Friday was mostly rubbish, which is a shame because it started quite promisingly with an event most parents loathe. Sports Day. Except that it was actually Sports Morning, because what a good idea! Get 300 children hot, tired, and sweaty, and then expect them to spend another three hours in school. Genius.
I wasn’t really looking forward to it. But I went along because The Boy asked me to, and we all know that Other Parents hoik their judgeypants at Absent Parents at school events like this. Slight false start when I realised I’d forgotten my wallet and had to pelt back home to pick up. Then, fortified with a latte and greasy bacon roll from Greggs, I made my way schoolwards.
Sports Day (I’m going to stick to calling it that, because ‘Sports Morning’ sounds wrong) has changed since I last skived off it by faking various injuries. Now there’s no ‘Year 4 100m race’ in front of the whole school, so that 290 of your peers can watch you cross the line whole minutes after the runners (I am not a natural athlete). Now it’s set up into stations dotted around the school field, where groups of eight children take it in turns to dribble a rugby ball, or throw little beanbags into hula hoops, or jump over a cone ten times. Two minutes at each station, then move onto the next one. Wisely (because it was fairly hot), there were also three rest stations, where the children had to sit, rest, and drink water for the allotted two minutes. Slightly less humiliating than failing to throw a cricket ball more than 3ft in front of the entire school, teachers, and parents.
For the benefit of parents, in the middle of the field, the school had laid out rows of green plastic chairs, so the parents could sit reasonably comfortably and watch their children making their way round the course. It did look a bit odd though, so I gave that a miss, and looked around me, trying to find The Boy (easy to do. All I had to do was look at feet. The Boy has a very odd habit of pulling his socks up as high as they will go. Not obvious when he’s wearing long trousers, but instantly recognisable in shorts). Spotting him on the far side of the field, I wandered over, plonked myself down on the grass and started noticing things about the people around me. The groups. The individuals. The tribes…
Cheering, far too loudly, when his son (always a son, never a daughter. He does have a daughter, but she is generally ignored) is on. Pushing other children out of the way to high five the light of his life. Roaring encouragement ‘C’MONNNN!! Get! IN!’ Tutting at other children who aren’t doing so well, eventually descending into making comments on their performance in matey blokey bantering tones. Tells anyone who’ll listen that when a teacher suggested he quieten down little, he told her what he thought of her suggestion, prefacing his response with ‘Listen, love.’ He never does the school run, so is blissfully unaware that the child he’s taking the piss out of is the offspring of the man he’s talking to. The Other Dad nervously jiggles the change in his pocket and silently prays that his child doesn’t come over and create an awkward situation.
As the morning wears on, more and more parents are anxious to avoid him and he ends up with an audience of one, his longsuffering wife, who is under strict instructions to video the entire morning. Presumably for a full play-by-play analysis after school.
Her child is the walking definition of Precious First Born. Already considered to be slightly odd by the other children, and his mother does nothing to dispel this, as she follows him from station to station, obsessively checking that suntan lotion is topped up to premium levels, put your hat back on, do you need more water, look, you’re not drinking enough, the bottle’s only half empty, and you’ve been out here for an hour already, I’ve got two more bottles in my bag… If you watch closely enough, you’ll see her trying to slip him anti-histamines, despite no evidence of hayfever or allergies.
When the children are gathered into their houses at the end of Sports Day, her child very deliberately sits in the middle of the group to avoid her ministrations. She manages to edge ever closer to him as the sitting children fidget, until a woman in her forties is sitting in the middle of a group of ten year olds. She stands, alone and bereft, as the children troop back into school, her child having awarded her the most cursory of waves and a ‘MUUUUMMM!’ when she tries to bestow a goodbye kiss.
Completely disconcerted by missing their normal latte and Danish pastry on the coffee shop post school run, they clutch a Greggs coffee, making sure that everyone knows they’ve never been to a Greggs before in their life, but ‘Needs must!’. This is followed by a nervous titter, in case the Other NR2 Mums don’t believe them, and suspect them of eating mass produced sausage rolls not from an artisan bakery.
For the most part in Boden and Joules, there will be a least one mum per group in gym gear, even though there is no possible way they could have gone for a run before Sports Day started. The mums not in gym gear feel needled by this, and make sure they mention their Pilates class that evening.
Talking about nothing other than their children, as though they have ceased to exist in their own right, delightful verbal skirmishes can be overheard as they pass.
‘Joely always kisses me goodbye. I find it rather sweet.’
‘Oh? Mine are far too independent for that’
‘I suppose I’ve just raised mine to be affectionate’ Patronising smile.
‘Theo and Daisy are quite secure. They don’t need much reassurance.’ Patronising smile and head tilt combo.
The only thing that unites them is their dislike of…
The Capable Mums
Factor 50 applied in the kitchen before leaving the house, their children are uncomplainingly clad in plain beige baseball cap, PE kit bought from the PTA shop, and sipping water from a school branded water bottle (couple of ice cubes added before leaving the house ‘to keep it lovely and cool’). The Capable Mums can be easily identified by their uniform of oatmeal coloured cropped trousers and pastel polo shirts.
Attaching themselves to whichever group their child is in, they take it upon themselves to shepherd all of the children present, despite the presence of (increasingly irked) Other Parents, tying shoelaces that weren’t undone, tucking in t-shirts, and offering their own water supply to those children whose parents –shockingly- forgot.
At rest stations they hand out mini boxes of raisins to all, whilst they drink the barista prepared decaff they had the foresight to buy on the way into school, then decant into an insulated mug. The NR2 mums are ashamed not to have thought of this, and are further annoyed when she points out that their child has a hole in their shorts ‘just in case you hadn’t noticed’.
She means well, but is hated for it, as all Other Parents feel inadequate in comparison.
Half NR2 Mums, half Capable Mums, they have volunteered to man a station, under the threat of coffee morning ostracisation by Chief PTA Bitch, who blanks anyone that isn’t on the organising committee (but avoids taking a station for herself, because she’s needed to ‘do things’).
The Capable Mums are aggressively encouraging to every child ‘Oh, rotten luck! Have another go, Charlie!’ to such an extent that casual observers begin to suspect that they may have taken recreational drugs. This suspicion is hardened when the jollity continues, unvarying and unwavering, for three hours.
The NR2 Mums, by contrast, quickly tire of retrieving stray tennis balls, and start surreptitiously checking facebook on their iPhones. By the halfway point, they have abandoned all pretence of caring, and fail to notice when the children start horsing around, buried instead in an article on the Guardian app about which modern art galleries are best for children, sipping their lukewarm Greggs coffee, and being sure to give a little moue of disgust every time, just in case anyone’s watching, and thinks they might be enjoying it.
They came prepared. Pushchair. Snacks. Drinks. Sunhat. Toys. Sunscreen. Replacement sunhat. Nappy bag. Parasol. Change of clothes. Emergency replacement sunhat.
Unfortunately, the toddlers prefer to live a life of gay abandon and unfettered spontaneity. Watching an older sibling dribble a rugby ball around a cone is BORING. But that corner of the sports field, 300 metres away from where the action is taking place looks fun! Mum’s busy watching Archie balance a beanbag on his head… and the toddler hares off, Mum in hot pursuit thirty seconds later.
On return to the pushchair, the toddler will refuse to be restrained again, and Mum will have to abandon any hope of watching Amelia hop ten times inside a hula hoop, in favour of ceaseless toddler vigilance. The toddler will become overtired with fifteen minutes to go, and descend into a screaming redfaced tantrum that means no one can hear which team won. The tantrum will last all the way home, until they abruptly fall asleep.
Doing brave battle with a faltering PA system, the laziest teacher gets to observe proceedings, sitting down, sipping iced water. He announces the start and finish of each session, always having to remind the masses that ‘We’re still waiting for a couple of teams to sit down before we can continue.’ By the end of the morning, he’s clearly so fed up with saying the same thing that his mood has passed beyond tetchiness and is now at liquid rage.
The other teachers, out in the full glare of the sun all morning eye his comfort with ill-disguised resentment, especially if they’re running a rest station and get to say nothing other than ‘Water’ and ‘Sit down’ for three hours. Wearing their normal working clothes, they are hot, sweaty and cross. The children who will be taught by them later that day are apprehensive.
Fall into two distinct categories.
The Nervous Loner is starting to regret never chatting to Other Parents in the school playground. She’s wearing a large floppy straw sunhat that she’s not too sure about. But if she takes it off, she’ll have to carry it, and people might laugh at her. It takes her a full circuit of the field before she spots her daughter, adding to sense of social awkwardness. She ends up hovering on the edge of a group of Other Mums, not joining in the conversation, but smiling as if she is. They feel inhibited by this, and stop talking. She feels more awkward, but can’t think of a way of moving on without losing face. So stays. Silence continues.
The Aggressive Loner
They want to be supportive of their child. They kind of want to be here. But they can’t bothered with all the social niceties that Other Bloody Parents observe, because what’s the point? You’ve got nothing in common beyond what school your children attend. The Aggressive Loner picks up a green plastic chair from the neatly arranged rows and positions it in the middle of the field, at least six feet away from anyone else on all sides, moving around the field as and when required. Motionless, arms folded, face inscrutable behind sunglasses, radiating ‘Don’t even think of approaching me’ vibes. This attitude is only relaxed when a teacher passes and a grudging nod is performed.
Of grandparents who are thinking ‘I did all this thirty years ago…’, but are secretly delighted to have been asked to come, the stepmother who takes the morning off work, only to be completely blanked by her stepchild, babies sleeping contentedly in buggies and slings, Community Police Support Officers wandering the field (I didn’t think things were expected to kick off), the teaching assistant helping the girl with Down’s Syndrome, the buzz of conversation and shouts of children cheering their team on…
All of human life is here.
And one twatty blogger, sitting on the grass, slightly apart from it all, notebook and pen in hand, watching her son perform ineptly, inelegantly, and industriously, her heart bursting with pride, scribbling down notes about the people around her.