My memories of Sports Day at school are good. It was always sunny, we were given choc ices and we got to caper about outside all afternoon. I was no athlete and have no recollection of winning any races, but I don’t remember caring. It was fun – and my mum was there watching. I imagined she enjoyed it as much as I did and when my own kids were of pre-school age, I looked forward to going to their sports days.
Jeezo, what a mistake. It’s so DULL.
I take a precious afternoon off work – one more half day of childcare to source for the interminable summer holidays. Half the time the sports day is cancelled at the last minute because it’s raining, and I find I can’t then take the time off for the re-scheduled date. On the one hand I’m secretly relieved not to have to sit through it – but instead I have to live with Working Parents’ Guilt.
Working parents (I’m being politically correct, as a token gesture to a smallish number of men who share the burden of childcare with their partner – let’s not kid ourselves, the vast majority of school-related administration falls squarely on the working mother’s shoulders) often look forward to their children starting school because it will lower the cost and angst of making childcare arrangements. It wasn’t until mine started that I discovered the vast number of reasons for school closures: holidays, in-service days, half-terms, snow-closures, boiler breakdowns, open afternoons, assemblies, concerts, meet-the teacher events, talks on the new method of teaching maths (huh?). Once I add in all the times my kids have a temperature or puke, I feel as though they are almost never in school.
Anyway, I make it to Sports Day. I arrive out of breath having dashed away from work at the last minute and had to park miles from the school. I’m wearing heels because I was at a meeting that morning and they are now sinking into the muddy playground, making it difficult to walk. As I make my way across the field to the Sports Day seating area, my shoe comes off completely and I am standing on the playing field in my tights.
Then – where to sit? There are gaggles of mothers huddled together, cooing over someone’s new baby. I recall the joy of being on maternity leave and wish I could go back to that. But then the baby starts to wail and I remember why I sent my husband to the hospital straight after the birth of the third child.
I perch at the end of a low bench, and watch line after line of other people’s children stagger across the grass with their legs tied together. It feels endless. How many races are each class doing? HOW MANY? On and on it goes, the youngest groups being the most torturous. Yes, the four and five years olds are cute, but oh my goodness, what a disorganised and unfocused bunch they are. There’s one in each race that goes off in the wrong direction, or falls and takes ages to get up, or drops their ‘egg’, like, fifty times. My own children are the types who stand vacantly on the start line, setting off a good few seconds after the starting gun, their heads miles away. I restrain myself from leaping to my feet and yelling at them to concentrate. Not everyone shows similar restraint and there’s always one parent (sorry, but usually a dad) bellowing encouragement to their child and cheering loudly when they cross the line. It’s bunny-hopping ffs…
Across the other side of the field, rows of children wait for their turn to participate, and I can see one of mine misbehaving. He’s sliding from side to side on the bench, bashing into the kids on either side of him. I stare intensely, willing him to look up and meet my eye, so I can subject him to the ‘mother glare,’ maybe make a throat cutting gesture so he realises how serious I am. I look at the teachers, but they are chatting, oblivious to my son, who I suspect is about to make the girl beside him cry. I consider going over to chastise him, but it’s impossible; I’d make the most hideous exhibition of myself. In desperation I try to engage the person sitting beside me in conversation so I can pretend I haven’t noticed the bad behaviour.
The afternoon passes, and the children return home pleased with their array of stickers; 1st, 2nd, 3rd and ‘well done for having a shot, loser’. Ok, that’s not what it says. It has a much more positive message, of course. What I’ve noticed is that children don’t care what it says – they just love stickers. They go nuts for them. They’d prefer a sticker to a twenty pound note, those crazy little people!
It’s a privilege to have the opportunity to see their happy, flushed faces, and their pride that their parent has been watching them. As I did when I was young, they no doubt think their mother loved being there – and in fact they’d be right. I wouldn’t miss it for the world. And an advantage of being a working mum in high heels? Easy excuse to avoid the Mother’s Race. Phew.