I was speaking to a young mother of a two year old girl last week. She confided that her daughter hangs out with too many boys; she is not maintaining her girly-girl ways. "What next?" the mother said, "She'll want a baseball mitt for Christmas?" I smiled and checked my watch. What year was I in? I said quietly, "I hope she wants a baseball mitt." My smile confused her.
Over the weekend, Mina had a play date. The mother wanted to come over so I could give her baking tips. That sounded fun to me. She brought all three of her young daughters. The mother then spent a lot of the visit dogging her girls. The middle girl, from what I've seen, is a real kick in the pants; a five year old firecracker with strong opinions and not shy about speaking up. She is secretly my favorite of the three. I think she's special, but her mom used words about the girl within ear shot like "grates on my nerves" and "we'll always butt heads". Taken aback I said, "That's the type of girl that'll do great things." The mom asked sincerely, "You think so?" The oldest girl is in Mina's class and has a mild, sweet temperament. The mom relates more to her personality, which she clearly told me a few times. This older girl is also a stunning height, head and shoulders above her class. The mom told me she hopes she doesn't end up like one of those "amazon women with size 10 feet.” I sighed. "Maybe she'll be a great athlete." Rising up in me was a dislike for this woman that I didn't want to feel. I just wanted to tuck her girls away; maybe keep the middle one for myself. We also spoke about how she was so impressed that I could pass baking on down to my girls. This was funny to me because that hadn't really occurred to me. I think of baking as a love that I developed late. In no way do I look at it as a necessary skill that my girls should learn. I told the mom, "Hmm, you know, I don't bake often with the girls. When they really want then I do." She said that she felt it necessary to pass down cooking skills to her girls. I said the only thing I would make them learn how to cook was beans, but I'd do that if I had sons too. All Puerto Ricans must learn beans, boys and girls. My husband certainly knew how to cook beans when we met. There were a couple awkward silences during the visit. We were cordial and I tried hard to still like her. When they left, she apologized that her girls were so wild. I said, "Huh?"
A few months ago, my company hired an outside sales rep, who has since quit. He was a bulldog of a guy; aggressive with an agitated vibe. He never looked at me in the eyes. During one sales meeting, I asked him questions regarding our customers and he would answer my male higher-up instead, which I thought was astonishingly strange. The discussion switched to strategies of how we would pitch a new, reluctant customer and the rep suggested that they fly me in for a personal visit. The conference room erupted in approving laughter and brow-raised nods. I smiled and looked at my hands. In fifteen years of brokering -- even in the fray of this boy's-club industry -- I had never been talked about that way, to my face at least.
Last month, in Maya's P.E. class, there was an invitation for boys and girls to try to make the Elite Running Club. Runners would have to beat a fixed time for the mile, and if they did they earned an Elite Running Club t-shirt and their photo would be hung in the PE office. The time Maya had to beat was 7:30. On her first try, Maya missed the time by ten seconds, but she was determined about trying again the following week. I said, "That's great, Maya. I think you can make it." Then I asked, "Which girls made the time?" And Maya said, "No other girls tried out." I looked at her as she casually took books and a binder out of her backpack. I said, "Not one other girl tried out?" She said, "Nope." I said, "Did a lot of boys try?" She looked up, "Yea, there were quite a few." I said, "Of all the girls in your school, you were the only one that wanted to make this? Why?" Maya said, "I dunno. They didn't want to get all sweaty before lunch. They thought it was stupid." I felt we were on a greased hill sliding back down. The following week, when Maya ran a 7:28, beating the time, I made a huge deal of the Elite Running Club. I told her she was inspiration to all the girls at her school because not only did she make it, but she had gotten out there and tried.
My heart sank, however, for all the girls I see from her school be-makeup'ed and heeled and fiercely fashionable. They strut around self consciously, masked by a You-Go-Girl era only to be devoid of real empowerment. It's just not the same as speaking well of ourselves, of other women, of our daughters, is it? It's not the same as flipping off our heels and jumping in the game because we're able, because it's fun, because we want to see exactly of what we're capable. I hope we all get a baseball mitt for the holidays.
Here's the sleeping dream I had last night; kind of on topic:
I dreamed that I was in a park playing a pick-up basketball game of three-on-three. I handled the ball most of the time. I drove on my defender to the baseline, pulled up and shot. The ball spun off my fingertips perfectly. I felt the adrenaline of shooting when a person guards you. I felt completely on fire. The ball cut through the basket in a perfect back spin that rubs against the net and make a sound that every shooter craves. On the next play, I drove the lane. I saw the opening clearly. I spurt past my defender and attempted a lay up against a big guy in the middle. I missed the lay up, but I felt so pumped that I knew I'd make the next one. I strutted to the top of the key and called for the ball.
I woke with a start, thrilled. I hadn't felt that good about basketball since I really used to ball the dudes up.