Watching the World Cup with 5-Year-Olds

Soccer Features World Cup
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You were eager to generate enthusiasm in your household. You knew the World Cup was one of the most exciting events to take place regularly on the planet, a month-long festival of brilliant and unrelenting entertainment, a slice of heaven on earth for soccer lovers everywhere. You also knew that for the families of soccer lovers everywhere, it could be a test of the limits of human patience.

But it didn’t have to be for yours. Not if you could make them see what you saw—the drama, the memories, the magic. As the day approached, you started to speak enthusiastically about what lay ahead.

You knew a few things about enthusiasm. As the father of 5-year-old twins, you could have taught a class on it: Enthusiasm—easy to generate, difficult to maintain. This would have been the chief message of the class, the only message. It would have been a short class but a good one. With the right tone of voice, you could get a child excited about almost anything—a cardboard box, Johnny Cash, soy milk—it didn’t matter. It was all in the presentation. It was keeping them excited that was the trick. Keeping them interested without overwhelming them with details or boring them to the point of madness—that was the challenge.

You knew it was best to stick to the big picture—the grand, sweeping, worldliness of it all—the coming together of the nations in a thrilling spectacle of color and romance. If you got too specific and detail-oriented you’d quickly find yourself navigating conversations with your daughters that tested your enthusiasm as much as theirs.

It was established early on that Liverpool, the team you had watched all year long, would not be playing, because Liverpool was a city … in a country. And Ireland, where you were from, wouldn’t be playing either. No, Ireland wasn’t a city, it was a country, but not all countries got to play. It was just, Ireland wasn’t very … Look, Ireland was great. No, Crystal Palace, a team your daughters had latched onto during the Premier League season because of its alluring but ultimately misleading name, wouldn’t be playing either because Crystal Palace were a bunch of s$&*s (a sore point for Liverpool fans this year). Some of the players from those teams would be playing though, well not the Crystal Palace ones (again, a bunch of s%$&s), ... but for their countries. Well, no, they’d still play for their clubs. This was separate. Had you shown them the wall chart?

Distraction would be important. You knew this. You’d taken them on road trips, for God’s sake. You knew about distraction. Wall charts, sticker books, maps of the world—these would be your tools and you would need them because when it all kicked off, all of the poetic phrases you had conjured and all the videos you had shown them of people with painted faces crying tears of joy in slow motion would seem unrepresentative of one very sobering fact: The World Cup was a competition involving a minimum of 5,760 minutes of soccer, an unfathomable amount of soccer. And when, one minute into the tournament’s first game, one of your daughters would ask if it was half-time yet, alarm bells would start to ring in your head and the enormity of your task would come into sharp relief.

You could scramble for the usual touchstones of interest, which for them would include pointing out the referee and determining what colors the goalies were wearing, but that would only buy you another minute or two at best. After that, they would be climbing on your back, hanging from your neck, and asking if they could watch Curious George. When would this be over, they would want to know, so they could watch their show? And the answer—you knew it was unfair, unthinkable, but you would say it anyway—“Mid-July.”

It was a rocky start but in time you’d find a rhythm. You’d fill in the wall chart together; you’d hunt down stickers for the book. You’d huddle on the couch when it got exciting. Sure, they’d go off and do their own thing, but they’d come running back for the action replays. This was what had just happened, you’d confirm. You were seeing it now but it had already happened. This was it again and again from different angles, different cameras. Soon they’d be telling you as if they’d learnt it from someone else. “This has already happened,” they’d say, unaware of the weight of the statement. This was the World Cup. It had happened many times and it would happen again. It would happen in four-year-intervals and you would remember it. You would measure your life by it.

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