Competing for recognition. Teenage twins battle it out in the pool and on the track.

Early on our children realised, unconsciously or not, that it would be a good idea to do different sports from one another. One snowy Sunday aged 3 1/2 he decided to try out at her ballet class. Dressed in blue and white striped pyjamas he gave it a go. Disaster. It was no fun at all for her to have her class invaded by her pesky brother. After that she never went to ballet again, the teacher had spent too much time praising her twin, she just couldn’t go back with or without him. So years later she took up competitive swimming, and he football later adding athletics and cricket into the mix.

Today he is utterly fed up that she won’t recognise him for his successes on the track. After the first race she couldn’t hide how impressed she was, asking him about his times, his splits and for how long he led. But now she’s not quite so vocal.

She’s fed up because he no longer congratulates her on her victories in the pool.

I think this is nonsense, he’s swift to praise when she comes home clunking a medal or brandishing a new personal best and she’s quite good at patting him on the back. But it doesn’t matter what I think, or what we say, it’s what they think that counts.

Urgh, how to encourage both children to be generous. Normally they get on pretty well, but of course as siblings they’ve got the ability to really annoy and persecute one another. We can’t draw on much experience as parents as neither of us enjoyed many podium moments when we were growing up (but I did win my first event at Durham Regatta many decades ago and I did get a medal for my Aspire swim the length of the channel swim…).

I know we don’t get recognition for many things in life, but boy does it taste sweet when you do. Whether you’ve won a new piece of business, a project you’re involved in has made a mark, or you’ve scored a new job – when people comment and notice it makes you glow, doesn’t it. When you get a medal or a gong or something more it’s all the better. I am so proud of being able to wear my British Swimming lanyard at galas now when I officiate (what?! well it shows I’ve spent hours poolside enough time swotting over the rules to qualify as a junior judge).

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I fear social media makes us crave recognition, be it a like or a share or a retweet, all the more.

This post was gestated in the glorious steel lined tank of Parliament Hill Lido where the water’s up to 15’C now but no one else seems to have cottoned on that it’s warm enough to give you that #FridayFeeling

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A week in the sea – in Crete – with jammy dodgers for post swim breakfasts

Oh the excitement of returning to a holiday destination. When the almost teenager says, ‘Ah I can feel the relaxation’ as she stands at the door of the aircraft, looking out across the runway, after we land. There’s none of the trepidation – will they like it, what’ll the food be like – instead the utter delight and anticipation of the return. At the hotel we are welcomed as friends by the all Greek staff. ‘How you have grown you teenagers! What can we get you? Some pasta, a pizza?’ It’s 11pm and they stay on til we are fed.

Looking out from our rooms at the dark sky studded with stars, and the darker sea beneath which we can hear gently lapping at the sandy shore. Oh thank you Hotel Ammos. Now at last the children have their oh so coveted Instagramable views…. and we have the foreign escape without cooking or washing up that we’ve been counting down to for the past year. And the breakfasts we have been dreaming of.

Homemade jammy dodgers and a slice of cucumber for breakfast, anyone?
Homemade jammy dodgers and a slice of cucumber for breakfast, anyone?

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One night we swam in the sunset. It was like no other swim. The village was backlit by the rapidly descending sun, and floating on our backs, toes to the orange orb of the sun, our feet were silhouetted amidst an almost oily sheen of deep orange and burnt pink. On the shore the wet slopes of sand were on fire, illuminated in a deep amber before each frothy wave wiped the surface clean again. No phones, no photos, instead a memory etched into our brains.

Here I swam for me and not my Aspire Challenge. No more was I swimming to clock up the metres and miles, in the quest to swim the distance across the English Channel in aid of the spinal injury charity Aspire. Having said I’d do my distance outside, it seemed a bit wimpish to finish it off in the warm waters of the Med rather than in the chilly depths of the lido.

There’s a rocky outcrop to the side of the bay, perhaps a 45 minute round trip, so twice I swam and swam and swam out to it and back for breakfast. Other days the sea was choppy and we decamped to another bay where we swam across its glassy surface.

I’ve escaped into books. Elizabeth Laird’s Welcome to Nowhere – so apt to be reading about an every day Syrian family whose lives were utterly transformed by the advent of fighting, to learn of prejudice and injustices, and hardships of refugee camps – and then to go into the local town and see migrants busking and selling toys and to wonder where they had travelled from and about the lives they’d left behind. And then to disappear into the depths of Amy Liptrot’s The Outrun. A book steeped at first in the buzz and furious pace of urban life and then in the wilds of the Orkneys, with snorkelling amongst seaweed, winds so strong caravans are tied down with concrete blocks, and enormous personal challenges. Lying on a beach in Crete it made me long for Mull, for Eigg and to return to our family’s, and my own, adventures there.

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As wave jumping replaced swimming, and the four of us played amidst the breakers in the warm drizzle, sometimes being swept up washing machine style in the waves, I realise we’re quitting Crete ahead. It has given us three magical half terms, dashing from the sea to the shower to the pool, spent in the water, stuck into books, sometimes into phones but also united around the table playing fiercely competitive games of cards. The bar’s been raised high as we start to look for another destination offering warmth, water, delicious food and a welcome as good as Hotel Ammos’s.

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As we departed from Crete we spotted a submarine in the waters beside the runway. Quite something eh.

Spot the submarine - soon to be joined by a tug
Spot the submarine – soon to be joined by a tug

So how was the 5.25am start for you? Feeding the 12 year old swimmer.

The alarm went at 5.25am. When it was dark. It was almost the middle of the night. I jumped out of bed, careful – just – not to fall over in that semi crazed comatose post-alarm-I-must-leap-up-straight-away state. I donned clothes, dashed up to check the swimmer was awake and down to make tea and toast. Not much thought , I must admit, went into how to fuel the 12 year old swimmer before her first ever early morning training session – that’s 6am – 7.30am, but I thought brown toast and a lot of jam with a glass of water could do the trick. It’s hard at that time, none of us really want to eat when we’re pretty much asleep.

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7.01am at Parliament Hill Fields Lido

We left the house and got to the pool at 5.50. By now both of us were strangely quite excited, perhaps at the newness of the situation; it may well not feel such a game in January. I drove back home, slid back into bed fully clothed and wondered what to do. 15 minutes later I was out again, and on my bike to Parliament Hill Fields lido on Hampstead Heath. If she was getting her exercise in, surely that’s what I should be doing too.

In the early mornings the lido is for width swimming only; it’s busy with swimmers ploughing up and down motorway style. But oh, you glance to the east and are rewarded with the sun emerging above the mansion block and its light glinting on the water. At bang on 7.30am the lane rope is tied onto the deck and everyone switches to swimming lengths.

Today, I got back home to be able to greet the swimmer with a pile of toast and a large banana milkshake. Next Friday will be that much more complicated, with school uniform needing to be crammed into her kit bag, a full breakfast on wheels catering service to fuel her through til lunchtime to be provided and then a dash to catch the 0811 from Finsbury Park.

The swimmer and I have been thinking about nutrition. Boy do you have to tread carefully, I really do want to do my best to give her the right things at the right time but it’s not straightforward. She needs to eat. She has wanted to eat yummy sweet things. I don’t want to over-egg the situation and tell her not to eat things or to eat other things.

But after a year of munching a cereal bar in the car and eating sweet things (cake, gutsy carb loaded puddings and banana milkshakes) when she gets back from her evening swims she’s asked for something healthier. By the time she gets back from the pool (normally 9.45pm ish) I want to go to bed not conjure up chicken breasts and broccoli (not that I think she’d go for that combo at 9.45pm).

I don’t like cereal bars, I think they’re just sweet chewy cardboard, but we should have shares in them we’ve got through so many. I’m invested instead in a heap of new ingredients and am poised to bake Nigella Lawson’s breakfast bars I’m also going to try the granola bars over on Smitten Kitchen – with thanks to my friends Vicky and Stephanie for the suggestions.

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What I’m not so sure about though is making sure she gets enough carbs after school, and protein after training. Please lovely blog readers do share your secrets and tips of how to fill a growing 12 year old – and her growing footballing and running 12 year old twin brother – with the right foods at the right time whilst holding down a job (and a life). Send me a tweet or post a reply, I’d be so grateful. Thanks for reading.

Get Inspired? You bet. Running and swimming as Rio 2016 gets underway.

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Wearing our 2012 kit with pride for Rio 2016

Day 2 of the Rio 2016 Olympics. We’re on holiday up in Yorkshire having left friends house-sitting. The week’s activities are to be planned around the Olympics, and secondly the weather.

4 years ago, on the first Sunday of London 2012 we went to the Olympic Park, got tickets to sit on a grassy strip in front of an enormous screen where we watched 7 hours of coverage and saw Lizzy Armitstead get silver. Wow. We didn’t stop to think of the impact the games might have on our own children, we were too busy yelling, jumping up and down and beaming with pride. After the games ended I bought a highlights DVD, and for every weekend our then 8 year old swimmer watched back to back footage of Becky Adlington and Ellie Simmonds.

Now it’s quite clear that watching all that swimming set a spark alight in her. She joined our local swimming club, worked her way up through the squads to train twice, 3x, 4x and now 5x a week. I met Mark Foster at Barnet Copthall (major OMG moment for me) and the Super Swimmer met, and baked a swimming pool cake, for Ellie Simmonds (shared OMG moment).

So when Adam Peaty talked poolside on Saturday of becoming an Olympian and wanting to inspire a future generation, it made me quite teary eyed. Adam you’ve done that already. When Helen Skelton, Becky Adlington and Mark Foster echoed his comments, it took me straight back to that grassy bank in Stratford, huddled next to our girl watching Olympic champions of all disciplines.

This morning me and the 12 year old Footballer / Cricket Player / Athlete went for a run. Actually he sprinted off, and I embarked for a third time on Couch to 5k. I’ve become a bit too couch potatoey, with shorter swims in the school holidays, and now’s the time to seek out the euphoria a really great run delivers. I’d quite like to fast forward straight to Week 8…

Tonight we’re setting our alarm for 2am. The boys team hunkering down in one newly named ‘boys’ dorm’, and the girls in the ‘get up and yell for Adam girls’ room’.

When the new training season starts in September, and we (that’s me the Chauffeur and her the Super Swimmer) take on a 6th training session (Friday mornings, 6am-7.30am) we’ll be thinking of Adam, of Becky and of Ellie.

PS The alarm went and we leapt out of bed. An hour and a half glued to the TV, jumping up and down and trying not to shout so loud as to wake the boys upstairs. Back to bed at 4.05am elated and so, so pleased for Adam Peaty, Jazz Carlin, their families, their coaches and Team GB.

 

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Collection of hi-vis hats for Yorkshire sea swims

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wearing the wrong trousers home from secondary school, nagging and lost property: a year 7 parent’s over parenting conundrum.

I hadn’t realised the biggest Secondary School Challenge would be over parenting. The end of primary school was very easy going, once SATs were done homework stopped, all of the structure of the timetable dissolved and the fun started. Secondary school has hit us all hard. Homework every night. Getting the right sports kit and boots in the right bag on the right night. Packing school bag. Catching the right bus and the non-stopping train. Wearing their own trousers home. It may be a familiar story.

Trying to teach an 11 year old to timetable their life is interesting, doubly so when you’ve got twins. How to prioritise what has to be done over what they’d like to do. Is it over parenting, or is it nagging, or is over parenting just a more PC term for nagging?

The nagging doesn’t make me feel at all good. Once I start I am apt to go on and on. So how not to start in the first place? Choose your argument seems to be a good mantra. It doesn’t really matter if towel is on the floor and bed is unmade as long as the protractor, German dictionary, water bottle and oyster card are in the right place. Quite a bit of my nagging seems to revolve around possessions. I am definitely Nagger In Chief, my lovely supportive husband doesn’t have any nagging bones in him.

So far the youngest members of the household have lost / mislaid:

1 football sock – necessitating my high speed cycle ride to sports shop to pick up replacement (Cue: Sorry Mummy am I making you late for something? Grr yes)

1 mouth guard – he ambled down to sports shop to buy replacement with pocket money (mega brownie point: he took the initiative)

1 pair of trousers – tricky one this, coming home in someone else’s trousers when they are taller and scarier than you are. Somehow thanks to the kind ladies in the school office and both mums using name tapes both pairs were reunited with the rightful owners. (a lot of nagging involved with this one)

1 sports sweatshirt (I) – very difficult this when the Super Swimmer had borrowed her friend’s and then it went AWOL only to turn up on someone else who didn’t want to give it back. I bought another one and eventually the original one got back to the right girl. (nagging from 2 mums)

1 sports sweatshirt (II) – abandoned on the side of the sports pitch, with no time (inclination?) to retrieve. (some fruitless nagging)

1 coat – left on the train 😦 (I rang round, visited Kings X to no avail, bought another one argh)

1 watch – heaven knows where (replaced with pocket money, what about my time spent traipsing to shop?)

Finally on Friday night it reached a crescendo with the loss of the bible aka Homework Diary. Not the end of the world as kind friends filled in the gaps with what’s to be done, but who knows how you manage on Monday without one.

Nagging and not nagging doesn’t really help me with our Lost Property Challenge does it. I’m sure I didn’t lose stuff at school. Everything was named and everything came home. However  much I nag or ask them to remember things they might not. I wonder if we should introduce a No Lost Property and No Nagging Incentive Scheme. If I don’t nag I get points and if they don’t lose things they get something? Ideas from Successful Parents out the other side of the Nagging and Lost Property Maelstrom would be much appreciated.

Thinking on your feet & surviving an 11 year old boy’s birthday party: football, pizza, cake and Plan B

I learned some interesting lessons this weekend. Mainly that in life you really do need to line up Plan B as however well rehearsed and thought through your Plan A is things don’t always go quite how you’d imagined. And with parenting you quite often have to make the whole thing up as you go along.

Perhaps naively me and the Supportive Husband and our 11 year old son thought we had the perfect party lined up:

15 eleven year old boys

2 honorary guests (twin sister & her footballing friend)

90 mins football on the astroturf in teams

unlimited pizza, biscuits, chocolate crispies, coke

giant football birthday cake featuring 2 teams, ref, goals, corner flags, subs, you name it (icing pics at the end)

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Parts 1 (football) and part 2 (eating) went swimmingly with 17 pairs of football boots in the hall.

birthday some of the 17 pairs of boots

It was part 3 (film) when things went a bit pear-shaped. All 17 kids crammed into the sitting room, put the DVD on and turned the lights off. Then the fun started. A few of the lads decided they didn’t want to watch so would make some of their own fun. This was all fine for a bit – me and the Supportive Husband listening from the kitchen looking slightly anxiously at each other as noise levels rose, and rose. When they rose a bit more we went in. Didn’t want to be spoilsports or much worse Embarrassing Parents. But how to juggle 12 kids wanting to watch a film with 5 who didn’t? Why should the 5 be quiet and sit down when actually they’d seen it before / had itchy feet / wanted to muck around?

Retreated to the kitchen again. Gave them a bit longer. Noise levels rose A LOT MORE. One lad came out and asked if I could do something. Right. Time to Act. Cue light bulb moment: they need some more exercise and some fun outside.

I go back in to now quite fusty dark sitting room. Take command of remote control, pause film, ask for a show of hands of ‘who’d rather not watch this?’. 5 hands went up.

Me: ‘Right guys, out you come.’

So out they trooped.

Them: ‘What are we going to do?’

Me: ‘Put your boots on, we’re going out for a run.’

OMG did I really say this??

YES! And it was absolutely great (I think – anyway it stopped the neighbours being terrorised by our mid afternoon noise in the house and spread the enthusiasm around the neighbouring streets).

Off we ran down the road, then they played catch with one of those foam rugby balls in a nice wide bit of car-less road. When we lost the ball we sprinted on playing ‘It’ to the grassy, exceedingly muddy and very dark park to play what can only be called ‘throw and go and find the ball’. The only way you could find the ball was if you listened very carefully to hear where it bounced. More good fun. Then that ball disappeared too. So home, not disturbing the film-watchers but to games round the kitchen table.

PHEW thought me and the Supportive Husband as they all left. We survived another party. But only thanks to a plan B which we hadn’t really had up our sleeves. It’s taken 9 years of 2 parties each year (twins) to click that if you’re going to host a party you’d better have a Plan B ready in the wings. Bit like life in general eh.

At the end of the month we host the Speedy Swimmer’s birthday party – camping in the garden. Soon we shall start thinking up Plan B.

Heaven help us with the Teenage Years…

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So #ThisGirlCan run and swim (now) and her kids can swim, run and play football. But no thanks to lacrosse at school.

Sport England’s #ThisGirlCan campaign has been everywhere over the last week or so. It’s polarised opinion; some feel it’s sexist, the women in the clips look too fit with too much cleavage on show, whilst others think it’s great – and I’m firmly in that camp. It’s got us talking about exercise and that’s a good thing, surely. I’ll write another time what the twins think of #ThisGirlCan film…

We are a sporty household, home to:

Me: swimmer, recently-returned-to-running runner

Supportive Husband: speedy cycler-to-work, kick around in the park footballer

11 year old daughter aka Speedy Swimmer: swimmer, footballer, sometime cross country runner, recently discovered handballer

1 1 year old son aka the Footballer: football, enthusiastic runner, cricketer

This means the house is full of kit and trainers and on a bad day the hall is a jumble of football boots, trainers, pool buoys, swimming bags, bikes and balls.

In between work, school, homework and sporting commitments there’s not much (woops, any?) time for culture and music. Some families juggle it all and do lots of trips to places but we don’t.

The #ThisGirlCan campaign got me thinking about what sport has meant to me in my life. I went to a girls’ boarding school where lacrosse dominated, the games mistress used to say we should be ‘masters of one sport’ rather than trying out lots. This didn’t work for me, or anyone who wasn’t in the school team. Weekends were spent sitting on wet grassy slopes, enrobed in enormous school cloaks, ‘watching’ the teams play whilst smuggling sweets into my mouth. Not great. My sister told me the only way to survive GSCE and A Level exam season was to make use of the offer of daily swimming, so every day during those summer terms I swam up and down the school pool. I tried running in the 6th form. This entailed going out on my own in the dark stumbling around the school grounds. Not great.

Exercise means a lot to me now. This diagram pretty much sums it up to me:

exercise chart best

I asked the children what it means to them and why they like it. Here’s what one said:

11 year old Speedy Swimmer

(swim trains 4x week + galas)

I’m good at it

I can talk with my friends (this is the post pool time when a parent chauffeur is waiting outside wondering where on earth she is)

I sleeper better afterwards

It makes me feel good

It’s nice away from school stuff

I like winning (when I said it wasn’t all about winning she said no, but that’s the best bit)

What she didn’t say was how her confidence has grown as her swimming has improved, hurray.

Next time it’ll be the turn of the Footballer.

When I was 40 a very good author friend introduced me to Couch to 5k. This running programme does exactly as it says, it gets you off the couch and able to run 5k. It’s a 9 week programme and it’s brilliant. So in 2013 (6 months after she told me about it) I downloaded the podcasts – not the NHS one she recommended but for some reason an American one starring a 40 year old runner called Robert Ullrey. It really does work. You simply do exactly as the voice on the podcast tells you to, 3 times a week. So thank you Robert for getting me running. I even earned a hand drawn ‘Well Done Mummy’ picture from the Speedy Swimmer, featuring a rather large and lumpen figure slumped on a couch, with an arrow to an unrealistically thin stick figure running off in the distance. I had to stop last spring when I had a stint off games, but I’ve started again and am managing to look after my back better this time round. If only such a running programme had been on offer at school!

At university I took to the water and took up rowing. This was good fun, and being a member of the college rowing club led me to hang out with other sporty people – mainly hockey players – on my course. But I couldn’t run, I was hopeless at land based training. Oh the memory of a ‘compulsory run’ for the college club, to which only 2 girls turned up. The other girl sped off with the boys and I was left stopping and starting miles behind, mortified. I could handle the ergo though, and loved pulling high scores for 2k pieces. By my third year I had somehow taught myself to run / pound the pavement for an hour.

And now of course my favourite sport is swimming. It’s brought me and the Speedy Swimmer closer together as she shares her swimming tips and every now and then gives me some coaching in the pool.

I have been helped and supported by so many people on my sporting journey to fitness and back to fitness. I have three cheerleaders at home, and was lucky to have many lovely friends and colleagues like Lauren (marathon runner) and Georgia (swimmer) making all the  right noises as I regaled them of my attempts to run and swim. Thanks guys!