I understand that as a soccer mom, I am part of a rising, powerful political force in America. Pleased as I am to be told I have electoral clout, the thought of soccer moms running the country is a little bit frightening.
After all, we are women who drag our sleeping children out of bed while it's still dark on weekend mornings; we drive them 75 miles for a 45-minute game against a team they will never see again; we stand timidly on the sideline of flat, wide-open fields in freezing rain and gale-force winds to cheer our little warriors on.
As a group, we fall somewhere between doormats and drill sergeants, encouraging mass troops of uniformed girls and boys to kick, run and head-butt in choreographed lock step while we feed them granola bars, orange slices and soft drinks.
Last weekend, watching my son play in the competitive league to which he has advanced, I remembered with a smile my early days as a soccer mom. My kids were 6 then, chubby-faced little boys with scabby knees, adorable in their purple knee socks and baggy shorts. When the ball was down field and there was no action where they were stationed, they often plopped down and picked strands of grass from the closely mowed turf. One of them couldn't break the habit of skipping up the field. We rarely knew whether we won or lost the game.
Not so now, in the big leagues. We rarely play single games now, but engage frequently in tournaments involving thousands of soccer clones spread across fields a half-mile wide, uniformly located on desolate plains on the edges of desolate suburbs. Thin lines of shivering parents, hovering over their morning coffee, line the individual game spaces, marked by goals at either ends and military-looking flags. Scanning the hordes of long-legged adolescents, all dressed in flawless, shiny jerseys, it's close to impossible to pick out a face that isn't lily-white.
Last Saturday, at a soccer game in Denver, I watched a pack of girls as they took their pre-game laps around the field. A floppy Labrador dressed in a team T-shirt, firmly attached to a leash, joined them. As they passed by, the coach on the field behind ours snapped at the running brigade: "No dogs allowed on the field! It's clearly posted!" Minutes later a referee pointed his finger at her forehead while delivering a stern warning: "This is your last warning. No subs on the field until the other player has left. Don't do it again!" "Yes sir!" she snapped.
This is not fun, I thought, grumbling into my morning newspaper. Parents with their eyes glued to the field strained to find their sons and daughters, and yelled loudest when those players had the ball. (I plead guilty to doing the same.)
In organized soccer, there are few mishaps, there's no mess. Spectators would never dream of throwing cups on the field or razzing the ref. And players march in firm solidarity and regimentation while the game is on, only to pile in the car and bitch about the other team the entire way home.
If there's a hotdog vendor, it's so far away you'd miss the game in the time it would take to walk over and back. Parents don't sneak flasks of bone-warming booze to the games in their coat pockets -- God, they'd probably be turned into the Deptartment of Human Services if they did.
If we soccer moms are the demographic to reckon with in the future, I say let's diversify a bit and democratize the game. Let's mess it up. Let's demand cheerleaders, confetti, a marching band, bleachers, some amenities.
Before I become a card carrier, I want this game to be more fun. I want my kid to scratch his butt out in the open and spit on the ground. I want uniforms that look like they've been played in, rips and all. I want tailgate parties and revelry and loud music and waving, screaming fans.
American parents and coaches have sterilized the game that sends hordes of Italians and Brits crushing over one another like mad bulls. Our take on soccer looks and feels a little too much like Nazi youth to suit my comfort level.
I say, soccer moms of the U.S. unite. Let's make the message clear -- Girls, boys and women alike (and probably men, too) just wanna have fun.
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