I went to watch my son at a mini soccer tournament the other day. It was great fun; watching any member of my bloodline play sport is a joy, and not because we are good. But I’m not writing about that today. I’m writing about pants. While the eight-year-old boys ran around the field screaming at each other like pro-footballers and flailing awkwardly at the ball as if it were on fire, I noticed another group of boys on the side of the field. They had found themselves a grassy embankment, and were sliding down it on their knees. It looked like fun.
The reason they could do this was that they were wearing their shiny, slick school tracksuit pants. Their expensive, shiny, slick school tracksuit pants. Kids in South Africa wear school uniforms. Because they aren’t mass produced, these can get pretty pricy. It is a South African tradition to spend the last few months of every year imagining what you are going to do with your end of year bonus (A holiday? A new laptop? A deposit on a new car?), before spending the whole damn thing on school blazers and green denim pants because your ungrateful progeny keep on growing just to spite you.
I smiled a little unkindly at the thought of those boys arriving home in their torn and battered pants, and went back to watching my son cheerfully nipping off unannounced to the gents just as the other team mounted a fearsome, three pronged charge down the field. I smiled a little less when he came home with both knees torn out of his tracksuit pants the next day. He had not, he informed me with slightly hurt outrage, been sliding down the grass. He had simply been walking across the field when both knees failed. Maybe it was moths.
Oh well. He needed new green denim pants anyway- he was starting to look like a Michael Jackson impersonator. As a parent you get used to this sort of thing. You can rant and rave as much as you like; broken is just broken. And it’s not really fair to blame an innocent little boy for the malicious behaviour of knee-moths. Sometimes you just have to accept things.
This is not always easy. The very next day, the boy hopped into the car, buckled himself in, and looked me in the eye;
“I”, he announced gravely, “need to go to school on Friday dressed in teal.”
“Good!” It’s best never to let them know they’ve got you on the back foot. I started the car. I mulled things over. I decided I was ready. “Why?”
“It’s for the Mother’s Day concert.”
“Right. And they gave you two days’ notice about this, did they?”
I suspect this reply came from the same place the knee-moths did. But at least we had a little more than the 45 minutes warning he usually gives us for these things. So. Teal. Schools sometimes take my breath away. Most of the teachers I know are parents themselves. They also have to get the blazers, and the green denims, and the shoes, and the jerseys. And I’m sure they moan about it. But then they find themselves standing up in front of a sea of obedient little faces, and the power goes straight to their heads. “I,” they mutter to themselves “shall make them all wear teal! Teal! Ha Ha Ha Ha Haaargh!”
Which brings me back to my little chat with the boy. I thought things through as I pulled out of the school.
“What,” I asked as we pulled up to a traffic light, “is teal?”
“It’s a colour, dad.” He answered with the withering look small boys reserve for adults who reveal their ignorance.
It was his turn to pause. “I,” he said a little sadly, “don’t know.”
Time to make up for my lapse in knowledge. “There is a small duck called a teal. That must be where the colour got its name from. Do you have any clothes the colour of a duck?”
In the end, we asked his mother. Teal is not the colour of a duck. Teal is blue. Teal is a special kind of blue. The kind of blue that not a single one of the kids in the concert would own. The kind of blue that embittered speech and drama teachers can use to drive cash strapped parents out on a doomed hunt through the boys section of every store within a 50km radius. People who make boys clothes don’t do teal. They don’t do mauve, or taupe, or fuchsia. They do red. And blue. And green. They do proper colours. Colours that men can ask for in shops without breaking eye contact.
Luckily, there are two of us. My wife has gone to get the teal clothes. And she’ll find them, too. And maybe some shoes (burnt umber). And a handbag (light coral). And some nail varnish (onyx). And maybe a new winter jacket (azure).
Thank god there’s one of us who can do this stuff. Shopping just gives me the blues (ultramarine).