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Confessions of a working mother: Why the real race can be getting to Sports Day on time

By Karen Ireland

Sports Day — I hated it when I was at school and I have to admit I don't like it much better now. It's been the subject of much debate, frustration and, of course, in recent weeks, guilt trips among many parents I know.

With many schools (primary at least) now having their sports day during the week parents are torn between wanting to be there — or at least to be seen there — and having to go to work.

Gone are the days when the event took place on a Saturday and whole communities came together to watch and celebrate. Inevitably inclement weather sometimes led to last minute cancellations and confusions.

But when it did happen, the world and its granny turned out to cheer the children on.

I was never very sporty at school (some things never change, my husband would say), so my mum would over-compensate by making me dress up and take part in the fancy dress competitions, which at least I had some hope of actually winning a prize in.

I still remember her and my next door neighbour stuffing me to bursting point with straw to make me into the scarecrow Worzel Gummidge. I won first prize that year along with my friend who was my Aunt Sally, and I remember that sports day above all the rest in the years that were to follow.

And now I am the anxious parent on the sidelines. This year I’ve had three different sports days — that's three mornings when I’ve had to juggle things to be there. I had a choice — either go to them all or go to none.

Eavesdropping, as I do, on trackside conversations, it seems most parents are in the same situation and have had to take a morning off work or rearrange their timetables so they could be there (and avoid feeling guilty).

Others had sneaked out for a second just to wave across the pitch and prove they were there before heading back to the office.

The actual race itself is over in a second — thank goodness, as I can hardly bear to watch in case my child trips or falls (like I did). But it's the moment beforehand when they look round for that reassuring nod or wave that every parent wants to be there for.

I am in a more fortunate position this year as working from home I can rearrange my schedule and simply make up the hours later in the day (well that's the theory anyway). But there have been times in the past when I simply haven't been able to make it to certain events as work commitments have demanded my attendance elsewhere.

At times like this the guilt has been almost unbearable, and even though I have sent a good friend or nanny and grandpa along to fly the flag, it hasn't been the same.

There are certain things you never get back and that moment is gone forever.

Then again, I guess you accept that guilt comes with the territory when you sign up to become a parent, and the more children you have the more juggling is required. You can't, unless you are super-mum and have supernatural powers, be in a multitude of places at one time.

Due to illness I missed the honour of going with my middle son Korey to his first live concert.

We had planned since Christmas to go and see Westlife together (don't judge us please!). Then, when the time came I was in hospital and as Tom most certainly was not going to share this experience with his son, a friend, and keen Westlife fan, stepped in and went with him.

I was gutted, but about a week ago, a couple of months after the big night, Korey got very excited while we were out in the car and started telling me all about the show. I got a blow by blow account of the night from his eight-year-old perspective, and that conversation and sharing his excitement with him almost made up for not being there.

The good news is that my boys' school doesn't do a mummy’s race — no amount of guilt could ever make me turn up for that!

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