This morning Mina came out wearing her new soccer socks pulled high and tight. They were covered in pug hair. She wanted to wear her shin guards to school too. Instead, I let her model them for me, and the bulge from under the socks melted me. She strutted around with tiny, steel-strong legs in her basketball shorts and soccer shins and I wanted to tackle her to the ground and love her up. She started a school soccer league this week. She's the only girl in the league. Today she has practice, and it's all she talks about.
Since last week, I have felt tongue-tied. I'm struggling with words and I feel they only stammer onto the page lately, but I need to sputter about an athletic uprising going on in our house. There's been some unearthing; a few revelations. It's important stuff to us. Husband and I both came from a world where sports was a refuge. Whatever natural talent we had we molded into an outlet, an escape. For Husband it turned into an opportunity to go to college. For me . . .for me, ug -- I have no word-flow right now -- for me . . . I spent hours perfecting an L-shaped shot on a rusted rim, sometimes with no net or a nylon net, sometimes with a net made of a chain. The sound of the chain when the ball brushed through it was a calming chime. I pushed the limits of how much time I would spend on a blacktop. Backboard, chime. Backboard, chime. It was meditation. With a ball and ratty shoes I had unintentionally slipped out from the heaviness at home; out from under someone else's darkness. Banging the backboard, clanking the rim, waiting for the chime; within these sounds I was . . .I just was. With a ball in my hand, I was nothing else to nobody; not a scapegoat, not a filter, not their excuse, not their snag, not their apparent mistake. I was me. A free me.
My girls don't need this sort of rehabilitation from sports. They started on a much higher playing field. But if their natural empowerment, which is so evident already, goes undetected by them, it beams from their whole being -- lights a city -- from what I can see. They obviously could've rejected sports, which I would've supported too, but they haven't. They love it, and I feel we have been able to slip our athleticism into their arsenal of a million other great characteristics.
Maya just played her first season of basketball through a city/school league. She used to play a few years ago at a Boys and Girls Club in the OC. Back then, it was like watching the tasmanian devil in high tops. Most of the little girls at that level froze up with the ball. Some dribbled wildly with their head down until it bounced off their shoes. Some had budding natural talent. And Maya covered every inch of the court in a flurry. She dove for balls and could dribble with both hands. She was the Go-To guy in the pee wee league. Middle school has been different. A lot of these girls can ball well and Maya got down on herself for not being the star even though she hasn't played in years. She has to practice for sure and get the rhythm down again, but nobody can take her athleticism or her heart away. I told if that's all she's got right now, then use it all. She averaged about five steals a game. She jumped and tackled the ball with the biggest players. But mostly, she caught the basketball bug.
Mina's got a case of bball bug too:
And here's the unearthing: The basketball bug has brought Tae Kwon Do to its end.
That's hard to say, and to be honest, the girls' interest in Tae Kwon Do has been diminishing over the last year. We've all known it, but Maya had been very slow to admit it. This month, Maya was supposed to go to the Junior Olympics Qualifier and when there was absolutely zero spark of enthusiasm to train or fight or otherwise, I knew we had to have an honest come to jesus about the sport. "I love the idea making the Jr. Olympics, Mami," she said, "I just don't really know if I love to fight anymore." I smoothed her hair. I said, "The truth is that if you don't love it, the chances of making it are way less. You gotta love it." I asked her why she was ready to let it go now, and she said she hadn't realized how much she didn't love it until she started playing ball again. We're all ok with the decision -- except her coach -- from BD and Sanne to Papi and me. The concept is harder to let go though; harder than I thought. I've seen her do the most amazing things a kid could do on a TaeKwonDo mat. I saw glimpses into the future; how strong she really is mentally and physically. She has moved me many times throughout the last seven years. But it's time to make way for new things. If anything, Tae Kwon Do has taught me this: She really can do anything.
For Mina, Tae Kwon Do had been a bit of a tooth pull. She loved to fight, but she didn't necessarily appreciate waiting months to get into the tournament spar ring. Mina is the type that constantly wants to do something athletic -- non-stop -- play catch in the house, play basketball, see who can throw the tennis ball the farthest, ride bikes in the alley, play handball for hours after school -- whatever it is she's trying to play it. Tae Kwon Do took way more patience that she has. When we said we were thinking about ending Tae Kwon Do, she said without a beat, "Can I play in the soccer league now then?"
Basketball season has ended for Maya now. I asked her what she'd like to try next. Softball had already started. She doesn't want to do soccer, volleyball was filled. There were spots left on the track and field team. She was close to saying no until Mina said, "If there were no more sports to do, I would do track." I told Maya we were just exploring different things right now and track would keep her in shape for basketball. With that -- and a little sibling pressure -- she signed up for track. This was her first week. She's one of two girls on the team and she's the fastest of all of them. Her coach is already sparked by her and I told Maya, "Hey, maybe you'll like this a lot," to which she said, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, I'm just staying shape for basketball, remember?" Incidentally, she had a Jog A Thon on Tuesday and she ran 26 laps - 6.25 miles - in an hour like it was nothing.
I was going to tell you about my own athletic revelations, but I'll wait 'til next post for that. I'm out of words for now.