There are lots of reasons that I’m happy I’m not famous but right up there is a deep gratitude that no one has ever paid close attention to my parenting. It’s hard enough being a mother, without having to be observed, and I’m glad that I never had to worry about being photographed looking bored while pushing my son, Matt, on the swings, or miserable when I was watching him come last on sports day.
Not everyone has the luxury of anonymous parenting. Years ago, back when I still drank alcohol and before anyone worried about social distancing, I was crammed into a pub by the Thames watching Andy Murray play tennis. I can’t remember what the match was, but it was a big deal and the crowd swelled and roared as we all dared to hope for a British champion. Between points, the camera lingered on his mother, Judy, and much of the commentary focused on her role in his success.
How nice, I thought, finishing another pint.
“She looks tough,” said a man at the next table, “I bet she’s a lesbian.”
“He’s too much of a mother’s boy,” said his mate. “Maybe that’s why he never wins.”
Andy Murray did lose that day but went on to triumph in multiple grand slams and I always remembered that overheard conversation as people continued to speculate about Judy Murray, who said last week that being labelled as “pushy” and the way photos always showed her with her teeth bared, or in mid fist pump, was all to do with her being a woman.
I ask Matt about it when he comes home from school.
“I think she’s right,” he says. “They wouldn’t treat her like that if she was a man, would they?”
“Probably not,” I say, restraining myself from a little celebratory fist pump of my own at having raised a feminist boy.
“If she was a man she could jump up and down and shout, ‘Go on, my son,’ and no one would care.”
“True,” I say. “How would you like me to react? If you won Wimbledon, should I stay cool or jump about?”
He rolls his eyes. “Me winning Wimbledon is less likely than a zombie apocalypse.”
“PE isn’t too bad these days, is it?”
“Only because I’m in the shittiest group. I can’t ever improve because if I go up to a less shit group, life will be horrible again.”
“Ah,” I say, with a flicker of shame because, as a sporty kid myself, I was usually a captain and didn’t think about what it was like to be one of the kids who always got picked last until I had one of my own.
“But,” Matt says, “If we imagine what it would be like, I think it would be OK for you to get a bit excited. I bet Andy likes it that his mum is proud. He wouldn’t want her to look bored.”
I feel a frisson of maternal guilt. “Sorry for all the times I looked bored when we were at the swings,” I say.
“I’m not sure you did,” he says. “You might have been a bit hungover. It’s good you stopped drinking.”
“Thank you,” I say, “I am proud about that. And proud of you. Maybe even more than Judy Murray is of Andy. It takes a lot of courage to not be good at stuff.”
“Don’t get soppy, Mum,” Matt says, and goes off to play Minecraft and I think about how easy it is as a mother to think that we can never win on the maternal rollercoaster of love, worry and guilt.
We’re either too into our kids, or not enough. Too pushy or too soft. If even Judy Murray gets criticised for what she does and how she does it then how can the rest of us ever measure up?
This is the parenting trap; to be so scared of getting it wrong that we can’t enjoy the miracle of having created another human being. Wouldn’t it be nice instead if we could relax a bit and enjoy our children for the unique little people they are, whether that means they are winning championships or just doing their best to navigate PE lessons as they grow into their own sweet selves.
I think back to those horrible hot sports days, to watching Matt struggle to follow instructions or fail to keep his egg on the spoon. I’m sure my face was a portrait of anguished anxiety. Perhaps, with a different child, I’d have been doing a fist pump. Either way, I am relieved that there was no photographer there to record it.