One thing about living in Valencia is that I’m not used to being around a lot of little kids. Hardly anyone with a family lives in downtown Seattle in my old neighborhood; the families mostly live in the areas of town with single-family homes or out in the suburbs. In Valencia there are no areas with single-family homes, and there are definitely not any suburbs, which means that I am constantly keeping an eye out for stray soccer balls in the street and dodging baby carriages out on the bike paths.
The good news is that I love kids so being hip deep in yard apes is a fringe benefit of life here in Spain. Rearing children is sort of a community project over here. Kids run wild through the streets with rather spotty parental supervision. It’s not like kids can get away with much since everyone in the neighborhood knows who they are, where they live, and where their parents go for a drink every evening. Every balcony in every apartment building is a potential vigilante spying down on what the kids are up to in the courtyards and playgrounds.
Keeping Spanish kids occupied has to be the easiest job in the history of entertainment: just give them something round to kick. Kicking a ball must be one of the most basic of human instincts, “Do you want to feel the baby kick?” It starts in the womb and they come out kicking and screaming. This sort of conduct is heavily encouraged in this football-crazed nation—the kicking and the screaming. Along with these natural types of behavior they teach the little ones how to fake a foul. It takes a village to win a free penalty kick.
Between my eight-story apartment building and the one next door there is a one story building that houses a night club and some sort of retail outlet. All of the little neighborhood thugs have set up a street soccer pitch between the two high-rise apartments, complete with goals chalked on the brick walls. I was awakened from a nap the other day by the steady and incessant thump of a soccer ball against the side of my building. I looked out a window and noticed that there were six soccer balls stranded on the roof of the nightclub and store. I wonder how many soccer balls in all of Spain have met similar fates? I imagine that that the Spanish equivalent of Santa Claus could be a mysterious visitor who comes once a year on to the rooftops of every city to liberate the lost soccer balls. That would be great news for the children and bad news for anyone trying to take a nap in the soccer-frenzy hours of the late afternoon.
Spanish kids learn how to kick before they learn how to walk,v and as soon as they get ambulatory every object, man-made or otherwise, is a ball in play: cats, dogs, your leg, the table leg, each other, and most definitely anything that is even remotely round. They will kick anything once and if it moves they will kick it again.
About 90% of the interaction between Spanish men and their children involves kicking a ball back and forth. I think that the number one reason why Spanish men want children is to have someone on the other end of their goal attempts. None of their friends want to guard the net so Spanish dads usually make their kids play goal keeper for the first few years. In Freudian terms, part of becoming an adult here is when children force their fathers to finally play a little defense. Dad is forced to stay home in the goal tender’s area while they learn how to drive a car or go out on dates.
to be continued...