Thursday 25 February 2016

Thumbs down parenting

You know when your child falls over, and you're not totally sympathetic about it?

Well that was me on Saturday. Littleboy 1 fell off his scooter in the park and hurt his thumb - and all I could do was yell at him.

First, let me explain the background. I am not always such a blatantly cruel and unfeeling mother. But, it was the same thumb that, late last year, he ended up having three stitches in at our local hospital, the result of an art room accident at school.

Bear with me. Now, this previous accident was (as far as I know) not his fault; it was just unfortunate. But it was very bad timing; a week before his latest piano exam, for which he'd been practising for for almost a year, and for which he was geared up, motivated and absolutely ready to take.

With his thumb in bandages, there was no way he could take the exam that week -- I tried to rearrange the date with ABRSM (the Associated Board, which oversees these things) but they were singularly unhelpful. So after a rather stressful couple of days we decided that we'd just have to accept it and postpone it until the next examination period - ie. March.

It was extremely difficult to keep up the momentum of dedicated practice, but over half term I'd persuaded him to work away at it until I felt he was definitely ready to take it again.

On Friday, he and his brother had been messing around on their scooters and I'd even warned him not to injure himself, with his exam coming up (not to mention a school trip and a ski trip at Easter). But of course it went in one ear and out the other -- as these things always do, with boys.

When he first fell over, he was wailing about his knee, so I wasn't overly worried -- I just thought it was him being dramatic, something to which he is rather prone. But then he mentioned his thumb and I am afraid I almost exploded. I simply could not believe that after all his hard work (and my hard work encouraging him) we were once again going to have to delay the exam. Or else - and this still might happen - he might take it and do badly - and not do himself justice. I know I should have given him a hug, but I am afraid I berated him for being so foolish and was singularly unsympathetic.

His thumb then swelled up like a balloon, and by Sunday morning his father was taking him off once again to A&E (or the ER, for American readers). By this point, my anxiety (and fury) levels were beginning to rocket. I kept trying to tell myself that in the grand scheme of things, it didn't matter (and yes, I am well aware that a missed piano exam is a really middle class first-world problem). But it just seemed so egregious that I had even warned him about this happening - and it still happened.

Thankfully the X-Ray revealed no breakage, but his thumb is still today black and blue and he's unable to play. The exam is in less than 2 weeks, so we're hoping it will be better by then, but he's lost valuable practice time.

I still can't quite believe it's the same hand - and who would have predicted that falling from a scooter would have resulted in a hand injury at all?

There have, since the weekend, been lots of hugs, and I'm lucky that he still seems to adore me and says I'm the best mother in the world - even though I'm not sure I deserve that accolade after the way I behaved.

Oh the things we go through as parents. Littleboy 1, if you read this when you're grown up, please forgive me, but know that it is only because I love you so much.

Tuesday 9 February 2016

The Battle Hymn of the Tennis Mother (or, why I shall never be Judy Murray)

My new philosophy?
The boys have been taking tennis lessons now for about 18 months, and about a year ago their coach got quite excited about Littleboy 1's progress. She suggested he join a new development squad she was setting up, and start to play proper matches and tournaments when the time was right.

Well, I'm not going to even pretend that he's an Andy Murray in the making, but he enjoys tennis and plays quite nicely, and did well in the squad. So, more recently we decided the time was right to enter him into an LTA mini tennis tournament. The coach felt he needed to play people better than him, rather than the same children (mainly younger) that he can comfortably beat at his weekly lesson.

So a few weeks ago we duly trekked off to the other side of London to this tournament, but the moment we arrived I realised that (as usual) I had done my classic thing of Not Taking It Quite Seriously Enough (TM). For a start, there were kids there with Proper Tennis Bags containing three different rackets, dressed in the kind of white jackets you might see Djokovic arriving on court in. Littleboy1, in his American soccer t-shirt, ratty fleece and racquet in a plastic holder, already looked out of place, and as I watched him knock up with some boys I realised immediately there was no way he would be able to beat anyone there.

To be fair, it was his first tournament and his LTA ranking was lower than that of anyone else there (your rankings improve as you play and win more matches). But I could tell that these boys were far more experienced, and had the kind of shots he just wasn't used to returning, having never played anyone that good (he's played me, but I am rubbish). Poor Littleboy 1 looked pretty frightened as he faced his first opponent -- a tiny child who served ace after unreturnable ace, and made short work of Littleboy1 's own serve-- and things didn't get much better after that.

Although by the end of the match he'd managed to notch a few games, he didn't beat anyone and it must have been pretty disappointing for him. But he was fairly stoic, and I did notice that he upped his game considerably towards the end so it must have been good experience. (Some of the other kids there took it all tremendously seriously, sobbing when they didn't win; he didn't do that).

But I am just not sure I could become a proper tennis mother, trotting off to tournaments like this every weekend.  I've got a lot of admiration for the likes of Judy Murray who must be so determined that their children succeed -- and she must feel pretty amazing when two of her sons are in a Grand Slam Final. However, I am well aware that most tennis mothers will never experience that feeling: only the gruelling competition, and the heartache of losing time and time again tempered only by a fleeting few victories.

And what if your child decides, at the age of 18, that they never want to pick up a tennis racquet again? And you've spent years of your life devoting Saturdays to standing around on the sidelines of tennis clubs in the drizzle (yes, tennis is a year-round sport, even in England).

We're not going to give up on it quite yet; he's going to try a slightly easier tournament next time, with people more his own level. We've also found a friend to play with who is slightly better but doesn't demolish him, and I think that will be good practice too.

But somehow I can't imagine that I'll be sitting up in the players' box at Wimbledon in ten years time, having my outfits scrutinized and appearing on Strictly Come Dancing. And that's absolutely fine with me.