I didn’t know this was a thing– this Day of the Girl, an international day to celebrate girl children born around the world, a day to combat gender inequity, day to break the cycle of discrimination, and empower young people everywhere to promote human rights. Not only am I embarrassed that I did not know this was a thing, but in learning more about this day, I noticed that it kicked off back in 2011, the same year, coincidentally, that I became a mother to a daughter. Tonight, prior to soccer practice, I watched my daughter run around with her buddies. She used my whistle in a game of tag with her little first grade classmates and I recognized the “mini me” who likes to be a leader, likes to give directions, and likes people to follow her patterns.
There on the field tonight were many age groups represented. Middle school girls and boys were playing separate games. Grade 4 and 5 girls held practice at the end of one field while grade 4 and 5 boys played at the other. In between those fields, the Varsity boys practiced, and Greta and her friend Penelope wondered why in 4th grade the boys and girls played on different teams.
“Is it because the boys really start to smell bad then?” (Note to self: maybe I need to lay off the hygiene talk at tubby time.)
“Well, no,” I explain, “but there comes a time when some girls start to lose interest in sports if they are overwhelmed by boys. They like to play together with other girls and support one another that way instead of having coed teams.” I believe this is a good response to their question.
“What does it mean to be overwhelmed?”
Clearly, that might have been too much in the moment. Why would I want to put the idea in her head that there might be a time when boys (beyond her brother) make her feel upset or anxious or embarrassed? Dumb mother moment. Dumb mother moment.
She loves the little boys in her class, many of whom she has played with since infant days at the Child Care Center. She doesn’t yet understand that some of these boys one day might act ridiculous around her just to get her attention. They may compete with her for grades and friendships and 5K’s. They may break her heart— and she may break theirs. But for the moment, they are just buddies, equal in skill and ability on the soccer field, aka the playing field of life. In one moment, Greta can be a very focused athlete while in the next she and Penelope are comparing cartwheels. Sure, some are faster, some can dribble through 10 other players, some throw their bodies into the play 100%– and, well, some are sitting on their bums, growling at one another, doing cartwheels or wrestling one another to the ground while the play is elsewhere. Youth soccer is pretty hilarious in those ways.
So, I try redirection in the car on the way home by telling her the story of when I first was able to play on an ALL GIRLS TEAM back when I was 11 and what an honor that was. We had red, black, and white jerseys; we had warm up jackets and matching pants; we listened to mix tapes in the car on the way to tournaments and we had each others’ backs all the way through high school. I am caught up in the moment and realize I’ve lost my audience in the rear view mirror.
“Did you know Daddy when you were 11?”
“No, I was 30 when your Daddy and I met. But back when I was 11, Gram and Pop signed me up to play on a team just for girls, and they became some of my best friends. They pushed me to play harder. They made me a tougher person. They were different from boys because, well, they were girls. Does that make sense, honey?”
We had two other little boys in the car with us named Lukas and Ollie I was responsible for transporting home. At this point, Greta only wanted to know how tall I was when I was 11 and Lukas wanted to know if I weighed more than his dad and Ollie wanted to know if I would be his coach next year. Maybe my timing was off. Maybe it wasn’t.
As parents, sometimes we tell our kids more than they want to hear before they are ready. But one day, she will understand, maybe why I was so worried about being a mom to a girl. The way I see it– as long as I can keep both my kids on a soccer field, they will learn to read defense and anticipate next moves, to attack those 50/50 balls with confidence, to be a team player, and to balance the opportunity for goal scoring while creating opportunity for those around them. Until then, we just play soccer.