There seems to be a new landscape at home. I don’t know – you go away for a couple of weeks and everything changes.
For one, the wife has tidied up the house – it is no longer DS1’d. Things are where they should be; the sofa, for instance, isn’t in the middle of the lounge with an assortment of musical instruments stashed behind it – backstage, apparently.
For two, the boy is charming, articulate, chatty, smiley, and completely accepting that I had to go away and of the reasons why I had gone.
In my absence, the wife fashioned some semblance of normality to the household; one where we even all eat together at the same table – without it kicking off.
DS1 has been trying new foods, and even liking them, as I discovered when he reached for the mustard pot.
Sterling work on her part. Or maybe it’s just because Santa is imminent and he’s making sure his sack will be bulging.
The first weekend I was away, however, it didn’t sound like things were going to go so well.
“I’m not leaving the house all weekend,” DS1 informed the wife early doors.
“Well, if you want a Christmas tree we’ll have to pop out and get one,” she countered.
“Ohhhhh,” he moaned, “can’t you just order one from Amazon.”
On my return, as we were walking to school, I asked him if it had been fun having just him and his mum in the house.
“Yes, there’s been no shouting,” he replied.
Hmmm, note to self: go away more often… I mean, try to remain calm at all times.
Football’s coming home
Prior to my trip to Tanzania, DS1 expressed an interest (once more) in going to football training with a local team that is run by the dad of one of his school friends and for which a lot of his mates play.
We’ve been here before, but when it has come to actually going he has bottled it. But this time I detected a bit more determination in his eyes.
But as training day came around, he started to wobble.
“Are you worried about training?” I asked. I’m very perceptive, you know.
“Do you still want to go to training?” I enquired.
“OK. Is it that you don’t know what is going to happen at training?”
“Would you like me to speak to [the manager] and find out what you’ll be doing?”
He nodded, again.
“OK, when we next see Mr M I’ll ask him… But you could also talk to your friends about what they do.”
As it happened we were walking home with a couple of them, so he jogged off to chat with them.
As we walked, I could hear them excitedly talking about training, and it sounded like his mates were made up that DS1 would be joining them.
“So,” I said, after we’d got home, “did you find out about what they do in training?”
“No, they didn’t really know.”
No wonder English kids are failing to breakthrough in the Premier League. Pay attention lads. Pay attention!
Go on, my son
The next day, I collared the team manager on the way to school. I told him that DS1 was a tad apprehensive about training and so he patiently explained, with DS1 in earshot, exactly the type of exercises and drills he would be taking the boys through the following evening.
“That’s good,” I said to DS1,” now you know what you’ll be doing. Does that make you feel happier?”
“Yes,” he concurred.
Phew, the first hurdle had been jumped. Now I just had to get him there.
Two hours before training was due to start, I got the first “Is it time to go yet?”
“Erm, not yet.”
“Ohhhh,” he sighed, going back to kicking a ball about as he practiced for his big night.
He was noticeably becoming more anxious as kick-off approached.
“Can we go yet?” was being asked approximately every 93 seconds.
“We don’t want to get there too early,” I reasoned, “because we will just be standing around in the cold on our own.”
Then I realised – I’m quite quick on the uptake sometimes – he wanted to get there early so he could get used to the new surroundings before it got too busy.
“Right, ok, let’s go,” I announced, and we duly arrived 20 minutes before everyone else.
But, it served its purpose. We were able to go onto the pitch and he could run around and take it all in. I could see he was starting to relax and feel comfortable. We hadn’t had to rush to get there and he now knew what it was like and where everything was.
I then sought to enhance his confidence by talking about what the training session had in store for him.
“So, you know what you will be doing, because Mr M explained it all didn’t he?”
“Not really,” he answered, contritely.
“Didn’t you understand what he said?” I asked.
Oh. So I went over the various exercises that he would be doing, watching as his eyes glazed over.
In the vain hope that it would help, I added: ‘”I’m sure it will all make sense once you’re doing it.”
Thankfully, the others started to arrive and he was off and running.
Usually, when I’ve watched him play football in a team environment before, he stands on the periphery, berating his teammates for lack of effort. Pot and kettle.
But this time he threw himself into it; even doing what he was instructed to do at times.
I had thought to tell the coach that DS1 may struggle with focus and that he’d need to keep him in check, but I thought I’d just let him be for the first session to see how it went.
I needn’t have worried. He fitted right in. None of the kids paid much attention to instructions and they were all running around very much on their own agendas. This stiffened my resolve never to take my coaching badges.
In between throwing himself to the ground for no apparent reason on several occasions, DS1 found time to score his first goal – courtesy of a goalkeeping error it must be said.
But what was really heartwarming was his friends running the length of the pitch to mob him. Even those that weren’t in his team.
Later, he dropped his left shoulder and swerved past an opponent as if he wasn’t there. He can actually play. He’ll never be Messi, but there is a competent footballer hiding behind the anxiety.
In the final minutes, he controlled a ball on the edge of the box, swivelled on a sixpence and buried it in the corner. It may just have been a training session, but I have never felt so proud.
“Get in, my son,” I shouted – actually at my own son, rather than at a multi-millionaire Belgian who clearly isn’t my son.
He’s behind you
In between my trips, I had the pleasure of seeing the boy perform in the school panto.
On the way to school on the day of opening night (or rather, opening morning) there was no sign of nerves. He appeared confident, content that he knew what he had to do and when. A far cry from previous years when he has been struck with stage fright and refused to take part.
As I watched the play, I could see this little face (with a policeman’s helmet attached to the top) at the back of the stage, bobbing up and down, as he moved props on and off the set.
Then, when his big moment came in Act 2, he flew onto the stage, delivered his dance moves and opened and shut his mouth in all the appropriate places, before putting Aladdin in the biggest handcuffs I’ve ever seen, drawing a plastic gun out of his pocket (how did that get in there? A pistol certainly wasn’t in the costume guidelines) and pointing it at the hero’s head as he escorted him off the stage.
In the grand finale, he spotted me in the audience and kept shooting the gun at me. I’ll take it as a term of endearment.
An unmitigated triumph, newspaper reviews would have screamed. One that was undoubtedly partly down to the wife having to endure a complete rehearsal of the play (on more than one occasion) performed by his good self and a supporting cast of drawings.
I believe more time was spent trying to find the paper characters than performing the actual play itself.
“It takes a while to gather the cast for each scene,” the wife texted, confirming that fact.
DS1 also – having been on a school trip to the local pantomime in between performances of his own play – threw himself into writing a script for his own version of Aladdin.
“Brilliant,” I said to the wife.
“Believe me, it’s not,” she replied.