Saturday morning and the 1&onlyD was in a mood. She was indignant and she was frustrating in a way she has honed and polished: refusing to make a decision between two options. And time was pressing, she wasn’t dressed and as each minute passed, she became less communicative.. until with seconds to spare she made her move and was out of the door.
In my daughter’s defence, she was being asked to decide between going with Mrs TL to watch her younger brother play football at the local Powerleague centre, or come with me to a supermarket where her older brother would be bag-packing to raise funds for his club. Neither are prospects to thrill a ten year old girl at the start of her weekend. And in my world, where all shopping activity is loathsome, she made the right decision and went with her mother.
For as long as I have been a touchline Dad, I have had my children as companions on the side line. When no.1 son first strode out for his club, his younger brother was a new-born, who would stay with his mother, while I would bring the 1&onlyD with me.
For a few months, hanging out with Dad seemed to satisfy her. When spring came, and football moved outdoors, Saturday morning Dad-and-daughter time became at once both more exciting and more irksome. The excitement was the playground by the football field, where we swung, span, climbed and played monster games for half the morning until I bribed her with snacks to let me watch the boys’ match.
The annoyance for her, piled on top of the boredom of boys’ football, was the weather. Our home ground has a micro-climate – one that belongs 300 miles further north, not south of our NW England home. The 1&onlyD protected herself from the cold and wet by, variously, draping herself around my shoulders, sitting on my feet or clinging to me beneath my coat. If the sun did come out, she would occupy herself with daisy chain making.
The following season, I would often have both the little-ones as touchline companions, while Mrs TL had a hard-earned child-free hour in the gym. Even more fun in the playground, more snacks and more chilly grumpiness at the game. On at least one occasion, I watched a match with a pre-schooler clinging to each shoulder. A good thing those junior matches are short.
Something similar was happening on weekday afternoons with Mrs TL at swimming and gymnastics lessons. One occupied child and two malcontents, willing to offer a few minutes of good-humoured quiet in exchange for a treat.
We are now in a different phase (or more accurately, have been through several phases). The boys choose to come with me or Mrs TL to watch the other play. In no.1 son’s case, at a recent indoor cricket match, he showed himself to be a very tense spectator. I had seen this before, particularly at his younger brother’s weekly sessions with the pro-club development centre. He could not contain his longing for his brother to do well in that rarefied environment. And if no.2 son wasn’t playing at full throttle, or seemed to be missing the point of a training drill, no.1 son would be stage-whispering corrections, sighing and predicting the imminent end of his brother’s time on the slippery slope of junior academy football. Behaving just like lots of the adults around us, in fact.
It is fun standing alongside one son watch his brother and his teammates. Even more important for us is the opportunity it gives a boy and me to have a kick-around, using a spare goal or space beside the match. I marvel at the tricks and skills they have learnt and my hands sting from the increasing power their shots acquire. Their company distracts me from becoming too wrapped up in the match. I can enjoy it with a little distance.
No.2 son is less keen to stand and watch, so if I’m puffed and need a break watching the match, he will often tour around half of the pitch to join his brother or whoever is a substitute at that point in the game, eager for a kickabout with some bigger boys.
But if there’s nobody willing to play, he will stand and watch the game for a while. This is always something I cherish. He stands amongst the touchline dads and mimics their shouts, their grunts and groans as they kick every ball and make every challenge for their sons. I’m not sure they are listening, but he’s telling them how ridiculous they sound. It keeps me very quiet.