Plus Ça Change

Plus Ça Change

There’s a saying in one of my cultures – plus ça change. There’s a saying in my other culture – what a load of codswallop! Things have changed in my house and all the things I know as constant at this time of year have shifted. Nothing feels the same.

Some weeks ago, the Cygnet sat at the kitchen bench and said, ‘I’m not sure if I want to play footy this year.’

I did what all wise mothers do, turned swiftly towards the stove top, gulped my shock back down, coolly turned back around without making eye contact and threw away some line like, ‘Well we don’t have to make a decision yet.’

I wrote an email to my friend and club registrar Sal that night. Her son, despite wearing the yellow sash when he’s not in club uniform, is one of the Newtown Swans’ star players.  I wrote something about impending disaster, something about knowing deep down, something about ignoring the signs in the hope that collegiate belonging would overtake any reluctance to run around and fight for a funny shaped ball, something about my coaching career in tatters. I pulled my AFL Junior Level 1 Coach’s card out of my wallet and gazed at it the same way you might look at an obituary photo.

If I’m honest with myself, I’ve known since he was a few months old that the Cygnet is not a fully fledged team sports kind of guy. He’s more of an ‘I can do it myself’ kind of kid. His best friend’s dad recently suggested golf! Over the summer, he discovered and showed some interest in cricket and I can see why. It’s light on physical interaction, the individual and his or her talent have a sanctified space and a trajectory that exists outside of the team while still contributing to it; there’s the benefit of bonding without the same hands-on practice. And it’s more careful, strategic on a longer throw. The Cygnet’s more like that.

I did what all smart mothers do and measured out some unquantifiable but perfect amount of time before the issue was mentioned again. I talked a bit about Buddy. The membership packs arrived in the mail. I mentioned the NAB challenge and the intra club match, cracked something wise about Jesse White kicking 5 for the Pies and Buddy with none from 6 shots. Then casual as a laneway daisy I asked over pottering one night, ‘How you going with your thoughts on footy?’

I peeked for any visible signs of hesitation. ‘I’m 99% sure I don’t want to play.’

Then an email arrived from the club, asking coaches to nominate whether they would be able to switch training to a Monday night. There was no more room to move. I had to send that missive saying we wanted out. ‘Doesn’t he know you’re doing it all for him?’ one of the dads quipped at the school gate the next morning. ‘He’s too smart for that,’ I replied. ‘He knows he’s been doing it for me.’

Now, almost a week later, accompanying my feelings of disorientation is the buoyant realisation that this age is profound and beautiful. At nine years old, I can see the Cygnet transitioning from mould-cast to free form.

Just over a year ago, with encouragement from his best buddy, the Cygnet started circus skills and flying trapeze. She has legs like a mantis while he works on a far shorter torque. It began as happy goofing but they have stayed constant. And over a year, I have watched him lengthen out, grow strong and more fluid, take risks and dare to fail joyfully … but still land in the net. I have watched a team of remarkable teachers model and teach the purely experiential relationship between strict discipline and practice and its expressive possibility – flying! That’s what he wants to go on with. Maybe it’s not so different to footy after all. Maybe plus c’est la même chose.

This time is indicative of parenting as sheer fascination and joy for me, an ongoing circuit of baton changes in which both of us are constantly gaining ground, seeing what each other is capable of, taking turns to sprint ahead and shine or hang back and anchor. And even as I watch him shed some of my joys, the things I have loved watching him do, the things I have loved doing with him, I am also experiencing the delicious satisfaction of seeing him define his own way now and even, from time to time, inviting me to tarry along behind.

One day last year, the Cygnet and the Mantis pressed themselves against me after trapeze class and dared me to give it a go. I claimed that I would be game. ‘Pinky promise!’ they brayed. I did and I delivered. Four days before Christmas last year I did my first flying trapeze class with the two of them lying aside the net, watching on. I was doing it for them, but I’ve continued on for me!

So instead of trying on the footy boots and beginning evening kick-to-kick in the garden, instead of seeing if the socks will stretch another season or grinning and bearing Friday night pre-season running, instead of that hot pink whistle I was eyeing in the Japanese $2.80 store, the Cygnet and I are stretching our deltoids and applying vitamin E cream to our calluses,  trying to find the perfect three quarter length tights, watching videos of straddle whips and cutaways looking for the elusive clues on how to make the catch.

I will still grieve the junior footy season. I will wonder what could have been if I had been given charge of my own team of Under 10s. I will miss the site of the jumpers on my line on a Saturday afternoon. And I will miss the companion narrative thread of the junior footy season.

The other night, when the praise and understanding flooded back from the coaches by email, the Cygnet sat at the kitchen bench and said, “I still want to follow the footy mum.’



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 thirteen year old Cygnet.


  1. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Mathilde good on you bloody good parenting in my book and your better than me re flying trampese ! I resonate with your story as a sports nut heavily involved re coaching etc in both footy and cricket neither of my sons were interested in playing what so ever I encouraged them to have a go but no chance . Daniel doesn’t mind watching footy but that’s it and they both hate cricket . Both my sons love video games , dr who etc which does not interest me one iota I try ( my wife thinks not hard enough )
    I think you have adapted very well , good luck enjoyed your story , Mathilde thank you

  2. Love that the Cygnet is his own (little) man.

    Delightful imagery and metaphor. Set up for the perfect follow-up piece when one of you makes the catch – and intermediate pieces as you learn how.


  3. G’day Mathilde,
    Your cygnet is a lucky one there, having such an observational & responsive parent.
    Long may he (and we all) walk our own paths and be encouraged to do so.
    Hats off.

  4. I love that the Cygnet has a passion (I’m sounding like George Calombaris); and that its not easy but he’s enjoying exploring it; and you’re along for the ride.
    I was having a drink with a nest (coven?) of Dockers on Friday night at the Perth Writers Festival. I confessed that I don’t much care who someone barracks for – as long as they do it with ‘mad bastard’ intensity.
    Well played Mathilde and Cygnet.

  5. Richard d'Mond Byrne says

    Better than the first falling leaves.
    Better than your favourite draft pick’s first super goal.
    The crisp promise of the season’s first footy post from Mathilde.
    We are blessed, again.

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