Our boys

by Jacinta Nandi

It’s my first ever World Cup not in England.

You can’t imagine what it’s like in England in the weeks leading up to the World Cup. They bring out every expert in the whole country, we’re talking vicars, doctors, brain surgeons, plastic surgeons, tree surgeons, head teachers, supermarket managers, even old football players and psychics, and they all say the same thing.

England’s going to win, this year will be different, this year, finally, we will win again.

England’s going to win, this year will be different, this year, finally, we will win again.

England’s going to win, this year will be different, this year, finally, we will win again.

We’ve got to, even.

By the time the World Cup starts you’ve heard it all so often you just know we don’t stand a chance.  Scientifically.

But 2006, this year is different.

It’s my first World Cup not in England: my first world cup in Germany.  On the one hand it is true that you can buy World Cup yoghurt and World Cup razors.  But there is a serious lack of experts wheeled out to predict the German team’s undoubted victory.

And then, one day, listening to the radio, the guy says: “Only two weeks to go.”

Only two weeks to go?

For the first time in my life, the sentence “Maybe we will win this year,” pops voluntarily into my head.

I go to Hennes and buy Rico a little England T-shirt for three Euros. I buy myself one from the Adidas stall for about thirty.  As I put it on, I say, “Rico, who do we want to win? England!”

And my breasts leak milk. The thing is, I gave up breastfeeding a year ago.

People I haven’t spoken to since I had Rico – boys – phone me up and ask me what the atmosphere in Berlin is like.

“Er, great.” I say.  I feel like an embedded reporter or something.

“You know what I wish I could do for you?”  They say to me.  “I wish I could just come over, buy us all tickets and sit down with your little lad and watch his first football match all together. No, I really do, I wish I could do that for you. Just imagine the pride on his face as the England team walk out onto the pitch. But you know how it is. Work. What a load of bollocks. Work obligations.”

“Well, never mind,” I say cheerily, wondering if they realize that Rico is 18 months old.

“No, I really wish I could do that for you, like. I know how much you’ve been through.”

“It might be his last ever World Cup supporting England,” I say, wanting to change the subject.

“How do you mean, like?”

“Well, when he’s in school he’ll want to support the same team all his friends are supporting, won’t he?”

“Nah…” They reply sleepily. “He’ll wanna support the winners, won’t he?”

I never hear from any of them ever again.

One day Rico and I get on the underground with our England T-shirts on. The carriage is full of Swedish fans, they jeer at us affectionately. I grin back at them.

“Rico!”  I say sternly, “these naughty men do not want England to win the World Cup!”

Rico is appalled. “Nein, Mann!” He calls to them. “Nein, nein, nein! Nein, Mann! Naughty

The whole carriage laughs, but Rico’s outrage is real and I start wondering what the Supernanny would make of this.

I’m not the only single-mum in the building anymore. 

There’s a new girl who’s moved in, with a gorgeous boy, Dennis – a blonde giant, almost three years old but he looks about five to me.  He has a satisfied, defiant grin and messy, bright yellow curls and chubby, chunky bones. He’s gorgeous.

Dennis has a football T-shirt from Hennes, too. France.

“You didn’t want to get him a German one?” I ask his mother.
She snorts. “I don’t want people thinking he’s a prole, do I!”

We go to watch the football with the boys. We go to a local beach bar and sit outside, letting the boys play in the sandpit. We buy them Bratwurst and ice-cream, and try to watch as much of the football as we can, which isn’t much.

The camera focuses, for a second, on Sven Goran Erikkson’s face. Dennis asks, innocent, interested:  Was macht der Opa da, Mama? What’s that granddad doing there, Mama? And we laugh.

But he gets bored with the football quickly, runs off to the sandpit, starts bossing the other kids around, and eating old cigarette butts from off the floor.  His mum calls over to him: Dennis, listen to me!  Get that old cigarette butt out of your mouth right this second! 

He looks up at her, exasperated.  Ich rauche gerade!  He replies, grandly. I’m just having a cigarette…. He really is gorgeous.

We watch the final in the centre of town, keep the boys up way too late, and walk home through the summer night, laughing and giggling. Every time Rico sees someone with a Becks in their hand, he shouts, loudly and clearly: “Beer!  Cheers!” 

I think I’ll die of shame, but you see, it was, after all, my first World Cup not in England.


© Jacinta Nandi

“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*

I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.

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* Gloria Steinem