Proud dad

I’m home for the week again – trying out some night shifts actually which is a bit weird. The major revelation of these is finding just how many lights the wife has left on when I finally wake up around midday. It was enough to power Luxembourg on Wednesday, I tell ya. Such are the demands of the school run. Certainly being at home as term is in full flow has made me appreciate the extent of extra-curricular activities that are now taking place…

On top of brownies, there is now netball, youth club, jijitsu and zumba – yes, zumba for children – although that last one was cancelled this week.

Still it’s a hectic schedule, though we are very lucky to share the car ferrying with others in some cases. I more wonder sometimes if it is just too much for the kids.

I say kids – my son has opted out of all such activities that he qualifies for. He’s still only five and really just going to school is a long enough day for him. My daughter is seven and having given ballet the boot, she seems determined to do everything, actually willingly getting dressed in the appropriate attire for all these things which she would rarely do for her weekly Nutty Boys dancing class.

So when the ‘opportunity’ of going to yet another club/activity comes along, I am usually the first to shun it.

Prime candidate for this the other day had to be cross country. Cross country in primary school? We never had cross country in primary school. It was usually the ‘sport’ you did when you wanted to opt out of all the others, like rugby or cricket in my case. But that was in secondary school. No, the kids were far too young for cross country.

And yet my daughter wasn’t adverse to the idea, even though I did my bolshy, assertive ‘oh no, I don’t think we’re going to make that’ line when one of the parents asked, hastily ushering the kids in the direction of the car, whispering a ‘quick, run for it’ under my breath to them at the first sign of a clipboard with names on it.

Then I remembered the absolute farce that had been the ‘triangular’ sports day the other week, where the two other schools competing had shown up our kids something chronic. Did I really want to transfer my PE-shy attitude to life onto my children?

At the car I asked my daughter: ‘Would you like to go to the cross country?’ And, eyeing up some of her friends who were aleady en route, she said with a smile: ‘OK.’

It was a rush, of course, getting extra PE kit together and giving them something to eat before we set off, but we made it. Luckily with so many kids coming along and so many races for the different year groups, it was never going to start in time. My kind of extra-curricular activity in other words.

There were loads of kids there, from about eight different primary schools in the area, many of whom had transported the kids there in mini-buses, such is their enthusiasm for PE, a-hem.

The only problem was my boy. He didn’t want to take part and in fact there wasn’t even a race for his year group, but he didn’t even want to get out of the car. Because I’d had to park a fair few hundred yards away, I asked another mum to keep an eye on my girl and went to fetch him.

He’d already made a den out of the boot – and a mess of the rest of the car – and took some persuading and bribing and telling off, but eventually I literally managed to drag him to see his sister in action.

Indeed when we got there, the other mum told me: ‘she’s running at the moment, go and watch…’

So we did. About sixty kids in her year group were running around the field, running their hearts out as it turned out. You see, I may have considered cross country the easy option when I was in school, but it does actually involve running. What’s more when you are doing it in competition, as these kids were, you’re not just running, but you’re running as fast as you can.

My son and I looked out for her. Ten, twenty kids raced by. No sign. Another ten, and another. Then we were getting to the last remaining few. And there she was, my little girl, running her heart out and giving it her all. She looked back to see who was behind her and that was when I noticed the look on her face. There were tears forming and I knew exactly why. A mixture of the effort and exhaustion of racing, but mainly the disappointment of coming so far behind most of the others, despite the effort and exhaustion.

She finished 53rd. Knowing what she was thinking, I went up to her and swooped her into a cuddle.

‘Well done,’ I said. ‘You were amazing.’

‘But I came third from last,’ she said, really weeping now as she struggled to catch her breath.

‘It doesn’t matter,’ I said. ‘You gave it your best, you took part and you finished. That’s brilliant.’

It sounds like a string of cliches and she even gave me a kind of ‘ok, you’re just giving me cliches now’ sort of look. But they were true, each and every one of them.

As I said, you forget how exhausting running a cross country race can actually be, especially when you are thrown in it at the last minute, not really knowing what to expect. I don’t think I would have done at her age.

But she more than rose to the challenge. From the off, she ran that race to win it. She never once faltered, if anything she upped her game, even when she must have realised she had little chance of beating the others. She kept on going, she never gave up, instead she spurred herself on until the very end, even though the physical exertion of it all had clearly overwhelmed her. Third from last, doesn’t matter. She could have come last, half a mile behind the others, and she still would have been brilliant.

I know there are going to be lots of times in my daughter’s life where she’ll make me feel unbelievably proud: when she graduates, gets her first job, gets married, has children of her own, etc, all those incredible milestones to come.

But I suspect that at each and every one of them, I’ll think back to that moment when I saw her take part in her first cross country race and remember just how unconditionally proud of her I felt then. She may only have come 53rd, but boy that feeling is going to take some beating.

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