Whenever I watch soccer with my mom at home, she sits with me at an arm's length away and deciphers aloud what’s happening on the screen. She doesn’t really care whether her comments are accurate. Her chipper narrations in Korean coagulate with the anxious English commentary of Saturday's Premier League game, and I dedicate an ear to each language.
Next to her, I sit with the posture of my father, which she points out every time. I stubbornly persist. My feet are up on the coffee table, and I nudge away the pretty tray of potpourri with my toes. It’s a habit that prompts my mom’s nose to curl, like I do at missed volleys from my favorite strikers.
0:00 — We’re watching one of the last winter matches before I leave for campus. Her narrative of nostalgia commences with the shrill of the first whistle, and she quips about anecdotes I’ve heard too often: giving birth to me during the 2002 World Cup, how I was a fat baby, and the challenges of raising the most un–daughter–like daughter (in her opinion).
“It feels like only yesterday you were this little!” she sighs. I remind her of how I’ve grown by stretching my legs like a cat, to which she remarks that I have thighs like a man. I then watch as Bruno Fernandes sprints across the screen, boosting himself with his massive quads, and I choose to embrace my mom’s comment as a compliment. I wish he’d run a bit faster after the ball, though.
5:00 — “Who’s this fine young Englishman running right now?” is her first genuine question. “The one just now—he was wearing a red shirt.”
I can’t tell which of the ten men on the pitch wearing a red shirt she is referring to. I point to one of them when he flashes across the screen. “That’s Raphael Varane,” I explain, “and he’s French, not English.”
She rolls the name around in her mouth a few times to feel how it sounds on her Korean tongue—Raphael Varane? She’s disappointed; the r’s aren’t Korean enough, and they feel like concrete behind her teeth.
“He’s very good looking!” she notices. I knew she would mention that. And maybe I agree. I describe to her his good-looking career so far, from his professional debut at 17 to how he played every minute for France’s 2018 World Cup win.
I’m not sure she’s listening. Until she eventually nods and comments, “You probably know more about soccer than a boy would.”
I think I do.
10:00 — Mom explains how she’d pester Dad to drive her to Friday night prayers when she was pregnant with me—how she’d sit and petition God, “Please have this one be a daughter. I already have a son!”
I ask how she would have felt if I were a boy.
“I’d have dolled you up the same,” she assures, “like I did your brother.” I’ve seen his baby photos—swaddled in white lace, banana yellows, and bowed-up ribbons. He was a pretty baby, and Mom would agree: much prettier than I ever was.
“When you were finally born, I truly felt confident God had answered my prayers with a girl,” she coos.
My prayers are that our center backs stop losing the back line. Is there a limit to how many of my prayers can be answered? If so, how many have I already wasted on an English man’s ball game?
20:00 — Mom preaches about the joy of little girls’ clothes. After I was born, she would find her way to Lenox Mall and search for wares to dress me like a colonial doll. People mistook me for a boy so often that she’d douse me with florals and pink and tulle.
Mom continues. One Sunday, she took me to church in the cutest outfit matched in pastel pinks and yellows. Then a newcomer peered into my stroller and congratulated, “I didn’t know you had a son!” I looked so boy–ish, she reminds me. Maybe that’s why I still sometimes imagine whether I would have been better looking as a boy. Or maybe I’ve been coping under the covers of Maybelline.
“I think I might buy a Marcus Rashford jersey,” I comment, hoping Raphael Varane might have convinced her that the shirts look nice.
She doesn’t even have to think. “Girls shouldn’t spend so much on sportswear.”
30:00 — ”I wished you had done ballet—something prettier than this,” she says, motioning towards myself. She’d be the mom at recitals with a camcorder to her chin and nodding along to the accompaniment as I’d flutter across the hardwood stage in delicate pointe shoes. But instead, she is here watching me hurl criticisms to eleven men on the screen who do not know I exist.
I wish I was good at sports. I look at my own feet. I stare at them as if I could see through all the tissue and bones and cells into all the chromosomes and DNA I got from her; each nucleobase spelling out “these feet can’t do sports!” over and over into my genes.
Mom watches the men on–screen stomp at each others’ ankles for a tackle. She wears a face of relief that I settled for more graceful hobbies like painting. But I’m still jealous of the men who can shove into each other and wear grass stains on their shirts as an accolade.
45:00 — Mom still doesn’t understand the rules of soccer and insists she’s bored of the sport. Yet she tries to survive until 45:00 minutes of every soccer match she can, so humored by her past hopes of wanting the prettiest little daughter, while watching me gracefully name the bald–headed referees as blind bats and air–headed cunts out loud. She gets up and sighs, “God must have a bad ear, because I think he’s misheard my prayers and given me another son.” I wish that were the case.