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Sports Day: if motherhood is a race, I think I came last

June 6, 2011

Sometimes, I think that one of the best things about being an adult is that nobody can make you do sport any more. By ‘sometimes’, I mean ‘every school sports day’. As a child I dreaded sports day. In fact, I dreaded the whole summer term as far as sports (or, as they were known so inappropriately at my school, ‘games’) were concerned. Three months of compulsory athletics: three months of compulsory humiliation, culminating in Sports Day, when you got to be humiliated in front of the whole school and their parents. Even double potions with Snape maths with Dr. Schroeder would have been preferable.

Now that I have children of my own, Sports Day is an annual fixture to be faced once again. It has taken me several years to get over my residual horror of the day, but this year I finally managed to approach it with something approaching equilibrium. Our boys, bless their innocent little hearts, are still young enough to be enthusiastic about it, which helps. I do try very hard to let no hint of my own memories cloud their excitement. If they are cast in the same mould as their mother, they’ll learn soon enough anyway, while if they are lucky enough to take after their dad, they may even grow up to remember Sports Day as A Good Thing. Like the sportiest mum in the school, who turned to me with shining eyes in the middle of the prize-giving and exclaimed,

‘I just love Sports Day, it’s my favourite day of the year!’

I’m happy for her. Really, I am.

On Thursday, then, my younger son came home from school in high spirits. He is in his first year at school, so Sports Day really is something of an event for him. ‘Mummy,’ he said importantly, ‘there are lots of things to remember for Sports Day tomorrow. I’m going to write a list so that we don’t forget.’

And would you believe it, in addition to haws tee shrts (house t-shirts) they really did need their sun hats and sun cream; not to mention wortabotls, as it said on page two. Friday was gloriously sunny, cloudlessly hot all day. The boys had a lovely time, the elder (on half-term break from his own school) catching up with old friends and the younger managing a second place in one of his races. Daddy thoroughly enjoyed himself too: after acquitting himself admirably in the Parents’ Race, he bounced off to do a stint at the barbeque, helping a local organic farmer to serve up burgers and sausages to hungry athletes. Some of the other parents, meanwhile, were busy running cake stalls, tea stalls and a bar, or applying face paints and washable tattoos to little faces and arms.

Meanwhile, what was my contribution? Dear reader, I am heartily ashamed of myself. I failed to volunteer for anything. I could blame my antipathy to Sports Day; I could blame the bad patch I seem to have been in with the old brain injury. Both are probably contributors, but the fact remains that I am should have mucked in, and I didn’t. What I did do, prompted perhaps by a guilty conscience, was to make a mountain of extra-yummy flapjacks for the home-baking stall. At least, that was the plan… the afternoon before, I got out my mum’s fail-safe oaty flapjack recipe and quadrupled the usual quantities. I added a whole packet of dark chocolate chips. I poured in a heap of chopped roast hazelnuts for crunch. In went a pile of juicy raisins for succulence. Then I discovered that I’d nearly run out of golden syrup. Oh well, just put in what there is, it can’t make that much difference, even if it’s less than half what it should be. Now for the butter…no butter. Just as well there’s that old tub of ’emergency’ margarine at the back of the fridge, eh?

Well, you get the idea. Whether it was the cheap old margarine or the dearth of syrup, my flapjacks refused to set. I left them in the oven for twice, then three times, the allotted time, but they stubbornly remained as a tray full of glutinous, gooey gunge. In the end I decided to cut my losses and leave them in the oven until they turned into granola. I left them in the oven all night. Next morning: a tray full of glutinous, gooey gunge with a bit of a crust. I gave up. We are going to be eating gunge with yogurt, gunge with fruit, gunge with gunge for the next three months, I think.

(But seriously: how can you fail at flapjacks?)

On Sports Day, therefore, I turned up red-faced and empty handed. Next year I intend to volunteer for everything in sight, and I will (I will) get my baking done early and put in the freezer. Perhaps that way I might make it up a little to the hard-working mums, dads and teachers who made this year’s Sports Day such a success. And it was a success, a glorious one. Mum might have come last again, but all three of my boys and their friends had a very happy day. And that makes them the real winners.


There are some slightly more successful episodes of baking for/ with children recorded in ‘A-vast! (birthday cake, that is)‘  and in ‘Have a heart: Valentine’s Day cake‘.


19 Comments leave one →
  1. June 6, 2011 5:19 pm

    Oh, what a wonderful post! 🙂 You had me laughing out loud, DB, and also cringing in sympathy as (being asthmatic and having flat feet) I too hated games and Sports Day with a passion.

    I’m guessing that flapjacks, like most other recipes, have a limit to their tolerance of change . Enjoy your gunge – it sounds a bit like my last batch of Bara Brith (Welsh tea-bread) which cooked too quickly on the outside and proved to be distinctly under-done on the inside. We still ate it….. 🙂

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      June 6, 2011 7:01 pm

      I’m delighted to find some solidarity! and glad that you enjoyed reading. You gotta laugh…

  2. hmunro permalink
    June 6, 2011 6:09 pm

    Oh, dancingbeastie — how I empathize with your loathing of Sports Day. But as you so rightly observe, if there’s a bright side to adulthood, it’s that no one can force us to participate anymore. And go easy on yourself about those flapjacks. I have a theory about the recipes: The more at stake (i.e., the bigger the quantity or the more important the guest), the more likely the recipe is to fail. So I give you the highest marks for effort. Thanks for the laugh … I needed that.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      June 6, 2011 7:03 pm

      Yes, that’s it! The recipe theory, I mean. Normally I’m a fairly competent cook, honest. Happy to mess up, though, if it gives you a smile today. 🙂

  3. June 6, 2011 6:17 pm

    I hated any “games” too! And have never enjoyed any sport which surprised people when I took up riding and got my own horse, but bemused me as I didn’t consider that a “sport”!

    As for flapjacks – My name is Sian and my flapjacks have failed too….. I gave mine to the hens!

    I am constantly in awe of women who manage to have busy lives, need little sleep and throw together a table of “home bakes” without batting an eyelid. I’m not one of these women, but I have to say you probably are most of the time! I too know that feeling of inadequacy when my body and mind fail me and i’m left feeling guilty about my lack of contribution. But hey – someone needs to buy those homebakes so I’m sure you contributed in some way! And it has to be said, for little boys, the biggest contribution is to have Mum there watching their achievements and you did them proud on that score.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      June 6, 2011 7:15 pm

      Aw, thanks, Sian. Funnily enough I used to love riding too, and didn’t consider it a sport either. It probably helped a lot that it didn’t involve a team of other people to let down, nor a shouty P.E. teacher!

      I am delighted to have persuaded someone that I am secretly one of those competent types. I’m not convinced, myself, but I suppose pretending to be may be half the battle. Meanwhile, yes, I was very ‘supportive’ of the cake stall (for my family’s sake, you understand).

      I think I may need to get some hens.

  4. June 6, 2011 7:02 pm

    At first I thought your son had written “gun” as a requirement (till I realised he’d written “sun” twice, the second time with a corrupting line added to the “s”) It did make me wonder what kind of school he went to and whether perhaps grouse shooting was one of the events, hehe!

    My daughter’s sports day was today and it was very enjoyable, although much more low key than yours sounds – all organised by the school and no requirement for home baking, and it only lasted an hour.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      June 6, 2011 7:17 pm

      Eek, no! There are a fair number of children of ghillies and gamekeepers at our school, but grouse shooting is not yet on the Curriculum for Excellence! 🙂 Think I would prefer a sports day like yours, on the whole.

  5. Erika W. permalink
    June 6, 2011 7:27 pm

    As one who tried to move continuously to the end of the queue in gym, could not jump over the “horse” or climb a rope, I have such similar feelings. Swimming? I refused to put my head under water s and have always been contented with a queenly breast stroke.. I never loved my daughter more than on the day she went to her first swimming lesson at the YMCA It was taught by a family friend but this did not help. Anne, the teacher said brightly to the little ones “Now we will put our arms around our knees and sink to the bottom and you will bob right up again”. Felicity gave her a horrified look and scrambled hastily out of the pool to come and sit next to me on the bleachers. and that was the end of that. (She did teach herself to swim about 5 years later)

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      June 6, 2011 8:44 pm

      It seems to be one of life’s great divides, doesn’t it? Those who loved sport at school, and those who loathed it. Being lucky enough to have lived in a tropical climate for several years as a child, I loved swimming, but not the icy chlorinated wastes of the school swimming pool back in Scotland. Your daughter sounds extremely sensible. And good for her for teaching herself, in her own time. Most of us can find some sport that we enjoy doing in the end, as long as there isn’t a games teacher shouting at us for being rubbish at it.

  6. June 7, 2011 9:28 am

    Love those lists of first time writer’s. And the fingerprints all over 😉

    In our family it’s my husband who remembers school sports events with dread.
    He rather goes hiking, skiing or mountain biking. Stuff he can do while being in nature and in his own tempo without all that competition going on, and balls he needs to catch or kick.

    He has always looked in amazement, and with a fair amount of head shaking when he saw me diving cheerfully into a hockey or football game coming out with a highly red face and yet another set of bruises, gasping that “…it was such a nice/awful/exciting/wonderful/incredible/unfair game!”

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      June 8, 2011 10:52 am

      You and your husband must complement each other well, then! I must say I am definitely more the walking in the hills type than the hockey pitch type. It takes all sorts!

      Glad you like the list. I think it’s priceless. 🙂

  7. June 7, 2011 1:49 pm

    I miss many things about my children’s schooldays being nearly finished (1 more year to go), but sports day is not one of them. The sheer horror of sports day! And sports day in Scotland – I have never been more chilled to the marrow than on a sports day, despite dressing for the cold. What I like about their concentrating on music instead is that as a spectator I am always warm, nearly always comfortably seated, and always listening to something pleasant.

    And what is happening on the baking front? Is there a Midwich Cuckoos effect going on in the nation? I baked a cake for my husband’s 50th birthday yesterday. I pride myself on being a good baker, in the Scottish tradition, but yesterday’s sponge turned out like dense rubber. Perhaps it’s because I was chatting to home-from-university son while making it. My children observe that nowadays I tend to bake against the clock and while doing something else at the same time. I made a cake for our Royal Wedding day off, and managed to use pure bicarb of soda instead of baking powder. Into the bin went the finished article – it actually smelled poisonous. Its replacement was vaguely ok, but I managed to burn my arm on the oven when taking it out.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      June 8, 2011 10:59 am

      Your novel take on music as a spectator sport is very appealing!

      As for baking, I think your children have identified the problem. Multi-tasking just doesn’t make for good baking. I had to go back to basics with cakes last year after my sponges just got more and more leaden. I’d been cutting corners, in a rush. Lo and behold, if I sieve/ beat/ whisk/ fold everything properly, like the good old Vic. sponge recipe says, I can again produce cakes as good as those I made when I was a twelve-year-old with all the time in the world.

      Don’t know about Midwich Cuckoos, this is sounding a bit Stepford Wives. However, Saint Nigella (patron saint of neglected husbands) says that baking is a feminist act, so I wear my pinny with pride.


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