For those readers with children, you might be familiar with or recall a time when you stood on a pitch sideline and watched your child take part in some sport or another. This applies too to instrument players or singers; parents nestled in the audience watching a recital or a performance. The idea of mothers in rows fascinates me. After all, it was the mothers who were the starting point for my novel. My son changed schools when he was eight; in his first week as a new boy there was a swimming competition where all children competed. Parents were crammed in, that low-ceiling’ed, echoing bass of the swimming pool building, along with the smell of chlorine. I sat amongst the mothers and looked about the sea of faces and recognised barely one child. These contemporaries of my sons would become his trusted friends. It’s a strange thing when your child is at a school. Their group of peers will become your yardstick for most things over the course of about ten years. Ties to them may stay long after their time at that school has ended and your child has moved on. And the mothers, who you will stand next to daily, will become part of your life in a way you could scarcely imagine when you had a newborn baby.
Now I am seasoned, the school mothers have been a part of my life for over ten years and amongst them I have made some deep and lasting friendships. I have also observed the human condition in all of its intricacy; the plight of divorce, illness, the joy of younger siblings, success and failure, the gaining of jobs and money and the loss of them too. I take my place on the sideline, be it football or rugby or hockey and I stand there conversing. If you were to watch us what a curious sight we’d make. A distinct community of clones for in time, school mums all morph into looking the same, there’s a unspoken uniform. We look out to the pitch, standing in a line and the conversation ebbs and flows as dogs sit patiently, where mud is a regular feature. We rarely make eye contact as we are there to watch the game, so it’s hard to gauge the body language and occasionally we break from form and look to each other, laughing maybe and our kids probably think we haven’t been watching them all along. It always happens right at the time they score a goal or make a break. In some schools this rigamarole is a twice-a-week endeavour; Wednesdays and Saturdays. The working mothers can’t generally make it midweek but occasionally do. The stay at home mothers treat it like a job. This is the mother’s equivalent to the coffee machine in the office. Fascinating and curious and the basis of so much book material I could hardly detail it here!
Maybe because they know this they regard me with suspicion, my friends often joke: ‘you could put this in the book!’ and I wonder if they think that would be a good outcome or a bad one? To recognise oneself in print? It all depends I suspect.
I wonder now what will happen when these days of match and play watching will end? Will there be a void? What has become the underpinning to the mother’s week will start to float away as teenagers say they’d rather their parents didn’t watch or stop playing altogether. And after that, what? They go to university and parents visit for Sunday roasts or to move them in and out of whichever student house? Where will the mother’s stare rest then? Not to mention the time when there’s no real reason to visit – maybe until there are grandchildren? This future of mine spirals ahead in a blur because – a bit like when you have a new born – I can’t even envisage what that will feel like. The parental journey keeps its allure by providing an never-ending series of outcomes that you hadn’t expected. As one of my very clever mother friends said; parents are always in catch-up mode, their children are and will always be at least five steps ahead. Often what is ahead is what simply has not occurred to us yet.