From around the 12th month of parenthood, I realised that domestic harmony depended upon getting out of the house by ten in the morning. The build-up of unexpended child energy after that hour could damage fixtures, fittings and other household occupants.
Twelve years on and I have found that it’s a realisation that recurs most weekends and holidays.. at about 11.30 in the morning. The kids are turning feral. The slow, relaxing start to the day has paradoxically made me twitchy and ill-tempered. And yet, that simple dictum – ‘out of the house by ten’ – still slips my mind until it’s too late.
Weekend sports activities are a blessing that take away from me the need for initiative. Matches or practices have to be attended and so we are up and out before that mid-morning hour that can have an effect as transformative on my kids as midnight did on Cinderella.
Christmas holidays mean a stretch of three weeks without structured sporting activity to make us be virtuous before midday. How did we fare? How did we channel the energy of our sporty kids?
My memory of last month is already a little hazy, but I couldn’t swear that we made it out once before ten. December’s dark, cold and damp mornings are a strong discouragement. So, for the kids, are the bright, shiny digital devices that they acquire at that time of year.
The urgency for morning activity no longer applies to no.1 son, who has embraced fully the teenager’s role of laying-a-bed ’til noon. The major threat is his younger brother. We spent Christmas week staying with relatives in South West London. On Boxing Day morning, I woke before seven to the sound of no.2 son dribbling his new Premier League football barefoot around the Christmas tree and across our relatives’ parquet floor hallway.
The new football had been taken outside on Christmas Day before noon. Two sons, a nephew, brother-in-law and I played six or seven variants of football in the park, culminating in foot-volleyball on the deserted tennis courts. Good appetite-enhancing activity.
The 1&onlyD was more difficult to draw outside. We had a few walks in Richmond Park, but could never generate our off-springs’ enthusiasm to walk all the way across the park to the lodge where Mother in the Middle and I were wed. When the 1&onlyD’s younger cousin arrived a few days after Christmas, she had a companion with whom to devise gymnastics routines. Up until then her only opening had been the Boxing Day night talent show. There was piano and guitar playing, poetry reading and the 1&onlyD springing across the living room floor.
Back home for New Year and the late mornings and lazy days persisted. The boys and I invented an indoor cricket game in no.2 son’s bedroom. His new carpet has a dense texture that makes it a spin bowler’s paradise. The game was played in high spirits and skilfully, but provided no aerobic benefit.
Then like the lip of a cliff, always visible in the distance, then suddenly at our feet, we tipped over the edge, careering back into seven o’clock starts for school and work. No.1 son was welcomed back to football with a series of punishing ‘suicide’ runs. The 1&onlyD has succumbed to gastric ‘flu and hasn’t been back to gymnastics. No. 2 son had a surprise early fixture on Saturday. His team competed for about ten minutes before a combination of the cold and sheer effort got the better of them and their game went about 18 months backwards.
After the lots-nil defeat, the coach walked over to the parents on the opposite touchline. In a gesture of exasperation, he spread his arms and implored “What have you been doing to them?”