Gender, Moms and Soccer


My daughter is at soccer camp this week. It rained last night so when they played today, she got covered in mud. She walked past a group of cheerleaders and could barely conceal her derision. She told her dad, who happens to be a coach at the same camp, “I’d much rather hit people and get dirty than do a bunch of cheers.”

Nothing against cheerleaders, people. Some of my best friends are cheerleaders. (That is true; I do have some cheerleading friends.) However, the Luits are not exactly cheerleader material. We just don’t get it. It’s not our thing. And I thank God everyday, because I don’t know how to braid hair, I know next to nothing about glitter and if sports are being played, I’d rather be doing that.

When I watch my daughter play soccer, I want her to be fierce and tough. I want her to be a badass. I want her to trap, tackle, slide and generally just kick some grass. I want dirt on her uni, I want grass in her hair. I sit on my hands and mumble to myself that she get after it. If she gets tripped up or smacked into, I tell her to walk it off. I am so that mom.

When I watch my son play soccer, I am a different mother altogether. And it kills me to admit this. I want him to be kind. To play nicely. I want him to obey the rules and help a fellow player up off the turf. I want him to make friends. I don’t want excessive celebrations. I want short high fives and to continue play. If he gets knocked down, it takes the restraint of a monk to not run onto the field for my baby. It’s all I can do to keep myself from flailing toward him, arms open wide. I am so that mom.

I’m proud of them both; proud that they play a sport, proud that they are learning and engaging in the world around them. Proud of their effort. I’m a big fan of the “do it for fun” ideology. What surprises me is the different sets of eyes through which I watch them. Of course, all parents have to do that; each kid is different and the best moms and dads know this.

I’m just surprised that mine seem to fit into such incredibly gendered segments: I want a strong girl and a kind boy. Maybe it’s the reverse for some people: that whole girls are made of sugar or whatever it is. I find all my own gender ideas coming to a head when I watch my kids play sports. I know the world is a tough place for women and if she wants certain things, she’s going to have to know how to get them; I don’t want her relying on her femininity to get it. I want her to get it with her smarts. Likewise, the world is a different place for men. Never have they laudibly done so much in the home as well as at work. But this takes a balance of strength and sensitivity.

Still, to be completely free of the gender ideals, I suppose I’d want them both to play well, to be safe, and to have fun. If I were truly gender neutral, I’d be more interested in fair games and trying than in what I’ve listed. I guess men and women have come a long way, but I, at least, still have some miles to go.

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