) it’s not an unusual fear for a nine year old. But, given his bullish, bold presence through so much of life, it’s a reaction that surprises me.

There’s one rather bland conclusion to this reflection about my younger son: that we are all complex beings with apparent contradictions at our heart.

Writing it down has helped me reach a slightly more sophisticated insight. It suits my shorthand image of my family that no.1 son is ever so similar to me and his younger brother a different animal all together. As a shorthand it holds a lot of truth. But as an appreciation of my children it short changes them and risks me under-appreciating where my older son is different to me (his ease in the company of adults, is a strong example) and the many aspects of my younger son where I can’t just sit back and say, “Wow, I could never have done that.” Difficult as it is to do, I would be better off keeping the comparisons to myself out of it.

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