Every four years I fall in love with soccer. I love the international feel of it, the fluidity of a game that doesn’t stop the clock, the fancy footwork. And it doesn’t hurt that the players are incredibly handsome.
This is the first World Cup I am watching with my children, and the experience is quite different. Instead of rooting for the striker or praying for the goalie, I now empathize with the referee. As a mother, I have more in common with him than anyone else on the field.
1. We both have tough jobs. The referee must run as hard as the players — and he must also anticipate where the ball is going and get out of the way. He must somehow be in the middle and to the side of the game at the same time.
As mothers, we do this all the time. We are often in the middle of our children’s lives, but must also gauge when to get the hell out of the way. It’s not easy.
2. We both need eyes in the back of our head. There is only one referee for the whole game. Like us, he gets no substitutions and no time outs. Besides the help of a couple of linesmen, he’s expected to see and hear everything. Everywhere.
Every mother knows how this feels. Blink at the wrong moment and suddenly someone is diving in and scooping your son out of a swimming pool.
3. We both spot the fakers. I hate when players fall to the ground “injured” only to get up and walk away seconds later.
Anyone with a toddler can spot this scam. One moment they’re screaming for Fruit Loops in the cereal aisle and the next they’re giggling because someone said the word “poop.”
4. We both will usually give you a warning. A yellow card is a referee’s way of saying, “I’m warning you; don’t make me come over there” — efficiently rolled into a little piece of paper.
I’d love to have a yellow card. When they get too loud in their seats at a piano recital, I’d quietly reach into my purse and whip it out. No words needed.
5. We both also punish. There is unquestionable power in a ref standing tall with a red card held high over his head. The look on the player’s faces.
I’ve seen that look from every one of my children. It’s equal parts regret and anger. I especially enjoy it when they convert a yellow to a red card. You’re mouthing off? Boom. Red card.
6. We both keep it fair. The referee keeps track of wasted minutes to add to the end of each half.
In my house, children will break their necks measuring pieces of cake and glasses of lemonade. We are expected to be fair. But remember, people will notice when we’re not.
7. Don’t cross our lines. I love the referees’ new trick of drawing a foam line on the ground for players to get behind. Players, like kids, will try to push their luck when there’s no line.
On road trips, I’ve been tempted to partition the car with a roll of duct tape.
8. Neither of us gets instant replays. Any idiot can tell the player was offside with instant replays from multiple camera angles. We don’t have that information when we make our decisions. So excuse us if we thought that was a foul — or if we thought all the kids would be wearing a tie to dinner when instead you were the only one.
9. If we’re doing our jobs right, you may not notice us. Referees keep the game moving and the players behaving. You feel his presence while seldom noticing the actual person. Until he messes up.
As a mom, I’ve packed lunches, made it on time to practices and made dental appointments with no applause. But forget to pick your kid up from one activity, and geez!
10. We both just want you to play nice. We merely hope you will play fair, do your very best and maybe have a good time while you do. Really. So next time you watch a game, congratulate the referee on his successes and forgive his mistakes.
Then call your mother and do the same.
Nina Hamza lives in Shorewood.