Alex Payne on parenting: a new school year


    Working in sports television is rather like being a teacher

    There is surprisingly little difference between school kids and top-flight athletes, most of whom have long been drinking from the same cup as Peter Pan when it comes to growing up. School and sport both require you to commit to some fairly long and antisocial hours but the greatest similarity is the long, glorious downtime of summer holidays and the off season.

    There is nothing like saying goodbye to the team after the last broadcast of the year, it is very similar to the scenes in the playground on the final day of term – a wild overexcitement and a rather headless charge out of the school gates. This year, July and August stretched out invitingly through blank pages in the diary. It feels like the world is your oyster.

    But the clam closes quickly when the wife produces from the kitchen drawer her list of DIY requirements which have built up over the last 10 months. The first two weeks were spent going round the house with Polyfilla and a brush, trying desperately to sort out the persistent damp problem. Hardly hitting Ibiza for a month of hedonistic indulgence.

    But it did fill the long wait for the kids to break up – quite literally watching paint dry until we could bring out the bucket and spades. I’m not sure who was more pleased the day school was out for summer; my six year old or me. We left for the beach from the gates with my daughter still in her uniform.

    And we whooped and hollered on the way, and I said how nice it was to not have to think about rugby for a bit, and I promised my wife that I wouldn’t look at my iPad quite as much. And she delighted in the fact that she wouldn’t be woken by the alarm over the summer and that the lunch box could go to the back of the cupboard for a while. And we promised my daughter she could stay up later in the evenings and that homework was on pause for the next two months.

    But my son sat quietly in the back looking glum. Eventually he piped up and said, “But I want to go to school tomorrow.”

    His eagerness to get started was hardly surprising. We’d been winding him up for a while in preparation for going into reception. He had seen his sister scoot off happily every morning for two years, he knew her friends and he knew his way around the school. Perhaps a little too well, after being handed back to my wife at pick-up one afternoon in the summer term by a teacher who said, “We’ll have to stop that by September!’’ When asked what he’d done, the teacher said that she’d seen him peeing behind a classroom. It was no surprise that there was a detention waiting for him on day one.

    So, while the rest of us were revelling in the absence of structure, he punctuated the summer break by regularly asking when school started. The Spider-Man and Darth Vader costumes sank to the bottom of the dressing-up box; it was all about his uniform. Trips to the park in his V-neck jumper, play dates in his PE kit, he had worn through his new school shoes before the first morning assembly. He practiced his letters, got excited about play time and couldn’t wait for lunch with the older children. And I found his enthusiasm infectious, a life lesson from a four year old that I carried into a new season.

    And yet, you know where this is going. The alarm rings at 7am once again, lunch boxes are filled, my daughter has a new homework folder. We’re all back in the groove. But, rather like the leaves on the trees, my son’s hunger to get to school is dropping. He comes down dressed as a Power Ranger on week days, he wants to watch Star Wars after breakfast, and saying goodbye at the gates is taking that little bit longer.

    The only solution is to book our summer holiday now, to promise we will leave for the beach as soon as term finishes and that he can travel in his Batman costume. I’ll be waiting in the car dressed as Robin.

    Want more? Read Alex Payne’s school rules