The secret survival kit for school sports
If I had to pick a favourite child, it would be the one whose hobbies are firmly located indoors. An all-day gymnastics tournament isn’t necessarily my preferred way to spend a half-term Wednesday, but at least it’s warm(ish) and dry.
For the past few years weekends have been spent standing in muddy fields watching football (Saturday morning) and rugby (Sunday morning), umbrella angled sideways against horizontal rain, while small people run up and down after variously shaped balls. I have no particularly affection for either sport, and little understanding of the rules, rendering me wholly reliant on my fellow supporters (it is almost entirely dads at football, and almost entirely mums at rugby – I have no idea why).
“Pass it, pass it!” they shout. “Pass it!” I echo, a beat too late, like the Corporal Jones of the junior sports field. I leap from my seat as the game ends, clapping wildly and nodding sagely – jolly good game – only to discover it is only half-time, and the pint-sized players merely changing ends.
Suffice to say, Saturday and Sunday mornings are not the highlights of my week. Oh, of course I love to see my children giving it their all (assuming I can find them – I once spent two hours cheering on the wrong pitch, while my own progeny scored 100 yards behind me), and I do my level best not to give any hint that I might be there under sufferance. I take enough layers to guard against the cold, remember a flask of tea, pack snacks to alleviate the boredom…
Last weekend I brought out the newest secret weapon in my arsenal: the tiniest wireless earphones, to be hidden beneath my woolly hat. Like the TV trope of the dad who listens to the baseball game during his daughter’s piano recital, so I stood faux-innocently on the touch-lines last weekend, my hat pulled firmly over my ears, and a brand-new audiobook on play. I am a relatively late adopter of audiobooks, initially finding it impossible to concentrate. I would fall asleep, or drift off into a chain of thought that had nothing to do with the story being read to me. I must get that washing in… Gradually I realised the key was to be occupied to precisely the right degree: sit in a chair and listen to an audiobook, and my mind will wander. Peel potatoes, and I’ll lose myself in the story. Thus, audiobooks are now a constant companion whenever I’m cooking, doing housework, tending the garden, or walking the dogs. Where others in the gym are plugged into Pump it up, volume 74,
I am lifting weights to the soothing accompaniment of Kate Atkinson’s Transcription.
Audiobooks feel like a gift – bonus reading time that would otherwise be wasted. Why do one thing, when you can do two? And – more pertinently – why stand in a muddy field in a silence broken only by an incomprehensible That’s a knock-on, surely? from a neighbouring spectator, when you can make a start on The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle? And so last weekend I switched on my secret earphone, feeling every bit like an MI6 agent, and settled into both the game and the story.
The minutes flew by, and even the rain, finding its way past my umbrella and down the back of my neck, failed to dent my enjoyment. I had overcome my biggest parenting challenge yet. I looked around the rugby field, at all the other parents who were giving very credible impressions of actually enjoying themselves and wondered if they, too, might be packing tiny earbuds. Round about chapter four, the match finished and 12-year-old Josh lumbered towards me, covered head to foot in thick black mud. “Well done, darling!” I said enthusiastically. “That was absolutely marvellous!” He eyed me suspiciously. “You’ve been listening to a book, haven’t you?” What? How was this possible? I was every inch a Sporting Mum. I had the brolly, the boots, the hat and scarf… Surreptitiously, I checked to make sure my ears were still covered; my phone stashed in my bag. There was absolutely nothing to give me away. And yet… Josh’s disapproval was unwavering. I dropped the pretence, and fished for my tiny earbud.
“How did you know?” I asked meekly. “Easy,” Josh said, making for the car. “You looked pleased to be here.” Some MI6 agent I turned out to be.
Coming soon, Clare’s collected Cotswold Life columns in aid of the Silver Star Society at the John Radcliffe hospital, who support families experiencing high risk pregnancies