A Life with Footy and Kids

During the first half of the Round 6 night game against the Crows, I looked along Row U and realised that none of the O’Reilly boys nor I had our children in attendance. (The Cygnet was with us, but he was down on the concourse waiting to play with the Under 8s). I can’t remember the last time we sat, the five of us up there in the stands, adults alone.

The O’Reilly boys and I started going to the footy together in 2000, when none of us had children. We had three delightful years of adult communion. Then, on the same day of the same month in 2003, one O’Reilly dad had a daughter and another had a son. A year later, we added the Cygnet. In the years that followed, two more daughters joined the fold. Mostly it’s the two boys who now tag along to the SCG; the girls make appearances at the ‘special games’ or when all other options have been exhausted.

That Saturday night the adults sat once again, shoulder to shoulder, sharing our warmth, passing the flask and not minding our language too much. And the thought crossed my mind, how great it would be to have that again, to watch a game uninterrupted by runs for junk food, the last impossible ‘spot the difference’, the repeated requests for a kick or the endless questions about who had the ball and ‘what had just happened.’ For a quarter or two, I felt a deep longing for things as they used to be, the five of us completely absorbed in a game, vetting the week’s frustrations and thrills alongside each other.

*

For the Round 7 meeting with the Tigers, the Cygnet and I took off down the coast to my parents’ place. We were welcoming my sister, her German husband and their 14 month old back to Oz for a two month sabbatical. I felt good about the match, a little concerned that the Frenchman wouldn’t have the cheese course done by 4pm … but I felt the boys would be ready to play after the previous week’s too little too late defeat. The Cygnet inducted the German out on the Frenchman’s croquet lawn before lunch. He showed promise, kicking with backspin after a matter of minutes and stuffing the ice cream cone for 9 out of 10 decent hand passes.

I flicked on the box just after the first bounce. Tigers 18, Swans 2. I flicked off and continued into the Frenchman’s pinot. Four generations of our family sat around the table, the 14 month old emptying the contents of the 93 year old’s walker onto the floor – a silk scarf, a torch, her handbag, all of them tossed out with the flick of a tiny wrist. I flicked on again. Tigers 36, Swans 2. I flicked off just as a pile of rubber coasters flew across the room.

The dear Frenchman topped me up for the duration of the match.

That night, the Cygnet and I shared a bed. A blackout – no lights, no water, no nothing – had me prematurely retired, prone in the pitch black, without proper digestion time. I passed a sleepless night beside my log heavy son: the kick from Everitt; the miss by Dennis-Lane; the mindless free from Mattner.

The Cygnet and I were first to rise. The sun was creeping over the hills in front of seven mile beach. I took a coffee to the deck; the Cygnet took his ball. At first he was kicking just for the morning sun, marking among the blue gums and chasing his long goals down the hill into the neighbour’s natives. But as the morning took on definition, a game took shape.

Mummy taps it out. (Mummy’s back. Phew!) He taps to Jack, Jack to Rohan (Rohan’s back!?) … who turns and snaps (oh no, not snaps!) and goals! … over the lilly pillies and onto the tank. Mummy wins the tap again. This time Bird. Bird to Jetta, Jetta to Reid, who marks straight in front! And goals! The Fresians in the adjacent paddock look up for the celebration. I too applaud heartily. Reid is kicking straight. Phew! Mummy has the tap (I don’t think even the Cygnet knows how to pronounce Maric) and gets it to Jack, Jack on the overlap to Jetta, who runs around Newman. Jetta runs, Jetta runs and … goals!

Mummy had come back super strong and was right on top of the hit outs. Jack was on fire in the middle, and even when Delidio stole the clearance, he shanked it towards the alpacas. On the odd occasion it actually went forward for the Tiges, Richards and his blue gums were all over it. The Tigers defence was in tatters; Reid was marking everything. He goaled. He goaled again. He goaled so often and so thoroughly that a broom needed to be brought out for retrieval.

My coffee tasted great, the sun was climbing with certainty and as I looked out to the deepening blue of the horizon, I no longer had that ‘morning after feeling.’ When the Cygnet came onto the deck for water and breakfast, I wrapped my arms around him and squeezed him as tight as I could. Mummy! he yelled.

*

Round 8 and the Cygnet accompanied me towards the SCG in the last of the evening light. (Dad’s away for two months in the UK). I leaned into him and said, We really should beat these guys by a hundred points. He took his $5 and ran ahead to get the Record. As the first bounce approached, we sat cheek to cheek in the stands, looking in vain for the fifth and last ‘spot the difference’.

It’s rare that Swans supporters experience games with big leads, it’s rare that we unwind and simply enjoy a game of footy. The poor Cygnet has felt more tension on those turquoise seats than he has gay abandon. At the quarter time break, he cried out, We’re beating them 71 to 3 – that’s quite a lead isn’t it? In fact we were 7 goals 1 to their 3 behinds.

By half time, we were up 71 114 to 315. We headed for the bleachers and a rendez-vous with two of his Under 8 team mates. We found a small space near an outer bar where the kids could kick the footy. One of the kids, L, grew up in Melbourne, a Tigers man who wears the red and white. The other, M, wears thick glasses which he spends much of his life repositioning. Yet, he’s the one you’re most likely to see with his head over the ball. The three boys started a fiercely contested ‘Marks Up’. They played with the intensity the Dees forgot to bring: they scrapped; they flew across the concrete; they dodged beer carrying grown ups and impressed the fluoro vested security enough to keep their turf. And while their battle raged, just alongside the boys, a not quite 3 year old in skinny jeans, a Rugby jumper and a Sydney Swans cap slotted a spellbinding array of controlled flat kicks to his Dad. When questioned about the kid’s confused attire, his Dad replied, He’s still agnostic! It was some way into the third quarter when L’s Mum and I noticed the long break was over.

On the way to the car in the dark, the Cygnet looked up from underneath his beanie pom pom. You got your hundred points, Mum. You got 101.

*

Children have an uncanny way of resetting the tone of most things.

While the Cygnet is prone to thoughtfulness, he is fortunate; he is safe and nurtured. Which gives him the freedom to continue day to day, largely unencumbered by the past, nor suspect of the future, nor too confined by what grown ups refer to as reality. In the last few weeks, it has become plainly obvious, that he is, in fact, the ideal footy partner. He is a salve for every loss, an accompanist for every win and a beacon of hope for all the matches ahead.

*

Round 9 and the Cygnet knew I was suspect about the possible impact of Lenny. I am a long-time advocate of the emotional win. On the Friday morning before the match, I clocked on for my 17th straight morning of single motherhood. For the 17th morning, I faced the horror of the morning routine: negotiating breakfast, chasing up homework or news or library books, making lunch, enduring the 40 minute dressing odyssey, all of it compounded by the possible pomp of Lenny. But that Friday morning, with the help of a single emerald balloon, I instead experienced the most extraordinary grand final ever played.

The living room was packed with just on 100 000. The balloon was blown to capacity. Swans v Eagles. Mumford got the first tap from the top of the couch. Goodes had 6 goals inside the first 4 minutes. Only three West Coast players seemed to have shown up: Cox, Priddis and their Josh Kennedy. But it was ours who stole the show. Cox, to Bird, to Goodes. Mumford to Kennedy to Jetta. Every third possession resulted in a goal. The lead was in the hundreds by half time. The pants and socks were on and the orange for lunch was cut. The second half was a blow out. Goodes marked everything, each grab acknowledged with a whistled out Brr. The Swans were in command. Mumford to Jack to Jetta. Cox to Goodes to Mattner in his 200th. Where is the Eagles defence? cried the Cygnet. Homework was packed, water bottle filled. What’s the score? I yelled. Eagles 17, Swans 4 googleplex!

He scooted and I skipped all the way to school, the two of us alongside each other, ready for the weekend’s frustrations or thrills.

About Mathilde de Hauteclocque

Swans member since 2000, Mathilde likes to wile away her winters in the O'Reilly stand with 'the boys', flicking through the Record and waiting to see the half backs drive an explosive forward movement. She lives in Sydney and raises a twelve year old Cygnet.

Comments

  1. I can see where the Cygnet gets his eloquence and ability to spin a yarn. Lovely, thoughtful.

  2. craig dodson says:

    Fantastic to see such passion for the red and white and a few handy parenting tips for this new dad to take on board.

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