My daughter, Nora, has yet to turn 2, but she already knows three words for television: Elmo, Mickey and, lately, soccer.
I began my fifth year as a stay-at-home dad not long ago, meaning that the FIFA World Cup has occurred twice during my domestic shift. In the summer of 2010, my son, Oliver, was only a year old, but I remember rocking him to sleep in the living room while I watched Spain creep to a championship with a string of 1–0 wins. I like to think that the overtone buzz of South African vuvuzelas through tiny television speakers remains one of the soundtracks of his life.
As in 2010, I'm still in graduate school, now one year from completion. I'm on summer break, meaning I hang out with Nora most days. In the mornings, we run errands or travel to a park. Just before noon, though, when the outdoor heat and our hunger start to rise, we pack our bags and head home. Brazil is five time zones closer to Raleigh than South Africa, meaning this year's matches coincide better with our schedule. When we get home at noon, the day's first action has just started, and I ask her if she wants to watch soccer. She nods her head and sprints toward the television—screen at eye-level, power knob at hand-smashing height. She smacks the switch, and I push play on the Apple TV remote.
This is the only time television is on during a meal at our house. While Nora and I sit at the table and eat lunch, I peer over her shoulder to catch some of the first half. After lunch, we sit on the floor of the living room near the TV, a stack of books to our side. I read Moo Baa, La La La maybe four times in a row while hoping to glimpse a goal or at least a replay. When it happens, I cheer, and Nora follows suit. She doesn't startle easily, so she yells "Yeah!" whenever I clap—excited, even if she doesn't know why.
Her nap usually syncs with the first match's halftime, so I tend to miss late-half goals while putting her to sleep. But while she sleeps, I can catch most of the second half, uninterrupted—computer in hand, taking care that the Brazilian crowds don't rouse her. She wakes when the second match starts, so it must seem like soccer is a constant of every summer. If we don't make it home in time, I even pipe in the soccer audio through my car stereo as we head home; she's been bathed in World Cup media for the last month.
During the United States' record-breaking but ultimately fruitless match against Belgium last week, Nora and I broke our cycle and headed to a packed local pub. She was an avid afternoon fan, screaming when we screamed and clapping when we clapped. At half time, we lounged around Moore Square, watching the guy who always seems to be tossing a football to an invisible partner. Just before the second half began, my wife, Stacy, arrived and scooped Nora, taking her home so I'd have a bit more liberty to cheer louder during the second half and subsequent overtime without watching replays. Despite my best effort, all my screams couldn't will the U.S. to victory.
The national team is home now, but Nora and I will continue watching in the afternoons, picking our favorites and trying to see them through. It might be our last chance for a while. By the time the World Cup rolls into Russia in 2018, Nora will be in kindergarten, Oliver nearly ready to finish elementary school. There will be summer camps and day jobs, I assume, no time for idle afternoons spent in front of the digital pitch. —Jedidiah Gant
Jedidiah Gant lives in Raleigh. Find him online at @jedidiahgant.