My kids had their school sports day today. There had been no school for nearly month before this due the flu raging in Hong Kong. My two had just finished bouts of flu before the government ordered the school closure so I was like hmph, but in a way, I was glad that they would be away from the chance of relapsing and the holiday sped by without much intervention from me (I didn’t bother organising playdates or arranging activities, and in fact I was ill over the Chinese New Year break and then V the week after me, so even some weekends were blah). Thankfully, the kids entertain themselves, there were other kids at a loose end, and I guess they’d rather be hanging out at home than at school overall. It made me think that homeschooling could be a thing for us – if I had the energy for it.

Anyway, a week before school was due to start, we began waking up to the prospect of sports day, and by we, I mean Nene. To add to the fact that he is sporty and competitive by nature, there is the prospect of medals i.e. shiny things. Silver! G.O.L.D! (he is convinced they are ‘real’ and I don’t have the heart or rather the energy to convince him otherwise). He informed me that he was not the fastest in his year, but third I tried to tell him that he should do his best and that’s what mattered, but he shrugged me off.

Then, we were in the park on the weekend, and we saw a kid jogging, and I explained to Nene that although he makes fun of me jogging (“so slow, mom!), to win races you had to build up your strength by going slow many many times. So he did a round of the park and realised that it was hard, and then he realised that maybe if he wanted to win, he had to practice. Though we probably should have done this earlier.

Leading up to the sports day, it was all he could talk about and I began to think I should manage his expectations. Mimi, throughout all this, was blithely unconcerned. She was roused briefly to running around the track with Nene, but is honestly so slow that I wonder if she has problems breathing. “There are some people who can’t run fast, you know,” V said to me, but I no, I don’t know. Everyone in my family is athletic – my parents, my husband, my sister, me, my sister’s daughter, my two sisters-in-law and my sister-in-law’s daughter, though come to think of it, Mimi might have a companion in my eldest niece. Like loving animals, being sporty is not something I thought my kids wouldn’t be.) I’m not naturally athletic either – but my parents enrolled me in athletics training with my sister to build up my strength since I kept falling sick and the fact that I’m naturally stubborn, especially about things that my sister did, that it grew on me. I also think that it’s important for girls to be sporty, because when they’re adolescents they can take pride in their bodies in a different way – in how their body moves and feels, and not how it looks. That said, I don’t have it in me to force Mimi into sports classes where she would be forced to exercise, because… I’m lazy.

Anyway, so sports day. Last year, it was just different house games for the Year 1s. This year Nene would have proper races. I was nervous for Nene because I knew how much he wanted to win. In the heats, he came first and second in the hurdles and sprint respectively. Then there was a surprise event – the 400 m – and to my surprise, he came second and got a silver medal. Having broken his arm and had the flu, he wasn’t up to is optimum strength and having watched him run the 60m races, I didn’t think he’d have the strength for the full round. I counseled him to stick to the inner track, not to push himself in the beginning and to pump his arms if he got tired at the end – yes, this is a mum who has run track events talking. He was great in teh event, I think he followed my advice and hung back, but it was his long strides that convinced me that this might be his event. In the sprint event finals he struggled, but he got a bronze in the hurdles, which was good enough for me.

Before the final sprint, he said – I’ve got bronze, I’ve got silver, I have to get gold. But in that race, he didn’t even place. I was pleasantly surprised that he swallowed his disappointment, at least for a while. For someone who insisted he wanted to win, when he didn’t he handled it, he talked over it, even though he did snap at a little girl who said “I got gold in everything”.

There were kids who were really good, I could see that. And then, most of the kids, didn’t really win anything. The same few kids dominated the races, and I was fortunate to be the parent of one of them. After the first race, I had to tell Nene to play down his victories in consideration of his friends, though he didn’t entirely succeed. And then there was Nene’s bestie who came up to him and said, “Nene, I’m cheering for you, okay?”

Mimi’s class didn’t have races but collective activities that she was frankly bored with. I bought her a toy at the concession stand that amused her. And I was the bad mum, who got my kids McDonald’s as a snack as I could see that they were starving.

Sitting under the bright blue sky, watching small humans in colourful t-shirts zip past me, this was one of the happy days. Watching my son do well on the field, part of the pleasure of that was reliving my own glory days (Sports Day was the high point in the school calendar for me, even though I actually never won anything. I always qualified for the finals, and at best may have got a bronze. But my sister always came home with medals, and I loved the excitement of it all. I’m a good spectator). But more of it is a pleasure I only discovered with kids – experiencing things through them, the pureness of their excitement and joy, the trust of a small boy’s hand in yours as you help him find his water bottle since his mum is not here, the beam from your daughter when you are spotted, the chants of support, the little kindnesses (amid the ever-present penchant for meanness), a group of older kids who went back and almost carried a classmate to the finish line, the differently abled kids loping to the finishing line helped by their parents. Being immersed in this world of small people, it is a pleasure I never imagined.