Caroline's blog: Hairspray and penalties

As a family with 2 working parents, we try to protect our downtime, and make sure our tots don’t overcommit to too many extra-curricular activities.  My Disney Princess has chosen activities similar to the ones I once enjoyed, so I am in a familiar routine of sewing on brownie badges, encouraging music practice and creating ballet buns (with extra-strength hairspray compensating for my limited hairdressing skills). My Superhero made a brief foray into his big sister’s world of dance, before announcing his retirement at the tender age of 5 – he was happy enough being the only boy in the street dance class. Sadly, though, the brightly coloured outfit and headband he was expected to wear for the end-of-year show proved to be a step too far for his developing masculinity.

Dance’s loss, however, has been football’s gain. In fact, to my surprise, I would say it has been a fun and interesting learning curve for me as well. I had a football blind spot – I didn’t have brothers, I have never supported a team, and in the workplace any football conversations wash straight over me. However, thanks to my Superhero I now feel a whole new world has opened up to me and I’m learning a lot through him.

Firstly, I’m appreciating the bonding time that football brings. There’s nothing my Superhero loves more than playing penalties in the back garden. It’s uninterrupted mummy-time which demands my full attention and skill – this means I can’t glance guiltily at my phone, or give him anything short of my full undivided attention, or else I would be told off and go at least a goal down. We’re out in all seasons and weathers, simply having fun. It’s good fresh air and, according to my tracker, burns more calories than a gym trip. Grass is becoming a thing of the past, and our former lawn now resembles a mini Tough Mudder course.  There are more footballs than flowers in the borders, and the washing machine is used far more than previously. For me, though, it feels a price worth paying. 

Thanks to the Match Attax cards trading game, my Superhero now has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of every footballer in the Premier League. Since swaps were banned at his school, we’ve had to find more creative ways to help him complete his collection. Through online swap sites we’ve increased our stash, and I share his delight each time we successfully engineer a swap and a few days later the postman delivers the coveted cards. I also reached out through our local Facebook group, and found a network of local Citymothers with football-mad boys. We have operated the benign version of a neighbourhood drugs cartel - fleeting visits are made to local homes, deals are done on doorsteps, and sealed envelopes get left in plant pots in front gardens to be collected by others later.

In terms of team allegiance, my Superhero has followed his Grandad’s lead and is now an avid AFC Bournemouth fan. We started our active support by witnessing a 0-5 defeat against Spurs on Boxing Day. However, this disappointment had some positive upsides. London life and large events can sometimes feel anonymous, but as part of a 2,000 contingent to the 60k or so Spurs fans at Wembley, we all enjoyed a real sense of shared allegiance and community. There was then a noticeable change in our Superhero’s approach to losing after he saw his team go 5-0 down. At home, board games sometimes need engineering due to the risk of a meltdown or tantrum if the score goes the wrong way. However, if my Superhero’s team can lose graciously, then sometimes losing can now be acceptable for him too. As a result, there have been noticeably less occasions where we have needed to crawl about behind the sofas to rescue monopoly counters in the aftermath of my Superhero’s fury at landing on an opponent’s property.

Shortly after our experience with Spurs, we won tickets in the ballot to the Bournemouth fixture against Chelsea. We prepared for another blood bath, but were thrilled by a 4-0 victory which left us on a high for at least a day afterwards. It was quite a lesson to my Superhero that life is not always predictable, upsets and surprises can happen, and it is fine for things to have unexpected outcomes.

Finally, I hadn’t quite appreciated the extent to which footballers are role models. At the Chelsea match there was a silence in memory of Sala, with the teams linking together. This act surprised my Superhero, but helped him see that despite different allegiances, it is possible to come together for a bigger cause. Regardless of playground banter, he realised that just because someone supports a different team or has a different view doesn’t mean that it is a bad thing. We also appreciated AFC Bournemouth’s community outreach. Their first team visited my Grandmother’s care home, leaving behind lots of supporter paraphernalia. On our next visit to see her, the staff gave my delighted Superhero an AFC Bournemouth branded alarm clock. Sadly, my Grandmother died at Christmas. However, having an AFC Bournemouth alarm clock from her former care home next to his bed is one of the things that seems to have helped my Superhero process his loss in a 6-year-old appropriate way.

As a working parent I have found it can be easy to encourage my tots to pursue interests with which I am familiar, or which fit comfortably within my schedule. However, I’ve been thrilled to see the valuable life lessons my Superhero has encountered through football, and I’ve been pleased to realise that I’ve been learning and benefiting in lots of different ways too.

Caroline is the proud mum of a 7 year old Disney Princess and a 5 year old Superhero. She is also a senior associate in the pensions team at a magic circle law firm where she tries to balances work and family life by mixing office and home-based working for four days over five days each week.

Category: A Citymother's Diary

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