“Dad, can we play football?”
“Sure, but I won’t be able to save many because, remember, I hurt my arm when I fell down the stairs yesterday.”
(I’d missed my footing trying to avoid a Match Attax card that was lurking on the top step.)
“Yes, I know.”
“Oh, you know do you? Only you didn’t come and see if I was OK.”
“Erm, well… I had better things to do,” he informed me, “… and I knew you weren’t dead.”
Mind you, if I had been I’m sure that wouldn’t have made any difference. When he’s in the middle of something, there’s no interrupting him and, after all, what would I have been able to do about it?
Football is back at the forefront of DS1’s obsessions – just as the season is coming to a close and the weather has turned warm. Football is his go to obsession when he’s between others – and we are currently in a lull after the all-consuming Romans and family trees. Hopefully it will continue through to this summer’s World Cup, and I can watch the games in relative peace.
Match Attax are once again being used as a carpet covering, lists of games and squads litter the house and Chelsea DVDs are on repeat on the tellybox.
The other day, he’d even dug out highlights of the 1994 and 1998 World Cups – I didn’t even know that one was lurking in our dust-covered DVD cupboard. Before I knew it we were out in the garden re-enacting those tournaments, as DS1 assumed the characters of long-retired, and even dead, footballers that until then he’d never even heard of.
While everyone else was out enjoying the Bank Holiday sunshine, I was ‘locked’ inside helping DS1 compile team sheets of various nationalities who have played for Chelsea – Chelsea England, Chelsea Africa, Chelsea France and so on.
Any suggestions to go outside and enjoy the unusually sunny weather were repeatedly knocked back. Eventually, eight squads completed and the quarter-final draw made, he was ready to hit the garden.
At one point we were playing Chelsea France v whoever (how am I supposed to remember?) – the match supposedly taking place in a southern France city – when he uttered a line I never thought I’d hear anyone say, let alone an eight-year-old: “Marcel [Desailly] and Marseille, that’s a homophone.”
After Googling what one of those was, I had to concede that while it may not be in the strictest sense, it was quite amusing – albeit not as hilarious as the guffawing re-enactor thought it was.
When yes means I don’t know
Every given moment now, he is in the garden kicking a ball around – with or without me; he’s so obsessed I don’t even need to be there. But the other evening something spooked him. I don’t know what, but he couldn’t bring himself to tell me or go and do what I thought it was obvious he wanted to do – play football in the garden.
The walk home from school went well enough. We even stopped for an ice cream on the way home, and had one of our man-to-boy chats, just the two of us in a coffee shop. He seems to relax and open up more in this environment for some reason. But as soon as the last bite of his cone has been consumed he wants out of there, whether I’ve finished or not.
Once home he even did his homework straight away. Then things started to turn. He wasn’t sure what to do with himself. I volunteered some suggestions, which were either greeted with silence, a screwed up face or a resounding “No”.
“So, what do you want to do then?” Knowing it was football, but also thinking I could really do with him doing that on his own while I do some work.
“I dunno, but I want to do something with you.”
“That’s fine,” I said. “I’ll go and do some work and when you’ve worked out what you want to do come and find me.”
I headed to the lounge with my laptop. He followed, leaning over me as I wrote, watching what I was doing. Luckily I was writing about Malawi, not him, but it was very distracting all the same. He still couldn’t say what it was he wanted to do.
He started prancing around the lounge, jumping on and off the sofa, kicking the cushions on to the floor and throwing bits of paper about.
“Have you decided what you want to do yet?” I asked, trying to stem the chaos.
“You know what I want to do.”
“I don’t.” Haven’t we been here before on other occasions?
“I told you what I want to do.”
Then he ran off, slamming every door he went through on the way back to his room.
A few minutes later he returned.
“Are you able to tell me what it is you want to do yet?”
“You know,” he exclaimed, hiding his head under the wife’s snug rug (don’t ask).
“I don’t or I wouldn’t be asking you. But, if you have told me then I’m sorry I didn’t hear you – or I wasn’t listening properly – so can you repeat what you said.”
“OK, I said ‘yes’.”
“Yes to what?”
“You asked me what I said and I said ‘yes’.”
“What did you say ‘yes’ to?”
“I don’t. Please can you tell me what I said that you said ‘yes’ to?”
He disappeared again, slamming all the doors again and locking himself in the toilet.
I coaxed him out and we played this little charade for a while longer, my frustration beginning to show itself in terms of voice volume.
“JUST TELL ME WHAT YOU SAID ‘YES’ TO!”
“I can’t remember,” he whimpered.
The final curtain
He started running around the room again, jumping repeatedly over my outstretched legs. He couldn’t keep still. He was manic.
“Let’s try and turn all your energy into something positive,” I said. “Let’s go and kick a ball around to get rid of your frustrations.”
No response. His mad circling of the room continued, before he moved towards his bedroom door, making as if to slam it.
“Punch a pillow rather than slam doors,” I screamed. I’m clutching at straws now.
I then not so calmly suggested he calmed down. It didn’t work.
I regroup. “Shall I go through the suggestions again and you can just nod or shake your head to each one?”
“OK, but I can’t remember which one I said ‘yes’ to.”
Every time I made a suggestion of what he could do, he hid behind the curtain. I took this to mean ‘no’.
I took a deep breath, and tried to distract him by suggesting we put his latest set of paintings from Create Club up on the wall. This did the trick and slowly the mania subsided.
“Right, wipe your mind clear, forget about everything I suggested before and the fact you can’t remember what you said ‘yes’ to. And let’s just start again.”
He concurred. “Just say them all and I’ll decide which one I like best,” he advised.
Great idea. I reeled off a list of potential activities.
“Football,” he said, but not convincingly.
“Are you sure?”
“Well, I like all of [the suggestions], but football is the best one.”
I shook my head in disbelief and followed him out into the garden.
Calm was restored, and the rest of the evening went swimmingly, he even tried (and admitted to liking) a previously untried pasta dish. I was even allowed to read a Tom Gates book to him – a series previously reserved only for the wife, which was a real sign of him moving on. Taking the pessimistic view, however, it does mean I’m well and truly back in the reading driver’s seat.
When it comes to going to sleep, though, he couldn’t settle, preferring to imitate a mouse instead. “Stand and give me your cheese,” he shouted, then made the most horrendous screechy mouse sound he could muster. It sounded more like a yapping terrier, but more than annoying all the same.
I extricated myself from his room, only to hear more strange sounds emanating from upstairs.
This cacophony culminated in five minutes of him continuously shouting: “Whacky, weird whales”. Or is that Wales?
Then silence – it was all quiet on the Western Front.