Monday, March 23, 2009

Why I'm not a Soccer Mum

By all rights, I ought to be. I was born and raised in a city obsessed with soccer, Liverpool in the north of England.
I was an avid supporter of the reds, Liverpool F.C and I was living in the 'glory days' when Liverpool was always at the top of the league and spare a thought for the poor person who had to polish all the silverware in the trophy room!
At the age of ten, much to the horror o
f my mother, I changed the colour scheme of my room from pink to red, covering every wall with all the posters of the team and individual players I had collected.
My dad was amused and rather delighted I think; I had inherited his passion for football. He didn't go to the games, preferring to watch 'Match of the Day' from the comfort of his armchair. I was allowed to stay up late when a Liverpool match featured and we would cheer and yell and jump out of our seats whenever Liverpool scored a goal. We did a lot of leaping in those days!
I was about 16 when I realized my dream to attend a game at Anfield. What an atmosphere! The unique sense of hum
our that Liverpudlians are known for, was in full operation. It was almost as entertaining as the game itself, which I do remember Liverpool won.

I stopped following Liverpool when I married a New Zealander and moved to his home country which is consumed with another football code - rugby union. There was no soccer on television which meant I had soon lost touch with the game, though my dad, when he was alive, would update me on their progress when we spoke on the phone.

My husband supported his national tea
m, the All Blacks and enjoyed watching their games as well as provincial rugby. I was totally ignorant of this game but because I enjoyed the company of my husband, I would sit down to watch the games, quizzing him on the rules and it wasn't long before I too, was leaping off the sofa, this time yelling 'try!' instead of 'goal!'

When our first born, a son, turned five, something extraordinary was happening in NZ - soccer was growing in popularity. Parents concerned about potential injuries from rugby were signing up their children for the 'World Game' in droves.
We were keen for our son to play a
team sport and he was soon wearing a soccer jersey and running onto the pitch each Saturday.
The following season, rugby was add
ed to the scenario and suddenly, our lives were super-busy and our petrol bill super-size. We lived in a rural area which meant traveling a 100 km round trip for each game.
There were other activities too; swimm
ing lessons, ballet lessons for the two little girls that had joined our family, homeschool support groups, church activities - our car was clocking up the kms and I was clocking up the stress. We were running a dairy farm which is exceptionally demanding and in addition to trips to town for children's activities, I was often called on to go to the vets or farm supply store for an urgent requirement. My home was suffering, simply because I was not home to attend to housework or do laundry and this was a mammoth task on a farm with dirty overalls to wash and now I had sports gear which sometimes included all the team jerseys!

I was becoming tired, irritable and losing motivation. My intentions were good, I wanted my children to have social contact and enjoy the physiological benefits that exercise provides. I needed to
assist my husband with the farm, and the bookwork, visits to the accountants, vets and supply stores saved him valuable time but I was aware that all the extra-curricular activities were now detrimental to my life at home and my role as a wife and mother; something had to give.

The first to go was soccer, I was no longer officially a soccer mum. I continued as a rugby mum for one season when we moved to Australia and although we didn't have the demands of a dairy farm to contend with, playing rugby involved extensive travel on the east coast for away games plus an extra night for practice. Our new car was now clocking up kms and there were more trips to town, swimming lessons for younger children and gymnastics to replace the ballet lessons.

Each of these activities in themselves are not the problem, there are many benefits to be gained, rather it is the number of activities we allow ourselves to become involved in and the scheduling of sports which can become an issue. Most are after school, starting at 4pm and finishing at 5pm. This meant a drive home in rush hour traffic and it was interfering with an important family tradition - dinner time. There wasn't time to cook a nourishing meal and we were opting for the convenience of processed 'throw on the oven tray' type food and sometimes takeaways - not good for our bodies, kind of defeats the purpose of the exercise!

Today we are home more than we are out of the house. Life is less hectic and we are healthier because I'm not on the road and I have time to prepare wholesome, home-cooked meals from scratch with fresh ingredients from our own gardens.

The rugby was given up when my son decided he didn't really enjoy the game or the atmosphere in the dressing room, he hated the constant swearing and this was only under 13's!

The gymnastics also came off the weekly schedule. It was a huge class and they didn't receive much individual tuition, all the smaller classes were full. I realized that many of the activities, climbing, rolling, balancing and even somersaults, the children were already competent at. They had trees to climb and fallen logs make great balance beams. Our natural gymnasium offered extra benefits, zero fuel consumption, fresh air and it was free to join!
Swimming lessons continued until I felt that the children were competent and safe in the water.

But what about social contact? Well, when other children visit us, guess where they play? Outside! doing physical activities - trampolining, running, riding bikes and if dad is around to supervise, a special treat - archery practice!

No a helicopter did not drop him off! 'Goanna boy' scaled this boulder!

A balance beam in God's gymnasium with an awesome view!

We have now found a sport that fits in with our family's lifestyle and values. It's ice skating! There are no frozen ponds around here but we do have an ice rink in a nearby city. The children joined the skate school after a trial lesson produced some amazing results - they could all skate and they loved it. The lessons are for all ages, a wonderful family-integrated sporting activity. They were learning alongside other children, teenagers, adults and even a couple in their 70s! Don't you admire such courage? I prefer to stay off the slippery stuff, they definitely did not inherit any good balance genes from me!
The skate lessons are on a Saturday morning, it's the only day I usually drive into the city and I'm home by lunch time. I am able to fit in my grocery shopping as Aldi opens at 8am, less shoppers at that time means I do my shop in 20 minutes and there is another bonus but I have to go in earlier - garage sales! I don't go to garage sales every week, maybe once a month but this is where I shop for clothes saving extra trips to the mall.
Having all the children enrolled in the same activity brings other benefits - a family discount and one trip which combines all our town needs is saving us in fuel and reducing this family's carbon footprint.

Ice skating has been part of our family life for a number of years. In that time the children have become excellent skaters, progressing through the levels to advanced and beyond. They love receiving the triangular badges which are awarded for each level. My eldest son has given up the skating to pursue his love of surfing but the girls are continuing for as long as possible and my youngest son 'speedy gonzalez' is an awesome skater who shows great promise. The twins have also started their lessons and at three are already attempting spins, one can already skate backwards and I can't even stand up on the ice! I'll share more about our life at the ice rink in future posts.

I am happy to spend the rest of my week at home, though we do have a midweek trip to our local small town, a ten minute drive for a library visit and to shop local for organic pantry staples .
Occasionally, on the weekends we will meet friends for coffee after church or we'll go for a swim at the river. We are blessed with beautiful beaches a short drive away and the two older children will go for a surf and the younger siblings will paddle or play in the sand. It's another opportunity to combine exercise and family time together. I'd much rather be here than on the sideline of the soccer field in winter, dreading another long drive home.

But perhaps, you are a soccer mum who enjoys the atmosphere of the soccer field where you meet other mums and your children play what is, after all, a great game (I'm from Liverpool remember!) You may live in town and don't even need to drive to the ground. You enjoy the walk to and from the park, the company of your children, tired and excited from the game. They are exhilarated, their team won or maybe they need commiseration - their team lost. This is your family time and it's a good thing.

However, if you are starting to feel burdened, as if you are never home, always on the road, a driver rather than a mother, losing patience with toddlers who are understandably cranky from being confined to car seats for long periods, in order to transport older children to yet another practice. You don't have time to prepare meals, the fast food and fuel is blowing the family budget. Then it's time to take a deep breath, to slow down, stop and consider 'Is there a better way?'

Are there too many extra curricular activities in the weekly routine?
Are they scheduled at inappropriate times?
Is there something that can be dropped?
Do the children really enjoy the game they play?
Is there an activity that all the children can join in on the same day? OK I know the boys will refuse the netball but there are many activities which may be suitable for both boys and girls. Think outside the usual codes or popular games.
Can extra time for outside play at home provide many of the physical and social benefits you are paying money for?

For those who are planning to overhaul their hectic lifestyles, there is a great book I would recommend. It's challenging and insightful. It is 'In Praise of Slow' by Carl Honore. He addresses many areas of life - work, home, play, recreation and shares many real life anecdotes of people who came to the same realization - that they needed to slow down. And this is his exhortation, the essence of his book, 'Slow down!'

He says 'Bucking the hothouse trend can be nerve-wrecking. Parents who allow their children to slow down invariably suffer from the nagging fear that they may be short-changing them. Even so, more and more are taking the plunge.'

He reminds us that children 'are not born obsessed with speed and productivity - we make them that way.' He makes the case for unstructured play and informs us that it is not ' a ballet lesson or a soccer practice.' 'It is digging for worms in the garden'... 'building castles with lego'... 'or just gazing out the window.'

Carl Honore pleads with us to 'rescue the next generation from the cult of speed' by 'reinventing our philosophy of childhood'.

I am pleased to join that rescue mission and would invite others to join me. You can still be a soccer mum, a 'backyard soccer' mum (or dad) and who knows you might get asked to play too! In stepping off the sideline, you will rediscover the joys of staying home and simply being a mother or a father, rather than doing all the activities you have been led to believe that parents should do. You will not always be 'confined to barracks'; there will still be 'town time' for the sports you truly love (as we love our ice skating) and for family holidays and trips to the park or the beach for games of cricket. This is where we go for games of cricket; hit a six here at Eight Acres of Eden and the ball is lost forever in the undergrowth and it's a lot more fun retrieving a ball from the ocean than crawling under prickly vines!
And I do hope you will find as we have, life is wonderful when you slow down.
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A Bite of Country Cupcakes said...

Such a great post and so much that could've been written from my heart!

Dalinz said...

It really is true that if mum is stressed so is the rest of the family. Now that you are not, neither is your family. Love the post. Excellent writing.
Cheers Damaris

SF said...

Another wonderful post!! So affirming of all that I believe in. :0) I just love to be home, and so do my children. :)

Unknown said...

I really enjoyed this post. I can totally relate to being careful not to overdue things outside the home. I can't seem to find the middle ground!! Lately, as in the last 5-10 years or so I find I am home ALL the time. It's not unusual to only leave the house for church on Sunday. Most of the time I like it this way but there are those days when mama has to go somewhere!! Anywhere!

Have fun on those skates. That is what I gave up after my twins were born 12 years ago. Growing up I was a competitive figure skater and I coached it for a while in between babies. But after babies 8 and 9 came along at the same time that did it for me. I don't think I've been back on the ice since!


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