As most of you know, Chez Vaka is Soccer Central. Soccer everywhere, all the time. Cleats are bribes for good behavior, and soccer is the dangling carrot of choice when parental expectations must be met.
Half of our life is spent at the soccer fields, and so when Matt said that he wanted to attend referee classes with his friend, Jakob, I thought: why not? We’re there all the time anyway, and he might as well make himself useful.
The night he and Jakob passed their referee exam, they plotted and planned all the way from the fields to the counter of Dairy Queen, where I was treating them to celebratory Blizzards.
As young referees, they can only referee the U8 (under eight years old) games. Because they are sweet and little and smell like shampoo, the U8’s play by more relaxed rules and do not receive yellow and red cards for infractions. This age group is still easily distracted by four-leaf-clovers, so certainly it would be a bit harsh to yellow card them? To hold up a red card and eject them from the game? Our soccer league seems to think so.
Matt and Jakob disagree.
“I know we can’t, but if we could,” Matt tells Jakob, “when they went off-sides I’d call it, and if they argued then I would be like– !” And with this he holds up an imaginary yellow card.
“Yeah,” says Jakob, “but U8 doesn’t have off-sides.” Jakob is the oldest boy in his family, and often the voice of reason. At times he seems like a very small, sensible forty-year old.
“I know! But if they DID? I would call it.”
The next day they continue a game they started several weeks ago: Yellow and Red Carding. Matt and Jakob have been cutting and stapling together little stacks of yellow or red paper. At first the boys only used a single sheet of yellow or red paper, but those single-ply cards wore out really fast. If one is truly committed to penalizing every single rule violation, then one is going to need a very sturdy yellow or red card. A moment of pure joy is had when the boys find a sheet of red glittery paper with self-adhesive backing: now they can ATTACH the red cards to the rule breakers! Life is so sweet.
The card preparation is followed by…..well, a lot of carding. Hours are spent acting out how they will impose rules, and discussions centers, specifically, on how they will impose those rules on Jakob’s younger brother, a U8. They will sign up to referee his games as a pair, and in this way they can maximize their authority. If they could, they would yellow card Jakob’s brother for arguing. They would yellow card him for hand balls and monopolizing the family Wii. They would yellow card him for tattling on Jakob, and then they would red card him and throw his a*s out.
I’m a bit appalled. I’m fascinated.
Giving my eleven year old a whistle, a yellow jersey and a position of power is a lot like putting the fox in charge of the hen-house. It’s like giving my little Napoleon a cannon and his very own Sphinx to fire upon. It’s Lord of the Flies goes soccer.
As soon as we sign Matt up for his first match, though, reality hits. No longer giddy with power, he’s worried about remembering the rules, about making the right calls and staying focused. Is there anyway I can get him out of this responsibility, he wonders. I assure him that he’ll be great, and promise I will be right there with him.
The boys are with their Dad the night before the season’s first games. As they leave with Mike, I assure Matt I’ll meet them at the fields in the morning to see him ref.
“You’re coming to watch him ref?” Asks Mike.
“Well…yeah. He’s a little bit nervous. Weren’t you going to watch the game?”
“Katie,” he says, “that’s silly.”
He turns to Matt, “You’re not nervous, are you?”
I watch Matt’s face as it reflects the sudden change in mindset, and I marvel at the Power Of Dad. Nervous? He’s not nervous. Nervous is silly. He scoffs at nervousness. I’m silly for even thinking he’d be nervous. I’m a foolish, foolish woman.
“Mom,” he says, “I’m fine.”
“So it’s ok if I’m not there?” I ask.
“Mom.” He says. How can one word hold so much pity?
On Saturday morning I meet them at the field for Riley’s game, and Matt is too cool to even discuss the minutia of his earlier reffing gig.
“How did it go?” I ask excitedly. “Did everything go alright?”
Grinning, Matt opens his new official referee’s wallet and pulls out the hard plastic yellow card. He holds the card up in front of me. I think I’ve just been yellow-carded.
“I’m being yellow-carded for asking about your game?!”
He nods. He will not deign to talk to unruly players.
“So it went well?” I ask. “I’m so proud of you!”
He shakes his head: this is going to hurt him more than it hurts me. With a grin, he yellow cards me again.
And because two yellows equal a red, he carefully and deliberately replaces the yellow card and pulls out the red.
Sighing–he really hates to do this–I’m given a red card for maternal interest.