Well, I’ve officially moved into an exciting new phase of parenting: attending school swimming “meets”.
By ‘attending’ I mean standing proud on the side-lines, pretending to be calm when in fact am sweating buckets at the sight of Florence trying to keep up in the freestyle against kids nearly twice her age, whilst simultaneously I’m being watched by other more seasoned onlookers, with dozens of these outings notched up, and who seem to view me as “fresh meat” at which to be mocked.
I am already looking forward to doing the same next year and turning the tables.
Hosting children’s play-dates and organising birthday parties have been my bread and butter for a while, however, with competitive intra-school races now on the agenda, we are entering truly ‘embarrassing Dad’ territory…
Flo did great in the end. For posterity, and for my archives, she got a third place in one team relay, a fifth place in another and she then came fifth and sixth in her freestyle and breast-stroke respectively (I anticipate my eagerness to capture her positions at future competitions may wane slightly, but for now am reveling in the novelty of the occasion.)
From the outset, her attitude seemed way too zen for a six year old: “it doesn’t matter if I don’t win, Daddy”, she explained to me over breakfast this morning. A breakfast, I should note, that incorporated cereal + toast + fruit + boiled eggs (mainly as Martha enjoys using our new egg slicer, but also because I was thinking to myself that eggs would provide some valuable protein for the swimming later on.)
“Of course if doesn’t matter, darling” I naturally responded, whilst also going on to impart my own sage advice to Flo, as she was brushing her teeth, “don’t forget to kick your legs hard,” I offered, in-between her spitting out toothpaste and then arguing with her sister about who had the nicest smelling breath, “…you might think you are kicking hard, but you can always kick harder if you try,” I went on, “…swimming is a bit like golf, because there are so many things to remember, and all are important….but really, really important, is to kick your legs. Really hard.”
I actually said all that. Quite in earnest and also in the hope that she’d remember me and my wisdom as she hit the water.
“Smell my breath, Daddy, does it smell nicer than Martha’s?”
At which point I left the bath-room. To adjudicate a breath smelling competition between my children, at the moment of delivering such flawless technical advice, seemed just a tad undermining to the advice itself.
In truth, it worries me imagining the type of embarrassing parent-coach I’d turn into if either of my daughters seriously pursue competitive sports. As it happens, they already argue with the conviction of Luis Suarez each morning about whose turn it is to press the lift button outside my apartment, and so competition seems alive and well and kicking (or biting) in them both.
And so for those reasons I intend to use this particular post as a reminder to myself not to morph into ‘that’ side-line Dad.
You know the caricature in question: the one you encounter at football matches, hockey jamborees or swimming tournaments, fired up and injecting the field of play with a pendulum like regularity of what I am sure he takes to be “words of encouragement” but which, actually, thunder around everyone else’s ears as military style verbal nuggets of warfare: “faster, son! – smash that thing!! – take his legs off!!! – ruuuuun!!!!”
And so forth.
I was chatting to a friend recently about this, and heard back that some year’s ago his father had actually been banned from entering no less than three sports complexes by the school management, due to his vociferous offerings every Saturday afternoon watching his sons playing football. “Just take him OUT” being one of his signature lines.
In any case, who knows what it is that my girls will turn their hands to in the future? It’s all to come and I’m fairly certain, whatever it is, they will give it their best and the only real nerves and apprehensions to manage will be mine.
Judging by the recent Halloween dress-up-at-school day photo below, my bet would be that, in addition to swimming, mastering the art of ‘showing off’ may also end up being more than just a passing interest for Florence and Martha…