The first time I was told there was to be a jersey day in their school I was filled with a ticklish delight. I pictured him, my eldest, then aged five, relaxing in school in a multi-coloured cotton home knit style V neck jumper. How lovely, I thought. Like dress down Friday at work.
One might think I must’ve come a long way since then. He’ll be sixteen this year after all. But somehow I’m still the same person. Still filled with a little bit of horror when jersey day comes around. It’s – as you more savvy readers already know – all about competitive team sports. Who do they support? What do they play themselves? What do you mean you do not follow English football league? Ah, it’s the rugby you’re into. Which club? Gaelic? Anything? Anything at all? Relaxing in their cosy multi-coloured soft knits this is not.
This year we’ve had a double-pleasure of pretence. It began with sports day.
‘Mum, we have to wear shorts for sports day tomorrow‘.
‘Not the summer shorts we usually wear. Sporty shorts’.
‘Sporty shorts. You know like the ones people wear for rugby or Gaelic’. (Every time I try to type Gaelic, Garlic comes up instead. It makes much more sense to me.)
‘But we don’t do rugby or Gaelic. Just wear your school tracksuits instead’.
‘Mu-uum. Everyone is going to be in shorts and I was the only one in the wrong ones last year. I can’t be the only one again’. The voice is wobbling. He’s on the verge. Bloody hell.
‘So we have to go out now to a sports shop and buy really expensive rugby shorts, for one day?’ I say, pressing a little too hard on the accelerator. The general consensus is yes. That’s exactly what we are to do. We go home first. I’m sure I’ve seen an unused gift voucher for one of the local sports shops when tidying one of their rooms. The sensible part of me is yelling that I must not go and waste a whole load of money for my boys to feel part of the crowd for one minute. Anyway, aren’t we raising them not to be like sheep? Something is obviously going awry with our parenting.
Voucher in hand, I waltz into the sports shop.
‘I’m looking for three pairs of your cheapest sporty shorts’ I say. The young assistant’s eyes begin to twinkle. He seems to be waiting for me to elaborate.
‘Which sport?’ he says, smiling still. As if we are sharing some sort of joke. If we are, it would be about his hair. All permed and dipped in peroxide. He has a sense of humour alright. Which I do not. Certainly not right at this moment.
‘Any sport, as long as they’re cheap’ I say. He’s looking a little befuddled now. Really. Do I have to explain myself?
‘It’s for their sports day tomorrow. For one day only. So cheap and cheerful. Good lad’.
In the end the voucher covers 2 pairs of half priced shorts – black rugby yokes with some label – and a pair of knock down runners for marque 5. He’d prefer the runners to the shorts. Me too. I’m delighted now. I love a good old bargain.
It rains for sports day. The first time it’s happened in 11 years. Marque 4’s class are not allowed to wear their shorts on account of the weather. Great. Marque 3 sticks with it and shivers his little white legs off waiting in the drizzle for his turn to shine. They all shine on sports day. Medals or not. They have a ball.
Not a week has passed when the letter arrives announcing jersey day. On Friday. And there it is. The familiar little electrifying tingle that tells me, once again, that we are a non-jersey family. A conversation that I have with myself each time begins to rattle. Sure maybe they can just wear their favourite t-shirt. Why not? It’s a fundraiser after all. Who cares what they wear? As long as they donate. They like basketball and tennis. Why does it have to be a rugby of football themed day?
Then I begin the search. For the raggedy donated adult rugby jerseys they’ve worn these last few times. Ancient isn’t in it. They swing with age. Like little dresses. I haven’t the heart to do it again. I make up my mind. For the second time in a week I saunter beyond the doors of the town sports shop. As luck would have it, I’m greeted by my peroxide smiling friend. I think he remembers me.
‘I’m looking for some cheap jerseys’ I say. He nods and twinkles and shows me over to them. He looks like he’s about to ask for which sport. Which teams. But chickens out. Or knows better.
‘It’s for jersey day in school’ I say as my friend rifles through the sale rack for me.
‘So whatever’s cheapest’.
‘These are all on sale ‘coz they’re last season’s’ he says. Knowing by now that this’ll put me off not a jot. Last decade’s, adult sizes is what they’ve been pretending in up until now. The exception to this was when we purchased marque 1 a knock down team jersey to see out his primary school days. We bought it. Then we googled the team and got him up to speed on the players and the latest victories. A crazy parenting moment. But like I said, I’m sure we’ve come a long way since then.
Marque 5 sports his new last season’s Manchester United jersey with the pride of a full time fan. Marque 3 and 4 wear the new lime green Ireland training jerseys. Just out, my shop assistant friend tells me. There’s a frisson of pride as I look at my joiners going off into school. I’ve made it. Shipped them off, shiny, feeling totally with it. I’m busy noticing how the lime green brings out the blond in marque 3 and 4 and consider taking a quick snap of them when something more pressing interrupts my thoughts.
‘Don’t spill any lunch on the jerseys’ I call after them. ‘They’ve to see you out of school’.
I wait at the gate ready to milk the joiner joy. But when marque 5 comes out he looks a little crest-fallen. He tells me how all the others in the class were in full football kit, shorts, socks, boots the lot. That’s a new take on jersey day. Who’s making up the rules? The pressure has been ratcheted up a notch. Next time he too would very much like to wear the full kit. Then marque 4 appears. He’s disgruntled too. Some boys in his class told him his jersey was from 2004. 2004 – two years before the children in question were even born. He’s on the verge of tears telling me. My eyes go into involuntary slit mode. My fight or flight response kicks in. I’m ready to take these teasers on. But then the calm sanity of marque 3 infuses. He talks to marque 4 about how maybe the other kids were jealous that he had the latest Ireland training jersey. Marque 4 relaxes down. It’s great when a child steps in and takes the reins from an agitated floundering parent.
And so today, as they finally get their release from school day toil and comparative competitive interactions, I’m celebrating. For eight weeks I’ll gather them close, water and feed, and then marinade in the feast of them being free to be just themselves.