Confessions of a soccer-mom (not a “soccer mom”)


When I moved to the Boston area in 1997, I almost immediately fell in with a crowd of fellow footy-lovers. I’d gained an appreciation for the sport when a co-worker helped me score tickets for the entire slate of soccer games played at RFK during the 1996 Summer Olympics. Add to that the thrilling DC United victory in the first-ever MLS Cup Final, and I was hooked. Later, I would met dh through soccer, at a pick-up game no less (no, not THAT kind of pick-up), making “the beautiful game” a critical component of my life for the better part of the past twenty years.

For a number of years after I moved up, footy had a dominant role in my life. Game weekends ruled my calendar, and even Sunday morning brunch with my group of game-going friends was somewhere that had a large screen for watching more matches. I was a proud season ticket holder of the New England Revolution, moving along with the rest of the Midnight Riders in The Fort from the metal benches of the former Foxboro Stadium to the plastic static-inducing-seats-with-cupholders of Gillette Stadium. As a die-hard, I traveled for games, I stood in sometimes torrential rain at our home field, and I watched (and took part in the fun) as tailgating was elevated to an art form.

And then life got way more complicated.

Within the span of a twelve-month period, my then-boyfriend and I bought a house, we got engaged, I started (night-time) graduate school, and we got married. Finances and calendar space became tighter pretty much immediately, so our game-going became more sporadic. I can’t count the number of weekends I spent with my laptop on my lap, homework spread out all over a couch, as a game was on in the background.

Then kids happened.

About a year and a half after I earned my Masters degree, dd was born. Finances that were previously tight shrank horribly. Day care expenses dominated our checkbook, costing well over $300 each week. Between money being so tight and having a newborn who demanded all the attention there was, going to games faded into the background.

More time passed, and just under three years after his big sister made her first appearance, ds was born. Money got even tighter. Day care now commanded well over $600 per week from us, enough so that there was a point in time when I sincerely considered just staying home in order to staunch the fiscal bleeding–but I still made enough to make it financially worthwhile to continue working outside the home. It was my preference to continue working anyway, and so we forged on.

And so did the rest of the group, albeit in their own ways. Over the course of time, several people from our group left town–migrating elsewhere in the Northeast or Mid-Atlantic regions–and some faded from view as other matters in their lives took precedence. A group of die-hards still continues to this day, but their number is greatly diminished, with so many of us scattered, focused on different priorities than the game.

That’s not to say that dh & I don’t watch matches; we do. It’s just that making an appearance at the games has always been something that’s had a profoundly different effect on me than just watching the game at home. Even when the atmosphere was awful, with The Fort being the only noise in the whole damn cavernous hulking beast that is Gillette Stadium, the tailgate and seeing my friends always made it an experience. I distinctly remember a point when the Revolution was nowhere near the top of the standings, and our attempt to tailgate through the entire game was stymied by the security team “kicking us into” the stadium.

And yet, I don’t regret anything.

I still have yet to see a World Cup match in person, either on foreign or domestic soil (I missed my chance to get World Cup ’94 tickets with my co-workers, because I started that job right as the World Cup began). I haven’t traveled to a Rev match (or any other sporting event outside New England) in years. I’ve seen two Revolution games in person this season, and that’s more than I’ve seen in the last several years combined.

Major League Soccer is trying to manage the needs of two somewhat competing elements. On the one hand, they want to cater to the “soccer moms”–the ones who have inroads with youth teams that can “put fannies in the seats” (as former Revolution General Manager and WGBH host Brian O’Donovan used to say)–but on the other hand, they want to cultivate the more grown-up European atmosphere on display in cities like Seattle and Portland. It’s difficult to organize a “family-friendly” experience and also have the supporters chanting “YOU SUCK!!!” at the opposing goalkeeper each time he kicks the ball. Then again, it’s also hard to fill the seats with the younger set when many games don’t start until 7:00 or 7:30pm, guaranteeing that younglings will be going to bed late.

This was a lot of what kept us away in the past couple of years (along with the crippling, now-gone day care costs), and we knew the epic meltdowns of keeping our kids up late weren’t worth it. As parents, you sense what’s worth the fight and what’s not, and that just wasn’t. With ds nearing the age of six, we’re within striking distance of this being okay, so we’ve dipped our toes in the water of coming back to the stadium–first with an afternoon game, then with a night game. In both cases, the kids loved it. The other night, ds proudly held my scarf high above his head as the team came out onto the field. He and his sister both sported matching Revolution shirts and hats that they proudly showed off before, during, and after the game.

And the tailgate. Oh the tailgate. They loved the tailgate. We hung out with our die-hard friends before the game, and afterwards we treated friends both old and new to S’mores. We didn’t get home until after 11pm, and the kids were tired but happy. When asked if they wanted to go back, the answer was an unequivocal “Yes!”

So I sit with my laptop open, pondering a mini-plan or some other method of getting a small slate of tickets for us, not yet ready for The Fort with the kiddos until I can be sure any language they learn to repeat can as easily be attributed to us as to their friends at school. (I’m figuring five years.) I’d like to get us back on a trajectory of being a part of that world again, because it was so instrumental in me finding something beautiful.

I regret not one moment that I spent at home instead of at a game, because my children and my family matter more to me than any team. I chose them as my priority, and I’m sure I made the right decision. And now, with my kids bitten by the footy bug as I was at a much later age, I’m glad I can be there to see the looks on their faces each time it’s new.

DD asked when we can get tickets for The Fort, and she also (separately) asked if she can become a season ticket holder. I’d like to say, “My work here is done!” and just pat myself on the back, but I know it’s only the beginning of their journey. And it’s going to be one hell of a great ride.

{interlude} Looking for racism where it doesn’t exist

I’ve been watching soccer on TV for years. Over a decade. Long enough to have become a fan of regular anchors (like Bob Ley) and those who became anchors or color folks after their on-field career ended (like Alexi Lalas or Eric Wynalda). Max Bretos has been a colorful character, for sure, seemingly hyper-caffeinated on-screen and maybe Alexi’s BFF off-screen. I was glad to see that his career continued to progress, until it apparently came to screeching {suspension} this week thanks to a turn of phrase taken WAY out of context.

Bretos asked former Knicks player Walt Frazier about current Knicks phenom Jeremy Lin: “He’s handled everything very well, as you said, unflappable – but if there is a chink in the armor, where can Lin improve his game?” The world then seemed to have spun out of control with people accusing Bretos of racism because he used the word “chink” in the same sentence as “Lin”. Lin is of Asian descent, and much of the press about him seems to be focused on him not because he’s a fantastic player but because he’s a fantastic Asian-American player, and yet Max is the one who gets called out for being a racist? I’m sorry, but that’s nuts.

In the context of the phrase (speaking to its origin), “chink” refers to chain mail that’s got a hole or a snarl in it, creating a weak spot in the armor. In other words, what Bretos was asking was, “What are the weak spots in Jeremy Lin’s game?” In fact, if he had used this very same phrase when talking about ANY other NBA player – say, Kobe Bryant or LeBron James – NO ONE WOULD HAVE CARED. The reason no one would have cared is because the phrase was uttered innocently and in a completely valid, non-racist context. The people who are making a big deal about this, to the point where people are being fired or suspended, are the ones who should check their own heads.

Don’t get me wrong: racism is bad, mmmkay? Calling people bad names because you think they’re inferior is just wrong. However, picking up words that have been used for racist terms and calling them racist when used in complete other contexts is just silly.

Here’s another example:

The mid-90’s song “Alright” by Supergrass is a catchy, amusing tune that I remember hearing in the movie “Clueless”. One of the lines goes: “We wake up, we go out, smoke a fag, put it out, see our friends, see the sights, and feel alright.” OMG THEY SAID FAG. OH BUT WAIT…turns out that the band wasn’t talking about actually lighting a gay person on fire…they were just using a British slang word for “cigarette”. OOPS. So, given that the song got picked up by movies and even Intel, does that mean all those people are homophobes? Uh, no. Not remotely.

Words aren’t inherently bad until they’re used by bad people to do or say bad things. Many words have more than one definition or use, and not all definitions and uses of a bad word are bad. And it frustrates the hell out of me that someone who used a word innocently is being denied the ability to work because other people with their own racism issues have decided to make the word seem less than innocent. They’re the ones using the word badly, and if anyone should be suspended, it should be them – not Max.