Sunday, June 25, 2006

Cup Crazy

Apparently, I could have titled this entry, "How to Make Just About Anything Educational."

At our house, the main sport is football. No, no--not that football, the one with men in big pads doing set plays and patting each other on the tush. The other football: international soccer.

My husband's family is steeped in soccer history. Dh's great-grandfathers played in Germany and Hungary, respectively. Dh's grandfather picked up the ball in St. Louis, MO, where his sons followed in his kangaroo-skin footsteps. My father-in-law played on a Hall of Fame college team, continued semi-pro in young adulthood and finally became a coach. His brother played professionally, kicking against greats like Pelé in the short-lived U.S. league. By the time my husband's generation came on the scene, there was no question as to whether or not he'd play soccer ... just how good he'd be at it.

As it turns out, Dh is good, but not great. He played through college, but is now content to coach 6yo Atticus and his friends to victory on quarter-sized fields with mommies for cheerleaders. Does that mean that soccer isn't his passion? Not for a minute.

While DH is a sane, but passionate man 99% of the time, soccer is his 1% lunacy. (Actually, he's really only sane about 2% of the time, because that other part of his life is spent being crazy for JESUS.) Most people never see this raging weird-o ... but he's there.

Enter the World Cup.

In case you live under a rock (or in America), right now the world is smack dab in the middle of the culmination of four year's build-up in the soccer-crazed community. I, for one, am thankful every day that my dh is not crazy about U.S. sports because frankly, if he expended as much energy on say, your average baseball season as he does on international football, I think our marriage wouldn't have survived very long.

But, blessedly, the Cup comes only once every four years. And during that 6 week period, my husband becomes so consumed with soccer that he literally plans his life around the games. And guess what that translates to? Yes, that means that the lives of every person in our family begin to center on soccer.

Since I have essentially four year's warning, I'm able to prepare somewhat. For the last Cup, when our kiddos were 4, 2 and newly birthed, I figured, what the heck, let's try cuisine from each of the countries as we watch the games. This is my attempt to stay connected to the goings-on, because while I can now spot an off-sides attack and know the difference between a yellow card offense and a red card offense, soccer just isn't the intoxicating elixir for me that it is for my husband. I choose the role of help-meet in his soccer La-La land, as in, "Honey, can I bring you some chips?"

So the last Cup was the one that we learned to love a Brazilian bean stew (still popular in our house), sampled an African peanut dish (no longer on the menu) and made crepes for breakfast one morn (why not?) The kids loved it, and while I don't think they learned a lick of anything other than how long it takes for dried beans to soak, it enhanced their World Cup experience somewhat.

This year I was determined to mine the Cup for every bit of educational value. The kids are older, after all, and frankly, they don't need a primer on ball skills or penalty shots. I think Jo could ref at this point, although she hasn't worn a jersey since an ill-fated season when she was 4 and attempting to play in the Georgia heat. Atticus already plays, and while he enjoys it and understands the game, he hasn't yet found his groove--which I'm thinking is goalkeeper. We shall see in a year or two. Then there's Logan, who has ball skills--and tricks!--that leave both dh and I wide-eyed in wonder ... as in wondering where he learned that.

At any rate, the Cup stretched before me like a huge blank-slate of educational opportunity. I dug in. Within the past few weeks we have learned about Ghana, Ecuador, the Netherlands, Argentina, South Korea and the other 27 countries (including the U.S.) that have been competing. We made flags, counted how many countries have sort of bird on their flags or in their crest (you'd be amazed), counted how many speak Spanish, French, English or something altogether different. We've been riveted when countries have gone head to head in games that have pitted them against their long-time colonizers, we've cheered for countries whose teams display outright devotion to God.

We've had fun.

And while I've known all along that I was meeting my goal of tying the business of school with the pleasure of soccer on some level, I really didn't think my kids had learned anything that earth-shattering. Until today.

Our church's kid's program this summer is focusing on missions. We know the family that gave today's presentation on Chile. Imagine our surprise when, as we picked our kids up after service, we were met with, "Your kids are amazing!" How do you not answer that with an agreement? ;-) Anyhow, when I asked why she thought my little ones were so smart, she said, "We've done this for three services now, and not one child has known anything about Chile. But this time, as we got started, we asked, 'Does anyone know where Chile is located?' And Jo and Atticus raised their hands and found it on the map." I smiled and said, "Sonlight."

"Well then, " she continued, "we asked if anyone knew any of the history of Chile. And Jo told us about Magellan and Pedro de Valdivia founding Santiago, the capital of Chile. And Atticus told us about the war of independence from Spain. So I said, 'Does anyone know anything else about Chile?' and Logan said, 'Yes, they speak Spanish and they're not fielding a World Cup soccer team this year.'"

So I guess I really can't complain about being a soccer widow. My children, after all, are learning.

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