“What a tackle!” I shout. “Well done my son!”
“That’s not Son,” my son says.
“I said son, not Son,” I respond.
I’m sitting on the sofa with my 9-year-old son Joseph, watching the World Cup. It’s quarter past 8, not late particularly, but certainly around the time we’d be thinking about getting him into bed, and the match has barely begun. Early bedtimes have always been a thing in our family, because kids need sleep and parents need time to be adults. The move from the UK to China permanently shattered our previous iron routine, but we still put our kids to bed earlier than most.
World Cups though are different, a disruption in the space-time continuum, where the cycles of a different spot on the globe prevail over your own. I myself have become largely nocturnal, shunning daylight and human company in order to watch Croatia play Nigeria at 3am. And this is a match he really wanted to watch. Sweden is one of his favorite countries, on the excellent grounds that when he was 5 his favorite color was yellow, and his best friend’s was blue. He also loves Mexico, for the equally excellent reason that it’s where chihuahuas come from. He has never visited either of these countries, a source of constant malcontent when we’re dragging him round Mongolia or Laos or Malaysia (#thirdculturekidproblems). It’s not clear who he’s going to support when they meet each other in the deciding game of the group.
However watching football is important for playing it. My son is an aspiring goalkeeper, and we study the outstanding performance of South Korea’s young goalie, noting how he comes off his line and dominates his penalty area. Sometimes Joseph plays against kids who appear to have never watched a professional match, and have no idea how to shape their bodies when kicking or heading.
It can be educational too. Learning whether Costa Rica is in Central or South America, how to pronounce Nizhny-Novgorod, and the endless ethical issues raised by fouling, simulation, and Son Heung-Min’s national service, are all lessons he might never encounter in the classroom.
The real reason though is because it’s precious time to spend together. It reminds me of time spent with my dad, a devoted father but one who spent long hours at work and was nearly always working when he was at home. The World Cup was one of the few things that would get him to sit down with us. And in a drab English 70’s it was a window into a different world, where the sun shines at night, and all the colors are brighter, and food actually tastes of something. Even a kid as well-traveled and world-weary as Joseph can share that magic – if it means staying up late on a school night.
Photos: Karen Killeen, www.soccer.ru/galery/940971.shtml