Competitive Parents

Competitive Parents | Kathy Lette

I can’t believe that Extreme Sports Enthusiasts, otherwise known as “organ donors” haven’t taken up ‘parenthood’ as the ultimate risk-taking thrill. Parenthood would be easier if you could be strapped into a simulator to experience the terrors and exhilaration: to see if you have what it takes.

But Aussie parents do have it easier than British Mums and Dads, because you are at least spared the parents’ races at school sports days. I raised both my kids in London, and this annual event topped the humiliation-ometer.

Yes, we Aussies love sport. But we understand that a school sports day is about the kids, not the over-competitive parents. At school in Sydney, I recall my own Mum joining in for a three-legged race, running along next to me in her stockinged feet, skirt tucked into knicker elastic, or giggling hysterically as she bounded along in a hessian sack.

But in Britain, school sports day is nothing short of parental war. When sports day looms, parks are suddenly chocker block with manic mothers panting along in their fit bits, trying to achieve triathlon stamina for the mother’s race.

These alpha women, with their polished granite kitchen worktops and number plates which read “A 1 Mum,” have had their meteoric careers, then bred late; giving up their high-powered jobs to be high-powered mummies. But the killer competitive instinct still oozes out of them.

Many employ sophisticated psychological warfare. These Mums train in secret, arriving at sports day in kitten heels, cradling babies. But, no sooner is the mother’s race cracklingly announced over the loud-hailer, than these devoted earth mothers fling their children out of their arms as though flamenco dancing and hurtle towards the starting line. Once they’ve secured the best lanes, they cunningly kick off high heels and replace them with the latest aerodynamic trainers and lycra outfits which wouldn’t be out of place in an Olympic marathon. Next they whip off summer frocks to reveal state-of-the-art, high tech running ensembles and ergonomic, super supportive sports bras. (Mind you. A truly supportive bra would tell them that it doesn’t matter if they come last in the mother’s race.)

Waiting for the starting gun, normally mild-mannered English ladies suddenly get a look in their eyes as if they’re about to bludgeon baby seals at the North Pole. Spittle flecks their teeth. Talons outstretched, elbows jutting, each muscle and sinew flexing intimidatingly they pore the starting line like shoppers at department store doors at the Boxing Day sales.

British Schools should issue warnings. “Prepare to take casualties. Random incoherent screaming, scratching and back-stabbing guaranteed.”

When the gun sounds, Mums sprint as though on cocaine. Hell, they run as though there are free Jimmy Choo shoes at the finishing line – or maybe Chris Hemsworth, naked.

In their determination to win, mums fling each other out of the way, hurling slower women into bushes. One year I was pushed so hard I caromed sideways, missing giving the Headmistress a full-frontal lobotomy by half a millimetre. Other runners tripped over my falling body, until we lay on the lawn, our tangle of brightly coloured sports clothes giving us the look of a large liquorice allsort having an epileptic fit.

When my daughter asked me if I was okay, I told her, yes, my ankle often flapped off the end of my leg like this, oozing blood. Mind you, I hadn’t wet my pants, so all in all, the race hadn’t gone too badly.

Injuries have become so common and insurance has been pushed up so high, that many British schools are now banning parents’ races. The BBC reports that one head teacher has just written to parents saying that their behaviour had ‘worsened’ over the past few years, including swearing at staff in front of children and being threatening, “which is why sports days will no longer be open to parents”.

Britain and Australia have a great sporting rivalry. But when it comes to school sports days, we’ve won, hands down. The only school sports day competition for Aussie mums, is to see who can quaff the most red wine and flirt with the most husbands; and the only thing we run up? Bills, ordering taxis home.

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