She is sitting on the bench. Her spine straight, her head erect, but her shoulders ever so slightly slump. If you didn’t know her, you’d never see it. If you do know — and love her — you do.
“Everyone does their time on the bench” we say, but really, it’s not true. On this team, you do time on the bench primarily if you are a girl.
I am a terrible feminist. Let me say that for the record. I can believe someone is slighting me because I lack the commitment, the talent, the connections, or the drive but it simply never, ever, occurs to me that someone is slighting me because I’m female.
This noticing that is new to me. I’m still getting the hang of it. It took me four games to suspect something was up, and six to convince myself it was true.
My child — my daughter — was clearly being held back and denied playing time because this is an all-boy team and she is a girl.
For the record, we did not force a boy’s team to accept her. They came looking for her. She tried out for the girl’s team (and made it), but the boy’s team was short on players.
Would she, they asked, consider playing with the boys? She’s played with the boys her whole life without issue or incident, so without much thought we said “yes.”
I’ve never felt a child needs to labor under the delusion that they excel at absolutely everything to feel good about themselves.
My daughter is not a great dancer. She has all the rhythm of her mother, which is to say not much. She is not a fabulous cheerleader, despite three years of pee-wee cheer. Her spirit was willing, but her rhythm was weak.
No, I don’t think it makes me a bad mother to admit that the Lord gives us all different gifts. The Lord’s gift to her is this: Our daughter excels at soccer.
She took to the field at age 5 and we assumed that she would stand around, get tangled up, score a few goals in the wrong net and then we’d all go out for ice cream. We had no designs on soccer greatness and frankly, didn’t expect much.
Then she took off in a blur of long legs and golden pigtails and ran with the ball. Fast and sure, she kept on running for the next eight years.
By the time she was 10, she was sought out by traveling teams. As she played with them, other coaches noticed — and wanted her — too. She accepts with grace and humility the regular compliments that she is “wicked good.”
We’ve been at this awhile now. We know the breaks. Soccer is a tough sport and a contact sport. We never expect “easy.”
I have seen her win. I have seen her lose. I have seen her knocked down, run over, stepped on, kicked, hit, pummeled and punched.
What I have never seen in eight years of soccer is my daughter’s lip tremble or confidence wane as she began to doubt herself because an adult has made it clear that her gender alone makes her a second-class citizen on his team.
Worse, I have no earthly idea what — if anything — we can do. Argue? Cry? Make demands?
None of those are my style. I’m a role model here. We don’t tell coaches (or teachers or bosses) how to run their show. That’s not the life lesson I want for my kids.
My usual “suck it up buttercup” attitude has bumped up against the fact that this coach may, in fact, make my daughter doubt herself, her strength and her love of the game. What is a mother to do?
Finally, blessedly, the fates intervened. Another coach, aware of the situation, offered my daughter an out. Come play with his team — all girls, so fun!
I expected her to be thrilled. I anticipated relief. What I never expected was her to thank the girl’s coach for his kindness and his offer and say, without hesitation, “no thank you, I am not quitter.”
I have been pleased when my daughter was a good sport. I’ve been moved by her commitment to stay positive whether her team was winning by 10 points or losing by 20.
I can honestly say that I have never been so pleased, or proud, as when my daughter proved that she may not be “one of the boys” but is, in this case, something more.
She’s the girl who stuck with it and didn’t back down. She’s the girl who didn’t take the easy way out. Who, said, instead, “I am not a quitter” and took her place on the bench.
Bench warmer? Heart warmer. That’s our girl.
(Kymberly Foster Seabolt is a well-rounded soccer mom who knows her way around a golf-clap and a lawn chair. She welcomes comments c/o LifeOutLoud@Comcast.net; P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460; or www.kymberlyfosterseabolt.com.)