Tuesday, June 24, 2014

3 Things the World Cup Has Taught Me About Raising Boys

So, I'm going to admit that I am kind of a fair weather soccer fan. Or at least I used to be. We have always been a football (not futbol) family. I am an avid (sometimes rabid) watcher of NCAA and NFL football. My boys played football. I was a crazy football mom. But, that, friends, was life in 'Murica.

Costa Rica has been turning us. Slowly. Until now. I do believe what started out as a bit half-hearted has been fully converted by this World Cup and Costa Rica's historic performance. And the ensuing mania in our right-now country which we have enjoyed immensely.

But as I have been watching these matches (see that, using proper lingo and all) closely, I have learned a thing or two. Or three. They have nothing to do with soccer. They are lessons from the men on the field. And they are showing me a thing or two about how to raise little men.

Here are three take-aways on raising boys I have learned from the watching the first round of World Cup play:

From the players: If something is worth doing, it is worth doing with excellence. Appearance is a key aspect of excellence. You guys, these men are not playing a game out there. They are sacrificing life and limb in the pursuit of excellence. They have form. They have technique. They have heart. They have training. They have teamwork. All things any mom of boys would easily list as key aspects of character that must be formed in boys for them to become men of honor and know success. But they have other things too, these men of excellence. They have hair. And tattoos. And neon cleats. And these things are important. Apparently. whether you choose to sport long Latin curls, mounds of blonde dread locks, or a shiny bald noggin has something to do with the way you are perceived by team mates, coaches, and opponents. Apparently too, the brightness of shoes affects ow hard and how accurate you can kick the ball. Or at least how hard you think you can kick the ball. For a long time, my house was filled boys who saw underwear and cowboy boots as high fashion. Who liked to run each other's buzz cuts for fun. Suddenly, these boy-men are very concerned about brands of shoes and hair gel and who is going to cut their hair and whether that person is capable of making their bangs flip just right. They each have a favored color scheme and style. I forget whose is whose. I can't keep up with brands of gel and the preferred scent of Axe body spray. And I was kind of blowing them off with a "what does it all matter, you're boys" attitude. Until World Cup. Now I know it matters. Very much. I am not quite sure what it is these boy-men will pursue excellence at, but I know it will matter that they appear to already be excellent at it. To them and to the people around them. We might not be rushing out to buy neon cleats just yet, but I will be a bit more cheerful about restocking the hair gel and Axe supply now.

From the coaches: Just because you have to wear a suit to work, it doesn't mean you can't be passionate about what you do. You guys, soccer coaches wear suits. On the field. During the game. And they jump and scream and sometimes spit in them. Their ties stick to their sweaty necks and threaten to strangle them. They squat and I fear for what we might all end up seeing with a little deeper bend. But they do their jobs. And they do them with passion. We tend to treat men's careers sometimes like the thing they must do to keep their families from starving to death. The thing that they really hate and so morosely and tragically to keep the light bill paid. The suits they don heroically while they sacrifice their souls for the greater good. This is not my hope for my sons. I want them to be able to support a family, sure. But I also want them to find a means to do it that, while it might require sacrifice (as all good things do), they can love, be passionate about, and be comfortable with. I want their suits to be a sign of pride in the role they play, not a prison sentence. They might not become soccer coaches, but they can certainly get excited enough about whatever it is they are doing that they sweat a little, their cheeks flush and their ties get a little befuddled. As a matter of fact, I think it might be time to practice a little tie tying style around these parts.

From the referees: Boys fight a lot. It doesn't always require your intervention. Boys are competitive. They want to win. At everything. They express themselves physically. They push. They shove. They grab shirts. They break the rules of the game and, sometimes, the rules of common human decency. Sometimes, they can shock with their ability to forget all you have ever taught them about decency. Sometimes, they bite. Often, the counter attack to these ferocious advances is dramatic and involves much flailing, rolling on the ground and fake tears. Sometimes, they try to divert your attention from your wrong by waving their arms wildly while they look askance at you waiting for you to do something. You are not required to intervene. If you stare back stoically, or better yet, just keep running and going about your business, 8 times out of 10, they will miraculously rise from their injuries unscathed and get back in the game. Also, consistency is optional. When you choose to enter the fray and enforce the rules is completely up to you. And everyone respects that. Even if they get in your face and try to tell you otherwise. Also, if you have sons, get yourself some little yellow cards. They apparently have magical powers that stop fighting boys in their tracks. And I think from this point forward in this house, we shall resolve penalties by lining up the offenders and allowing the injured to kick a ball straight at them as hard as possible. Maybe we will need those neon cleats after all.

P.S. If you have not been following my friend Elizabeth's son Michael's coverage of the Cup at USA Today, you are really missing out on half the fun. We will charm you and maybe even make you a bonafide soccer fan.

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