J played football with Ronaldo and Messi last week. I know, quite amazing that two of the best footballers in the world were training, together, in deepest Somerset just before the start of the new season. What’s that? You don’t believe me? Oh. OK. I admit it, maybe the footballing legends weren’t actually there in person. Yes, alright, it was just a couple of kids (half the group) wearing replica shirts, but it did amuse me. It also got me thinking.
Fast forward twenty years and there could be some child in Barcelona wearing a football shirt with Ryrie on the back! Ok, chances are more than likely there won’t be, and J will be an accountant playing five a side on the weekends, but just imagine if there was. How weird is that!?!
Thinking about the futures our children will have fills me by turns with fear and excitement. The Big Picture blurred and pixellated in sharp contrast to the clarity of the present and the knowledge that every experience our children have will play some part in the reality of their futures. For me this is one of the most daunting things as a parent, but teachers, play workers, dinner ladies, or people in any profession connected to children face this too. Everything we do has a direct consequence on a child’s memories, on their character formation, on their relationships and ultimately on their own choices. Even that random person on the train who helped Mummy on with the pushchair and the four children had an impact on the lives of those children. The legacy we leave reaches far beyond our own little life bubbles.
J’s Summer Football Camp (with Ronaldo and Messi) was held at my old prep school. It is an awe inspiring place, the facilities it has are second to none, apart from the Senior School. I took the children on a tour round the campus whilst we were there and both were amazed but both had very different reactions to it. One believed they would be too scared to be a pupil there whilst the other has started asking questions about scholarships so they would be able to dig into the opportunities the school holds. To be honest it is unlikely we would ever have the financial ability to send our children to this school but the holiday courses are a fabulous way of giving them a taste, broadening their horizons and opening their minds to opportunities beyond our wonderful little village church school.
I have never really been that interested in stories about families who follow in the footsteps of their forebears by all becoming solicitors even though they actually wanted to be artists. Expectation and duty weighing heavy on young shoulders, stifling individual talent. There are people who have generations of their families that go through the same schools which on the one hand is fairly sweet, but on the other, well, it’s just a bit boring isn’t? I mean we are all individuals so what is right for one isn’t right for the other and yet this shoe-horning and moulding occurs with seemingly minimal consideration across all social classes and I have never really understood it.
Whilst walking around the campus a load of memories crowded into my brain, I almost couldn’t verbalise them quickly enough to the children. Over there was where I went to get biscuits and squash at break time, there was where I did PE, there was the changing room where my fingers were so numb after doing hockey I cried when trying to do the buttons up on my shirt, there was the pond with the stone hut and the legend of the White Lady of the Lake, there was the CDT block where I made that little stool that’s at Grandma’s house, there was the cricket pavilion where I sat and kept score. But where was the Portacabin that housed the library? Where was the hut in which I was taught Geography? Where was the hut that my tutor group met in? Where was the open air swimming pool? Oh, man, the swimming pool is now undercover and heated! Why was that climbing frame there? It hadn’t been there in my day. That sports hall hadn’t been there before, nor had that dining room! The school had turned into a physical oxymoron, it was the same but totally different.
Then, when we walked into the new dining room, there it was, on glass boards running the length of the wall, ‘it’ was a list of names. All the Heads of School since the mid 70’s and there, slap bang in the middle of the 80’s was sibling No 1, our family forever etched into the history of the school. Children would sit eating their lunches in that dining room and would read those names, would read my brother’s name, and aspire to be like my big brother. Aspire to make an impact and to leave their own legacy to inspire future pupils just as I did when the nine year old me sat scoffing a bowl of chocolate sponge with mint custard (the best school pudding EVER btw).
The pride I saw on Uncle No 1’s niece’s and nephew’s faces came as a bit of surprise when they realised there was a family connection in that list of names etched in glass. Even I felt it, that knowledge that we were related to someone that others had thought worthy enough to be a leader among their peers. No one else is the room knew it, but the shared pride between the children and I could almost be tasted. I now understand why families put their kids through the same schools as the generations before. There really IS something special about sharing an experience from your past, from the days when careers, marriage and children shine in the distant future, too far away to comprehend. It provides a human, emotional link to generations in whose footsteps we shadow, firmly grounding us as we seek out our own futures. I can now totally understand how people want to create a legacy and a heritage that goes so much deeper than a list of names in the family tree.