My friend approached me after I’d offered my first benediction ever in a worship service.
“I know you were raised in the South,”she said, “where girls are taught to not take up too much space. But you need to raise your arms during the benediction.”
“Weren’t they raised?”, I asked.
“No.”she said, “Your elbows were bent and held into your waist. You looked like a robot.”
She then demonstrated what raised arms should look like. She looked like she was trying to scare off a bear. I laughed and thanked my friend from New York for the arm advice.
Later, I wondered if I had indeed been raised to not take up too much space. While my parents are Midwesterners, I have lived in the South my whole life and I definitely knew what she meant. Girls and women do learn through experience that it is best to not be too loud or too big or just too much. It all just seems to work better if women are delightful. Being delightful can serve us well…until it doesn’t anymore.
My oldest daughter plays basketball for her high school. She is scrappy and competitive. Even as a child in elementary school, she was a different child on the basketball court than she was at home. At home, she was helpful and thoughtful. On the court, she meant business. I’d watch Caro play recreation league basketball in fourth grade and cover my eyes in mortification. She would consistently and constantly snatch the ball from the other little girls in pigtails. She was all about winning. My parents came to watch her play and my dad said, “I’ve lost count of how many times she’s stolen the ball and it’s only the first quarter!”
I played sports as a kid, but my whole goal was to make friends and to get snacks. I really enjoyed swimming and running track in high school, but those are both zero contact sports. If someone tried to elbow their way past me in a race, I put my arms up like it was a stick-up and stepped aside. I wasn’t going to fight someone in order to win. My daughter is all about winning. I vividly remember asking her after a game that they had lost if she’d had fun. “We lost, Mom. Remember?”she said. “So, no, I definitely didn’t have fun.”I gave her my ‘it’s an important life skill to know how to lose’speech. She asked if her dad could maybe start driving her home from games.
When Caro started playing middle school basketball, she made her mark by fouling out regularly in the games. She was only 5’4’’and barely 100 pounds. She needed to be scrappy to get up under the tall girls and she fearlessly fought for the ball. Again, I was sitting through games with my hands over my eyes. Random dads would say to me, “It’s really okay. She has five fouls and she should use them. We love watching her play. I’m trying to get my daughter to be more aggressive out there.”Apparently, you don’t get in trouble with your coach or principal or even Jesus if you foul out. Apparently, you are just playing defense. Apparently, you are a different species than your mother.
I have learned so much from watching my daughter play basketball. I am deeply grateful for what she has taught me, even as I watch from the stands and yell unhelpful things like, “Just stay alive, Caro!”I am so proud of her determination and moxie and toughness. She learned none of this from me. I love that she has grown up believing that her body is strong and useful. Caro learned from being around athletic girls that her body isn’t just something to be looked at or something to protect at all costs. Girls who trust that their bodies have a God-given purpose walk through the world differently. They take up more space.
I saw something new last season as we watched the varsity girls games. The team would run plays where a girl would race down the court with her arm straight up above her head yelling, “BALL! BALL! BALL!” They have to be loud and big so their team mates know that they are open and can pass them the ball. It’s officially known as ‘calling for the ball’. It is so different from how I would ask for a ball, which would be more along the lines of “If you are done with the ball, if it isn’t too much trouble, would you mind passing me the ball?” It is so refreshing to see these fierce, insistent, bold young women yelling for what they want. It has become a fantastic image for me to draw on when I feel timid or afraid. I simply remember my daughter and her team mates yelling “BALL! BALL! BALL!” and I resolve to take up more space…with both my words and my arms.